Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

Month: January 2016

Time travel machines; things and places from bygone eras

Have you ever encountered anachronistic places or things that made you feel like you’d literally been transported back in time? I have in my travels on several occasions and always enjoy these unexpected encounters so thought I’d share my favorites.

On holiday with my two sisters in Paris in 1992 we stumbled upon a palatial public washroom tucked away to one side of the majestic neo-classical La Madeleine Church and it was a time portal to the early 20th century complete with ornate mosaic tiles, lush woodwork and Art Nouveau glasswork.  Built in 1905 by the firm Etablissements Porcher who specialize in washroom hardware and whose factory was in the Ardennes town of Revin the facilities had separate entrances for males and females and intricate wrought iron railings at street level.

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The chair in the middle of the room was a shoe-shine stand.

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Photos used by the kind permission of JPD from the original 2010 blog post and for which I am grateful. 

I vividly recall fishing in my pockets for a few French Francs to leave as a tip for Dame Pipi, the generic title used for female washroom attendants, upon exiting the fantastic facilities and excitedly talking with my sisters about the immaculate conditions we’d encountered. Despite protests the washrooms were closed in 2011 as I discovered when visiting the church and it’s interior during a Paris holiday the following year.

Time machines need not be stationary as the Edmonton Radial Railway Society reminds Edmontonians with its painstakingly restored streetcars that ply the rails seasonally during the Summer months offering riders the opportunity to experience what it was like to ride the rails.

streetcar2 Photo by author

streetcar1 Photo by author

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Photo immediately above Streetcar #1 by Bill Burris is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License, rest by author

Beyond the restored original Edmonton streetcars the fleet also includes heritage units from Toronto, Saskatoon, Hannover, Melbourne and Osaka.

San Francisco also has a diverse fleet of restored streetcars from all over the world in its Market Street Railway and these may be spotted if you are walking along Market Street and The Embarcadero visiting Fisherman’s Wharf and other waterfront attractions. Vintage streetcars however are not the first rolling time machines most people would associate with the city as its the iconic cable cars that are moving museum pieces and a link to the past in the present.

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Video “San Francisco’s Cable Cars” by Outstanding Videos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

During my cable car ride I was torn as to whether to watch the driver/brakeman throw the levers and operate the unit or soak in the scenic beauty of the city. If you have the time I’d highly recommend checking out the San Francisco Cable car Museum  which tells the history of these rolling anachronisms and lets you see the cable the pulls the cars come in and go out of the building.

Sticking with the transportation topic there are a few ferry rides that are liable to induce flashbacks to what is was like decades ago to commute in this fashion, the first of which is the storied Staten Island Ferry in New York City. The 5 mile trip from the tip of Lower Manhattan to Staten Island operates 24/7 transporting an average of 66,000 passengers  every day and runs on a route essentially unchanged since service began in 1817. This satellite photo shows four of New York’s five boroughs (only The Bronx is hiding north of Manhattan) with the yellow line showing the ferry’s route.

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The route of the Staten Island Ferry by Decumanus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

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The interior seats are out of the elements but in fine weather the place to be is outside to catch the close-up views of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty which are definitely worth the price of admission were there one but as there isn’t and the ferry is free spending an hour or two riding it roundtrip from Manhattan is something every visitor should do at least once.

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The Staten Island Ferry by Mike Steele is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Another moving landmark still plying busy harbour routes is Hong Kong’s Star Ferry which moves 70,000 passenger per day on two routes at present with the main one being between Central on Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui at the southern tip of Kowloon. Adopting its famous name in 1898 the iconic green and white double-decker ferries depart every 6 – 10 minutes from 6:30 AM until 11:30 PM every day.

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Hkstarferry by mailer_diablo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Unable to sleep because of jetlag I headed out just past dawn one misty morning on a recent trip to Hong Kong and had the upper deck to myself for the short ride across to Tsim Sha Tsui.

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The ferry ride used to be longer however infill has shrunk Victoria Harbour and so the transit is under 10 minutes today but remain on of the territories best values at HKG$2.50 or CAD$0.40 per person per crossing. Many claim only tourists ride the ferry but there seemed to be some locals whenever I ride it during the day as it is almost as fast but less expensive road or rail harbour tunnels but regardless it is one of those ‘must do’ things every visitor in Hong Kong should experience as is it very scenic way to marvel at the city’s skyline.

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On one crossing I noted the ferry was of the same vintage as this passenger.

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Star Ferry Hong Kong video by ba wan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
One pleasant detour I couldn’t resist occurred when I escaped Paris for a day trip to Reims and searching for the massive 13th century Reims Cathedral came upon a public library like few others.

