Tag Archives: England

Traveling in Europe: Stonehenge

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My second day in England had me taking a train to Victoria Station to get to Stonehenge. Searching on the net for a map through Google showed a circuitous route of catching buses to the train, which would take about two hours. I asked the guest house instead, and in reality I walked about 15 minutes through Horley to the station. The one train ride was  around 45 minutes. I wandered around Victoria Station, which has shops from groceries to clothing, restaurants and stands of flowers, chocolates, pastries, etc. It’s covered over, massive, with at least eight tracks for trains (not to mention the underground) and can be confusing to figure out. There are information booths and I liberally used them to get my bearings.

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Stonehenge

I had booked a tour to Stonehenge online before I left Canada, because I wouldn’t be driving. This was through Evans tours and cost about 25 pounds. Entry fee by itself is 7.50 pounds, but if you’re going to be in England long enough you can by a UK Heritage pass, which will save you entry fees on various castles, churches and other historical sites. I dislike guided tours overall but this one consisted of the ride and the entry fee. You were given an audio device land eft to your own devices. We had about an hour and a half at the site.

And of course, it was raining, a lot. I watched sheets of rain and heavy black clouds, and stared out the window at the countryside as we took two hours to get there. The rain slowed somewhat by the time we arrived. I had bought a cheap, clear plastic poncho that I could throw over my jacket and day pack while I took pictures.

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I put this one in because the reddish thing to the right of the ground stone is not a rabbit. What is it?

The rain let up some and in a way it was a good thing. It added drama to the sky and cut down on the crowds. Yes there are about 100 people going by the stones at any one time. I debated putting pictures in of Stonehenge because there are so many out there, but I love the permutations of imagery.

The stones are indeed smaller than you would expect but still majestic in their way. As you walk around the henge, the path slopes gently down and what is believed to be the entry to the stones puts them on a rise and makes them look bigger, tower above the horizon. Many stones went missing over the centuries as they were taken for other construction. Some toppled. Debate continues as to the henge’s use but it indeed seems to have been a calendar that marked the passing of the summer solstice, just as Newgrange in Ireland marks the winter solstice. The are over 90 types of lichen that have been identified on the stones and some of them found nowhere else.

As fall comes along and the rains descend, I’ve been told that the stones turn more reddish because of the ores in their composition. In some of these pictures they’re just starting to turn red. But the stones have a variety of color; grey, black, white, green, beige, brown and shades in between. I’m fascinated by the architecture of humans and by the textures of stones. Some people will not find 50 some pictures of Stonehenge interesting but for me it’s both sculptural as art, and a mystery as to purpose. I’m glad I included Stonehenge in my trip.

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Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

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Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

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An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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Facial Types

When I went to Ireland, I began to recognize typical Irish faces. My friend Sam’s father was Irish and I didn’t know how Irish Sam looked until I was in the airport and saw a guy that could have been his brother.

As I travelled through Ireland I noticed this one face that I would call the quintessential Irish man’s face. The men were not really wizened but had broad brows, often creased with a line or two even at a young age. I saw eighteen-year-olds with this look. The eyes not large but big and bright, and the chin narrower, giving a triangular shape to the face. The guy we met in Donegal, that I called a leprechaun had this look. It was hard to tell his age because he looked both young and old at the same time.

There were other facial shapes that would be more Irish than not but this is the one I remember the best. With women, it was a rounder face, with high cheekbones and a bit of a ruddy complexion, or rosy cheeks and pale skin. Darker hair is more common and these people could be ancestrally related to the black Irish, those who descended more from the Picts than the Celts.

I took a university course once with a woman whose last name was Kelly. She had white white skin, rosy red limits and hair as black as midnight. She was a living example of Snow White and could not help but attract the eye with the vividness of her coloring.

When we got to Glasgow I noticed the rounder, broader faces with the fuller cheeks (puddin’ face). In some cases, it might be Scottish or English ancestry but seeing the people in Scotland I thought of my friend Chris and knew he had roots in England or Scotland.

