Tuesday, November 30, 2010


For six weeks from mid October through to the end of November, Churchill, in Canada's remote north, becomes a town under siege.

Its local population swells from 900 Churchillians to a whopping 10,000; the attraction, the annual migration to the sea ice of the world's largest, most ferocious land predators.

Each year at this time, a polar bear migration that dates back thousands of years is set in motion as the waters along the western coast of Hudson Bay begin to freeze. With an inborn instinct, polar bears, scattered for hundreds of miles across the tundra, sense this change.

Having fasted on a diet of berries, kelp and grasses for close to three months, the siren call of the ice is irresistible. Prompted by a gnawing hunger for meat, the ravenous bears are enticed by the prospects of a feed they favour above all else; the soft tender flesh of ringed seal pups.

Standing up to three and a half metres tall at full stretch, the largest weighing in at 675 kilograms, these magnificent killing machines move across glacial rock and tundra from their southern stamping grounds for the town that just happens to be on the direct route to the sea ice.

As they approach, Churchill, with years of polar bear encounters, prepares its defenses. Sirens are tested, extra rangers from around the country are brought in to patrol the town's boundaries and divert the invaders. The polar bear jail is readied and rifles are loaded with cracker shells ..... a big bang causing no physical damage

Tours:  Frontiers North Adventures, Winnipeg 800-663-9832, http://www.frontiersnorth.com/

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 30th November, 2010

Polar bear jail awaits invading polar bears


There was a period in the '70s when any polar bear wandering into town was shot on sight. Not so today. Bears that slip into town after managing to evade the 'polar bear police' on the town's outskirts are either darted or lured into a trap baited with a delectably fragrant cloth doused in whale or seal oil. From there the bears are transported to the 'polar bear jail', a huge metal enclosure just steps from Churchill's Lilliputian airport.

On my recent visit to Churchill for a bear watching safari the jail was already temporary home to ten miscreants. In 2005, 58 polar bears passed through its accommodations.

The polar bears, kept in cubicles in solitary confinement for 30 days, are fed a diet (or non-diet) that can only be described as bland. No seal meat, no whale blubber, not even a kelp snack, only water in the form of snow.

Life in the jail was not always so spartan for these gigantic carnivores. At first bears were given 'tasty meals', but the town soon discovered its mistake. The wily animals returned the following year for a comfortable wait and regular feeding at 'Hotel Polar Bear' (the jail) until the waters of Hudson Bay froze over allowing them to hunt. It seemed that hard labor was the only answer.

More to follow on a 'Town under Siege' ...

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 30th November, 2010

The Lazy Bear Lodge and Cafe

Most frequently in the past the bears highway into town was via Button Street ending up opposite the Lazy Bear Lodge in the town's center. Disturbed at the thought – I was staying at the Lazy Bear Lodge – I asked Jerry our guide what to expect should I see a bear sneaking out from one of the alleys lining the main street. “Don't worry” he said. “If you see a bear just give it a wide berth! Once they reach town the stimuli usually confuses them. Houses and cars are left unlocked during bear season, so just duck into the nearest door or flag down a car.”

Was it any consolation to hear that problem bears, those that return again and again, are sedated and shipped out of town in a cradle hanging beneath a helicopter?

Indeed it was. Doped and disoriented, delinquent bears are deposited in a more northerly area close to the sea ice. The cost of this punishment, starting at $5,000 a time, is borne by Churchillians. A fund, kept in the black by film crews who want to photograph an evacuation, lessens the burden with a constant inflow of photography fees.

As I snuggled deep into my duvet in the Lazy Bear Lodge that first night on Canada's wild frontier, my thoughts drifted back to the day's polar bear safari out on the tundra.

On a viewing platform at the back of the giant tundra buggy I had a nose to nose encounter with a massive male polar bear. He had stretched himself full length against the side of the buggy to get a better view of those of us on the platform.

Just feet apart, my camera trained on his face, I looked into a pair of dangerously intelligent eyes. They were dark brown edged with a milky halo. He hissed softly as he watched me. As I looked back at him through my camera lens I felt almost hypnotized.

He was what Jarret, our driver, called 'a real pretty bear', but the truth is that this huge, fluffy, cuddly looking animal with its gentle dog-like face could and would, given the opportunity, crush a human head with its powerful jaws in seconds.

A representative from the Polar Bears International organization showed us exactly how in a demonstration with Jerratt, our driver, acting as polar bear lunch.

Using a bear skull to illustrate the bears modus operandi, she opened the jaws fully then clamped it over Jarrett's head.

Meanwhile, back in the Lazy Bear Lodge the sharp report of cracker shells throughout the dark night reminded me that it was dangerous out there. On patrol 24/7, rangers touring the town's perimeter and equipped with spotlights, illuminate dark spaces where polar bears could be hiding.

Should a bear be seen in town, the eerie wail of a siren alerts the townspeople.

Thinking back on those incredible days on Canada's Arctic tundra I couldn't help fear for the future of these magnificent beasts.

