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Travel Planning – At it Again

July 12th, 2019 No comments

So for the last few years adventuring around the world has been on hold as I became a graduate student at University of Toronto in Mechanical Engineering. However with that wrapping up and the prospect of re-entering the workforce its time I sneak in a “small” vacation before life gets busy once again. Which comes to the topic of travel planning, as I’m a bit out of the game and the board has changed quite a bit since my last great adventure involving an airplane.

A bit to small for my current journey but none the less effective

For one, I used to use a travel agent, Megan Weir, at Ottawa Adventure Travel before they got bought out by Merit ( ) and she was able to help me plan trips as she understood the market offerings and my highly spontaneous travel hijinks. Conversations like “I know it’s Thursday but find me a trip to the tropics leaving tomorrow afternoon/evening” and tight budgets… $1000-1500 / week + flights top (with the exception of the Africa Trip which was closer to $2500/week). And being last minute there were always deals and not being too picky we would navigate the current offerings and land at a suitable action/culture/relaxation balanced adventure.

The London Eye

This time I’m alone in the planning department and mainly using the internet (vs. all those brochures which I got constantly piling up on my kitchen table when I was always travelling). A few things are different, first I don’t have the same access to travel agent’s resources, and I’m hopefully flying using points (that I have amassed over the last decade or so… being last minute traveller I’ve never actually managed to use them before).

Now if the London Eye photo don’t give it away, my destination is again the United Kingdom, an odd choice given they are currently embroiled in Brexit, but my brother is currently working over there and I want to go visit. Also on the potential docket (because I’ve been to London twice now) is popping in an Ireland Island or Iceland trip (or both!) depending on how flights work out and tour dates.

Back when I travelled with Contiki across all of Central Europe, however being +35 now they are off the list of potential tour operators.

Why Tours you ask? Well I’m again travelling solo on this trip, and I’ve found when doing so its best to travel via tour. The main advantage is you can enjoy the trip and let someone else deal with all the logistics. There is also the safety aspect, on a tour you are travelling with others and if you go missing someone will notice (I use the analogy of walking in the woods and breaking your leg… although now I just point to the movie 127 hours as a reason not to “go it alone” in unfamiliar locations). vs. travelling alone where no one really knows what you are up to on your adventures. So I’m leaning strongly in that direction for part of the trip.

Copenhagen Mermaid
Copenhagen Mermaid

When travelling with others I tend to free-style trips where we decide in the moment where we want to go and what do we want to see. This method requires a bit more work (split between 2 or more people) but allows for changes in the plan to adjust on the fly which comes in handy when weather and outdoor activities are involved. My most outrageous free-style trip was with my younger brother and I travelled 2 weeks in Europe with little more than 3 flights booked and accommodation on the first and last day of the trip. We ended up backpacking / hostel across three countries. You can relive our adventure starting here.

But back to this current adventure… Ireland. Well to put it mildly I am currently the only family member who hasn’t travelled to Ireland at some point and time. Similar to my Master Degree with me being the last one in the family to get an advance degree I though the symbolism would be fitting. Also the fact that I’ll likely not be travelling to this part of the world in the near future with sights on Thailand / Indonesia once I have some funds saved up from working at whatever new job I find… yes planning for the future.

Iceland on the other hand has been on my “to do” list for quite some time, it would be nice to get a few days there through a stop-over flight. In the past such an option was expensive, I’m hoping using points I might be able to sneak it in there… wishful thinking?

Tower Bridge in London

Besides those two destinations there is England, or London/Southern England to be perise. For that portion I’ll be visit my younger brother and bouncing back and forth to various day trip destinations that he is recommending to me; he lives there so I’m relying on his advice as he and his fiancee have been doing various weekend getaways. So locations like Brighton, Stonehenge, and some stuff in London are on the list to be negotiated in the coming weeks via Whatsapp.

So for travel planning my starting steps is to check out websites, now I have travelled with Contiki before but they have a 35 year old cap, and I’ve unfortunately crossed that theshold. I’ve also travelled several times with GAdventures (back when they were called Gap Adventures) and Busabout; I like them both but this time around I’m hoping for less bus and more culture interaction. Plus I can speak the language (English) in Ireland so I’m not as beholden to a tour manager as I normally would be. I’m sure there are other companies as I broaden my initial search, with luck I’ll find something that is enjoyable and a bit active without requiring a marathon-eque training program beforehand.

I’ve also need to contact the flight point people and determine the ideal arrangement of flights. Fortunately I have some flexibility in that as I can stay with my brother for free in south London (or south south London… not entirely sure on where his new place will be).

