Le Château de Versailles




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Most of central Paris is within walking distance. And on the afternoon we arrived, we did just that, walked around the old city – from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysées to the Louvre, and back along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower again. Many other attractions are within easy reach.

But the next day, our first full day, we ventured out of the city center to see the fabulous Château de Versailles. This palace and its surrounding gardens are about twenty kilometres from the city center and easily reached by train.

Leaving the train station we walked a block and turned the corner and there it was.

The front of the palace features lot of gilt work.

What started out as a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII in 1624 was greatly expanded by the Sun King, Louis XIV from 1661 to 1678. It was expanded again from 1678 to 1715 when two large wings were added to flank the Royal Courtyard. This phase also saw the replacement of the west facing terrace with what is now the Hall of Mirrors, the most famous and most popular room in the palace.

Versailles became the seat of power in pre-revolutionary France when Louis XIV moved the royal court there in 1682. It wasn’t until the French Revolution of 1789 that the seat of government was moved back to Paris.

Janis and I at the Apollo Fountain with the palace in the background. All the windows facing the gardens are from the Hall of Mirrors and its flanking salons.

Louis XIV liked to do things big and Versailles is probably his crowning achievement. The palace has 2300 rooms. The cost to build it was staggering. Wikipedia gives this description:

“One of the most costly elements in the furnishing of the grands appartements during the early years of the personal reign of Louis XIV was the silver furniture, which can be taken as a standard – with other criteria – for determining a plausible cost for Versailles. The Comptes meticulously list the expenditures on the silver furniture – disbursements to artists, final payments, delivery – as well as descriptions and weight of items purchased. Entries for 1681 and 1682 concerning the silver balustrade used in the salon de Mercure serve as an example:

  • Year 1681
    II. 5 In anticipation: For the silver balustrade for the king’s bedroom: 90,000 livres
  • II. 7 18 November to Sieur du Metz, 43,475 livres 5 sols for delivery to Sr. Lois and to Sr. de Villers for payment of 142,196 livres for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king’s bedroom and 404 livres for tax: 48,861 livres 5 sol.
  • II. 15 16 June 1681 – 23 January 1682 to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths on account for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king’s use (four payments): 88,457 livres 5 sols.
  • II. 111 25 March – 18 April to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths who are working on a silver balustrade for the king, for continued work (two payments): 40,000 livres”

Additional figures are given for 1682. There was over a ton of silver in the balustrade alone notes Wikipedia, a “cost in excess of 560,000 livres”. And that was just the silver. All told, one estimate has the expenditures during Louis’s reign at over US $2 billion! So crippling was this expense that in 1689, Louis had all the silver in the palace sent to the mint to be melted down.

Today the palace is a museum, a grand edifice filled with art and historical artifacts.

Tourist map of the Chateau

We started our tour at the southern end of the North Wing. Walking along a vast corridor  we quickly we came across a chapel complete with marble columns, a large pipe organ and a magnificently painted ceiling mural.

The chapel in the North Wing

Continuing along the corridor, we came across numerous works of art including a statue of Joan of Arc. At the end of the wing, we ascended a staircase to the second floor and walked back again. One of the more interesting pieces of statuary was a monkey riding a goat.

Statue of a monkey riding a goat in the 17th Century Galleries at Versailles

The long corridor was flanked by various paintings and sculptures on the left and tall windows on the right. It was through these windows that we caught our first glimpse of the magnificent gardens behind the palace. The garden we saw, the North Parterre, is just a small fraction of the overall gardens.

The North Parterre seen from the North Wing of the Chateau de Versailles

At the end of the passage we came to large room, a corner room that marks the transition into the original Château. The room is called the Salon d’Hercule or Salon of Hercules. It is the first of a series of such Salons that we encounter on our way to the Hall of Mirrors. The size of the room is immense – huge vaulted ceilings all covered in elaborate and colorful murals. The pillars are solid marble. And at one end hangs a huge painting. The video below captures the sheer size and majesty of the room.

From the Hercules Salon we head west, passing through the Abundance Salon, Venus Salon, Diana Salon, Mars Salon, Mercury Salon and Apollo Salon before arriving at the Salon of War which bookends the Hall of Mirrors. These rooms are referred to as the King’s State Apartments and were antechambers to the royal residence where gatherings, parties and amusements were held. Each of these rooms is filled with art and very elaborate decorative work. And each has giant ceiling frescoes as well.

 

The Salon of Mars was originally a bedchamber.

The Hall of Mirrors is one of the main attractions at Versailles. When it was built, mirrors were an expensive commodity and Venice had the monopoly on production. Louis’s Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert lured a number of Venetian workers to Paris to work in the Royal Glass and Mirror Works. The Venetian government retaliated by sending assassins to kill these workers to protect Venice’s trade secrets.

Nevertheless, the Hall was built. The great corridor runs 239.5 feet from one end to the other and is flanked by the Salon of War and the Salon of Peace. Its width is 34.4 feet and the vaulted ceiling soars 40.4 feet above the floor.

The space occupied by the hall used to be a terrace overlooking the magnificent gardens stretching behind the château. Today large windows overlook the gardens. On the interior wall are seventeen mirror-clad arches.

The Hall of Mirrors

Many fine pieces of sculpture line the hall and it is flanked on both sides by giant candleabras.

