Friday, July 27, 2012

The beauty of the bells

Today across Britain bells will peal in every city, town and small village in joyous celebration.  The world's top athletes are gathered in one of the world's most historic cities to participate in London's Olympics. 

At the very heart of London, Big Ben, that iconic British symbol, will chime 40 times for a full three minutes.  At the start of the Olympics opening ceremony,  a 27-ton bell from the  Whitechapel Bell Foundry, the birthplace of Big Ben and Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell will add its peals to thousands of other bells across the country.

Having lived in Oxford England for a decade years back, I have on many occasions been stirred by the sound of Britain's bells; on May Morning in Oxford the bells throughout the city welcome the summer with celebratory peals.  When Dr. Eric Heaton, the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford (I worked closely with him for many years) retired, the city bells rang for him.  "How does it feel to have such approbation" I asked him at the time. "It's rather like being at my own funeral" he said, laughing.

What a day it will be today.  How I would love to be back in England to hear those bells.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon
Posted on Friday 27th July, 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

With a worldwide reputation for a thrill a minute, a walk on the wild side across Capilano Suspension Bridge's narrow 137 metre wobbling length, suspended 70 metres above the Capilano river, is one of those 'must do' experiences for all visitors to Vancouver. 
On a recent trip and a crossing of the canyon I ventured an occasional fleeting look into a dense fir-filled abyss. With a long standing fear of heights and a determination to further torture myself with an upcoming 'Treetops Adventure Walk' deeper in the forest, I scrambled, with a gasp of relief, onto the receiving platform at the bridge's furtherest point.  

During the crossing, the fact that 26 tons of concrete (the combined weight of 4 elephants at start and finish) anchoring the reinforced steel bridge, proved to be of little comfort to my fragile sense of security.
The bridge, when erected in 1899 by George Mackay, a Scottish engineer, was a favorite venue for city dwellers. Each weekend on the densely treed hillside leading up to Grouse Mountain, families, courting couples, the aged and children enjoyed nature at its most beautiful.

Lively entertainment by local musicians must have filled the surrounding valleys with music and laughter. Over a century later, a rollicking rendition of vintage melodies by the 'Pioneer Players' was a re-enactment of that time.

As the years passed life evolved on the flanks of Grouse Mountain to include aboriginal people. In the 1930s they were encouraged to display their story poles in this dramatic setting. More than 70 years later those same poles are still on view. Each exquisitely carved treasure tells a tale of the past, a subtle combination of myth and reality. In Kia'palano, the First Nations Cultural center, native wood carvers labour steadily restoring old poles and carving new.

In a setting surrounded by colourful totem poles the Strong Wind Dancers provide a further view into native American culture as they weave a mysterious magic with tales of spirit legends and a wild dance to the haunting throb of drums.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon 

Posted by Anne Gordon on Wednesday, 25th July, 2012.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Rafting on the Martha Brae in Jamaica

In a land of jungle and caves washed by the Caribbean Sea along Jamaica's northern coast, are the resorts for which this country is justly famous. To name a few: Half Moon in Montego Bay, the Grand Lido in Negril, and Breezes, a short drive from Ocho Rios; all pockets of heaven on a paradise shore.

As tempting as it was to laze on the beach in the shade of almond trees and sea grapes, we, a group of seven, chose to step out beyond the luxury of the resorts to explore the natural beauty of one of the Caribbean's most fascinating islands.

Royal Poinciana

Travelling a winding road through wild Mango, Breadfruit and Banana groves, Royal Poincianas sprinkled with flame-coloured flowers showered us with petals as we drove by. Alongside us like a giant serpent, the waters of the Martha Brae River, brown and burdened with silt after recent rains in the mountains, wound a circuitous route through dense vegetation.

At Rafter's Village we sipped rum punch, a deliciously cold tipple on a day with soaring humidity. Buoyed by the alcoholic refreshment, we proceeded merrily - through wild ginger and hanging lobster claw bushes to a rickety boarding point for a cruise with a difference.

Clambering aboard a 10-metre long raft fashioned from bamboo, Nicole Boulanger and I settled on a seat for two on a raised platform. Our craft was a Jamaican style gondola; our 'gondolier', a cheery Captain Sewell positioned on the front of the raft wielding a 4-metre long pole. Way back in the days of sugar plantations these same rafts were used for transporting sugar to the merchant ships at the mouth of the Martha Brae in Falmouth.

Dressed in a floppy shirt and shorts, with a gap-toothed grin, our gallant man Sewell was a fund of wisdom about Jamaican folklore, life, love and the environment.

He related the story of brave Martha, an Arawak Indian for whom the river was named. In a quest for treasure, the invading Spanish Conquistadors had cornered Martha in her cave on a nearby mountainside. When she refused to reveal the whereabouts of a legendary gold mine, the Conquistadors tortured her. With her supernatural powers Martha conjured up an earthquake that brought about the drowning of herself and the soldiers in the very river upon which we now rafted.

