Exploring Manhattan at Night

Manhattan at Night

Breaking out of a creative rut sometimes requires getting out of your comfort zone.  Luckily my wife was heading to New York city for a business trip and I decided to tag along.  I would get the typical touristy shots of towering modern buildings inter-playing with the city’s heritage, but what I really wanted to do was explore Manhattan at night.  I don’t usually get a chance to experiment with night photography and this was a great opportunity.

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Fall Photos In Beaver Valley

“Let’s go and shoot some fall photos” a friend asked a week ago.  With my camera freshly returned from being repaired I was itching to run it through it’s paces; spending some time outdoors in the fall weather sounded like a fantastic plan.  Although Southern Ontario has plenty of spots to catch the trees turn colour, we decided to explore a part of the province that we don’t normally get to see.  We headed to “Grey County“, an area that covers Mt. Forrest to Georgian Bay, and take the “Beaver Valley” driving route that we found on the Grey County tourism site.

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Northern Ontario Road Trip

During the Labour Day weekend a friend and I did a road trip through Northern Ontario. We avoid the major highways (aka any of the 400 series highways in ontario) in order to take our time and stop at any place we found interesting.  The trip was to encompass McGregor Provincial Park, then making our way to the west end of Manitoulin Island, with a final night at Grundy Lake Provincial Park just south of Sudbury.

MacGregor Park

McGregor Provincial Park where we just wanted some place to lay our heads down before heading off to catch the Chi-Cheemaun ferry that would bring us to Manitoulin Island.  The park is quite small compared to the Pinery, but each campsite if fairly secluded so if you’re looking for a quiet time outdoors this is a good park to check out.  The campsites are have a bit more gravel than expected, so pitching the tent is a bit more difficult than first expected.  I’d recommend bringing a mallet or finding a rock to hammer the stakes in properly.

Mississagi Lighthouse

The highlight of the trip was to take the Chi-cheemaun ferry from Tobermory and head to the Mississagi Lighthouse and Campgrounds on the far west side of Manitoulin Island.  It’s not currently labelled on Google Maps and we made reservations be sending messages over Facebook.  Facilities are clean, there’s fresh water and firewood available for sale from the lighthouse staff.  The lighthouse is still active, but we couldn’t venture inside as it’s being renovated – hopefully our road trip next year will allows us to to see the improvements! Each campsite is furnished with a fire pit, a good sized cooking grate to cook and picnic tables.  Our site happened to be nestled within a grove of pine trees with a ten steps away from gorgeous views of Lake Huron.

By being so far west of the island, cell service is non-existent and it’s so dark that you can see the Milky Way.

 

Grundy Provincial Park

Our last stop on the road trip was Grundy Provincial Park, south of Sudbury.  I visited the park about a decade ago and always wanted to camp there; unfortunately I didn’t recall how crowded the campsites are as well as how easily noise traveled.  We even had a giant raccoon steal a package of hot dogs, but luckily we had extra meals planned for an emergency.  For day tripping, the park provides a few nice beaches and cliffs to jump off of.  If you’re going to stay a few nights, I’d recommend going about an hour more south and stay a Killbear.  All was not lost, however. We still had a great view of Grundy Lake with the ability to see the stars clearly at night.

Epic Iceland in Winter

Sólheimajökull Glacier Walk

We all have an travel bucket list.  Whether it’s to go see the African Savanna, drive along the Pacific Coast on US Route 1… we have a list that we always seem to be saying “later” to.  Iceland was always near the top of my list (perhaps even the top)  – the majestic cliffs, the waterfalls and geysers… it’s a paradise for anyone that loves pressing the shutter button on camera.  For some reason it’s always seemed such a far place to travel, even though it’s closer than many European destinations so the trip was always being put aside.  However, when a co-worker and his girlfriend uncovered an IcelandAir promotion that included hotels and a trip to catch the Northern Lights there were no more excuses!  My wife and I were ready to head out even if it was in the middle of February!

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Relax this Winter with a Cruise

Cruise Ship Departing Ft. Lauderdale

The wet slush on your boots, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…. combined with fighting with car to start it’s no wonder thousands of Canadians flee to warmer climates for a brief respite from winter.  With warmer weather on our minds my wife uncovered an unexpected deal on Royal Caribbean last January!  It’s been a while since we cruised and with the kids being old enough to appreciate the experience, but young enough that their education wouldn’t be disrupted, it didn’t take long for us to jump on the opportunity.