Facial shapes are a general thing and of course the same type of face might be a characteristic of a another country’s indigenous peoples as well. Well known speculative fiction editor Ellen Datlow has very curly black hair, distinctive eyes and cheekbones. Her chin is pointed and her face broad. A couple of months go I was at a local restaurant with a group of people. A friend of a friend came in and she looked a lot like Ellen. She had the black curly hair, the same shape of eyes and cheekbones, the same chin.

She was young enough to be Ellen’s daughter but I’m pretty sure Ellen Datlow doesn’t have children. So I asked this woman if she had relatives in New York. She said yes but when I said the name Datlow, she said no. And she was El Salvadorean. Maybe Ellen has some Spanish ancestry in there.

Nature’s canvas is our faces. Each painting is different. There may be a series Nature does before moving on to try something new. My family is Italian and Danish. My brothers tend to take on the Italian coloring more whereas my sister and I are fairer hair and skinned, like the Danish side. We also look more like that side of the family, but it’s a combination. Nature doesn’t just work in paint but in mosaics as well, and that’s what we all are; pieces rearranged each generation into new and unique works of art.

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Writing: Rannu Fund Fiction & Poetry Winners

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To the right is the cover of Don Juan & Men, which is due out in June with my story, “The Boy Who Bled Rubies.” It is obviously a book with tales about the homo-erotic natures of men. I believe all the stories have a fantasy aspect, and mind definitely does.

As well, another story that also revolves around some taboo sex, “An Ember Amongst the Fallen” has been accepted by Nancy Kilpatrick for Evolve, a vampire anthology (of modern vampires, hence the title) due to debut in Brighton, England next year at the World Horror Convention.

And then, I entered the Rannu fund for poetry and fiction. I did not win, alas, nor get an honorable mention but received a note, I suppose. Here are the results of the winners, post by Sandra Kasturi, one of the patrons of the fund. Now I just need to sell my story, “Shoes.”

**Please note that all judging was done blind; names, bios, e-mails, etc. were all stripped from the entries.**

Fiction Winners (tie):
“Hell Friend” by Gemma Files
“As Promised” by Nick Stokes

Fiction Honourable Mentions:
“God’s Gift to the Natives: Flight” by Sandra Jackson-Opoku
“Crossroads and Gateways” by Helen Marshall

Fiction Judges: Robert Boyczuk, Candas Jane Dorsey, Sandra Kasturi

Poetry Winner:
“Visitation” by Kim Goldberg

Poetry Honourable Mentions:
“Book of Sloth” by Jacques Benoit
“The Gypsy” by Helen Marshall

Poetry Judges: David Livingstone Clink, Mildred Tremblay, Sandra Kasturi

We would also like to note the entries that made it onto one or more judges’ shortlists:

Fiction:
“Shoes” by Colleen Anderson
“Pearls Before Swine” by Don Bassingthwaite
“No Cages” by Kevin Nunn
“Natalie Touches Upon the World” by Ivan Faute

Poetry:
Jacques Benoit’s “Slow Day in Tabloidland”
Robert Borski’s “Neosaur,” “Frog Prince,” and “All the Clocks of Hell”
Gemma Files’ “Tantalus, Reaching Upwards” and “Jar of Salts”
Kim Goldberg’s “Inner Sanctum” and “Green Thumb”
Sidharth Gopinath’s “Watcher”
Riina Kindlam’s “Vulnerable, with a Pinch of Salt”
Helen Marshall’s “Howling,” “The Oak Girl,” “The Queen of the Cats,” and “Pan”

Thank you all for participating in this competition, and I hope you will all enter again next year–check the website for details in the fall. And thank you again for your patience as the judges got through the entries. (And thanks again to the judges!!)