Flickr Account Deaths…

July 3rd, 2019 No comments

So a lot has changed in the photography world but one noticeable change has been Flickr’s severly limit free accounts. In reality it was inevitable and I’m not surprised it happen, although the way they handled it was surprising.

Despite the fact that my father and I had paid for Pro accounts for a long time, we had long ago relished back to free accounts. To put it mildly we saw a significant drop in views from our posts and the photography community that had grown around Flickr had long moved to facebook.

Yahoo (who owned Flickr) has not be a big mover and shaker in the marketplace of online images, and Flickr really hasn’t changed over the years and became scattered when other social media competition rose up, like and Twitter/Facebook and now Instagram. In addition we had our own site ( and the now defunct to show our portfolios and images along with more in-depth content.

So with Instagram taking off, Flickr became another Social Media Zero (before “Social Media” term was coined) to fall. Its still around, but all the free accounts, including our own have been limited to 2000 images (or whatever the limit was…). I’m sure this move reduce Flickr’s costs significantly, and perhaps even boosted review as photographers scrabbled to save their online portfolios and upgrade to paying packages. But the majority I suspect having long moved off the platform let it lapse.

So moving onward and upwards with the trends I’ve opened a Instagram account etc. I thought about the handle for a while (that hashtag name) and given I’m working on a new more multi-media company (film, photography, astrophotography, art, and maybe even some music) in addition to occasional updates to this site when I board an aeroplane more immediate updates will be Ember Sky Media #emberskymedia on Instagram / Twitter / Facebook / Youtube etc. as much as I can manage them.

Because Flickr is dead and Social Media 3.0 is just around the corner…

Sir John Carling Building Demolition – Ottawa, Canada

July 13th, 2014 No comments

P1070802.MOV.Still001July 13,2014 – Sir John Carling Building Demolition – Ottawa, Canada

It was a dull, dreary, overcast morning with lots of rain threatening from the south but, after 2 1/2 years of planning and preparation work, the planned implosion demolition of the 11 story Sir John Carling Building went ahead as scheduled and in only about 14 seconds the 11 story building became a contained pile of rubble. I was happy to have the opportunity to be there for the event and to assist Front Page Media Group in the documenting of this event. Unmanned GoPro cameras were stationed at various locations to capture the event from as many angles as possible.

The above high resolution video was taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 4K Mirrorless Micro Four Thirds Digital Camera from a prime location offering direct line of sight of the whole building. I left the camera filming after the explosions to capture not only the initial explosions that started the demolition process but also to capture the billowing cloud of dust that moved across the field toward our position a safe distance from the explosions. A pretty unique experience and the first of its kind in Ottawa, Canada. If you view this high resolution video at full screen size, you can see an employee scurrying to get to the safety of the cab of his truck before the billowing dust quickly closes in around him.

Haunted Walk Ottawa – Time Traveler Trail

July 6th, 2014 No comments

The Haunted walk has a new trail for the time-travelers among us, its called the Time Traveler Trail and it focuses on Ottawa’s past when Ottawa was Bytown and riots and pistol fights in the market were more common than Beavertails. Guided by Steampunk attired guides prepare to set off on an adventure in time.

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The new walk has already gathered the attention of the Whovians in Ottawa, as the Society of Doctor Who made an appearance to take the walk through time.P1070732 P1070738Our guide was quick to take us back in time with the help of their timely-whimey device.

P1070748- ShunkThe tour was full of great historical stories about a time when Ottawa wasn’t as tame as it is now, in fact traveller’s beware, time travel can be hazardous to your health and you could end up finding yourself in a duel as a way of solving slanders and slights!

A duel was the way to settle disagreements in the past, although what these two had against eachother we will never know.

A duel was the way to settle disagreements in the past, although what these two had against eachother we will never know.

Also this might be a cleverly disguised Dalek, just saying…

P1070765 - Dalek

Along the route we had a chance to seem some clearly historical signs, some on purpose and others by time traveler luck?P1070761 - Cropped

P1070751-CroppedP1070764 - Cropped Finally as the night drew dark (7:30pm tour rather than the weekend matinee 11:00am tour) our Time Travel energy grew low with the fading light and we got to see some of Ottawa’s premier buildings in their evening glory.

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In the end, all by Steve (poor Steve) made it back to our present time alive and well about 2 hours after we headed off on our adventures through time and walking distance.

Bled, Slovenia

June 14th, 2014 No comments

Bled, Slovenia

The town of Bled is located in northwestern Slovenia (location). It borders the glacial lake known as Lake Bled in the Julian Alps. The lake has one island, Bled Island and the main building on the island is the pilgrimage church dedicated to the Assumption of Mary.  It is a 17th century church with parts dating earlier than that.