One of the many candleabras in the Hall of Mirrors

From the Salon of Peace we made our way to the royal bed chambers. The king himself had a large canopy bed and had a separate room from the queen. Her bedroom had a larger bed than the king.

The Queen’s Bed

Near the King’s Room were several antechambers where the King and his aides could meet to discuss affairs of state. Central to them all is the Bull’s Eye Room or as it is called in French, the Salon l’Oeil de Bouef. This room had exits to the King’s bedroom, the Queen’s Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors. It also had a staircase leading to the Dauphin’s apartments below.

The large window known as the l’oiel de bouef

After passing through various other rooms including the Guard’s Room, we descended to the ground floor where staff and guests stayed, as well as the Dauphin. These guest rooms themselves were very lavish. Paintings and sculptures abound as well as a grand piano and an organ.

A pipe organ in one of the ground floor apartments

The Palace at Versailles is magnificent. It cost an unbelievable amount of money to build and included many pieces of furniture made of solid silver. Many later had to be melted down to pay some of the royal bills. But the grandeur and elegance of the period remains evident today. In my opinion, this is one of the wonders of the modern world, a must-see if you are ever in Paris.

But if you think the Palace is magnificent, prepare to be blown away by our next installment – Les Jardins de Versailles. The entire estate covers over 800 hectares or close to 2000 acres. This includes the Palace, the Gardens, the Park (which is a free public park), and the Trianon Estate (Marie Antoinette’s private estate). The gardens are a work of art – carefully landscaped and tended and abounding with sculptures and fountains, it is as much an attraction as the Palace itself.

Additional links 

Previous Posts on Paris

 




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Photo Gallery: Le Château de Versailles




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the Palace at Versailles. These were taken with an older camera and if we should be fortunate enough to visit Paris again, I’ll replace them with better pictures taken with my newer camera.

Statue of Louis XIV at the entrance to the courtyard at the Château de Versailles
The lower corridor in the North Wing
Statue of Joan of Arc in the North Wing lower corridor
The windows in the Hercules Salon
Ceiling mural in the Hercules Salon
Another ceiling mural in one of the salons at Versailles
The North Parterre at Versailles seen from the Apollo Salon
Relief portrait of Louis XIV in the Salon of War
Ceiling art in the Hall of Mirrors which extends almost 240 feet from one end to the other.
On one side of the Hall of Mirrors are huge mirrored panels interspersed with the occasional door leading to the King’s chambers.
On the other side are large windows looking over the gardens and fountains. Giant candelabras line the hall.
Large fireplace in the Salon of Peace
The King’s Bed at Versailles
The dining table in the Antechamber Grand Couvert. This antechamber to the Queen’s apartments was where the royal family ate in public.
A large tapestry in the Antechamber Grand Couvert
Some furniture in the lower quarters where employees and guests stayed.




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Airshow at Night




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This year marked the 55th annual Abbotsford International Airshow. I first attended one shortly after I moved to B.C. in 1974 and have attended several times since then. When I was single we’d cram a bunch of us into a car and go together for a day. Later my wife and I took the kids to see the show every few years. But it had been over a decade since we last attended.

Now living in Abbotsford, we were sometimes entertained by mini-airshows as the jets, including the fabulous Snowbirds, sometimes roared right over our townhouse complex. But this year I really wanted to see the show right at the runway again.

The annual event runs for three days – always a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in mid-August. This year the Friday show was an evening affair, with gates opening at 3:30 PM and the show ending around 10:30 PM. We had never been to an evening airshow before, which promised some pyrotechnics as well a aerobatics, so we packed a bag with a couple of sweaters and headed out.

We bought our tickets at Save-on-Foods to save the hassle at the entrance and it’s a good idea to save money as well. Gate price per ticket was $30. At Save-on-Foods, only $25. We avoided the major crunch point by taking Townline Road to a back entrance. We were through the gates in minutes. Lots of volunteers directed traffic to the parking area.

Once inside we looked around and found one of the two runway seating areas. For an extra $10 each you could get close to front row seats. We opted to pay the extra since we hadn’t brought folding chairs or a blanket. Since it was numbered seating, we found our places, and then headed out to see the static displays.

The Abbotsford International Airshow was designated as Canada’s National Airshow by the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. It always features both civilian and military aerobatics as well as static displays. Whether you like barnstormers in their biplanes, hang gliders, sailplanes, powerful air force jets or aerobatic teams, the Abby Airshow has it all.

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are always a major attraction and visiting aerobatic teams are often featured as well.

On the ground we got a good look at some of the active and historical planes on display. The Americans had a couple of F-15s on display and you could go up a ramp to check out the cockpit on one of them.

Eager spectators had a chance to check out the cockpit of an F-15 Eagle at this year's airshow.
Eager spectators had a chance to check out the cockpit of an F-15 Eagle at this year’s airshow.

Also on display – a CF-18 Hornet. One decked out in special Canada 150 celebration colours would fly later in the show, but here you could sit in a simulated cockpit if you wanted. There was also a giant troop carrier, a mid-air refueling plane from the American 912th Refueling Squadron, a number of private planes – trainers and stunt planes, and a row of historic planes that included the fearsome looking Douglas A-1 Skyraider aka The Proud American.