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Tuesday, 30th November, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Atlantic Grey Seal


Isle of Jura launches photography competition to find the world’s most inspiring places

The Isle of Jura is launching a ‘Wish You Were Here’ online travel photography competition (www.isleofjura.com/wishyouwerehere) to find the world’s most inspiring places.

Budding photographers from across the world are being offered the chance to win an unforgettable trip to the island of Jura off Scotland’s dramatic West Coast. With a community of less than 200 people, the island is rich in history, myths, superstitions, dramatic landscapes, diverse wildlife and whisky, all of which have provided inspiration to photographers, artists and writers from across the world. Partnering with VisitScotland on the prize, winners will enjoy a once in a lifetime photographic experience on the Isle of Jura with expert advice from National Geographic’s Jim Richardson.

The partnership between one of Scotland’s premier single malts and the national tourism organisation comes during Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink where VisitScotland is using its worldwide marketing campaigns to inspire visitors to come to Scotland to experience our food and drink.

Each one of the three winners and their partners will enjoy a week’s stay in the exclusive Jura lodge, a VIP tour of the Jura distillery and island and a two day photography master-class from National Geographic’s Jim Richardson. All travel arrangements will be paid for and the winners will also receive an Olympus E-PL1 camera to capture images from their visit.

Willie Cochrane, Distillery Manager, said:

“On an island where deer outnumber people by more than 30 to 1, we truly believe that Jura is one of the most beautiful and inspirational destinations in the world. Its remoteness is one of its greatest assets, offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and a place for visitors to wallow in the peace and tranquillity of island life, whilst of course savouring a dram or two of our world famous whisky! Our winners will have the chance to enjoy all of this and more and hopefully return home with a photo album brimming full of many happy memories.”

To enter, applicants must upload a photo that they’ve taken of an inspiring destination onto an e-postcard template and describe on the back of that e-postcard what makes it so inspirational. A panel of judges including National Geographic’s Jim Richardson will assess a shortlist of the very best ‘postcards’ and pick three lucky winners - one from North America, one from the UK and a third from Europe.

The competition, which can be found by visiting www.isleofjura.com/wishyouwerehere, opens today (Monday 29th November 2010) and will run for eight weeks, closing on Friday 21st January 2011.

Every week for the duration of the competition, Jura and VisitScotland will also pick a Postcard of the Week with an Olympus FE-5050 camera to be won each week. Entrants are also encouraged to share their e-postcards with friends and family who will be able to vote for their favourite and automatically be entered into a prize draw to win bottles of Jura 10 year old single malt and other Jura goodies.

Ewan Colville, North American Marketing Manager, VisitScotland said:

"The Isle of Jura has a unique landscape and setting, especially for those visitors who wish to sample Scottish island life. Known for its landscape, wildlife and whisky, Jura is also a recognised writers’ retreat made famous by George Orwell. With great transport links to the Scottish islands, visitors from around the world can be immersed in island life with ease. This is Scotland’s Year of Food and Drink, where we are celebrating our wonderful food and drink produce, providers and experiences. There has never been a better time to visit.”

Jim Richardson, who has travelled the world taking photographs for the National Geographic Society, said:

“The Isle of Jura offers so much in way of inspiration and source material for photographers and artists. The sweeping landscapes, diverse wildlife, and dramatic seasonal weather provide a sensational backdrop for any photographers looking to develop their skills. I’m really looking forward to sharing some of my tips and techniques with the winners and helping them push their photography on to the next level. Needless to say, I’m also keen to get my hands on some of Jura’s finest whisky, direct from the distillery!”


29 November 2010

About Jura

Off the west coast of Scotland lies one of nature’s best kept secrets, the Isle of Jura. Populated by a community of less than 200 known as Diurachs (the Gaelic name for the people of Jura), it is a place of myth, legend and intrigue – and an award winning range of single malt whiskies, which hold the promise of good fortune for all those that believe.

There are four classic bottling in the Jura Collection: Origin 10, Superstition, Diurach’s Own and Prophecy. Many of the Jura whiskies have their own distinctive drinking rituals but one cuts across the range. Islanders believe that it brings good fortune to you knock on wood before they drink a dram.

For those who love the great outdoors, Jura is an idyllic place. Its three ‘Paps’ – or mountains - dominate the skyline, distinguishable from miles around and the focus for the tough Jura Fells Race which takes place every May. For those who like to explore, whether by foot, bike, or yacht, there is a wealth of historical sites and natural phenomena to discover; from stone circles and standing stones to ruined castles and iron age forts: from sandy beaches and secluded coves to stacks, pinnacles and caves, as well as raised beaches from the ice age. Golden eagles, sea eagles, otters, seals and not forgetting the 5,000 red deer which inhabit the island are all a common sight, and carry on about their business uninhibited by humans.

