Rome’s Colosseum

The Colosseum is the largest amphitheatre ever built and a must-see highlight of any visit to Rome. We spent a day there before taking a Mediterranean cruise in 2011. After the cruise we spent another day in the city.

That first day had us take a hop on/hop off bus around the city and one of our hop off points was the Colosseum. We grabbed a light lunch and then walked around the perimeter.

This photo is a merge of two others. It captures the immense size of the Colosseum.

It is an ancient building and in remarkably good repair considering it is almost 2000 years old. Construction started under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD. He died in 79 AD and did not see the building completed the following year under his heir Titus. Financed by the spoils of the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, it was built with the slave labour of 100,000 Jews captured and spirited off to Rome.

Made of concrete and sand, it was large enough to accommodate 50-80,000 spectators, averaging around 65,000. Like modern stadiums, it was a venue for mass entertainment which included battling gladiators, wild animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles, dramas based on Classical mythology and public executions. Yes, Christians were fed to lions here. In fact, the Pope marks every Good Friday by a Way of the Cross procession that starts at the Colosseum to honour Christian martyrs.

The Arch of Constantine, built in 315 AD, stands near the Colosseum.

Interestingly enough, twenty years after its construction, the poet Juvenal published his Satire X which includes the following lines:

“Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Juvenal is lamenting the practice of gaining political office by bribing the voters with free wheat and mass spectacles. It marked the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. Walking around the perimeter we were impressed by the vastness of the Colosseum and its great beauty. The two millennia since its creation have left it weathered and eroded. It underwent extensive renovations from 1993 to 2000 at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire (US$19.3 million).

This end on view of the outer wall of the Colosseum captures its great height. The outer wall is shored up by supports built during renovations.

There were originally two walls, an outer wall and an inner wall. The inner wall remains largely intact but only a small portion of the outer wall remains. It is shored up at both ends by sloped concrete supports. But even with all the renovation, you can see cracks in the facade at various places, not to mention large stones at the base which have fallen from the structure.

Some of the stone work on the facade looks precarious but didn’t seem to phase the tourists walking below.

We saw some men in gladiator garb posing with tourists on our walk as well as a wedding party. It is a popular locale for wedding photos.

The Colosseum is a popular locale for wedding photos. Did you spot them in the picture of the Arch of Constantine above?

After our cruise we visited the Colosseum once again, this time paying to go inside. Well worth the money. The inside is as spectacular as the outside and well worth the visit.

As we entered we passed a recently recovered partial statue. There is continuous archeological work going on around Rome. This partial statue was probably of a horse and rider, but we were amused by it because all that remains is, how shall we put it, a horse’s ass.

The back end of a horse is all that remains of this recently discovered statue.

Inside you get a terrific view of the hypogeum, a series of underground passages and rooms, and a partially reconstructed stage at one end. The staging, made of wood, covered the entire subterranean level during the Colosseum’s heyday. Many spectacles were staged that involved lifts and hoists moving animals, actors and stage props from below to the arena floor.

The interior of the Colosseum showing the hypogeum and a partial reconstruction of the arena floor.

The hypogeum was a later addition to the Colosseum and in its early years, at least two mock sea battles or naumachiae were staged there. This involved filling the basin with water and bringing in ships. One was staged by Titus when the Colosseum opened in 80 AD and another by Domitian in 85 AD.

It must have been quite the spectacle. Some experts figure that water supplied by aqueducts and a series of pipes and channels could fill the basin to a depth of five feet in just 35 to 76 minutes. These battles were considerably bloodier than the gladiatorial battles often staged in the arena. They involved many more people, 3000 in the event staged by Titus. Condemned prisoners were used and they fought to the death.

Shortly after the last naumachia,  the hypogeum was built which precluded staging more of these spectacles.

Some detail of the hypogeum, the underground passages and rooms used to handle actors and props before they made their way to the stage.

Up to 80,000 people filled the stadium in its prime but  little seating remains. There are many sloped angular buttresses which held the seating at one time, but now stand alone. There is a little bit of seating extant above the renovated stage area. I’m not sure if this is original or recreated for tourists.

Flying buttresses supported the original seating area.
Some seating above the stage. Not sure if this is original or a recreation.