The A-1 Douglas Skyraider
The A-1 Douglas Skyraider

The wings were folded up on the display which gave you a good look at the gatling guns and missile launchers. The plane was used by the US Marines, Navy and Air Force as well as the French Air Force and the South Vietnam Air Force from the late 1940s through the 1980s. As a prop plane it was a bit of an anachronism in the age of jets.

The only exhibit we actually entered was the Canadian Forces Sea King helicopter. This aging helicopter has been a political football for years with efforts to replace it with newer equipment being stymied again and again.

The Sea King helicopter
The Sea King helicopter

This particular Sea King first saw service in 1968 – that’s an old chopper! The crew members told us it is primarily used as a submarine spotter and also does a lot of search and rescue work. As an anti-sub craft, it is equipped with torpedoes.  And we were surprised to learn that the Sea King is capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Janis in the jump seat beside
Janis in the jump seat beside crewman Travis Chapman.

A separate photo gallery will have more pics from the static displays.

After seeing the ground exhibits we went back to our seats for the start of the show. The Skyhawks, the Canadian Armed Forces Parachute Team, led off the show with displays of the Canadian and American flags while the anthems were sung. They followed that up with some entertaining stunt parachuting.

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Then the headline performers – the Snowbirds. These nine planes are the show closer during the daytime shows. For the evening show they were first up after the Skyhawks. I took a lot of photos and will feature a number of them in a separate photo gallery.

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds - precision flying at its best
The Canadian Forces Snowbirds – precision flying at its best

I tried filming the Snowbirds but in movie mode, my camera uses the view screen instead of the viewfinder and it was impossible to get the planes properly centered with the glare reflecting off the screen. But I did film them in 2004 which I’ve linked below.

After the Snowbirds, we were entertained by the Heritage Flight, four fighter planes from four eras strutting their stuff, individually and together. They included the P-51 Mustang which saw duty in WWII and Korea. The F-86 Sabre was the first swept-wing jet fighter and was used in high-speed dogfights in the Korean War. It was use by the Bolivian Air Force until 1994. The F-16 Viper, also known as the Fighting Falcon, has been in production since 1976 and was used in Desert Storm. 25 different countries use the F-16. The F-35A Lightning II is the newest fighter jet, seeing service with the U.S. Marines since July 2015 and combat-ready with the U.S. Air Force since August 2016. It was the fastest jet on display and the roar of its engines as it hits the after-burners is awesome.

Heritage Flight - top to bottom - P-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre, F-16 Viper, and F-35A Lightning II.
Heritage Flight – top to bottom – P-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre, F-16 Viper, and F-35A Lightning II.

The Abbotsford International Airport is a working airport and business must go on, so there were a half dozen or so take-offs and landings during the show by commercial flights.

After a stunt flight by a plane called the Jelly Belly, the U.S. Air Force demonstrated the FA-18 Super Hornet, the newest model of the premier fighter in Canada’s fleet. This was followed by a flight of the CF-18 decked out in a special Canada 150 paint job. It was starting to get dark by then so you couldn’t really see the colours, but I did get the bird on video.

Because it was a night time show, the CF-18 dropped its tailhook on landing. Usually used to snag a catch cable on an aircraft carrier, the hook threw up a stream of sparks as it dragged behind on the pavement behind the plane. Quite a sight.

CF-18 decked out in Canada 150 colours drags its tailhook behind on landing creating a colourful spray of sparks.
CF-18 decked out in Canada 150 colours drags its tailhook behind on landing creating a colourful spray of sparks.

A couple of more stunt planes entertained before it got completely dark, one of them the renowned Red Bull Air Racer. I managed to get a nice video of this very maneuverable plane.

Now it was starting to get quite dark and the AeroShell Aerobatic Team took to the sky lit up by lights all around each lane. This was the debut performance of the team at the Abbotsford Airshow and they were terrific. Flying in formation has to be tough in full daylight so seeing them perform in the night sky was amazing.

AeroShell Aerobatic Team
AeroShell Aerobatic Team

Finally complete darkness gave way to Bob Carlton and his Super Salto Jet Sailplane. A sailplane powered by a jet engine – what a concept. Bob trailed fireworks behind him as well as launching more from the tips of his wings. My camera battery was almost dead but my wife got a video with her iPhone.

This was followed by Dan Buchanan with his hang glider, also streaming fireworks. Quite a sight.

Dan Buchanon's night time hang glider flight was a fireworks extravaganza.
Dan Buchanan’s night time hang glider flight was a fireworks extravaganza.

The evening was capped with a full fireworks show. All in all, a rather different take on the airshow than the daytime event. We enjoyed it a lot.

A couple of tips – it cools down considerably in the evening so bring a sweater. We were thankful we did and it was still a bit chilly. And exit where you came in. There was some disorganization when we left as there were no volunteers guiding vehicles and it was a bit of a free-for-all. Quite a traffic jam. We thought the way we came was crawling at a snail’s pace so we followed a bunch of cars going in a different direction – a bottleneck ending in a barrier. Volunteers there finally let us through, but we ended up on some back road. As Abbotsford residents, we figured out where we were, but non-residents could have become hopelessly lost. Leaving the airport was poorly organized. It’s something the airshow should fix for next year.

Speaking of next year, the airshow returns on August 10-12 in 2018. And the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels will be back for the show next year. Definitely worth seeing.

Here are some additional photo galleries and other links. if you’re on the front page of the blog you can just scroll down, otherwise click on the links.