To find out more visit www.isleofjura.com

Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson travels the world making photographs for the National Geographic Society. He has photographed a combined 45 stories for National Geographic magazine and for National Geographic Traveler, where he is a contributing editor. Richardson has been called "perhaps the most prolific photographer for one of the world's most prestigious magazines." Among his recognized areas of expertise are the British Isles and Celtic culture, as well as a range of scientific and conservation subjects such as grasslands and water. ABC News Nightline, The Martha Stewart Show, and CBS News Sunday Morning have featured his work. Time, LIFE, The New York Times, and other worldwide publications have relied on his photographs. Richardson has photographed several books and his audiovisual presentation based on his noted documentary photography projects about small-town life won the Crystal AMI Award for international excellence.

Richardson teaches workshops and seminars in the US and abroad. He also accompanies small groups organized by National Geographic Expeditions. He is a seasoned public speaker, delivering insights about travel locations and environmental issues, as well as about making graphically compelling images that also convey information in a complex world. Jim lives in the small Kansas town of Lindsborg, where he owns a Main Street gallery and studio called Small World. His work is at www.jimrichardsonphotography.com, and his ideas about photographs can be found at www.jimrichardson.blogspot.com and on www.facebook.com/people/Jim-Richardson/1024136166.

From VisitScotland

Image copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday 29th November, 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010


Michelle Pentz Glave reports:
“It’s not every day you have a celebrity in Churchill (MB),” Tony DaSilva told the Brandon Sun. What you do have are polar bears, and lots of ‘em. That’s why home décor diva Martha Stewart spent last weekend in and around Wapusk National Park near Churchill, in northern Manitoba near Hudson Bay: to see the giant white ursus maritimus live and learn more about the planet’s largest carnivore. The park is dedicated to protecting the animals. Stewart also stopped in for eggs at DaSilva’s restaurant—and caused quite a stir in the so-called “polar bear capital of the world.”

“The US TV personality has been posting updates about her visit on Twitter,” reported CBC News. “The most recent note, from Saturday (Nov. 6), said she was on a tundra vehicle, heading into the park to look for bears.”

What did Martha see in Churchill, Manitoba ... She arrived in Wapusk National Park in a helicopter, visited the Polar Bear Jail, rode in a tundra buggy, breakfasted on eggs at Gypsy's Bakery owned by the Da Silva family.


Image copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 27th November, 2010







Thursday, November 25, 2010


A new tiger den in dacoit Veerappan's hideout

Tour group en route for tiger reserve
Smuggler Veerappan's hideout in Sathyamangalam is in the news once again; albeit, for a better reason. Camera traps laid out in the forest have revealed pictures of 19 tigers in the forest, which lies in Erode District of Tamil Nadu.

  The ministry of tourism is seriously considering declaring the forest as a wildlife reserve. Pug marks, scat and carcasses of prey have been found by trekking groups in addition to camera images located inside the forest.

The chief warden maintains that strict vigil, reduction of cattle population and effective conservation measures are responsible for the big cat thriving in the region. Their presence is welcomed by wildlife enthusiasts as well environmentalists.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 25th November, 2010


Groundbreaking and interactive ROM exhibition explores our world’s most precious natural resource

Want a living planet? Just add water. Opening March 12, 2011, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) presents Water: The Exhibition, a celebration of the power and wonder of this life-giving substance and a call to each of us to become stewards of our blue planet. A dramatic sensory and educational experience for visitors of all ages, Water uses cutting-edge technologies, multimedia installations, hands-on exhibits, live animals and cultural artifacts to illuminate the indispensable role water plays in our lives and the urgent need to protect it. Water will be displayed in the Garfield Weston Exhibition Hall on Level B2 of the ROM’s Michael Lee-Chin Crystal until September 5, 2011.

“The value of water to humanity physically, culturally and even spiritually cannot be overstated,” said Janet Carding, ROM Director and CEO. “Powerfully underscoring the ROM’s dual mandate of natural history and world cultures, Water provides visitors with a new appreciation of how water encompasses, challenges and unites all living creatures. This message will be further enhanced through our diverse series of thought-provoking debates, lectures and programs.”

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 25th November, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010


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Kensington Market, Toronto, Canada

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Tulips in the spring

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Saturday, November 20, 2010


It was a late October afternoon when we entered Sabi Sabi Reserve though a gate in a 12 foot high fence and headed down a dirt track to Selati Camp.  Blending into the African acacia woodland, this beautiful secluded bush camp provides an enchanting African wild life experience. 

Warthog in Sabi Sabi Game Reserve
Hurtling along the sand road, dust clouds billowed up behind us.  The appearance of three warthogs emerging from a dense thicket at the roaside brought us to a jarring halt.  One by one, rotund with tails like tassled flagpoles, the trio trotted jauntily across our path.  They were obviously unafraid.

Our accommodation at Selati was in a chalet on a riverbank where bougainvillea scrambled high in the trees, drooping rose-coloured flower sprays from the branches.  Despite the midday heat our chalet was quiet and cool.  A mosquito net caught up in a 'daytime knot' hung suspended over a plush kingsize bed.  On handmade paper crafted from rhino dung, paintings of Bushmen hunters pursuing antelope ranged across the wall.