One of the things we noticed in the Colosseum was the large number of feral cats. We noticed them outside on our earlier visit and now again inside. Not sure what it is with ancient ruins and wild felines, but we first encountered them in the walled city of Cadiz in Spain and we later came across more of them at the ruins in Ephesus.

Feral cats keep the tourists company on a visit to the Colosseum.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Colosseum and can only imagine how it must have been in its heyday, the scene of great and bloody spectacles. The fact that these extravaganzas were staged with real people fighting to the death or even put to death in contests with ferocious beasts gives one chills. But even today gore fests remain popular in movies and television shows, though these are non-lethal make-believe. In less civilized parts of the world, live beheadings and stonings of the condemned remain popular with the masses.

I’ve included an additional photo gallery as well as links to a couple of articles on naumachiae.

Captain Kent’s Last Cruise (and Our First)

Up until 2005 we had long thought a cruise would be a terrific vacation but we were under the impression that cruising was for rich people and we were hardly rich. And so we didn’t really consider it seriously.

Our friends Chris and Sheila had been on a couple of cruises and they excitedly told us about one coming up, a repositioning cruise from San Diego to Vancouver. You only had to pay one way fares to get to San Diego instead of round-trip. And repositioning cruises are bargain priced. So we said yes, we would join them on this adventure.

Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.
Our friends Chris and Sheila invited us to join them for what would be our very first cruise.

A repositioning cruise, in case you don’t know, is a cruise that does exactly as it it says. It is a one-time cruise that moves a ship from one route to another. The ship we would be taking, the Radiance of the Seas, had just finished up its winter gig plying the waters from Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta. Now it was heading to Vancouver to start the summer season sailing the Alaska run.

Not only was this our first cruise, it was also one of the most memorable of the six we have taken so far. It is the only cruise for which we actually remember the name of one of the people serving our table. And it is the only cruise for which we remember the name of the captain.

Leaving San Diego
Leaving San Diego

We flew to San Diego and boarded the ship. Sailing out of the port, we passed a large aircraft carrier. Everything about cruising was new to us – the daily evening entertainment in the large theatre, the fabulous food, all included in the price, the entertainment at the various bars and clubs aboard the ship, the sheer size of the ship itself.

We pass an airraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.
We pass an aircraft carrier as we leave San Diego. The Coronado Bridge is in the background.

Each ship has its own complement of singers, dancers and musicians to entertain. And the ship brings in special guest entertainers for most of the shows. Each ship’s entertainment is managed and hosted by a Cruise Director. Ours was a lively fellow named Gordon.

Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.
Royal Caribbean singers and dancers entertain during one of the nightly shows.

We had opted for fixed dinner seating with the same fellow passengers each night and so we got to know  few people from around the world – mostly American actually. But the crew on a cruise ship is made up of a cosmopolitan blend of people from all over the world. Our Assistant Waiter was a gal from Chile. Her name was Lily. That’s right – Lily from Chile! And she was an absolute delight. Super friendly, superior service, just an all around beautiful person. While the service is always excellent, Lily is the only person we remember by name. She just resonated with us in a special way.

Janis with Lily from Chile.
Janis with Lily from Chile.

One of the regular features on a Royal Caribbean cruise is an art auction. We attended and actually bought a couple of small pieces including a limited edition print of Charlie Brown and Snoopy signed by Charles Schulz.

Attending the art auction.
Attending the art auction.

Our first port-of-call was San Francisco and, as is typical of all cruises, we had the option of taking a packaged tour or of just leaving the ship and exploring on our own. Since the ship docked near Fisherman’s Wharf, we decided we would just wander around on our own. I went over our visit in some detail in a previous post.

Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco
Janis and I hop aboard a cable car in San Francisco

At one of the bars one evening, we were entertained by the captain himself. Seems our captain, Kent Ringborn, a veteran mariner, came from a family of sailors, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. He joined the Swedish Merchant Marine Academy at fifteen. He received his mariners license at twenty-two. And after a stint with the Swedish Navy, he served on cargo vessels for a few years, becoming a captain before the age of thirty.