 




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Static Display Photo Gallery




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Here are some additional photos from the static displays ate the Abbotsford International Airshow.

CF-18 Hornet
CF-18 Hornet. To the left of it is a mock-up cockpit you could try out.
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C-130 Hercules Canadian Forces Military Transport Plane
Those are very large propellers!
Those are very large propellers!
We were surprised to learn that Abbotsford's University of the Fraser valley has a
We were surprised to learn that Abbotsford’s University of the Fraser valley has an Aircraft Structures Technician program. This is their training plane.
One of the jets open for viewing on the UFV plane
One of the jets open for viewing on the UFV plane
A rather nifty looking pilot training plane.
A rather nifty looking pilot training plane – the Diamond DA42 Twin Star.
A Pitt Special stunt plane used by the Rayban
A Pitt Special stunt plane used by the Ray-Ban Gold Aerobatic Team. They were an airshow staple from 1973 to 1990. This is the team’s last remaining airworthy Pitts Special S-2B.
Refueling plane
An aerial refueling plane from the US Air Force 912th Air Refueling Squadron
The Sea King helicopter
The Sea King anti-submarine helicopter
You got to love their slogan!
You got to love their slogan!
Janis and xxx
Janis and one of the crew of the Sea King.
That's a lot of knobs!
That’s a lot of knobs and gauges!

 




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Snowbirds Photo Gallery




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Here are additional photos of the Snowbird in action.

The Snowbirds make their entrance.
The Snowbirds make their entrance.
Up up and away
Up up and away
Inverted flyover
Inverted flyover
Heading right towards us
Heading right towards us

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Start of the starburst
Start of the starburst
Triple crossover
Triple crossover

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Up for the rollover
Up for the rollover

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The Snowbirds were undoubtedly the highlight of the Abbotsford Airshow. Simply amazing.




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Airshow Photo Gallery




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Here are some additional photos from the 2017 Abbotsford International Airshow. The static displays and the Snowbirds each have a separate photo gallery. Above – the FA-18 Super Hornet with after-burners on. Almost at the speed of sound it leaves vapor trails in its wake.

The Canada 150 flag was flying at this year's airshow
The Canada 150 flag was flying at this year’s airshow
The show-opening Skyhawks Parachute Team were amazing.
The show-opening Skyhawks Parachute Team were amazing.
Two of the Skyhawks in a downward spiral
Two of the Skyhawks in a downward spiral
The spiral kept growing
The spiral kept growing
The Skyhawks forming an arch
The Skyhawks forming an arch
And a circle!
And a circle! A bit blurry as it was grabbed from a video.
The FA-18 Super Hornet prepares for takeoff
The FA-18 Super Hornet prepares for takeoff
The Heritage Flight - four eras of combat aircraft
The Heritage Flight – four eras of combat aircraft
The P-51 Mustang
The P-51 Mustang
The F-86 Sabre
The F-86 Sabre
The F-35A Lightning II - the miltary's newest fighter which was brought into service in 2015
The F-35A Lightning II – the miltary’s newest fighter which was brought into service in 2015
The F-16 Viper - here shown flying inverted
The F-16 Viper – here shown flying inverted
The Jelly Belly stunt plane
The Jelly Belly stunt plane. After reaching altitude, it turned off its engine and performed as a glider.
And came to a landing right up to one of the airshow's assistants
And came to a landing right up to one of the airshow’s assistants
The FA-18 Super Hornet
The FA-18 Super Hornet
The Red Bull Air Racer
The Red Bull Air Racer
The CF-18 Hornet with after-burners on. Quite dazzling at dusk.
The CF-18 Hornet with after-burners on. Quite dazzling at dusk.
The AeroShell Aerobatic Team was ablaze with lights
The AeroShell Aerobatic Team was ablaze with lights
Bob Carlton's Salto Sailplane trailing fireworks
Bob Carlton’s Salto Sailplane trailing fireworks
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Dan Buchanan’s hang glider trailing fireworks
Dan's hang glider shot out fireworks as well as trailed them behind
Dan’s hang glider shot out fireworks as well as trailed them behind
Another shot of Dan's hang glider in the night sky
Another shot of Dan’s hang glider in the night sky

Seeing the airshow in the evening wa a new experience for us and a very enjoyable one. The after dark performances were worth seeing.



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Suburban Vancouver: An Overview




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This is a follow-up to my previous post, Vancouver: An Overview.  In it I gave a rundown of a variety of attractions in the city of Vancouver proper. Today I continue with a list of things visitors to Vancouver may find interesting in the suburbs. And I am using the term loosely to refer to the panoply of towns and cities stretching from Harrison Hot Springs in the east to Squamish in the west. This is hardly an exhaustive listing simply because there are too many to cover them all and I don’t even know of them all. This is based mainly on my personal experience or what I have heard from others.

Harrison Hot Springs

Harrison Hot Springs is about an hour and a half east  of downtown Vancouver nestled beside beautiful Harrison Lake. It is a popular site for boating and just walking along the waterfront. You can take a boat excursion of the lake or rent your own boat if you like.

As the name suggests, there is a local hot springs nearby and the town has a public swimming pool which has hot water pumped in from the hot springs. There are a variety of hotel, gift shops and restaurants as well.