The town of Bled and the adjoining lake are very popular places for tourists to visit in this part of  the world and, like many tourists, we enjoyed a walk around the lake with its many flower beds and assorted collection of wildlife.

Trencin, Slovakia

June 5th, 2014 No comments

Trencin, Slovakia

Today, we were on our way to Budapest in Hungary via Slovakia. Soon after entering Slovakia, we did a quick pit stop so that some of our bus tour folks could get a few more Euros. I took the opportunity to pick up some German water. Trencin is a picturesque ‘Eastern Europe’ village with most of the buildings appearing to be from the communist era. Slovakia, a land-locked country that has, over the years, been a part of many different jurisdictions including being once a part of the Kingdom of Moldavia and most recently part of Czechoslovakia is now an independent country. Slovakia became a member of the European Union in 2004 and adopted the Euro as its currency in 2009.

Then, came the tank ride, a 15 minute wet, muddy and exciting roller coaster-like ride in a tracked vehicle. We had arrived at Podbiel, Slovakia where entrepreneur, Jozef Krupa, promises tourists the ride of their life. From the pictures and video which I will be uploading later, you can clearly see that nobody went back to the Busabout Coach dry or unhappy. Definitely a must-stop tourist attraction for any tourist who would like a bit of an adrenaline rush!

(Graeme on tour in Europe. Images will be upload to this blog when time and consistent internet access permits.)

Olomouc, Czech Republic

June 5th, 2014 No comments

Olomouc, Czech Republic

We were now on tour with the Busabout tour company and we were stopping for the night in the sixth largest Czech city (a bit less than 100,000). It is located in the lowland of the Haná region and was, in the past, the capital of then Moravia. An architecturally attractive city with good mix of ancient, older and newer architectural styles to keep photographers busy. We would be spending the night at the Flora Hotel. It’s a nice hotel with comfy beds and windows that open. The rooms were a bit warm so we kept the window open for the night.

In the morning breakfast ended up being quite an adventure. We went to the wrong breakfast room. We were supposed to go to a nicer restaurant but, instead, some of us went to the more basic breakfast room where we watched in shock as the a group of tourists ahead of us literally attacked the food tables. Fortunately, our guide came and rescued us and we found our way to the much nicer restaurant and the rest of our group where we were able to have a nice breakfast in a more civilized fashion.

Bone Church, Kutná Hora
Now on the tour bus, we stopped at a church which became a very popular place to be buried after a 13th century monk returned form the Holy Land with some soil which he sprinkled over the existing graveyard.The graveyard became the popular place for aristocracy to be buried, so much so that there was a significant overcrowding issue and to help with the overcrowding issue bones were exhumed and stored below the church. Eventually, the city council hired a local craftsman,František Rint, to go in and put the bones into more order. What he ended up doing was create works if art using the bones. An interesting place to visit – rather unique. (photos to follow).

(Graeme on tour in Europe. Images will be uploaded when time and access to reliable internet permit)

Zakopane, Poland

June 4th, 2014 No comments

Zakopane, Poland

Zakopane is a small Polish town located about two and a half hours from Krakow, Poland. At approximately 1000 meters (3000 feet) above sea level, it shares many similarities with Banff, Alberta and draws tourists from many regions to enjoy sports such as skiing in the winter and hiking and mountaineering in all seasons. Historically, Zakopane began as a mining town and was the center of metallurgical activity in the area during the 1800’s. Nestled in a valley at the base of the Tatra Mountains, the town has played host to many international alpine events including the World Alpine and Nordic Ski Championships in 1939. They lost out to Turin, Italy in their bid to host the 2006 Winter Olympics.

Our hotel was located across from the water park and a nice 10 minute walk from the city center. Weather did not play in our favor returning to rain and ~10 degrees Celsius. Most of our tour group decided to stay near town exploring Zakopane’s famous Krupowki Street with its many restaurants and shops or taking the Funicular ride to the top of Gubalowkwa Hill to get a great view of Zakopane and the surrounding valley and Tatra Mountains. The “funicular” is like a tramway or gondola on wheels and follows rails up the side of the hill. Unlike a gondola ride, the funicular never leaves the ground as it progresses up the hill.