During his long career, he even captained an ice breaker for the Swedish National Maritime Administration. And in 1991 he started a career with the cruise ship industry, joining Royal Caribbean in 1995. He oversaw the building of the Radiance of the Seas and became her captain when she was launched in April 2001.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Captain Kent Ringborn oversaw the construction of the Radiance of the Seas.

Although not formally trained in music, Captain Kent loved to sing and sometimes joined the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers performing a solo. He became known as the singing captain and over the years guests had asked for a souvenir of his performances. So he eventually recorded a CD with eighteen songs that included such classics as Sailing, Some Enchanted Evening, Edelweiss, Old Man River and Hallelujah. He changed the lyrics slightly on Welcome to My World to Welcome to Our World – the world of cruising.

We learned that this was Captain Kent’s last cruise as captain. He was retiring at the end of this voyage.

Captain Kent in the limelight.
Captain Kent in the limelight.

We continued on our cruise with a stop at Astoria, Oregon. The port there cannot accommodate cruise ships, so we anchored in the bay and reached shore by tender. There is not a lot to do in Astoria but we had seen the Astoria Column, its most striking landmark, on a previous road trip through Astoria and none of the other excursions interested us so we just wandered around the town for the day. Many nice little shops and restaurants. A pleasant town to visit.

Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.
Astoria is a sleepy little ton at the mouth of the Columbia River. We had to reach shore by tender.

Then on our way again to our next port-of-call, Victoria, B.C.. Our wives had secretly booked high tea at the Empress Hotel, a Victoria landmark and we had a great time.

High Tea at the Empress in Victoria
High Tea at the Empress in Victoria

Then on to Vancouver and home. As we went to our cabins for the last time, we found that Captain Kent had left a parting gift for every passenger, a copy of his CD as a souvenir. Below are the highlights of our trip put to the captain’s rendition of Welcome to Our World.  It was our first cruise and a most memorable one. And it had us hooked on cruising which is, dollar for dollar, one of the best vacations you can enjoy.

Check out my previous post, The Joy of Cruising, for a bit more on the cruising experience as well as a complete rundown on all the cruises we have taken to date.

Sicily and Mount Etna

Follow us on Facebook!

To celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary we spent a week in Paris followed by a Mediterranean cruise. The first port of call was Sicily. The ship passed through the narrow strait between the island and the toe of Italy’s boot and then into the harbor of Messina, the island’s third largest city. A golden statue known as the Madonna of the Letter greets you as you enter the sheltered bay. The latin quote at its base says “Vos at ipsam civitatem benedicimus”. It means “We bless you and your city” and is a taken from a letter sent by the Virgin Mary to the people of Messina in 42 AD.

The Madonna of the Letter
The Madonna of the Letter greets ships arriving at Messina, Sicily

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean and is rich in history with Greek, Roman, Phoenician and Byzantine influences. There are many ancient ruins as well as cathedrals to visit, but we opted for a trip up Mount Etna. The only volcano I had seen up close before was Mount Saint Helens in Washington state.

A bus took us along the shore road that included a number of short tunnels as we wended our way south. We stopped at the town of Giardini Naxos where we saw a copy of the Winged Nike, Goddess of Victory. The original is in the Louvre in Paris. The metal statue was created by Italian  sculptor Carmelo Mendola in 1965. It stands on Cape Schiso looking out to sea. It marks the spot where Greeks landed to found a colony in 734 BC.

Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily
Winged Nike at Giardini Naxos, Sicily

From there we went up the coast to the small town of Giarre where we visited the artisan jewelry factory of Gival. It is located in a grand old mansion, a beautiful building which features gilt ceilings in its spacious lobby.

The ceiling at Gival Jewelry
The magnificent ceiling at Gival Jewelry

In the basement we saw a number of artisans at work. Later we were treated to complimentary drinks and snacks. The banquet room had a display of seven swords in a fan shape on the wall.

Artisans at work making jewelry
Artisans at work making jewelry
Swords on display in the banquet room
Swords on display in the banquet room above the table of goodies

After we left the jewelry place, we took a long and winding road up Mount Etna, passing a number of vineyards along the way. The road took us to the Sylvestri Crater, the highest point you can reach by car or bus (1900 metres). Etna erupted at this point in 1892 but it has been dormant since then. The Google Earth map below shows the crater.