Harrison Mills

Harrison Mills is a tiny farming community about twenty minutes from Harrison Hot Springs but with some interesting attractions for the visitor to Vancouver. These include Rowena’s on the River, the old homestead of a wealthy lumber baron that was turned into an inn by his children. The inn hosted a Great Gatsby Party a few years ago which I wrote about here. This year they are hosting a Harvest Moon Longtable Dinner on September 16th. Dining under the stars.

Rowena's Inn on the River
Rowena’s Inn on the River

The inn is also adjacent to the Sandpiper Golf Course. And in mid-November it hosts the annual Bald Eagle Festival as majestic birds visit the river estuary to feast on spawning salmon.

Not surprisingly then, another attraction near Harrison Mills is the Weaver Creek Salmon Spawning Channel. The channel is open to visitors during salmon spawning season from October 6 to Nov. 1. Peak activity is from October 15-20.

And another attraction nearby is the Hemlock Valley Ski Resort.

Mission

Mission is a small town on the north shore of the Fraser River about an hour from Vancouver. It has two attractions I know of worth a visit. The most famous is Westminster Abbey, a benedictine monastery. Built in 1954, the site includes an abbey, a church and a seminary. It sits high on a hill and is notable for its distinctive steeple which can be seen for miles around.

The second attraction of note in Mission is Cascade Falls, a remote wilderness park that I wrote about in a previous post.

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Abbotsford

Abbotsford is the town where I live so I have a particular affection for ir and familiarity with its attractions. It is known as the City in the Country and has a lot of rolling farmland including many berry farms – blueberries and raspberries are big. And it has some wineries as well.

The town abounds with walking trails – the Trans-Canada Trail runs for about twenty kilometres along the shore of the Fraser River. The Discovery Trail crosses the city and includes three lakes known as Fishtrap Creek. Mill Lake is also a favorite hiking location. And for the more energetic there is the Abbotsford Grind, a hike up Sumas Mountain.

In the Spring, you’ll want to catch the Abbotsford Tulip Festival which I wrote about when it debuted in 2016.

Mount Baker forms a great backdrop to the tulip fields.
Mount Baker forms a great backdrop to the tulip fields.

And every August the city is host to the annual world-renowned Abbotsford International Airshow.

Fort Langley

Fort Langley is a nice little village steeped in history. The main attraction is the old fort, a wooden stockade with many artifacts and employees in period costume demonstrating some of the trades and crafts of a bygone era.

The town itself is known for its many antique shops and boutiques as well as some nice restaurants.

White Rock

White Rock is a town adjacent to the border with the United States. The famous Peace Arch is here. White Rock also has a fine beach with a long pier where you’ll often see fishermen and crabbers. The boulevard running beside the beach front area is lined with small shops and restaurants. It is a popular dining locale with its seascape views and ocean breezes.

On the pier at White Rock
On the pier at White Rock
Richmond

Richmond is a community immediately to the south of Vancouver and home to the Vancouver International Airport. Its most notable attraction is the Steveston Fisherman’s Wharf.

Steveston is an old community and used to be home to a major salmon canning operation. The former cannery is now a fishing industry museum. Walking along the Steveston dock you’ll find many restaurants and small shops. And you’ll find fishmongers selling their wares from the boats tethered there.

Fresh fish are sold from the fishboats docked at Steveston
Fresh fish are sold from the fishboats docked at Steveston

Walk into the village and you’ll find a bakery, a garden shop, an ice cream parlour and other interesting shops.

A short drive away is Garry Point Park. This park sits at the mouth of the Fraser River and is noted for its windiness and the many kite flyers that like to hang out there.

Delta

Directly across the river from Steveston is the Reifel Refuge, officially the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This is a great park to walk around in and observe a wide variety of waterfowl. Almost 300 species of bird have been seen here. Of particular interest are the annual flocks of snow geese, magnificent white birds that stop here on their migration from Wrangel Island in Russia. These birds usually start arriving in early October.

New Westminster

The main attraction in New Westminster is the Westminster Quay. Its large boardwalk overlooks the Fraser River. The site is home to a large farmer’s market as well as a number of excellent restaurants. You can also visit an historic paddle-wheeler. Always a fun outing.

Burnaby

Burnaby is the city directly east of Vancouver and is known for the large Metrotown Shopping Mall and the iconic Telus building as well as a number of fine parks. But for visitors, your best bet is a museum.

The Burnaby Village Museum is a recreated period village that displays life in colonial times. Craft shops and restaurants are part of the mix. You’ll also find a restored 1912 carousel.

The people working in the village are all dressed in period costumes. The village is a delight for young and old alike.

North Vancouver

North Vancouver is home to numerous attractions. Set in the mountains on the north shore of the Burrard Inlet, it can be reached by the Lions Gate Bridge at one end and by the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge at the other end.