I decided to go for a trek through the mountains and headed south of Zakopane to a national park (5 zloties) where I hiked 14 kilometers (and about 800m vertical) in an attempt to visit Morskie Oko Lake (Marine Eye Lake) mentioned in the regional chat as a most beautiful lake surrounded by mountain peaks that rose a 1000 meters or above the water. However, my hike ended up taking me in the direction of the wrong lake, Czarny Straw Gasienicowy, which is higher in elevation and more difficult to reach. It is a glacial lake with sapphire-like clear, deep water often referred to in English as the Black Pond. The yellow route, which I took, began as a gradual walk but then rather suddenly headed up a rock staircase which took me about 30 minutes to climb. This is a very popular hike for those visiting the region and I wasn’t the faster climber on the trail so was passed by many hikers of various nationalities and exchanged “hi there” and “hello” greetings in a multitude of languages along the way. I began to worry that I had not budgeted enough time to actual reach the lake and in the end, as I reached a twin peak section, the weather turned colder, windier, and the path muddied after the vertical climb so I decided to turn around and head back down to Zakopane without reaching the lake. Lots of great scenery to see along the way, but the lake will need to be seen some other time, not this trip.

(Graeme on tour in Europe. Images will be uploaded when time and available internet access permit)

Hostel Deco – Krakow

June 4th, 2014 No comments

Hostel Deco – Krakow

The Hostel Deco is about a 15 minute walk from the city center. The decor in this hostel is quite interesting as each room has its own unique, special art deco theme and the walls in the hotel are very interesting.There is no elevator in this hostel and it does require a 10 zelote deposit on towels but WiFi is free and the reception area is open 24/7. A nice garden area provides a quiet spot for reflection or meeting with other travelers when the weather cooperates.

In the basement, there is a nice small bar which doubles as the breakfast room. Breakfast is served until 11AM or even noon (I think) if pre-arranged, so that would be a nice feature if you are not inclined to be up really early. We are in tour mode, so had breakfast and were out touring again long before noon.

Since this hostel was a two night location on this tour, we were able to get 24 hr laundry service. Great to get some clean clothes although some noted that clothes were still a bit damp, not overly so, but not immediate pick-up and wear.

I’m beginning to think that all beds in our accommodation use the same wooden base but ultra comfy mattress and pillows.

(Graeme on tour in Europe – photos to be added when good internet time available – not much time between touring and sleeping :-))

Krakow, Poland

June 4th, 2014 No comments

Krakow, Poland

Finally a warm day we heading out in t-shirts and shorts. Today is our free day and I elected to take both excursions, the City Bike Ride and later in the afternoon a tour of the Salt Mines.

We walked from Hostel Deco to the center square where we picked up our bikes. They had several versions of bikes, and I picked one with a basket in the back to hold my backpack. Overall, the bikes were in excellent condition with only one bike on our tour getting a flat in the first few minutes. The flat tire was quickly resolved as we were circling the city center and then we were on our way.

The bike pace was good and anyone who can ride a bike would be able to keep up to the group. The tires where quite wide to handle the cobblestones. There were no shocks but each bike had padded seats to varying degrees. The bikes had a single 7-speed shifter for hills and were definitely a lighter frame that what I had used in a similar Holland tour a few bike years earlier.

We stopped by the north gate which is all that is left of the multiple layers of city walls. The ancient walls had been demolished long ago to feed the expanding city need for housing material and reduce disease.

We then biked to the University District, and our guide told us about how the university came to being and how, during WWII, Nazi tricked most of the intellectuals to a conference where they were then rounded up and sent to a concentration camp. A great deal of WWII history in this part of the world and much of it can be quite gloomy. The tour was not all doom and gloom though. We stopped far a while to look at a clock which, on the hour, played music and had a little visual display.

Next we headed to the castle, where we saw the Wawel Dragon Statue. The Wawal Dragon has an important role Polish mythology. As our guide explained, there are many stories about the fire-breathing dragon. In one instance, the guide explained the legend where a peasant tricked the dragon into eating sulphur and he exploded! By killing the dragon the peasant gained the hand of the princess in marriage. The statue breathes fires, but, as our guide explained it, the fire was only visible at random intervals. Just before we left, it did let out a puff!

We stopped for a half hour halfway through the tour for food/bathroom break at the edge of the river. and next we headed to the Jewish Ghetto where, during WWII, Jewish people lived after being kicked out of their houses. At the Ghetto food was scarce and heavily rationed, worse still SS men would perform selections and send Jews to concentration camps where then where ultimately worked, starved, or gassed to death. Not many happy stories at this location.

Our final major stop was at the entrance to Schindler factory. It was in this factory that Oskar Schindler was able to protect some 1100 Jewish workers by giving them continued employment in the factory and using bribes and political connections and influence to keep them in his employ and out of the concentration camps. Oskar Schindler’s WWII activities were eventually chronicled in the movie “Schindler’s List”.

Bike ride back was fun but it soon became clear that on a Sunday at lunch the city center soon became packed with foot traffic.

(Graeme on tour in Europe. Images will be added when time and reliable internet access permits)

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