Sensing my interest in the environment, Sewell pulled over to the river bank. “See that little plant, touch it and something strange will happen”. I did, and its delicate leaves folded immediately. “It's a sensitive plant” claimed Sewell. “We call it ‘Shy Lady’”.

Puzzled about the black birds hovering overhead, Sewell explained. “They’re turkey buzzards. Our name for them is Jancrow” Later when reading Jamaica's No. 1 Bestseller “How to Speak Jamaican”, I discovered that the birds are named for the Revd. John Crow who, when preaching, leaned on his pulpit in a black gown, - 'like a Jancrow drying his wings in the morning'.

A loud creaking in a thicket of bamboo brought another snippet of enlightenment. “Hear that bamboo swaying in the wind. They grow up to three inches in 24 hours.”

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Friday July 20th, 2012

Bob Marley,
 the greatest reggae singer of all time

Riding a bamboo raft along the Martha Brae River in Jamaica, our tranquil reverie was soon to be disturbed. Was that a Bob Marley wannebe catching up on us? The familiar notes of ‘One Love’ floated on the breeze as two of our companions, Joe and Sophy, drifted around the bend on another raft captained by a Jamaican with Rastafarian locks tucked tightly into a bulging hat. Captain Murphy, head back and in full voice, was entertaining our friends with his repertoire of ballads composed by the greatest reggae singer of all time.

Goats, like curious children attracted by the song, flocked to the river’s edge to watch us go by. Surprisingly the animals seemed undeterred by a fire with flames leaping 10-metres into the brush beside us. Huge plumes of smoke billowed across the river. The heat swirled around us scattering ash on our clothes and hair. With its onslaught, trees and grass crackled, curled and blackened as we watched.

Seeking to alleviate an outbreak of fire phobia, Sewell reassured us with Jamaica's favourite saying. “ No problem mon. Burning is good here. We do it every year. It helps de grass grow.”

Captain Sewell carving a calabash

After an hour or so of poleing, Captain Sewell settled at our feet, opened a plastic bag tucked under our seat and proceeded to carve an intricate design on a calabash gourd. One of 98 men who earn their living guiding travellers on the Martha Brae, his work was beautifully executed with no more than a pocket knife.

Upon completion, he thumped his delicate-looking artwork against the raft's bamboo poles, showing me that it would be quite safe to take home in my suitcase. “Just stuff it with your underwear,” he said.

A daylight rafting trip on the Martha Brae is a special Jamaica experience, but for a truly magical encounter, an evening trip to the mouth of this mysterious river is guaranteed to take your breath away.

The Luminous Lagoon is one of only four places in the world where in its brakish waters millions of phosphorescent microbes are stirred to life by the movement of the tides, filling the dark surface with twinkling light. A swim in the Luminous Lagoon - and this is encouraged - could be likened to bathing in a sea of stars. 

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted by Anne Gordon on Friday, 20th July, 2012 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My flight to England in 2012 - AirTransat

Congratulations to AirTransat on being named the World's Best Leisure Airline.  As a photo journalist I've travelled frequently on AirTransat and each time I've come away impressed with the experience.  On my frequent visits to the United Kingdom AirTransat is my choice.

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Wednesday, 18th July.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Get free BritRail upgrade to 1st Class for 2013 travel
With Britain in the spotlight this summer, it’s sure to inspire viewers to add this beautiful destination to their 2013 travel plans. And now you get a free upgrade to 1st class for 2013 travel when you buy a 4 or 8 day BritRail Flexi Pass between July 20 and August 31, 2012. This classic BritRail Flexi Pass opens the doors to destinations throughout England, Scotland and Wales with the freedom to hop on and off trains at your leisure. The best part is –these promotional passes allow you to travel anytime in 2013 – that’s right, anytime, just be sure to validate your pass between January 1st and December 31st, 2013. Once your pass is validated, enjoy the leisurely pace of using up your 4 or 8 travel days within a period of 2 months!
A free upgrade to BritRail’s1st class pass not only represents more spacious seating, added leg room and free coffee, tea, cookies and newspapers on many services, it also serves up some pretty sweet savings: save $150 CAD on the 4 day 1st class BritRail Flexi Pass and $220 CAD on the 8 day 1st class BritRail Flexi Pass! Depending on the route, other 1stclass extras can include free Wi-Fi or even at-seat menu service, offering hot meal options that can be ordered at your seat and enjoyed en route.
And BritRail’svalue offer doesn’t end there. With access to over 2,500 destinations on Great Britain’s National Rail Network we leave it up to you to map out your ideal UK adventure. This includes access to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted Express trains – the quickest way from London’s airports to central London. Plus, BritRail invites you to keep a flexible schedule, where on many popular routes trains depart as often as every 15 minutes, making worries of missing your train a thing of the past. So whether you want to ride the rails through the lush Highlands of Scotland, journey to culture-rich cities such as London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool and Cardiff or tour old historic castles, a BritRailPass can take you there.
Get your BritRailPass by visiting, or by calling 1 866-938-7245 (North America). 