  • Lynn Canyon Park – this beautiful park features a number of trails through a natural setting of tall evergreens, hilly landscapes, and a raging creek. To get to the main park area you cross Lynn Creek on a rickety suspension bridge that soars high above the creek bed. Lynn Creek emerges from a narrow canyon to the north into a wide pool where locals often like to swim and to dive off the cliffs. Meandering down an increasingly rocky bed, the stream picks up speed as it cascades over several waterfalls. Unfortunately, a number of people have tempted fate and drowned here. Trails take you to a lower bridge where you can cross back to the parking lot and concession stands. Lynn Creek is a must see in my book. And it’s free!
  •  Capilano Canyon Suspension Bridge – this bridge over the Capilano River is a major tourist attraction. Besides the suspension bridge over the river, there is a walkway that overhangs the river. And there is a treetop adventure – elevated walkways between the trees. This is a private facility and an admission fee is charged.
  • Grouse Mountain – in the winter Grouse is known as a mecca for local skiers. But even in the summer, there are activities aplenty, from hiking to live shows – a timber show and a birds of prey show. You can take the chairlift to the top and see the wind turbine at the peak. There is also ziplining and a number of restaurants. And did I mention the grizzly bears? I wrote about Grouse in the summer in a previous blog post.

    They land below at a park near Cleveland Dam.
    Hang gliders soar from the peak of Grouse Mountain in the summer.
  • Cleveland Dam – this dam holds back the Capilano Reservoir which supplies much of Vancouver’s water.
  • Lonsdale Quay – a large public market with many fresh farm produce shops, meat and fish markets and more. Similar to Granville Island Public Market and Westminster Quay. Lonsdale Quay is also a terminus for the Seabus, a passenger ferry running between North Vancouver and downtown Vancouver.
West Vancouver

West Vancouver is home to a couple of nice nature parks, most notably Lighthouse Park and Whytecliff Park. It is also home to the Cypress Bowl ski area.

Squamish

Squamish is a small town located about an hour’s drive from downtown Vancouver. It is nestled at the end of Howe Sound. The Sea to Sky Highway that takes you there passes the Britannia Beach Mining Museum, a former copper mine.

Close to Squamish is a triple attraction, three places worth checking out and all within walking distance of each other. First is the thousand foot high Shannon Falls. This is a graceful airy cataract with wisps of spray catching the wind on the way down. You can easily walk right up to the base of the falls.

Beautiful Shannon Falls
Beautiful Shannon Falls

A short walk away is the Sea to Sky Gondola which takes you to the lower summit of Mount Habrich. There you’ll find trails and several viewing platforms giving sweeping panoramic views of Howe Sound.

Howe Sound seen from the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola
Howe Sound seen from the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola

One of the platforms gives a view from above the Stawamus Chief, the third part of this triple attraction. The Chief is a popular hiking and mountaineering destination. There is an easily accessible trail to the top of the Chief. But it is a strenuous hike and a challenge if you’re not in good shape.

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Vancouver: An Overview




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I have been asked to be a tour guide for some visitors from Australia in September. That will be a new experience for me and I thought, what better way to prepare for this than by putting together a post here on things to see and do in Vancouver. There are a lot of them.

Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city, Canada’s western port and a hub for visitors and trade. The city itself has many attractions, but the greater Vancouver region has many more so I will cover the highlights of a trip to Vancouver.

Vancouver covers a vast area, but the hub is the downtown. So we’ll begin there.

If you’re staying at a downtown hotel, there are many things to see and do within walking distance. My wife and I have a timeshare downtown and occasionally enjoy a staycation downtown. Invariably we leave the car at the hotel and go on foot. After the map is a list of some downtown attractions as we take a walking tour starting in Gastown.

Downtown

Gastown – this is an older part of Vancouver that consists of refurbished old buildings that have been turned into shops and restaurants, mostly geared to the tourist trade. The streets are cobbled and with the period streetlights and the famous Gastown steam clock, it has a certain charm.

The Gastown Steam Clock
The Gastown Steam Clock

Chinatown – Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest in Canada and covers a large residential and business area. For tourists, the business district with its colorful signs and markets is the place to visit. Food markets abound with the occasional herbal medicine shop and other businesses thrown into the mix. And of course, there are several Chinese restaurants.

The food markets are distinguished by food on display in stalls in front of the shops much like a farmer’s market.

The must-see place to visit though is the beautiful Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, a classical Chinese garden with ponds and flowering trees and shrubs, as well as some building and sculptures. Fish and turtles inhabit the ponds. Wikipedia notes that the “classical Chinese gardens employ philosophical principles of Feng shui and Taoism, striving to achieve harmony and a balance of opposites”.  Part of the garden is free to the public and part of it requires a modest admission fee.

At the Sun-Yat Sen Gardens in Chinatown
At the Sun-Yat Sen Gardens in Chinatown

Trade and Convention Centres – On the Coal Harbour waterfront are two trade and convention centres. The older one was built for the Expo 86 World’s Fair and is marked by a distinctive design – massive tent canopies shaped like sails. It is known by its Expo 86 name – Canada Place.

This centre also serves as a cruise ship terminal and it is not uncommon to see a cruise ship or two in port in the summer.

A Norwegian cruise ship docked at Canada Place
A Norwegian cruise ship docked at Canada Place

The centre is adjacent to the Pan Pacific Hotel where you’ll find luxury accommodations and fine dining. But the whole area is chock full of hotels and restaurants.

One of the attractions housed at Canada Place is the FlyOver Canada. It is similar to the FlyOver America exhibit at Disney World at Orlando, Florida. It is a flight simulation ride that has you soar over Canada, feet dangling in space. The giant dome screen takes you coast to coast and has some effects like smells, sounds and even mist as you fly over Niagara Falls.

The other trade and convention centre is the new one built to accommodate an ever growing convention trade. It is noted for its green architecture – a plant covered roof among other things.