At an al fresco dinner by candlelight that evening, guests and game rangers dined together at a long table.  An open fire crackled and spat; leaping flames and the light from hurricane lanterns illuminated the scene for the chef as he prepared a lavish meal.  It was a cosy setting within the light, and beyond ... bush, blackness and the cries of the hunter and the hunted.

Game drives were included and we were divided into two groups, each allotted to a large open Land Rover with stepped seats for optimum viewing.  Bruce, our game ranger and driver was profoundly knowledgeable about Africa, the animals and the bush.  Freddy, the Shangaan tracker rode up front.  His job was to find the animals.

James, my husband, who had at one time been a game warden in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park sometimes displays a macabre sense of humour.  Seeing Freddy our tracker perched alone on a seat above and ahead of the left front fender, he jokingly called out, "Hau Freddy keep your eyes open or you'll make good lion bait".  But Freddy was not perturbed.  He grinned and shook his fist in the air.

More to follow on Sabi Sabi ...

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 20th November, 2010

Freddy our expert tracker at Sabi Sabi takes a break from our incessant questions.


Trackers in general have a highly specialized skill.  They can follow the spoor (tracks) of animals as they make their way across game paths, through sand, or even in the bush where vines twist in an impenetrable curtain and the ground is covered in a dense mat of leaves.

The lightest imprint of a tiny hoof, a sapling broken at its base and trampled, a steaming mound of dung, the tracker sees it all.  He reads a story about the bush that we lesser mortals miss entirely.

Freddy's talent was not limited to defining ground spoor.  In poor light, he picked up the movement of a Rainbow Skink, a small lizard with a turquoise blue head,and shoulders tapering to a body of burnt orange and a tail of pale salmon.  As we passed, the tiny creature circled furtively around a branch.

In the darkening bush we saw a civet cat slip ghostlike into the undergrowth and heard the call of a Black-headed Oriele.  Bruce stopped the Land Rover close to three bull buffalo as they grazed, snorted and rubbed huge bony bosses on tree trunks.  A kudu buck and doe, considered by many to be the most beautiful of the African buck, rubbed against each other affectionately.  More than a game viewing this was a complete wilderness experience.

At a Silver Cluster Leaf tree Bruce broke off a small branch spreading the end with his fingernail.  "It makes a very good toothbrush" he said and held it out for me to try.  The leaves from the same tree if crushed and rubbed on exposed skin are an excellent insect repellant.

With the approach of evening a cool whispery breeze preceded a roll of thunder. Then, like an actress taking the stage, a leopard hove into view. She appeared not to see us although I didn't believe that for a minute. Instead she padded purposefully along the dirt track, her marvellous spotted coat rippling and glistening with the flow of her powerful muscles. He long white-tipped tail curled up at the end to protect its snowy extremity swung rhythmically from side to side as she walked.  We followed, the Land Rover's headlights lighting the way.

Leaving the road, the leopard, like a queen leading her courtiers, set off over tangled roots, broken tree stumps and across rockstrewn terrain. At a waterhole she crouched, lapped her fill, rubbed her body against the rough bark of a tree, marked the spot with a well placed squirt of urine, then turned.  One moment she was with us, the next she vanished.
More to follow ...

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 20th November, 2010

Lion family enjoying the lazy days of summer


Night falls swiftly in Africa.  Under a deep indigo sky where the splash of the milky way shimmers in its bed of starlight, more brilliant for the lack of extraneous light, Bruce stopped the Land Rover for sundowners.  He unpacked a picnic hamper stuffed with  beer, wine, Scotch and a delicious drink called 'Amarula' made from Marula berries and cream.  Baboons and elephants are known to become intoxicated when eating these tasty berries when they fall from the tree and start fermenting.  Then a selection of crisps and biltong (dried salted meat much like American jerky) was laid out on the front of the Land Rover.  Sundowners by moonlight with the mysterious sounds of an African night all around us.  It was magical.

The following morning, up bright and early, we came upon two giraffes feeding on an acacia tree at the side of the road.  Wrapping thick grey tongues around branches and twigs they stripped away the foliage and finger length thorns, then  crunched and swallowed the prickly mass.  While their hosts browsed, tiny chocolate coloured oxpeckers tiptoed up and down three foot long necks nibbling and probing for ticks.

"Now for the lions" said Gunther, one of our  companions.  Gunther was quite obsessed with seeing a lion.  And then, as if by magic, Freddy picked up the pugmarks of the giant cats. 

Closeby, in an open space were two beautiful lionesses surrounded by seven cubs of varying age.  The females, with coats the colour of caramel that blended with the sand and dried leaves in their resting place dozed, whilst their cubs tumbled in play around them.  For an hour, like silent watchers at a wake, we sat no more than 15 feet from the group with Freddy keeping guard from his exposed perch.

Just 24 hours later, cocooned in the quiet sterile world of South African Airways Flight 201, I gazed down upon the skyline of New York and my thoughts drifted back to the sound of wind rustling through dried grass and the hiccup of a lion cub as it suckled at its mother's breast.