Image copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Tuesday, 17th July, 2012 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The new complex is hidden from the coastal landscape by a grass roof and features exhibitions on the legend and science behind the attraction where visitors can hear the stories of the people who have called this coastline home. They can find out about the wildlife that inhabits the area, watch the Giant's Causeway form before their eyes and spot clues to prove the mythical giant, Finn McCool, really did exist.

Some of the highlights of the new visitor centre and the surrounding Causeway include:
  • Four new walking trails will give visitors the chance to explore the Giant’s Causeway at their own pace – they are all colour-coded, designed for all fitness levels, and incorporate the Causeway’s stones, stunning cliff-top vistas and spectacular seascapes
  • The coastal path extends 11 miles (18 km) to the nearby Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge
  • Runkerry Head provides a beautiful two-mile (3 km) walk
  • Some of Europe’s finest cliff scenery with fantastic bird watching
  • Internationally-renowned geology, flora and fauna
Fact or Fiction: About the Giant’s Causeway
Made up of over 40,000 basalt columns that stretch out to sea, science tells us that the formation of this otherworldly landscape started 60 million years ago when magma from inside the earth came through cracks in the earth’s surface – lava flowed then cooled when it came in contact with air and rock, hardening into basalt. It took millions of years of erosion for the columns to begin to show and it wasn’t until after the last Ice Age, about 15,000 years ago, that the columns were revealed at the shore as they appear today. Locals, however, have their own story to tell. They say the Giant's Causeway was the stomping ground of giant Finn McCool, who lived in these parts nearly two thousand years ago, and built the Causeway so he could walk across the sea to Scotland and fight his great rival Benandonner.

For more information on the Giant’s Causeway visit

Photo copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Thursday, 12th july, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Spectacular scenic beauty
near Whistler, British Columbia

In the words of Virginia Wolff that famous novelist who dominated the literary scene in England in the early 20th century, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” I was to test her theory in various settings in Whistler, Canada’s premier holiday resort. 

On my first night in town I opted for the classic surroundings of the ‘Wine Room’ in the Fairmont Chateau Whistler.

With a policy of using only the best in regional and organic produce, the Chateau’s executive chef, Vincent Stufano, supports local farms. With a reputation as a mentor to the young chefs who people his domain, I was impressed to hear that Stufano, as well as guiding his protégés in the kitchen, takes them on mushroom picking expeditions. 

Chatting with Ben Pernosky, the hotel’s Executive Sous Chef, I discovered that Morel, Chanterelle and Pine mushrooms used in the hotel’s cuisine are gathered in surrounding mountain forests. Describing his favourite, the Pine mushroom, he waxed lyrical when he said “its taste is floral, like eating a Christmas tree”. In Japan this rare mushroom with a fragrance like sweet cinnamon can cost up to $250 in a superior restaurant.

My dining experience that evening commenced with seating at a table beside a huge stone fireplace. Bears, I was told, can frequently be seen lumbering past the ‘Wine Room’ windows on their way to mountain meadows.

Poached beet carpaccio and watercress, agassiz hazelnuts and Salt Spring Island chevre cheese paired with Orofino Riesling was my choice for a starter. Anticipating an equally delicious main course I ordered Thyme-Roasted Lamb Rack with Du puy lentils. Complimenting the lamb were raisinated grapes, in a lovage scented celeriac puree. 

A bottle of Australia’s Hugh Hamilton wine, ‘The Villain’ was, with its fruity aroma and a delicate hint of capsicum, the perfect accompaniment. Neither an epicurean nor a wine connoisseur, I must admit to being mystified by the inventive appellations given to the Hugh Hamilton wines; among them the comical ‘Loose Cannon’, ‘The Rascal’, ‘The Down-under Dog’, ‘The Mongrel’ and ‘The Scallywag’!

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Wednesday, 11th July, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

On a star spangled night in Maui we dined Hawaiian-style on lauhala mats. By the light of the moon and flickering candles we enjoyed a traditional feast – Kalua pig cooked in an imu (underground oven), Pulehu steak, Island Crab salad, Pohole salad, baked mahimihi, lomi lomi salmon and poi – served by brawny young men in flowered skirts.

Following the feast we were to see an amazing display of hula with accompanying oli (chant) and mele (song). Using eyes, hand and hips in a symphony of sensuality it was easy to understand why the island women had proved irresistibly intoxicating to the sailors of long ago.