Both centres are active year around with various events, many open to the public though usually with a fee.

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The new trade and convention centre with Canada Place reflected in its windows.

Coal Harbour Walk – From the trade and convention centres you can walk along a seawall that takes you past various marinas, restaurants, hotels and gardens as you make your way to Stanley Park. You can watch sea planes land and take-off and enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the many restaurants, most of which have outdoor patios.

Stanley Park – Stanley Park is one of the world’s greatest parks. It covers 1001 acres and includes vast tracts of wilderness as well as modern amenities. All of it is criss-crossed by nature trails and you could easily spend a day just exploring the park.  The park is circumnavigated by the Seawall, a nine kilometre walkway that serves both pedestrians and cyclists. I’ll do a separate post on the park some time but here are a few highlights.

  • Vancouver Aquarium – a world class aquarium, it was known for its beluga whale exhibits until recently. Both of its captive belugas died recently and the Vancouver Parks Board banned further importation of these creatures. My wife, son, granddaughter and I visited recently and it has managed to re-invent itself with new shows and attractions. There are dolphin shows and sea lion shows several times a day, and the sea otters remain a popular attraction. And the aquariums are large and cover a wide variety of marine life with notable jellyfish displays. An Amazon jungle exhibit is also featured.

    Sea lions have replaced the beluga whales as a main attraction at the Vancouver Aquarium
    Sea lions have replaced the beluga whales as a main attraction at the Vancouver Aquarium
  • Beaver Lake – located in the northwest of the park smack dab in the middle of a forest. Walking along the trails here is very peaceful and relaxing.
  • Prospect Point – overlooks the Lions Gate Bridge and also has a restaurant.
  • Siwash Rock – a large pinnacle of stone covered in vegetation off the shore from the park.
  • The Tea House – a nice restaurant near Third Beach where they know how to make a proper cup of tea.
  • Malkin Bowl – near the aquarium, Malkin Bowl is an open air theatre that has summer runs of musicals. It is known as the Theatre Under the Stars.

There are many more attractions in Stanley Park, of course, but that covers some of the highlights.

First Beach – After circumnavigating the park, we arrive at First Beach. It is surrounded by gently sloping lawns and has many large trees. First Beach is the locale for the annual Celebration of Light – a four day fireworks extravaganza featuring competitors from several countries.

First Beach is also home to the Inukshuk and is adjacent to the corner of Denman and Davie streets – a vibrant restaurant and shopping district. Davie Street has long been known as a gay enclave within the city.

Granville Island – Granville Island used to be an industrial district but was revitalized as a mecca for visitors with many specialty shops, restaurants and the Granville Island public market. It is still home to some industry, most notably Ocean Cement, but even its massive concrete funnels have been turned into an attraction after being painted as giant men in overalls. The island is home to Emily Carr University, a visual arts centre. It is also home to the Arts Club theatre where you can catch live theatre and to the Theatre Sports League where you can watch improv comedy. The plaza by the public market is home to wide variety of buskers – singers, musicians, acrobats and jugglers.

Even the concrete silos at Ocean Cement have become an attraction on Granville island
Even the concrete silos at Ocean Cement have become an attraction on Granville island

Granville Island is across False Creek from downtown Vancouver and can be reached by walking across the Burrard Bridge or catching one of several small passenger ferries that traverse the creek.

Yaletown – Yaletown can be reached from Granville Island by one of the False Creek ferries. Here you’ll find many shops and restaurants.

Vancouver Public Library – known for its distinctive architecture, this is a great venue for the book lover and just to walk around and visit the shops and restaurants in the area.

The Vancouver Public Library seen from our hotel room on Hamilton Street
The Vancouver Public Library seen from our hotel room on Hamilton Street

Our tour has taken us around the downtown area starting at Gastown and ending at the library nearby. That covers downtown Vancouver more or less. There are other attractions including downtown shopping, Robson Street, the courthouse, and the art gallery, as well as a variety of movie theatres.

Outside Downtown

There are many things to see and do in Vancouver outside the downtown. These include the University of British Columbia and various parks and beaches. Here is a short list.

Van Dusen Gardens – a beautiful botanical garden well worth a visit. We often visit around Christmas when the garden is festooned with lights that flicker in time to music. Simply amazing, and even more spectacular when there is snow.

The light show at Van Dusen Gardens around Christmas is fabulous.
The light show at Van Dusen Gardens around Christmas is fabulous.

Queen Elizabeth Park – set in an old rock quarry, Queen Elizabeth Park can be compared to the fabulous Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, but on a smaller scale. It’s set on a hillside so you get a great panorama view of downtown from here. Q.E. Park is also home to a botanical conservatory, a geodesic dome structure and hot house home to many tropical plants.

Museum of Anthropology – located at the University of British Columbia, this world-renowned museum is known for its extensive collection of native British Columbian art and artifacts.

Various Beaches – while downtown is surrounded by First, Second and Third Beaches, there are many more when you leave the downtown area. On the western end of the university endowment lands you’ll find Wreck Beach, a nudist beach if you’re inclined to get a full body tan.

That’s it for Vancouver proper. I am sure I missed a few attractions and readers are invited to post additions in the comments section.

In the next few days I’ll cover the neighbouring communities and their attractions, including the north shore communities of North and West Vancouver with their nature parks and ski hills as well as attractions from Mission to Squamish. Again, that will be an overview. I may post more detailed accounts of specific attractions at a later date.