The Bibliothèque Carnegie de Reims (Carnegie Library of Reims) is an Art Deco masterpiece named for Andrew Carnegie, the American tycoon and noted philanthropist who donated all the funds for its construction after World War 1 left 80% of the city in ruins. Carnegie’s statue greets visitors stepping into the stunning lobby.

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The lavishly decorated foyer has a central fountain surrounded by geometrical décor and a soaring ceiling crowned with an intricate glass lantern that stopped me in my tracks to marvel at the building which was completed in 1928.

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Photo by author

Reims library
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Photo immediately above “Bibliothèque Carnegie” by Reims Tourisme is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

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Photo immediately above Bibliothèque Carnegie” by Reims Tourisme is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.
Andrew Carnegie believed reading to be a rampart against barbarism but I left this Art Deco palace wondering whether I could ever read anything within its walls surrounded by so much beauty.

All these places transported this traveller back in time if only for a moment but have lodged in my memory as pleasant and in most cases unplanned intermissions but please leave a comment with others you’ve encountered.

 

A Night and Day in Amsterdam

I couldn’t resist sharing a mini-movie set in a city I’m fond of, Amsterdam, so watch as a quintessentially Amsterdammer romance brews in this short film by Jordi Wijnalda and Freek Zonderland.

Austin, deep in the heart of Texas

When the opportunity to turn a future business meeting into a mini-holiday in Austin, Texas came up I leapt at the chance to visit somewhere new and cover part of my expenses with a small stipend – fortunately for me in U.S. Dollars – that’s provided.

While the city’s official tourism slogan is “The Live Music Capital of the World” thanks to many music festivals and the long-running Austin City Limits weekly PBS program I’m more drawn to the irreverent  Keep Austin Weird campaign which aims to promote “collaborative fission of coordinated individualism”, a  spell check challenging phrase encouraging residents to embrace unique and local businesses and points of difference within the community over giant global commercialism.  With such a meaty manifesto it may take some time for me to digest it completely much like the Flintstone-sized slabs of beef available at renown local eateries such as Franklin Barbeque.

So far my research on Austin has left me figuratively and literally hungry for more.

Travelling abroad? There’s a new government of Canada app for that

For those travellers or their families who may be a little anxious about travelling abroad given recent high profile incidents the federal government has released a Travel Smart app for the tech savvy to help keep them connected to Canada wherever you may be.

Travel Smart app top features:

• Find up-to-date travel advice and advisories on over 200 destinations worldwide.
• Find emergency contact information for embassies and consulates abroad and the 24-7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
• Find continuously updated wait times at key Canada–U.S. border crossings listed by distance from your location.
• Connect to Travel.gc.ca’s social media accounts, where you can ask questions, share travel advice and learn even more about travelling safely abroad.
• Sign up for the Government of Canada’s Registration of Canadians Abroad service and stay connected to Canada in case of an emergency at home or abroad.

Download the Travel Smart app today from the App Store:

– Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/id100…
– Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/apps/de…

 

I recall late in the last century during a trip to Germany and Austria being encouraged by family to register my visit to Vienna because of a big international conference being held in the city. After seeking out the Canadian embassy in the Austrian capital I was told by a staffer that I only really needed to do that if I were staying for an extended period of time rather than the short one week stay I had planned so left without filling in the paperwork. I thought of that when reading about this new app and hope the new technology may save another traveller a similar detour to appease concerned family members.

Boarding passes reveal more than just our names

Ubiquitous yet innocuous the airline boarding pass is more identification than disposable souvenir and should be treated as such yet most travellers are unaware all this little piece of paper says about them so I thought it good to look at the technology of this aspect of travel and its evolution.

This rise of the magnetic stripe in the 1970’s to its fall in the new millennium is examined in this excellent article but the summary is that IBM developed the magnetic stripe, or mag-stripe for short, technology in the 70’s to aid both airlines and financial intuitions in processing more transactions faster while making banking and flying more user-friendly . Encoding vital bits of information to a small section of a special type of heavyweight paper printed in ATB (Automated Ticket and Boarding Pass) printers helped airlines speed boarding of the new, larger jets such as Boeing’s new 747 “jumbo” jet allowing the airline industry to rapidly expand.

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I still have a few of these vintage boarding passes floating around as keepsakes/bookmarks.