 

A few quick tips if you’re new to cruising

  • If you live in southern Ontario, look for flight deals in Buffalo or  Detroit.  Even with the exchange rate airlines like Southwest sometimes are providing trips with steep discounts.  For this trip we departed a day early from the Buffalo airport which is about a 2 hour drive from Kitchener, Waterloo and flew on Southwest Airlines to Ft. Lauderdale.
  • Arrive at your departure port a day in advance especially if you’re coming from an area that experiences real winter.  Dealing with the weather is unpredictable and this will give you some time to adjust your schedule if you’re delayed.
  • Getting to your destination a day earlier gives you time to pick up last minute items that you may have forgotten, or allow you to pick up a bottle of wine to take with you on board the ship.  If you don’t have a beverage plan, this can save you quite a bit of money due to corkage fees.
  • If you don’t drink there’s usually free lemonade or iced tea available on board.  Most of the time I don’t drink soda pop and usually stick with iced tea at meals; for all the other times I’m drinking water.
On top of the Liberty of the Seas
On top of the Liberty of the Seas

We had a gorgeous departure day with slightly cloudy skies – warm with no snow in sight.  Watching the parade of cruise ships departing port for ocean is amazing as you can see how how nimble these behemoths are as they navigate out to to the ocean while much smaller freighters needed a little assistance from tugboats.

Tugboat helping out
Tugboat helping a freighter navigate the Ft. Lauderdale port.

Cruise ships have plenty of activities to keep you busy.  Besides just eating and drinking, you can find water slides, rock climbing walls, golf simulators and more!  Royal Caribbean signature activity is their flow rider that allows you to ride boogie boards and see how long you can remain upright before making a big splash!

Catching the wave
Catching the wave

There are two main benefits on ship when cruising in the winter:

  • There are not many kids on board which means parents don’t have to the Kids Club for day care.  The clubs give parents a nice break to be by themselves without feeling guilty that their children aren’t having a good time.  On this particular cruise I think we counted maybe 20 kids at any given time being taken care of by the staff.
  • For those who are not travelling with children – enjoy your day without having to deal with kids running around your feet!

As this was a January cruise, the low number of children allowed for those on board to really explore and take advantage of everything the ship has to offer.  The H20 splash  zone was practically empty allow my children to run around without worrying that they’ll collide into someone!

The empty splash zone.
The empty splash zone.

 

Every day there’s some kind of activity happening around the pool.  Watching the belly flop contest was one of the highlights on this trip – I wasn’t brave enough to join, but I salute all those who bruised themselves for everyone else’s entertainment!

To give you a sense of scale of how large cruise ships are these days, on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, there is an entire deck that is configured like a long shopping mall.  Places to eat and shop to your heart’s content.  There’s even a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop and an ice rink where you can skate or catch an evening ice show on ship!

 

One of the things I didn’t realize I would enjoy is watching the sun set over the ocean.  Amazing colors that you don’t often get to see being land locked in Southern Ontario.  Golds, marine blues and deep cherry reds.  You can lose yourself watching the sun rise and fall each day.

If you managed to take a five day cruise out of Ft. Lauderdale, convince yourself that you need to spend a few days touring around this city before rushing back to the snow.  This city has extensive beaches that reminded us of being on a TV Show. Swimming, Kite Surfing, and even getting married are just some of the things you can do and see while strolling around.

If you consider the all-in costs of getting away for a beach holiday vs. a cruise the price is almost comparable.  Considering that your hotel, meals and entertainment are all included it turns out the price is almost identical.  So what are you waiting for?  If you need a break from the wintery weather taking a cruise is an option that you definitely should consider!

Historic Oakwood Cemetery

Cemeteries hold a mysterious power over the living… lingering souls begging to be remembered of past deeds that shaped the world as it is today.  The Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas is the oldest in the city and steeped in dark memory.  Officially it dates back to the mid-1850’s but it is rumored to have existed well before that time.  You’ll find notable residents like Dr. Annie Webb, Blanton – the first woman elected to statewide office in Texas and John Barclay Armstrong – Texas Ranger, U.S. Marshall who captured the notorious killer John Wesley Hardin.