As you can see, there is a restaurant nearby as well as a large parking lot. The entire complex straddles a lava flow from higher up. The landscape is stark and almost barren. A few grasses have managed to emerge in places.

The Sylvestri Crater
The Sylvestri Crater

A roadway between the restaurant and the parking area runs right over the lava flow. This flow, a guide told us, is less than twenty years old. Etna is still a very active volcano. Unfortunately, some people don’t know how to take pride in this piece of heritage and litter could be seen on the lava.

A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.
A fair amount of litter was evident on the lava flow.

Nearby was a gondola ride to a higher elevation. It was a bit foggy on the day we were there so we did not go higher. But what we saw was spectacular. I’d love to be there when Etna is actually erupting. That would be one heck of a sight!

Hardened lava is everywhere.
Hardened lava is everywhere.

After some time on Mount Etna, we took the bus back to our ship. I’ve got more pictures in the accompanying Photo Gallery. And a few additional links.

Follow us on Facebook!

Photo Gallery: Sicily

Follow us on Facebook!

DCIM100SPORT
The city of Messina, Sicily
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
Janis and I near Gardini Naxos
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
The Gival Jewels Factory is in a beautiful Italian heritage home.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
Even the front yard sports some marble statuary.
The chandelier in the lobby.
The chandelier in the lobby.
An artisan at work.
An artisan at work.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Stark landscape near the Sylvestri Crater on Mount Etna.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Janis with a giant lava boulder.
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater
Walking around the Sylvestri Crater (on the left). The car park area is on the leftover the lava field. You can see a plume of mist on the left from a steam vent. 
Lots of trails to walk here.
Lots of trails to walk here.
DCIM100SPORT
The Sylvestri Crater immediately in the foreground. 
DCIM100SPORT
The long winding road back down to sea level.
Many vineyards along the way.
Many small towns and vineyards along the way.

Follow us on Facebook!

The Mayan Ruins at Tulum

Follow us on Facebook!

When you stay in Cancun, it seems almost mandatory to check out some ancient ruins while you’re there. The most popular is Chichen Itza which is 200 kilometres inland. But also popular though not as well known is the coastal Mayan city of Tulum. It is right along the coast 128 kilometres from Cancun.

Tulum was a walled city and a seaport, a major trading hub for the Mayan civilization with a population of around 1000-1600 people. It thrived between the 13th and 15th centuries but was decimated by diseases brought in by the Spanish. By the end of the 16th century it was completely abandoned.

Major restoration work began in and continued throughout the 20th century. It is one of the best-preserved Mayan excavations, though considerably smaller than Chichen Itza.

DCIM100SPORT
This pyramid-like building is known as El Castillo, the castle.

Tour buses leave Cancun daily for Tulum and we took one of these excursions. Onsite, a guide gives you a running commentary on the various different structures.  While you can explore in your own, we found our guide very knowledgable and helpful.

There are many structures on the site. The major ones include El Castillo, the castle, as well as several temples. The Temple of the Wind commands an excellent view of the sparkling blue Caribbean waters.

The Temple of the Wind
The Temple of the Wind

The Temple of the Frescoes stands in front of El Castillo, a  modest structure by comparison.

The Temple of the Frescoes
The Temple of the Frescoes

One of the things that sets Tulum apart from Chichen Itza is its location. It sits on a 12 meter limestone bluff overlooking the sea. Near El Castillo are steps leading down to a beautiful beach. If you’re planning a visit, be sure to bring your swimsuit!

Looking down the steps to the beach
Looking down the steps to the beach
On the beach at Tulum
On the beach at Tulum. That`s El Castillo on the bluff above the beach.

We did not bring swimsuits as we did not know about the beach. But we did take off our shoes and socks and waded through the surf. There is also good snorkeling in the area.

Janis and I in the surf at Tulum
Janis and I in the surf at Tulum

Tulum is a site steeped in history with a majestic setting. Definitely worth checking out on your Cancun vacation.

We’ll end this post with some additional photos.

DCIM100SPORT
The Temple of the Wind seen from a different angle
DCIM100SPORT
Another view of El Castillo
DCIM100SPORT
Tulum is the third most popular Mayan ruin
DCIM100SPORT
Besides the ancient ruins, there is lush plant life as well as carefully manicured lawns.