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Happy Birthday, Newfoundland & Labrador

Sixty years ago, on April 1, 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador joined confederation. They were the last and tenth province to join Canada. Newfoundland has a rich and the oldest history of visiting peoples than anywhere else in the Americas.

Leif Ericson and his Vikings first came to the coastal shores in 1000 AD. How long they stayed and if they mixed in with the Beothuks and Mi’kmaq is unclear. But artifacts were found there nonetheless. John Cabot then rediscovered it in 1497 and it was claimed by Sir Humphrey Gilbert for England’s Queen Elizabeth I in 1583, making it the first overseas colony.

Governors were appointed through the 16 and 1700s. Whether it was a feather in their cap or a punishment is hard to tell. In 1855 Newfoundland was granted the right to government with its first prime minister Phillip Francis Little, a native of Prince Edward Island. They rejected confederation with Canada in 1869. For much of those years until 1890 Newfoundland was split along religious lines of Catholics and Anglicans with Irish and British colonialists. They were used as an example of why not to let Ireland self govern.

The politics finally changed to eliminate the religious aspects with Prime Minister Hugh Hoyles who worked hard to bring in both sides. In 1907 Newfoundland became a dominion. After the depression and a massive debt they joined confederation in 1949. Most Newfoundlanders will always mention Labrador as a distinct entity. It was in dispute for years as to who owned it, the French or the British. You will put yourself in good stead if you remember that Labrador is distinct too.

Some other aspects of Newfoundland are that it has the remains of a Basque whaling station in Red Bay dating from 1550. I have a friend in Washington who has a somewhat Spanish mix in him. He’s diminutive. When he and his wife went to Newfoundland they took a picture of him standing beside the Basque mannequin. They were of a height and very similar in skin tone and facial characteristics. There are three galleons and four chalupas under the waters around Newfoundland making it an underwater archeological site.

With a strong mix of Irish as well as Scottish and British in Newfoundland’s past, and being steeped in fishing culture, Newfoundland accents can be very strong. An old slang term for Newfoundlander is Newfie, or Newf. At one time it seems that it was derogatory and was used to indicate someone slow and of limited intelligence. Newfoundland was largely a religious and fishing community and an economically poor province for years. The term probably originate through those stigma. However, I remember my mother relating a tale. It was the end of the second world war and she was out with other friends, all in the military. One of the guys was from Newfoundland (at this time Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada). My mother naively called the guy a Newfie and the next thing she knew, he was trying to strangle her and several guys had to pull him off.

These days there is still a mixed feeling by Newfoundlanders as to whether it is perjorative or not. Make sure you know the person before using this diminutive. Newfoundland is also famous for its Newfie Screech, a locally made rum, reputed to be rough and high in alcohol. It’s probably smoothed out some these days. I have a tiny bottle that friends gave me and I’ll give it a try at some point soon. If you’re in Newfoundland, you can be screeched in, where you’ll drink a shot of screech, kiss a cogdfish (cod is somewhat rare these days to these may be dried?) on the mouth, and be asked, “Is ye an honourary Newfoundlander?” You answer, “‘Deed I is me old trout, and long may your big jib draw.”

Newfoundland is part of the rugged east coast. The geography is known to be beautiful though I cannot attest to this. Years ago I was working with a woman on a book of Newfoundland proverbs that she had gathered as well as true ghost stories. She was one of eleven children, a common size for families in the past. She told me some terrible tales of being in the small fishing village where her father ran the dogsled. The only phone was owned by the Catholic priest and her family was Anglican (or possibly Protestant) and how the priest would pull cruel revenges on the children. She suffered debilitating chronic fatigue, which the doctors believed was cause by the mercury in her system from all the polluted fish. These days the fishing industry, like so many other countries, is severely jeopardized and diminished. Newfoundland has lately reinvented itself and is prospering.

So bravo, Newfoundland and Labrador, for being unique, having a strong identity, reinventing yourselves and for joining Canada. We would definitely be a lesser place without you.

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