Images copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 20th November, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

A rose for a royal romance


St Andrews in Scotland is already world-famous as the Home of Golf and now, as Prince William and Kate Middleton announce their engagement, it seems the coastal town where the couple met can also claim to be the home of romance.

The small town with a big reputation is already a holiday hit all over the world, attracting more than half a million visitors every year. It is hoped the royal romance will once again put St Andrews in the international spotlight and remind potential visitors just how much Scotland has to offer.

St. Andrews, a great wedding and honeymoon destination for romantics

Fiona Stewart, Senior International PR Manager for VisitScotland, said, “St Andrews is already known throughout the world as a must-visit destination for golfers but could also now be tipped as both a wedding and honeymoon destination.”

“We hope now to see an even greater increase in visitors coming to this magical coastal town for its many other great attributes, from the first class accommodation available to the romantic backdrops of St Andrews castle, cathedral and beautiful beaches.”

“We also hope that William and Kate have a magical and memorable time when the big day arrives, while we can certainly recommend a romantic Scottish getaway to visit some of their old haunts.”

Play golf on hallowed turf in St. Andrews

William and Kate met while studying at St Andrews University, Scotland’s oldest university, which attracts students from all over the globe. Yet St Andrews already boasts a sizeable worldwide reputation, not least due to its enviable title as the Home of Golf.

The St Andrews Royal and Ancient Golf Club first met here in the spiritual home of golf in 1754, though it was first played here as early as the 15th century. The Old Course, most famous of the town's seven courses, is redolent of images of the world's greatest golfers at the British Open Championship down the years, while visitors can even play on the hallowed turf.

St. Andrews University, Prince William and Kate's alma mater

St. Andrews University, founded in 1410, dominates the centre of town. The elegant, ivy-clad buildings and delightful quadrangles and gardens have seen a procession of famous graduates, including, of course, Prince William. The future king may have graduated, but St Andrews is still one of the top universities in Britain, often compared to Oxford and Cambridge for its defining presence and the feel it gives the town.

The medieval centre of St Andrews, with its narrow alleys and cobbled streets, leads to the now ruined cathedral (once the largest in Scotland) and the adjacent church of St Regulus, where climbing the spiral staircase to the top of a 108-foot tower leads to magnificent views of the town and its surroundings.

Blog courtesy VisitScotland

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 19th November, 2010

A rose for a royal romance


St Andrews has many great visitor attractions and two fantastic great beaches. While living in St Andrews, Prince William and Kate Middleton were known to have:

Walked along St Andrews stunning West Sands.
The West Sands has gained world fame from the movie "Chariots of Fire". In the opening scene, as the British Olympic team is training, they run along the West Sands. The West Sands beach is one of the top rated beaches in Scotland. At its northern end lies the estuary of the river Eden, which was at one time a shipping port. At the southern end lies the town.

Taken time out from studies to relax in Ma Bell’s Bar
St Andrews Golf Hotel
40 The Scores, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Chic and stylish boutique town house hotel, featuring a variety of room types commanding spectacular views over St Andrews bay and links. Featuring award winning 'number forty' restaurant serving the finest local produce, and William’s favourite haunt, the famous Ma Bells Bar.

Regularly taken time to view the stunning architecture of the old town at St Andrews Castle and Cathedral
St Andrews Castle
The Scores, St Andrews, Fife
The ruins of the castle of the Archbishops of St Andrews, dating in part from the 13th century. Notable features include the 'bottle-dungeon' and mine and counter-mine tunnelled during the siege in 1546. These siege works are the finest of their kind in Europe. A fascinating exhibition in the visitor centre brings the history of the castle and cathedral to life.
T: +44 (1334) 477196

St Andrews Cathedral
The Pends, St Andrews, Fife
The remains of the largest cathedral in Scotland. The precinct walls are particularly well preserved. The Cathedral Museum houses an outstanding collection of early and later medieval sculpture and other relics found on the site, including the magnificent St Andrews Sarcophagus of Pictish date. St Rule's Tower, in the precinct, is part of the first church of the Augustinian canons at St Andrews built in the early 12th century.
T: +44 (1334) 472563

For more information on your trip to Scotland visit http://www.cometoscotland.com/

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 19th November, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Glamis Castle, Scotland


Scotland becomes a special place at Christmas as the festive sparkle and decorations light up the winter skies across the country. Events, festivals and celebrations abound throughout Scotland, from Edinburgh, Perth and Dumfries, to Glasgow, St Andrews and Inverness, as the country gets ready for the seasonal festivities.

The Story of Christmas at Stirling Castle

Stirling, 5 and 12 December (12.30 - 15.30) 2010

Enjoy a new version of one of the most original Christmas shows around. In a series of amusing presentations, an ensemble cast will take you from pagan times up to the 1980’s, highlighting how Christmas has been celebrated through the centuries.