Follow us on Facebook!

Where Two Oceans Meet

Follow us on Facebook!

How many oceans are there and can you name them? Most people can come up with three – the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They are, in fact, the largest. But there are two more – the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean is sometimes called the Antarctic Ocean. It is so-called because it blankets the southern hemisphere, encircling the continent of Antarctic. The boundaries, however, have shifted over time.

The_shrinking_Southern_Ocean
By Cruickshanks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The first map published by the International Hydrographic Association in 1928 had the northern boundaries touch Cape Horn, the southern end of Africa and the entire southern portion of Australia. That’s the area marked as the Great Australian Bight on the map. Since then the boundaries have been progressively moved south. Australia, however, still considers the body of water to their immediate south as the Southern Ocean.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse
Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

In any event, the last place we visited on our Margaret River road trip in March 2016 was to the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse near Augusta. This hstorical beacon was opened in 1985. Today it is a fully automated lighthouse. While the tower itself is closed to the public, the grounds are not. For a nominal fee you can get headphones for a guided audio tour.

The colorful history of the site is related on the audio tour as well as on signs along the way. The numerous outbuildings are explained. They include the lighthouse keeper’s cottage.

IMG_5284-r
The lighthouse keeper’s cottage. Now just a relic as the lighthouse is fully automated.

But what is of particular interest is that Cape Leeuwin is the most south-westerly point in Australia. It marks the point where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet. Like the folks who denounced the deplanetification of Pluto, the Australians will tell those who deny the Southern Ocean borders their country, “Bight me!”

IMG_5289-r

Although you can walk around the lighthouse, you cannot go up the tower. But there are walkways all around.  And signage describes the history and the landmarks to note.

IMG_5299-r
Two oceans meet. That’s no ocean, you say? Bight me!

We took the steps down to the rocks below. Access is blocked but it is easy to get through the fence. The wind and the waves are a beautiful sight.

Looking out at the junction of two oceans
Looking out at the junction of two oceans

On our walk back we once more passed an interesting piece of pop art – a cow with a telescope. It’s called Moorine Marauder. A nearby sign tells the story: From March to June 2010, 85 cows were positioned across the Margaret River Region as part of the world’s largest public art event “Cow Parade”. In July 2010 the cows were auctioned off with the proceeds going to regional beneficiaries and charities.

Moorine Marauder
Moorine Marauder

Similar pop art festivals have been held in Vancouver and other cities. Of the 85 cows, a great many ended up in the town of….. Cowaramup, of course. Pictures will show up in a future post.

And always with an eye out for the weird and whacky, it seems their were some hippy wannabes visiting the lighthouse. At least if their van is anything to go by!

The Dope Fiend Van. Note the good advice on the back panel.
The Dope Fiends Van. Note the good advice on the back panel. A company called Wicked Campers rents out these colorful vehicles.

The lighthouse marked the end of our road trip we headed back to our rented house for the night and back to Perth in the morning. But we encountered one more interesting sight on the drive back. Tree huggers! Literally! We were driving through a heavily forested area and came across several dozen people standing in the woods hugging trees.

A bunch of tree huggers! Literally!
A bunch of tree huggers! Literally! Note the two at the far right.
Cutaway close-up of two tree huggers from the earlier photo.
Cutaway close-up of two tree huggers from the earlier photo.

We didn’t stop to chat, just snapped a couple of quick pics as we passed, so I don’t know what this was all about. There was a parking lot with some cars and a bus. A school outing perhaps? Some eccentric back-to-nature group? We don’t know.

We’ll close off with a few more photos. We enjoyed the drive out to Augusta. It’s only about 50 kilometres from the town of Margaret River but much of it is windy road. And there are other stops along the way. On the way out we stopped for lunch at a berry farm that sells home-made jams. More on that with pics in a later post.

Looking up at the lighthouse
Looking up at the lighthouse
A spectacular and rare two ocean view
A spectacular and rare two ocean view
Another view of two oceans
Another view of two oceans
Looking back at the lighthouse from the rocky shore
Looking back at the lighthouse from the rocky shore
A plaque commemorating early Dutch explorers to the region
A plaque commemorating early Dutch explorers to the region
A last look at the forest full of tree huggers though only a few are visible here
A last look at the forest full of tree huggers though only a few are visible here

Follow us on Facebook!

