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 :-))

Breeding Bird Survey 2014

June 4th, 2014 No comments

Last minute packing is underway as I prepare to join Gerhard Bruins once again for our foray into the northwoods of Ontario.  I’ve joined Gerhard for a number of Breeding Bird Surveys, Christmas Bird Counts, and other birding activities.  He carries the binoculars while I carry the camera (s). During any given outing, he might view 30 – 100 species while I am happy to get decent photos of 5 – 10% of total sightings.

RON_3465-Magnolia-Warbler While he is counting and recording numbers, I provide some of the location information, GPS info, descriptive prose and maybe work in time for a photo of a passing butterfly or moth or bear or moose or … and then off we go to our next scheduled stop.

Our normal BBS day starts at about 4AM with the expectation that we’ll be back near civilization around noon.  Then, it’s back to the campground to pack tents and head to the next campground location (if available) or motel nearest to the start of the next day’s route. Rarely in tent or bed before 10PM or 11PM, it makes for a pretty long day!


To see the blog entries for some of our previous birding outings start here: Birding Surveys.

Most of our BBS routes are outside of normal telecommunications tower coverage and I can’t get WiFi in most tenting locations so blog entries for our 2014 Breeding Bird Survey blogs will be entered later in June or ….

Categories: Bird Survey Outings, Ontario Tags:

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)

Pearson Airport – Two-way zip ties

May 29th, 2014 No comments


With the addition of locks on your bags, one habit I have with less important pockets (clothes, etc) are two-way zip ties. Easy to apply/remove (although some brands are better than others on ease if removal – my personal favorite are from Sinorefor Products Inc) they allow for travels to ensure your straps or pull cords aren’t accidentally opened when you snag on a corner; or nefarious elements. They are also inexpensive and don’t take up much room, unlike locks which can get bulky.

Europe Bound

May 29th, 2014 No comments

Euro 4K
It’s vacation time again and I’m heading back to Europe for my forth time* and quite appropriate given my photo/film hobby I’m packing with me a Lumix GH4 which records in 4K (well true cinematic 4K and UHD). For the purpose of this trip I’m filming in UHD at 23.98 FPS which will allow me to match to my 1080p footage. Later I’ll look at doing true Cinematic 4K, but the GH4 only does that at 24FPS. That said I may find I have to switch to PAL (25FPS) or 24 if I find NTSC flickers as I’ll be in Europe rather than North America (that whole 60 vs 50 Hz electricity issue) – good thing the GH4 is a world camera and can swap between frequencies with a quick on/off.
*Assuming you consider UK as part of Europe which for my purposes I am. If not then I bounced through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on the way to Africa so count that instead 🙂

It’s been over a year since I was on a plane for a vacation, but really making up for it now with a trip to Eastern Europe.

Today is day 1 of the trip leaving Ottawa in the evening and doing an overnight. Once in Europe I’ll have a half-day to check out Prague before meeting up with the first BusAbout Tour.
Flying via Air France this time with actual flights on Air France/KLM/WestJet flights; with departures and arrivals that should minimized jetlag impact. Definitely worth the extra $50 CAD over other flight/operator combos.


Special thanks to my Travel Agent, Margaret Breau, from Adventure Travel Company / Merit for investigating and arranging the flights and navigating the tours to ensure I could jump from one to another, and dealing with my ever changing vacation dates.

Over the trip I’ll be trying to update the blog when I can, so please stay tune!

Visiting Gettysburg – A Step Back In American History

April 15th, 2014 No comments

Visiting Gettysburg – A Step Back In American History

We were on our way home after visiting St. Augustine, Florida and points in-between. The weather was below seasonal and rain was falling intermittently all day long. That meant that the decision to veer away from out straight through route was rather difficult to consider but in the end we decided to make the detour and head east to Gettysburg. Well worth the detour.

Gettysburg info and images to follow.

The temperature dropped continuously throughout the day and eventually the rain turned first to sleet and then to snow. With conditions like that, we decided to stop driving and find shelter in a Fairfield Inn ans Suites in Hazleton, PA. After a nice supper meal at nearby Damon’s Sports Bar and Grill we headed back to our room and looked out our window. Fresh falling snow always looks nicer when one is inside a warm hotel and looking out through a window.

Will post images later.

Categories: Home and About Tags:

Heading home

April 14th, 2014 No comments

After the warm sunshine of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, it was time to head back north to our home in Kanata. Driving conditions were fine although the amount of traffic was surprisingly high in some sections of our route. When we got to the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway it was close to dusk but we decided to drive a portion of it anyway. Beautiful vistas along the parkway. In some locations large rhododendron bushes tower above both sides of the narrow roadway. We were a couple of weeks too early to see these beautiful plants covered in their pink blossoms but I imagine that it would be quite the sight to see if one’s timing was right in the middle of the blossom period.

Some Photos and more details to follow when we reach home.

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