Christmas Carols at Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh, 12 December 2010

Enjoy a selection of Christmas favourites in the magnificent surroundings of Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall (1pm, 2pm, 3pm). http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/

Blog courtesy of Visit Scotland
Photo copyright Glamis Castle, Scotland
Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 18th November, 2010

Zebra killed and feasted on by lions in Hwange National Park


During my youth when I was a game warden in Hwange, Africa's largest game park in Zimbabwe, I came across a vivid illustration of how life is lived and lost among wild animals in Africa.

My companions and I, with four pack donkeys to carry our supplies, were trekking through the  bush looking to apprehend poachers.  Our way was through tall grass, Yellow-wood trees and dense patches of scrubby plant life.

As we pushed our way forward a low threatening growl to our right alerted us to imminent danger.  The aggresors, if you could call them that, were five corpulent lions lazing beneath a lone tree.  They appeared fully sated, stomachs bulging and in a state of inertia

Thankfully, their inactivity save for the growl appeared to be a harsh signal of peace rather than a death threat, so we continued on another 200 yards with rifles on the ready should they decide to press their advantage and attack.

Emerging into an open space, we quickly noticed that a ferocious fracas had taken place shortly before.  The lions had tackled, killed and eaten almost a whole zebra.  Bursting through the bush we startled 20 or so vultures that rose in a flurry of feathers and squawks from a carcass picked clean leaving only the zebra's head intact.  It was obvious that the vultures had beaten the hyeanas to the kill, but the hyeanas, ever ravenous, would pick up the scent soon enough.

Blog courtesy of James Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 18th November, 2010

Oxford's Radcliffe Camera on a snowy day

The University city of Oxford and the County of Oxfordshire are wonderful places to spend Christmas.

Throughout the festive season both visitors and residents can join in the excitement of Oxford, a world-class city, with its theatres, music, and bustling crowds as well as enjoy a warm welcome at events in Oxfordshire's market towns and villages. There's a huge range of places to eat, drink, be merry - and stay the night - all within easy reach. And to walk off any over-indulgence there's the rolling Cotswold and Ironstone hills to explore - plus 11 long-distance footpaths through some of England's most attractive countryside.

Oxford Morris Men ready to dance
Oxford lights up on Friday 26 November when the annual Light Night event hosts two processions, one a spectacular parade of children's willow lanterns, the other a shimmering promenade of bells, chimes and grand chorales. Traditional games for children are on offer at the Museum of Oxford and festive stories at the Oxford Playhouse. Exciting lighting effects transform the University and Pitt Rivers Museums, a magical backcloth for music and dancing, while older children and adults will relish a spooky lamplight tour of creepy Oxford Castle.

Further details on all winter and Christmas festivities can be found at: http://www.visitoxfordandoxfordshire.com/whats-on/Christmas2010.aspx

Blog courtesy of Visit Oxfordshire
Photos copyright Anne Gordon
Posted by Anne Gordon on Thursday, 18th November, 2010

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Lake Palace on Lake Pichola


Resembling a Venetian palace and built entirely of marble, this stark white confection of cupolas, tranquil gardens with lily ponds, fountains and sprays of crimson Bougainvillea occupies a four acre rock in the middle of Lake Pichola.

Built in 1746 as a venue for Udaipur’s royal prince Maharana Jagat Singh II to entertain his paramours, the Lake Palace to this day, weaves a spell of enchantment around all who visit .

A night view from the Lake Palace across Lake Pichola
Like another world, part of its charm for us was that it was cut off from the bustle of city life just a ten minute boat ride away. We were blessedly free from the roar of car and bus engines. There were no pigs foraging in garbage at the roadside, no sacred cows lying in the middle of the road disrupting the traffic.

As I sat at the window of our suite the ancient chant of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer and the passionate, tremulous notes of an Indian gazal drifted across the water. Close-by a grey cormorant perched on the bow of a fishing boat with wings spread wide to catch cool breezes, whilst clumps of water hyacinth splashed with blue swayed sensuously at each passing of the water taxi.

 Life was not always as tranquil in the Palace, though. There was a time during the rule of the British Raj when tensions ran high between the British authorities and the head of India’s premier royal family. Called upon to enlist men for the British army during the First World War, Maharana Fateh Singh, a feisty old fellow, exerted his royal privilege and declined. To him the British rulers were upstarts. Nevertheless, after the war he was awarded a military medal which he brushed aside with a disdainful “Put it on my horse. This is the sort of thing my messengers wear”.

Illustrious guests visit the Lake Palace
Since those days relations with Britain have improved. In 1961 Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were guests of the Maharana. The following year Jacqueline Kennedy and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwell were entertained at the palace. To this day Udaipur’s water palace remains a venue for royalty and the distinguished. The Shah or Iran, the Queen of the Netherlands, His Majesty Shri Wangchuck, Prince of Bhutan and his Queen are just a few of its royal visitors.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 13th November, 2010

Lake Palace interior

True to its majestic past the suites and public rooms of the Taj Lake Palace are decorated with opulent Asian elegance.

Furniture is inlaid with ivory, deeply cushioned, or carved from dark and heavy Indian wood. Brass lanterns sway at the end of long chains and glints of reflected sunlight from myriads of stained glass windows shimmer like tiny coloured jewels on marble floors.