A Boss Time in St. Thomas

Follow us on Facebook!

One of our ports of call on our January 2015 Caribbean cruise was St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As with most cruises, various excursions were offered and while the ladies opted for an island tour, my brother-in-law Don and I decided to check out something called the BOSS adventure.

The town of St. Thomas in the U.S.Virgin Islands
The town of St. Thomas in the U.S.Virgin Islands

BOSS stands for Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter. It’s sort of a mini-submarine that you can use to check out marine life and the ocean floor in relatively shallow water.

We boarded a cabin cruiser called The Prince of Tides and headed out for a sheltered cove. Once there the submersibles were lowered by crane into the water – fourteen of them.

The Prince of Tides
The Prince of Tides

There were thirty or forty of us on this excursion so the little subs went out in three alternating groups. Each craft was tethered to a float. To mount it, a person would duck down under the water and poke his head up into a plastic bubble as he straddled the saddle of the scooter. The bubble was connected to a scuba tank which provided the rider with air.

Underwater view of a pod of scooters
Underwater view of a pod of scooters

Once in the saddle, the BOSS unit was lowered down into the water. For those of us remaining on the Prince of Tides, we watched as a group of floats moved off like a school of surface fish. The craft are powered by electric motors and are steerable.

A group of floats head away from our ship, exploring the sea bottom and the marine life.
A group of floats head away from our ship, exploring the sea bottom and the marine life.

Each pod of scooters was accompanied by a scuba diver. Those remaining on the ship snacked, enjoyed the music playing or jumped over to do some snorkeling while waiting their turn.

The waters here were swarming with yellowtail snappers. The captain gave one young lady a bag of food pellets to toss out them. The fish jumped and swarmed like ravenous wolves.

When our turn came, Don and I went down to explore on our BOSS craft. I had brought an underwater camera and filmed our little adventure, including being lowered down, roving along and exploring and later being hoisted up and exiting the craft.

The snorkeling was also fun. I’d only snorkeled once before and didn’t like it. That was in Puerto Vallarta and we were our in the open bay. Large swells and waves had me swallowing water repeatedly and I cut that experience short quickly. Here we were in a sheltered cove. The water was calm, smooth as glass, and the snorkeling was a lot of fun. So much to see underwater.

One of the many fish we saw on our adventure
One of the many colorful fish we saw on our adventure
Some brain coral on the ocean floor
Some brain coral on the ocean floor

After everyone had taken their turn with the submersibles, they were hauled back onto the deck. The video below shows them being hauled out and also gives you a good look at what these submersibles look like. 

As we headed back to St. Thomas we passed a variety of resorts.

Resorts abound in St. Thomas
Resorts abound in St. Thomas

And we passed the three cruise ships in port. St. Thomas is a popular port-of-call. Although we were on the Ruby Princess and have never cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines, their ships are among the most colorful, with huge murals on their bows.

DCIM100SPORT
Colorful mural of a mermaid on the Norwegian Getaway.

Don and I had a boss time in St. Thomas.

I’ll leave you with a few additional photos from the trip.

A BOSS submersible being hauled out of the water
A BOSS submersible being lowered into the water
Riding along on our underwater scooters
Riding along on our underwater scooters with our scuba diving guide
The ocean floor and a colorful fish
The ocean floor and a colorful fish
This catamaran loaded with tourists also entered our sheltered cove
This catamaran loaded with tourists also entered our sheltered cove
Three cruise ships in port
Three cruise ships in port
A popular mode of transportation in St. Thomas
A popular mode of transportation in St. Thomas – open air taxis
Links of Interest

Follow us on Facebook!

Great Scott! It’s the Great Gatsby!

Follow us on Facebook!

Rowena’s Inn on the River is a delightful trip back in time. It’s an old homestead built by a pioneer logger in the area for his family.

Charles Nelson Pretty was a businessman and entrepreneur. In the 1920s he had an opportunity to buy a 160 acre parcel of land in Harrison Mills. That land became, among other things, a dairy farm, a silvertip fox farm and a logging operation. At one time, Pretty’s operation was the largest privately owned logging company in all of British Columbia.

