Canadian Wanderer

Travel plans, thoughts & lessons

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.



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



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.


Photo by author


Photo by author

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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.


Photo by author

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.

ferry exterior

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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.

Hong Kong February 2015 059

Photo by author

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.

Hong Kong February 2015 055

Photo by author

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.


Photo by author

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.


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.

Reims library2

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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.


1 Comment

  1. Sad to hear that the beautiful public washroom near La Madeleine in Paris was closed. We were so surprised to find such a clean & beautiful washroom under the street in Paris. The girls were very pleased with it & were so excited about it that our lone male traveller had to check out the men’s washroom. The men’s washroom was just as clean & beautiful. Good memories!

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