Jharokhas (arched windows with carved marble screens) through which royal women in purdah were able to unobtrusively view life on the outside are a feature in many of the rooms. In the centre of the Khush Mahal Suite, once the private domain of the Maharani, an antique jhoola swings gently from ornamental chains.

The swimming pool too, was an inviting diversion. Sheltered by arches supporting heavy sprays of flowering Bouganvillea, and walls embedded with delicate mirrored and silvered flowers and fruits tipped with coloured enamel, guests lounged on patio chairs. As we swam in the late afternoon a flock of long-tailed green parakeets swooped down over our heads to land, en masse, in the branches of a mango tree beside the pool.

Ornamented wall beside swimming pool
Looking across the waters to Udaipur it was hard to believe that in rare dry years Lake Pichola is sometimes completely devoid of water. Then it is possible to walk across the exposed lake bed to Jag Mander, another of Udaipur’s lake palaces. Be warned though – there can be unexpected traffic. The current Maharana and owner of the Lake Palace has been known to drive his Rolls Royce across the parched sediment when visiting his property.

Dining at the Lake Palace is a sumptuous affair. ‘Fleet your time carelessly, undisturbed except for the flutter caused by cool breeze’ was the quaint but inviting description for dinner on the patio. Guests can also enjoy a romantic dinner on the Gangaur boat. Lit by hundreds of candles the antique royal barge cruises the lake rowed by a dashing crew in colourful Rajasthani dress.

At the Neel Kamal Restaurant we sampled Indian cuisine – vegetarian Palak Paneer, a mouth-watering blend of cottage cheese and spinach in a spicy sauce.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Saturday, 13th November, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

Trinity College Library, Dublin


Win a Vacation to Ireland through Tourism Ireland’s New Facebook Page

Tourism Ireland is giving Canadians a chance to win the vacation of a lifetime to Ireland through the launch of its new Facebook Fan Page DiscoverIrelandCA.

Signing Belfast's Peace Wall
Canadians can join in the ‘craic’ (Irish for ‘good fun’) by becoming a fan. Tourism Ireland encourages fans to upload and share their experiences and photos of Ireland. They can also engage in discussions with other fans, view videos of Ireland’s many locals, and see what festivals and events are listed for 2011! One thing’s certain – Ireland’s Facebook page will be fun and interactive.

Follow Tourism Ireland on Facebook at DiscoverIrelandCA and Twitter at GoToIrelandCA.

See www.discoverireland.com for more information on travel in the Island of Ireland. You can also call 1 800 SHAMROCK or email info.ca@tourismireland.com.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 12th November, 2010.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Travel insurance - don't leave home without it.  It could turn out to be the most expensive mistake you ever make.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Swan on her nest at Abbotsbury Swannery


In the 1700s the Journal of London pronounced “all the people of Abbotsbury – including the vicar – thieves, smugglers and plunderers of wrecks”.

Over the centuries much has changed. Abbotsbury is now a quaint, but respectable village; its showpiece, a 14th century swannery, home to a huge colony of birds that have lived and procreated on Dorset's Jurassic coast for hundreds of years.

Child feeding the swans at Abbotsbury Swannery
Once serving as a larder and a source of culinary delicacies for the monks of the Benedictine monastery of St. Peters in the village, the swans now provide the feathers that decorate the helmets of the ‘Gentlemen at Arms’, the Queen's traditional bodyguard.

Loath to give way to modernity, Lloyds of London, the world's most renowned insurance underwriter, uses swan quills from Abbotsbury to record in their 'Doom Book', the dark days when the company settles insurance claims

More to follow on Abbotsbury's Swannery ...

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 8th November, 2010

Waimea Canyon


There are numerous ways to tour Kauai, but for a bird’s eye view, soaring aloft in a helicopter alongside albatrosses and Nenes (Hawaii’s national bird), and viewing the massive fluted NaPali cliffs and the canyon in miniature from the vault of an endless sky has been described as a spiritual experience.

For those with budgetary constraints, Koke’e State Park, the Waimea Canyon and the Alakei Swamp are easily accessible by car. Just a short drive to the end of the trail, and NaPali’s magnificent cliffs and a turquoise ocean, home to pregnant humpback whales in the spring, are clearly visible from Kalalau Lookout and Pu’u o Kila Lookout.

Dancers performing the hula
Kauai's Kee Beach hula dance school
Near Kee Beach at the foot of the cliffs, the remains of an ancient heiau (hula dance school) draws hula enthusiasts from around the world. They come to honour Laka and to dance on sacred ground.

In times past novice students at this same heiau were closely guarded and compelled to abide by a stringent set of rules. Certain foods were prohibited. Cleanliness was mandatory. Contact with the dead was off limits and sex was forbidden.

A certain danger was also involved. At the culmination of their course, students were required to swim across a lagoon, home to a giant shark. Woe betide any who had broken even one of the taboos. Punishment was death by mauling.