DCIM100SPORT
The Pretty Estate overlooks the Harrison River #HarrisonMills

When the home was built, there was no road. The Pretty family took the train to Harrison Mills and paddled by canoe to their estate. Later he had a yacht built and sailed up the river, mooring in front of his home.

While Charles and his wife Rowena spent much of their time in Vancouver, they also spent time in Harrison Mills. Betty-Anne, the youngest of their four children was actually born at the home.

rowenasinn-s
The Pretty family home at Harrison Mills

There was no electricity, so Pretty built a dam and produced his own electricity. The home still runs off the power from this generator.

In 1968, two of the children died tragically within six months of each other. Charles Pretty passed away in 1992 at the ripe old age of 102. The two surviving siblings, Ivan and Betty-Anne decided to convert the old manor into a Bed and Breakfast in 1995. They named the inn Rowena’s after their mother and late sister. There are five bedrooms available.

Four cozy cabins were added and the gatehouse which has two bedrooms is also available.

Two of the four cabins available for rent
Two of the four cabins available for rent #Luxurycottage

Ivan thought the location was ideal for a gold course and the 18 hole Sandpiper Golf Course soon became a reality. A restaurant was built adjacent to the old homestead. It was called the River’s Edge Restaurant but was renamed as the Clubhouse Restaurant to tie it in with the golf course. (I like the old name better!)

After Ivan passed away, Betty-Anne bought out his share and became sole owner of the property. Though Betty-Anne sold the estate in 2016, she and her husband Doug still live in the house, though Doug is currently in a convalescent home.

One of the sand traps at the golf course is in the shape of a sasquatch footprint!
One of the sand traps at the golf course is in the shape of a sasquatch footprint! #RowenasInn

The house is filled with antique furniture and old photos of the family’s history. As a home from the 1920s,  it seemed an ideal place to hold an annual themed party costume party. And so the annual Great Gatsby Party came about.

Janis and I and a vintage Rolls Royce at the Great Gatsby Party in 2014
Janis and I and a vintage Rolls Royce at the Great Gatsby Party in 2014 #RowenasInn

We attended the party in 2014, dressed up in costume, and stayed overnight with our friends Chris and Sheila. The Pretty family and their staff do it up in grand style. They bring in several old period cars and park them on the lawn of the estate. They bring in a few large tents in case it rains (which it occasionally does) and they brought in a swing band, the Jen Hodge All Stars, to provide some atmospheric music. They rocked the place. Band leader Hodge is the bass player in the video below.

There were also professional dancers to get people into the swing of things.

Professional dancers got people's toes tapping.
Professional dancers got people’s toes tapping. #RowenasInn

It did rain for a while during the day and the party was moved under the tents and indoors. Tea and refreshments were served, including 1920s era drinks like mint juleps.

Janis and Sheila enjoy a cup of tea while chatting with Betty-Anne, the sole remaining child of patriarch Charles Pretty.
Janis, Sheila  and Chris chat with Betty-Anne, the sole remaining child of patriarch Charles Pretty. #HistoricalInn

Of course, one of the main attractions is the attendees. Some go all out to create the 1920s look. Flapper dresses, vests, suspenders and pocket watches. My wife sewed her own dress for the occasion.

Three gals in flapper dresses
Three gals in flapper dresses #RowenasInn

We thought that the party might just attract older folks like ourselves but we were surprised by how many young people got into the spirit of the occasion.

Outside under a tent, the Baz Luhman version of The Great Gatsby was playing on a screen, but not many people were watching. It was backdrop.

The movie of The Great Gatsby was playing in the backgound
The movie of The Great Gatsby was playing in the backgound #RowenasInn

The Gatsby Party skipped a year in 2016 but is back for 2017. A limited number of rooms and cabins are also available if you want to stay overnight.

Below is a short promotional video the estate produced for the Great Gatsby Party. My wife and I just happen to have a cameo appearance.

And while the Gatsby Party is a fun reason to visit Rowena’s, there are other reasons and seasons to visit. The inn is at the base of the road that leads to the Hemlock Ski Resort. The same road leads to the Weaver Creek Spawning Channel where you can watch salmon spawn. It’s open for visits from Oct. 6 to Nov. 1 every year.