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The Forgotten Island




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When we think of the Bahamas we think of the cities of Nassau and Freeport and maybe of the fabulous Atlantis Resort. We also think of an island archipelago with many sandy beaches.

The Bahamas, in fact, has over 700 islands of varying sizes. One of them used to be the home to an American Naval Facility which operated from 1957 until decommissioned in 1980. This island also used to be a playground for the rich and famous – mostly Americans, mostly Hollywood types, who maintained vacation homes there.

Now that island is largely forgotten. Tourism is still its mainstay, but it is a permanent residence to just 11,000. We happened across it by chance as it was the first stop on a cruise we took in January 2015. Our cruise was with Princess Cruises and the stop was at a place at one end of the island called Princess Cays Resort. As far as we know, it is an exclusive stop for Princess Lines. No other cruise ships visit here.

The Ruby Princess at Anchor at Princess Cays
The Ruby Princess at Anchor at Princess Cays

The island is Eleuthra, a long boomerang shaped island 110 miles long and just a mile wide at its narrowest point. It was discovered by Christopher Columbus and the Spanish who left the island decimated, its native population routed by disease and the remainder carried off as slaves to work the mines on Hispaniola.

It remained largely unpopulated until rediscovered by Puritan colonists who called themselves the Eleutherian Adventurers. They had originally settled in Bermuda but refused to swear allegiance to the British Crown. They struck out for a place they could practice their faith free of persecution in the late 1640s (some time between 1646 and 1648). They were the first settlers of the Bahamas and gave Eleuthra its name.

The Adventurers were led by William Sayle who had created a constitution of sorts. Dissension in the ranks led Sayles and his followers to retreat eventually to New Providence where the city of Nassau is. But it is said that if Sayles had been successful, Eleuthra would have been the first independent democracy in the Americas, some 130 years before the American Revolution. Sayles later became Governor of the Colony of South Carolina.

On our cruise, we were taken by tender to the small dock at Princess Quay. There, as is usual with cruise ship stops, we had a variety of options open to us, including just lazing on the beach. We opted for a bus tour that would cover about half the island.

Our guide gave us a short history of the island before we came to our first stop – a small church sandwiched between the highway and the shore near Rock Sound. It was a Sunday so services were in progress at the time.

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Anglican church near Rock Sound

Our next stop was the Blue Hole. Our guide called it the Blue Hole but apparently its actual name is Ocean Hole. Blue hole is the generic term for such geological features. It is not far from Rock Sound.

The Blue Hole near Rock Sound on Eleuthra
The Blue Hole near Rock Sound on Eleuthra

The hole is a salt water lake a mile inland from the ocean. It was stocked by locals with salt water sea life many years ago. It is said to be bottomless and it rises and ebbs with the tides so there must be a subterranean connection with the ocean. Jacques Cousteau, who used to live on Eleuthra, tried to find the connection but failed.

Feeding Fish in the Blue Hole
Feeding Fish in the Blue Hole

We continued on to Governor’s Harbour, about half way up the island. There we saw Government House as well as a number of homes boarded up while their owners were away. There were also some abandoned buildings. Our tour guides sang the Bahamian National Anthem for us on the steps of Government House.

Our tour guides sing for us in front of Government House
Our tour guides sing for us in front of Government House

On the return trip we stopped at Tarpum Bay, a small and picturesque fishing village along the way.

Tarpum Bay
Tarpum Bay seen from the dock

Then it was back to Rock Sound where we stopped for lunch and entertainment at a seashore restaurant. Most of the staff and entertainers were black and I discovered that black culture has a long history in the Bahamas.

After the American War of Independence, many Loyalists to the Crown fled the United States, many of them settling in the Caribbean. Thousands settled in the Bahamas. They brought their slaves with them. The Bahamas became a haven for freed slaves and formally abolished the practice in 1834. Today descendants of freed slaves and free Africans make up 90 percent of the population.

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Junkanoo musicians and dancers in their colorful garb

We very much enjoyed the Junkanoo parade put on for us. Junkanoo is an annual festival and parade with colorful costumes, dancing and music.

Some locals also demonstrated how to prepare conch as a meal. They showed how to remove the live conch from its shell and then prepare it in a salad.

Making conch salad
Making conch salad

All in all, we very much enjoyed our trip to this fascinating island.

Below is a link to an additional photo gallery as well as another link of interest.

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Photo Gallery: Eleuthra




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the island of Eleuthra in the Bahamas.

Our tour guide on the bus tells of the history of Eleuthra
Our tour guide on the bus tells of the history of Eleuthra
During the ride we were shown how to make some crafts, including this headband made from reeds
During the ride we were shown how to make some crafts, including this headband made from reeds
A house shuttered against storms while the owner is away
A house in Governor’s Harbour is shuttered against storms while the owner is away
Myself at Tarpum Bay
Myself at Tarpum Bay
Tarpum Bay homes and businesses
Tarpum Bay homes and businesses. I believe the blue building is a small hotel.
A pile of conch shells
A pile of conch shells
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How to extract a conch from its shell
Extracting a conch from its shell
Slicing up a conch to make a conch salad
Colorful Junkanoo dancers and musicians
Colorful Junkanoo dancers and musicians

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