Waimea Canyon, Kauai's 'Jewel in the Crown'
For Kaui’s most impressive vista, Waimea Canyon is undoubtedly the island’s ‘jewel in the crown’. Plunging 1,158 metres at its deepest point and spreading for close to 22 kilometres, Mark Twain’s ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ is a favourite with hikers.

Small in comparison with its cousin in Arizona, the canyon’s earthy tones; emerald fading to pale green, rust, yellow ochre, light to dark chocolate and the saturated rose tints of its volcanic rock buttresses dazzled my eyes. Cliffs and peaks with waterfalls tumbling from unimagineable heights after rain, is a magnificent sight. As I leaned against the safety railing at Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout, I couldn’t help gasping at the glorious manifestation of nature’s majesty.

Polynesian royalty at Waimea Canyon
A Polynesian royal ceremony in progress
Wandering down to an open space away from the Lookout, I came upon a ceremony featuring visiting Polynesian Kings, Queens and Chiefs from the 15 Kingdoms and tribes of the Polynesian Triangle.

Like Birds of Paradise, elaborately and gorgeously attired in colourful apparel, these delegates - in Kauai to attend a conference in the small coastal town of Waimea - looked the epitome of Polynesian royalty. Standing on the sidelines, onlookers watched respectfully silent as the royal participants, led by a Polynesian man, almost naked but clothed elaborately in tattoes from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, offered prayers to their deities.

A Kauai sunset
Late that afternoon as we headed on down to the coast and the Waimea Plantation cottages where we were to spend the night, I couldn’t help thinking of the astronauts. Out there in space among the stars they must have looked down on the island as the last light of day slipped away like a ghost and Kauai welcomed the night.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 8th November, 2010

Hawaiian night


Kauai may be one of the smallest of the popular Hawaiian islands but it is the oldest and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful.

The first in a chain of volcanic islands destined to emerge over millennia, it has for centuries drawn to its shores Polynesian adventurers, settlers from every continent searching for a better life, missionaries intent upon conversion, and in their multitudes tourists and travelers in pursuit of the ultimate destination. One of the latter, I was lured by the island’s stunning natural grandeur and the culture of a people who had courageously set out from the Marquesas long long ago in a quest for a land unknown.

Nathan Aweau, Songwriter and performer
Unlike its sister islands where glitz and glamour prevail, Kauai has retained its old world charm. For that reason Hawaiians from neighbouring islands; Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and the Big Island, choose Kauai over all others as their own holiday destination. Tourism as we know it has yet to make a significant impact on the island, even though the spirit of aloha lies deep within the souls of its people.For me, Kauai’s natural treasure lies to the west in the Koke’e and Waimea Canyon State Parks. Its mysterious fluted NaPali cliffs and the Alakei Swamp on a 30 square mile lava plateau are closeby. These areas encapsulate nature’s stunning vistas and fascination with dramatic flare.

Alakei is the world’s highest swamp at an elevation of 1,599 metres. Mist is more-or-less a constant in this mysterious environment. It drifts over moss-covered rocks and trees and clings like a ghostly cloud along the edges of a wooden boardwalk where violets and lush tropical ferns grow in rampant splendour.

Each year this strange but fascinating place almost disappears under a deluge of hundreds of inches of rain. In 1871 Hawaii’s Queen Emma was not daunted by Alakei’s inhospitable terrain. The Queen and her entourage including 100 hula dancers undertook to cross the swamp en route to the other side of the island. Today’s boardwalk was still a project of the future and the royal party undoubtedly sank up to their knees in the cloying red mud.

In Koke’e and the Waimea Canyon, rainbows, dense swirling mists, gentle rain showers and brilliant sunshine are the norm, but reaching those deliciously cool 60-degree temperatures in the mountains involves negotiating a road with potholes large enough to swallow a prize winning pumpkin.

In Koke’e’s vast rainforest (home to the hoary bat, Kauai’s only native land mammal) foreign tree species including redwoods and Japanese sugi cedars, mingle with native plants. Other foreign imports include dogs, chickens, rats and most importantly pigs brought in by Polynesians when they colonized the island. Wild boar from Europe have interbred with local pigs producing a vigorous strain and together with mule deer and black-tailed deer the local hunters are assured of lively sport.

Hawaiian leis
Prolific bird life on Kauai
Although birds are prolific on Kauai, many native birds, including the ‘o’o ‘a’a, are now extinct. In the past Hawaiians applied a sticky substance to tree branches, then, with offerings of fruit tempted the birds to alight. Once captured, a small number of yellow feathers from the ‘o’o ‘a’a and the red feathers of the ‘i’wi and ‘apapane were plucked from the captive birds and used for making cloaks for festive occasions. After parting with their feathers, the birds were released. The red feathered ‘i’wi and ‘apapane can still be seen in the rainforest.

Local Kauaians frequently visit the rainforest because of its connections with Laka the Goddess of hula. It is here that they collect the greenery of the mokihana and maile plants for making fragrant leis as decoration for two of the most sacred hula altars in Polynesia.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 8th November, 2010