The mag-stripe boarding passes were the industry standard until 2010 when the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association representing 250 airlines, announced in a press release it was moving with the technological times in adopting the newer and more user-friendly 2D bar coded boarding passes. The main advantages of barcoded boarding passes is that no special paper and printers were required at the airport and passengers could print their boarding passes from their home computer reducing the labour costs with check-in staffing. Barcodes remain in use along with QR (Quick Response) matrix barcodes on boarding passes with the latter becoming more popular because of their greater storage and QR code reading apps on mobile handheld devices such as smart phones and tablets.

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Among the information barcodes can store are a passenger’s full name, file number and frequent flyer information all of which could be enough for someone to gain access to this flight reservation and posing as you change or cancel it or try and log on to your online frequent flyer account to learn far more personal information such as address, date of birth and credit card numbers.

Is that security concern valid or more hysterical hype? While some such as Fusion blogger Kasmir Hill contend it isn’t and that most QR barcodes show nothing more than what’s actually printed on the face of a boarding pass even gaining a frequent flyer number is enough of a start for a determined stranger to guess at your security questions and gain online access to your account and use the information to commit identity theft.

There are some basic security precautions travellers can take with their frequent flyer accounts to make it harder for unwanted intruders to gain access such as not storing credit cards, home address and phone numbers in a profile and making passwords and security reminder questions as unique and therefore as difficult to guess as possible. These steps are likely to slow down our own access of frequent flyer websites however the small inconvenience is worth more robust security given the serious damage identity theft can cause.

All technology can be used in different ways and while today’s more advanced boarding passes allows  a more seamless type of travel that ease should come a degree of caution in treating this lowly piece of paper as something more than harmless souvenir to be shared online, tossed in the garbage or left in a seat pocket on an aircraft.

 

 

 

My pour travels; brewery, winery and distillery tours here & there

It occurred to me recently that over the years in my travels I’ve made a number of detours to tour or visit breweries, wineries and distilleries so thought I would share as many as I can remember in no particular order.

Seattle has a thriving micro-brewery community but sadly from what I gather one casualty since my 2013 visit has been the small brewery that sprang up in a loading dock of the large landmark old Rainer Brewery, Emerald City Beer Company. Proximity to the link light rail from Seattle’s downtown to within a few blocks of the brewery, a Groupon and a thirst for something different were what lead me to this tiny brewery and enjoyed a flight of beers and casual conversation on a warm Fall afternoon. Shame about their demise as the Dottie Seattle Lager was made with locally grown barley and hops and was the best of the bunch.

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One brewery that has thrived and survived is the Red Hook Brewery in Woodinville about 30 minutes northeast of Seattle and at $5 the tours that are offered regularly are a bargain. The outside beer garden with beers, brats and communal picnic tables is an an enjoyable timeout on a warm afternoon.

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Red Hook Sample byWw7021 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

Woodinville is also home to a number of excellent wineries so if wine is more your thing than beer there is lots to sample. A complete list of Woodinville Wine Country wineries is here.

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Tokyo may not rank highly on the list of world beer capitals but visitors thirsty for good local beer in this sprawling megacity can take a small detour for a tour of the Museum of Yebisu Beer and learn a little more about the brand that traces its roots back to 1887 that is now owned by Japanese brewing giant Sapporo.

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The Shibuya district of Ebisu takes its name from the brewery rather than vice versa as many assume. Admission to the museum is free however tours and sample pints in the “tasting salon” are at an extra cost. I wasn’t able to confirm an English-language tour opting instead to drop-in on a rainy afternoon to happily find that while no guided tours were offered in my preferred language visitors may walk through a short multi-lingual brand history with diagrams, photos and videos at their own pace. I wouldn’t forgo other important sights in and around Tokyo to visit this brewery however if you have an open hour in your schedule it’s worth a visit especially  if your beer batteries are in serious need of recharging.

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Elsewhere in Tokyo a nondescript downtown building is the site of the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association consumer outlet, better known as Sake Plaza, and for a paltry ¥525 or CAD6 guests are able to sample five of the nation’s finest sake’s. Make no mistake this is no bar as the emphasis is on education rather than intoxication and a willing visitor is welcomed to sample some of the best hot and cold sake Japan has offer. The staff were very accommodating showing an English version of ‘the making of sake’ video as well as suggesting regional and seasonal specialties from an extensive list of choices.

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The detour to Sake Plaza is small as it’s within of blocks of the Imperial Palace at the heart of Tokyo.

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Brooklyn Brewery is located in the New York borough of the same name occupying former matzo factory that was converted in 1996 into a functional brewery that brews a pretty good beer.