Oakwood Cemetery is still in use today and you’ll find a mixture of historic monuments and modern headstones honoring the dead.

Oktoberfest Starts at The Queensmount

Kitchener-Waterloo’s Oktoberfest starts early this year with festival halls opening a week early to attract Homecoming crowds of the local universities.  Bands were entertaining festival goers with a notable absence of polka music to kick off the annual celebration of beer, schnitzel and sauerkraut.  I managed to snag some photos close to the stage at the Queensmount arena where The Argues family band were having a great time on stage.  Performing a mix of classic and original hits they opened the Oktoberfest hall with a bang!

 

Following the Argues, the hard rock band Three Quarter Stone hit the stage.  Their chest thumping beats were keeping the Queensmount fans energized.

Kitchener- Waterloo holds the largest Oktoberfest celebration outside Germany!  If you’re looking for a good time and a chance to listen music, drink beer and eat a lot you can’t go wrong with this event.  Tickets to the festivals can be purchased online and there’s free transit from October 9 through 17th to get you to and from the venues safely.

 

 

2015 Royal Medieval Faire Preview

Waterloo’s annual Royal Medieval Faire is happening September 19, 2015 at Waterloo Park!  This event has something for the whole family to enjoy – food, music, costumes, activities and of course people swinging swords (real metal ones)!  I have the privilege of taking photos of this year’s festivities and managed to attend one of the last remaining rehearsals before weekend.

Practicing for the 2015 Royal Medieval Faire in Waterloo.
Practicing for the 2015 Royal Medieval Faire in Waterloo.

These actors and professionals make swinging swords, axes and staves easy, but don’t be fooled!  It takes a lot of skill and practice to do it safely. Many of them have been honing their craft for years on stage and donate their time to make the Royal Medieval Faire a success.  With this year’s festival being held on “Talk like a Pirate” day, you’ll need to come out and help determine who will be crowned the new Pirate King!

If the rehearsal is any indication, this year’s festival is going to be a great one – more photos to come next weekend!

Backyard Tourist: Pinery Provincial Park

The Labour Day weekend provided a final opportunity to explore the great outdoors with the family.  This time we decided to try camping at the Pinery Provincial Park  just outside of Grand Bend – about a 2 hour drive from Kitchener, Ontario.  We’ve always heard that this park is famous for its 10 kms of beach on the shores of Lake Huron, rolling sandy dunes and a 21 kms of rare forests that is great for hiking.  It was time to find out if all of the hype is real.

We booked a camp site in Burley Campground, on the far west of the Pinery.  Sites are nestled within an old pine forest providing privacy that you normally can’t find in many other car camping areas. Washroom facilities, showers and running water is a short walk away and for those who need electricity I’d recommend heading over to the Riverside area where you can find hookups as well as laundry facilities.  Our particular site, 1087, was extremely clean and with tall trees protecting us from the heat of the hottest weekend of the summer.  It’s also a short 10 minute hike through sand dunes to arrive at a secluded beach for you to enjoy.  Even without swimming gear my wife and kids decided to charge into the waters of Lake Huron to cool off!  I was thankful for the limited number of spectators as my 5 year old son decided to take off his shorts to enjoy the water in his underwear.

When it comes to car camping, I could never find reliable information of whether camp sites include grates to cook – not to mention if they’re actually going to be there.  It’s one of the reasons why I always pack one just in case.  I’m extremely happy that at the Pinery you’ll find that their fire-pits are well equipped.  Each campsite has a well constructed metal pit with a sturdy iron grate that is attached to the pit for cooking.  We made tinfoil dinners, hotdogs and pizza on the fires allowing us to save our propane cylinders.

Activities for the kids are plentiful with trails that are suitable for biking.  The Pinery has a well equipped rental centre where you can find all types of bicylces including tandems.  With the Old Ausable Channel running through the park there are penty of canoes to rent as well as hydro bikes and kayaks.  If you’re lucky you can tag along for a free 1 hour guided paddle where you’ll learn about the habitat and native wildlife that is being preserved.