But there is more to the hula than the undeniable sensuality of its movements. That night at the luau we were to see the spiritual dance that rests at the very heart of the Hawaiian culture. Once performed as an act of worship for their many gods and goddesses, hula is also used for story telling in the oral tradition of the Hawaiians. In the past the dance with its religious affiliation was performed to honor significant events in the life of a chief; his birth, his naming, and finally to celebrate his life at death. 

On a raised grassy platform beneath a full moon, dancers, dressed in Ti leaf skirts, coconut breast covers with flowers in their hair and necks encircled with orchid and frangipani leis, cast a spell over us all with their interpretation of the traditional hula.

We were to see hula in all its variety; the sacred and traditional version, its modern day counterpart, as well as that more constrained hula adopted to appease the sensitivities of the missionaries. To me it seemed as if the dancers were smiling inwardly as they swayed onto the raised grassy platform in long non-revealing dresses, their movements decidedly prim.

Did the missionaries really think they had finally curbed the exuberant passions of the Hawaiians when they first witnessed this unexpectedly modest display?

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Sunday 8th July, 2012

The explorer Captain James Cook who discovered Hawaii in 1778 loved the hula, but its sensuous connotations offended the sensibilities of the New England missionaries who arrived on the islands in the 1800s. They declared it “heathenish” and did their utmost to stamp it out.

Driven underground for 50 years, the hula eventually re-emerged in a much diminished form, this time approved by the island's moral arbiters. In place of their flowery leis and skimpy attire the gorgeous ladies were to be modest in their movements and each comely shape was confined in long-sleeved, high-necked Victorian dress. It just wasn't the same.

Fortunately the traditions and culture of the Hawaiians and other islanders in the south Pacific proved irrepresible and the flamboyant beauty of the hula is once more evident. Reinstated by “the Merrie Monarch”, King David Lalakaua, the hula in all its glory is today one of the compelling attractions of the Hawaiin islands, the Cook Island and other Polynesian islands.

An evening at the Old Lahaina Luau (a traditional Hawaiian feast) on the island of Maui invited a tantalizing glimpse into the Hawaiian culture. In a glorious setting right on the oean front, coconut palms laden with fruit, cast sharp etched silhouettes against the sky as a trio of musicians introduced us to that unique Hawaiian sound produced by the slack key guitar. The guitar was first used on the islands in the 19th century and the lilting melodies that we hear today are the ones that accompany the hula.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Sunday 8th July, 2012

Friday, July 6, 2012

View from our room at the Greenbank Hotel in Falmouth

We were to spend the next three nights in Falmouth's Greenbank Hotel. Located just a few minutes walk along the harbour front from the centre of town, I would describe the decor of the Greenbank as genteel olde-world English rather than North American glitz.

To reach the hotel we passed a sea wall sprouting clumps of pink and scarlet Valerian, and Originon dappled on slender stems like delicate lace. Along the way roses blowsy in the heat of summer, hydrangeas and fragrant honeysuckle perfumed miniature gardens.Leaning on the sea wall, I watched enchanted as a party boat broke free from surrounding yachts. Music trailed like a bridal veil from the rear of the boat, and seagulls, hundrds of them, like tossed confetti, swooped and dived in its wake.

Falmouth main street

Standing in the foyer imagined Florence Nightingale, a one time guest, making her entrance in a no-nonsense I'm in charge manner.  In the sitting room with its large comfy chairs and quiet elegance I could also imagine Kenneth Graham, author of that children's classic, “Wind in the Willows”, writing the letters to his son that subsequently became part of the “Wind in the Willows” story. Graham wrote those letters to his son while staying in the Greenbank Hotel. A massive intricately carved wooden seat at the hotel entrance conjured an image of two Victorian ladies whispering secretly behind fluttering fans as they awaited their carriage and a ride to afternoon tea with a titled friend.
The Greenbank, with large windows that open to a spectacular view of a flotilla of yachts at anchor, certainly has the prime position on the sea wall overlooking one of the largest natural harbours in the world.In our room with a view, we took a momentary break before setting out to explore. Within minutes we were confronted at the window by a curious seagull. Strutting up and down, squawking as they do, and finally hopping onto the window sill and knocking over a half empty cup of tea in its efforts to snatch a cookie, we were formally adopted for the next three days. No matter what time we arrived back, there he was, and if we didn't open the window, he tapped urgently on the glass with his beak. I must admit to enjoying and photographing all his facial expressions as he watched us from his window perch.He was cause for some alarm on one occasion when James, my husband, threw him a half eaten raw salmon sandwich. Catching it mid-flight, he tossed it in the air, caught it lengthwise and eventually swallowed it – with difficulty - just as they do when catching a fish.

Photos copyright Anne Gordon

Posted on Friday 6th July, 2012