And the Harrison River attracts one of the largest gatherings of bald eagles in North America every year in November. November 18-19 this year kicks off the annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. Pretty Estates is a great place for eagle watching.

And this year the estate is having a special Valentine’s dinner in both the Clubhouse Restaurant and in the dining room at the inn. My wife and I have booked a two day stay and are looking forward to it.

Rowena’s is a thoroughly charming trip back in time with many activities to choose from. It’s only 21.9 kilometres from Harrison Hot Springs and 108 kilometres from Vancouver, about an hour and a half drive.

Below are two photo galleries and some links of interest. If you’re on the front page of this blog, just scroll on down, otherwise click on the links. I will be taking more photos and adding them after Valentine’s Day.

Follow us on Facebook!

Photo Gallery: Great Gatsby Party

Follow us on Facebook!

Here are some more photos from the Great Gatsby Party at Rowena’s Inn on the River in 2014. The party is being held again on June 11, 2017.

The Great Gatsby Party at Rowena's
The Great Gatsby Party at Rowena’s
Live music from the Jen Hodge All Stars
Live music from the Jen Hodge All Stars
Tents were set up to provide shade and/or shelter from the rain
Tents were set up to provide shade and/or shelter from the rain
Professional dancers added to the mood.
Professional dancers added to the mood.
A number of people mingled at poolside
A number of people mingled at poolside
My wife sewed her own outfit and created the fascinator she's wearing
My wife sewed her own outfit and created the fascinator she’s wearing
Janis and Sheila have tea
Janis and Sheila have tea
Betty-Anne's husband Doug chats with Chris and Sheila. Doug is now 90 and in a convalescent home
Betty-Anne’s husband Doug chats with Chris and Sheila. Doug is now 90 and in a convalescent home
One of the classic cars brought in for the party
One of the classic cars brought in for the party
This classic Rolls was also on display
This classic Rolls was also on display
The guy on the right won best male costume
The guy on the right won best male costume
Betty-Anne presents the prize for best female costume
Betty-Anne presents the prize for best female costume
Janis and I near the restaurant
Janis and I near the restaurant

Follow us on Facebook!

Photo Gallery: The Butchart Gardens

Follow us on Facebook!

Here are some additional photos of the Butchart Gardens.

The Sunken Garden
The Sunken Garden. You can see the last remaining stack of the old cement plant among the trees on the right.
The flower gardens are stunning in their beauty.
The flower gardens are stunning in their beauty.
The Mound surrounded by flower beds.
The Mound surrounded by flower beds and shrubs and covered in ivy.
Janis, Chris and Sheila on top of the Mound.
Janis, Chris and Sheila on top of the Mound.
The Mound from the other side.
The Mound from the other side.
The Ross Fountain
The Ross Fountain
Janis rides a brass horse.
Janis rides a brass horse.
The carousel
The carousel
Close-up of a fuchsia flower
Close-up of a fuchsia flower
Close-up of whatever kind of flowers these are.
Close-up of whatever kind of flowers these are.
A beautiful yellow rose
A beautiful yellow rose
A blood red lily
A blood red lily
A busy bee gathers some nectar
A busy bee gathers some nectar
There were a few salamanders in this garden.
There were a few salamanders in this garden.
A moss owl.
A sphagnum moss owl.
Gorgeous lilies
Gorgeous lilies
The Three Sturgeons
The Three Sturgeons Fountain
The Butchart house
The Butchart house
The Japanese Garden
The Japanese Garden
Sculpted trees in the Japanese Garden
Sculpted trees in the Japanese Garden
An interesting flower in the Japanese Garden
An interesting flower in the Japanese Garden
Looking out to the Tod Inlet from the Star Pond
Looking out to the Tod Inlet from the Star Pond
Tod Inlet
Tod Inlet. Boat rides are now offered.
Colourful flower bed alongside the Italian Garden
Colourful flower bed alongside the Italian Garden
Close-up of some flowers in that garden
Close-up of some flowers in that garden
Janis and Tacca, the wild boar.
Janis and Tacca, the wild boar.
A superb succulent garden near the parking lot.
A superb succulent garden near the parking lot.

Follow us on Facebook!