The beach by the Burley campground is fairly rocky and due to Lake Huron having higher than normal water levels this year you’ll find very little sandy areas.  However if you need sand, and most kids do, head over to the day use areas where you’ll find a narrow strip before your toes touch water.  But don’t be distraught with the lack of a beach as there are advantages with water levels being so high – the water is warm and it’s shallow for 15 metres before it reaches your chest.

I’ve read that National Geographic has rated the Pinery as one of the best places for sunsets in the world.  I’ve yet to find an actual reference, however the statement is not hard to believe after witnessing it myself.  Just after dinner on Saturday I went for a quick hike up the dunes to witness what I’ve only seen in Caribbean.  The skies were painted in an orange and pink hues that is hard to describe, providing just enough light to enjoy a few extra moments of water play on the lake.

Watching the sunset, and the time as I didn’t want to hike in the dark back to camp, I was curious of how the shores of Lake Huron would look like at dawn.  Getting up before breakfast I returned to the same location and wasn’t disappointed.  Instead of skies being used like a painters canvas, a golden hue covers the land.  My attention was drawn to driftwood scattered on the beach with their character being drawn out by the morning light while the morning mist was slowly being burned away.  Photography enthusiasts should definitely make a pilgrimage to this provincial park.

The final activity that my family did was a short hike along the Riverside trail which follows the Old Ausable Channel. It’s a short 1 km loop and for tired kids – just enough to get them moving before complaining about sore feet.  It’s well maintained and level and you’ll get to see many different species of birds and frogs along the way.

 

The Pinery is a very family friendly park with enough activities to keep your family busy without having to drive through traffic to get to Algonquin.  Well groomed paths for bicycles, many hiking trails are wheelchair accessible and of you can’t go wrong having a beach along the shores of Lake Huron just 2 hours away from Kitchener.  The park is open during the winter and I’ve heard that you can catch Bald Eagles hunting – maybe I’ll be adventurous enough to head out to see what I’m missing.

Roadtripping through New York State and Pennsylvania

It’s not often you get a chance to go on a road trip for work.  When those rare occasions do I make sure to bring my camera along to catch anything interesting on the way.  On this particular occasion the Google Maps and my GPS wanted me to go through Rochester, then to Syracuse to get on the I90; once there proceed to the I81 until I hit Mount Pocono.  All that interstate driving is a bit boring so I decided to take the scenic route.  Taking US Route 20A, to  I390 to NY17 until I hit the I81.  The country side drive on US Route 20A is beautiful with lots of rolling hills, farmland and wind turbines dotting the landscape.  It’s a two lane road for most of the way and the twists and turns keeps your attention.

Along the way I encountered small towns with familiar names for those who live in Southwestern Ontario.  I drove through Elmira and the the historic town of Orangeville that was established in 1816.  Just on the other side of Orangeville there’s a collision centre that’s a replica of an old Texaco gas station.  Mt. Morris, just before you hit I390 is a lovely town nestled in the hills that have some fabulous hiking trails and a beautiful national park that I sorely wished I had the opportunity to explore

 

Once I got to Mount Pocono, I quickly discovered one of the must visit place go is Callie’s Candy Museum where you can purchase all sorts of homemade sweet bites to satisfy any craving.  It also has historic candy making machinery on display so you can say you went for the education – not necessarily for the dark chocolate covered pretzels (which are fabulous).  Behind Callie’s you’ll find classic cars on display with no one stopping you from getting up close to the beauties.

On the return trip I decided to take a break and spend a night at Corning, PA, home to the Corning Museum of Glass.  Unfortunately I didn’t arrive in time to make my own glass, but if you have kids it’s a great place to keep them busy for a few hours.  There are many interactive exhibits showcasing the history of glass and how it’s used; from windows all the way to the smartphone that you most likely have in your pocket.  Corning has great historic feel with a combination of modern and historic building influences; I give them kudos for preserving many of the turn of the century buildings and retrofitting as many as they can with modern amenities.   The Rockwell Museum dedicated to Art about America dominates the centre of town and has a peculiar looking bovine head bursting out from the wall.  The town has a great urban vibe and I’ll have to return to spend more time exploring its secrets.

 

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