Saturday, May 31, 2008

No Man Is An Island, However.....

Have you ever thought about having your own island? Think of the luxury of cutting yourself off from your usual routine and being entirely by yourself and those who you choose to have around you. In the late 1800's the United States became an industrial nation. Without the existence of workers' unions, those at the top (referred to as either Industrial Giants or Robber Barons, depending upon your perspective) became unbelievably wealthy. Conspicuous consumption was an intentional show of wealth by spending vast amounts of money and acquiring material goods.
The area where Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River come together holds examples of their efforts to flaunt their newly acquired wealth. It is there that they bought their islands and built their "summer homes". The area is called the Thousand Islands.
The photos for this blog were taken during a morning cruise that left Alexandria Bay, New York and wound its way through the islands. The route wove back and forth through international boundaries, as Canada and the United States share this area. In fact, one of the photos(the fourth in the series) is of a larger island (part of the USA) connected to a smaller island (part of Canada) connected by a bridge. Our tour guide said that the husband of the family would "escape to Canada when he became overwhelmed by his wife and three daughters".
The cruise was enjoyable. The scenery was fantastic, the weather perfect, and the tour guide entertaining.
Trivia point: This is where Thousand Islands salad dressing originated, first served by the owner of the Boldt castle (located on one of the islands) and the Waldorf Astoria. He named the creation in honor of the locale.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Florence by Bus?

When you start to explore a large urban area that you’ve never visited before, it’s sometimes difficult to know where to begin. Personally, I have never been one to join guided tour groups. While I understand that often there is a tour guide who is very knowledgeable and personable, I have a strong aversion to wandering down streets in compact groups following a green umbrella held high above the crowds. My ultimate goal in visiting a place is to find a way to sample the local flavor of a place on my own terms to the greatest degree possible.

With all of that in mind, the question is how to go from being an absolute stranger in a city to finding a cafĂ© with a good location for people watching, a second hand store, an open market place, or whatever else that seems as if it could be interesting. If there is no one you know in the city, one way of getting an overview is the upper deck of a tour bus. Yes, I understand that it can be expensive, or maybe not really. When you weigh the cost of a car rental, gasoline, parking fees, and medical expenses (for either physical injuries due to collision or mental trauma due to cultural differences in driving etiquette), the cost of a two day bus tour pass doesn’t seem all that much. Also, take into consideration the facts that you can leave and reboard the tour bus and you will be given a brief overview of the city (often in a language of your choice) without being joined at the hip with your fellow travelers. Basically it’s paying to obtain an overview of the city which you can later explore aspects of it in depth at your own pace.

The photos in this post are from a day trip to Florence. We were staying in the old city section of Lucca and decided to take a train to Florence just to explore a bit. It was understood that a few hours couldn’t possibly to justice to Florence, but we were hoping to sample the flavor of the city to see if it was something we’d like to explore on a later trip. Right outside of the train station were bus stops for two tour loops provided by the same company. One tour loop wound its way through Florence, while the other included the surrounding country side. In the end, the perfect weather and the well-run bus service resulted in our taking both loops after a short lunch break between loops.

The resulting photos were really a potpourri. Street scenes, architecture, posters, and the area surrounding Florence all ended up being photographed. When I am on a tour bus, I am less inhibited about taking out my camera and capturing whatever comes into view. After all, while you’re on the bus it’s obvious to one and all that you’re a tourist. At the same time, there is no direct interpersonal interaction with people who live in the city. You may look like a tourist, but you’re not directly treated like one. Once you leave the bus, camera use can be more discreet and you can attempt to blend in to a greater degree (unless you are one of those with four cameras, a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and sandals with socks ).

It was difficult for me to choose four photos that were representative of the day trip. Here they are, for better or for worse. I came to the conclusion that Florence is a city that I would like to experience more of. In the meantime, I have many memories and images of the city and the surrounding area as reminders of things yet to come.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

the Maine Coast

I have always been drawn to the sea. My childhood was spent in Maine (USA) and some of my strongest memories are of those trips we made to the coast. The photos in this post are an attempt to capture the rocky, rugged, nature of coastal Maine.

There is a set of feelings evoked by a large body of water such as a sea that has no visible shore on the other side. It produces a sense of curiosity of what is located just over the horizon. There is the wonder of mysteries found in its great depths that beckon for exploration if one has both the skills and the courage to do so. The setting also presents the chance that unknown travelers will suddenly appear, bringing with them trade, knowledge, or conquest. The sea and its coast is a source of images of beauty, power, and potential destruction by both nature and man.

These particular photos present the benevolent face of the Maine coast. All of them show it on a crystal clear day, a condition that can change drastically with little warning. Craggy shorelines are the main geological theme found in this part of the Atlantic. Isolated patches of sandy beach, not those of the crowded Riviera, are the norm. Small, pine-filled islands dot the coastline. And, to protect the land and keep its quiet coastal villages secure, forts with mighty cannons constructed by the early European settlers.

Today, I live far from the sea in the American Mid-West. I am, however, located in a small city on the western shore of Lake Michigan-a body of water that has no visible shore on the other side. I am glad to say that the life-long love of travel that was inspired by my early visits to the Maine coast is still very much alive and well. There are so many places to revisit or yet to be explored-I look forward to them all.