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The brewery’s signature Brooklyn Lager is an amber beer with a bit of a bitter taste but there are enough other varieties to suit any palate including some seasonal specialities.  Small batch public tours are available but booking well in advance is recommended especially in the Spring through Fall higher season. One bit of trivia you can share after the tour is the brewery logo was designed by the same man who created the iconic  “I Love New York” campaign, Milton Glaser.

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Once an industrial maze of low-rise factories and warehouses this part of Brooklyn has undergone a massive transformation in the past decade with small shops, boutique hotels and upscale restaurants moving in so it’s well worth exploring on foot.

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This Salzburg brewery was first recorded in the year Columbus embarked on his voyage to the New World, 1492, and the brand  was already stipulated in Salzburg’s 1516 beer purity law so boasts a storied history few European beer brands can match. The Salzburg-based brewery offers a diversion if hometown celebrity Mozart just isn’t your thing.

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Entrance to Stiefl Brauwelt by European Travelista is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 International License.

Tours are offered regularly and I opted for “The Classic” which for EUR 10 is a decent value. As with other cities I wouldn’t skip some of Salzburg’s more important historical sights to visit the brewery but if you have an hour or two to kill there could be worse diversions than this brewery.

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Beer is to Munich as wine is to France so if you find yourself in Munich at any time of year visit the Hofbräuhaus München as it truly is one of the city’s institutions. The three-storey beer hall is one of Munich’s oldest dating to 1589 and was founded as the brewery to the royal residence which was just around the corner from where today’s beer hall stands. Tours are offered except during Oktoberfest season but note advance registration is required.  

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Самая известная пивная Мюнхена by welcomeworld is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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Heineken’s Amsterdam brewery was in operation for over a century before production was moved to the suburbs in 1988 but the historic facility was preserved and converted to a visitor center and brewery tour and is now one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. The Heineken Experience is open to visitors every day of the year and from morning until evening so finding an available tour is not a problem.

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iFly TV: 150 years of Heineken Brewery by iflymagazine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

The Heineken Experience is located almost within sight of the world famous Rijksmuseum and surrounding museum quarter so very convenient wand walkable as is the whole city center of Amsterdam.

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While in Paris for a longer visit a few years ago I made a day trip to Reims and visit this ancient regional capital and its massive 700-year-old Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral as well as one of the champagne houses to sample some of the renown sparling wines. The day took me from the heights of the parapets between the twin spires of the gothic cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage List site, to the depths of cool chalk caves beneath the house of Taittinger for a lesson on the liquid before lingering over a glass at the end of the guided tour.

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The brand museum and interpretative centre that’s open to the public is one of the within Reims so is much easier to get to than others.  No reservations are required for the EUR 16 guided tour but it does fill up so if you should have to wait until the next tour take a quick detour a few blocks away to the Abbey of Saint Remi, an 11th century abbey also UNESCO recognized.

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Dublin is home to two worthy taste tours, the Old Jameson Distillery and the Guinness Storehouse, and more by coincidence than design I decided to visit both in the same day figuring a pleasant walk between the two would do me some good.

While the original Jameson distillery was founded on the site in Smithfield in 1780 Jameson’s moved its Irish whiskey production to another location in 1971 leaving this site unused and gutted by a major fire until an overhaul saw it reopen in 1997 as a visitors centre which now hosts up to 350,000 guests per year.

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At the start of the tour when the guide greets participants seated in an amphitheatre before showing a short video and asks for volunteers for a taste test of Jameson’s against other whiskeys shoot up your hand as it means extra rations to sample later.

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The triple distilled Jameson’s did taste smoother than the competition Jack Daniels and Johnny Walker but ever the polite Canadian I emptied all sample glasses nonetheless.  Participants are given a certificate to commemorate their visit (rolled up in the small tube on the right of the above picture) and the 45 minute tour ends in the gift shop where souvenirs liquid and otherwise can be purchased. Admission is EUR 15 unless you have a valid Dublin Pass which affords free entry to pass holders.

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While it may not have always been a straight line I made my way from Smithfield across the River Liffey to St. James Gate and the Guinness Storehouse which since 2000 has become the public face of the brewer that has crafted its one-of-a-kind beer from this brewery since 1759.

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The public was allowed to tour the actual brewery until 1972 when health & safety concerns forced its closure. The current tour ends at the top of the building in an amazing circular space called the Gravity Bar with floor-to-ceiling windows which allows visitors to sip the dry stout while staring at some memorable views of Dublin.

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Guiness Gravity Bar by John Pearce is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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I look forward to future visits to breweries, wineries and distilleries as they most often prove more interactive and engaging than a bushel of modern museums. In fact, I hear there a winery in Maui I just might have to seek out on my visit there.

 

 

 

 

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