From the heart of Nashville spouts the heart of country music.
Standing on Broadway in the midst of honky tonks, shops and eateries one gets the feeling that every guitar toting artist 'played' some role in creating the tapestry of this city. The mere mention of Nashville brings to mind a free flowing of country music. It seems Nashville relishes freedom of expression with a ear for all who are willing to try. Amazingly, despite modern development enveloping the city, the downtown core retains it's authenticity.
Crossing the threshold of Tootsies, one of the more well known honky tonks, I am struck by the dark shabbiness of the establishment. As I make my way through the bar the floors and walls begin to tell me a story. A story of struggles, successes, found stars, wonderful music and much spilt beer. The shabbiness soon turns to Grandpa's comfortable slippers. Old photos littering the walls punctuate the locations' lively history. Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Kris Kristopherson, among a slew of others, scuffed the stages of Tootsie's.
Nashville beats to the drum of a mirade of hopefuls and well established artists all with a loyalty to the city's coveted position in the industry. Playing for tips day in and day out young artists continue to inject energy into a city that is now 237 years young.
When in Nashville wander Broadway and Second Avenue, visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, let your shoulders ease, grab a seat in a honky tonk, try some hot chicken and simply listen. Never have I been to a city so defined by chords, both instrumental and vocal.
Malta marvelously combines intriguing depth with simple pleasure.
Surrounded by the Meditteranean Sea, 80 kms south of Italy, lies a true gem, the Maltese Islands. Footsteps taken on these islands date back to 5200 BC. Nine different ruling powers have influenced present day Malta. Malta's remarkable history is fascinating and punctuated with spectacular vistas, welcoming people, authentic local cuisine and a fabulous climate.
The archipelago is made up of three main islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Each island distinct in its allure. Malta has the draw of the urban, Comino is quaint in its intimate size (1.5 square kms) and Gozo, is a simple rural island, while offering much to see and do.
Valletta, the nations capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site, resides on the island of Malta. Measuring in at 0.8 square kms, Valletta is the smallest national capital in the European Union. Interestingly, during WWII Valletta was the most heavily bombed city in Europe. The persistent bombing gave rise to a city beneath the city. A network of subterranean rock cut tunnels, cramped living quarters and make shift chapels. Taking a tour of the Lascaris War Rooms of WWII gives visitors a feel for the extent of this underground world. In contrast to the lively vibe of Valletta, the Island of Malta also boasts some of the oldest free-standing structures in the world. Newer but equally impressive is St. John's Co-Cathedral built by the Knights of St. John between 1573-1578. Advancing over the threshold of this Cathedral is like stepping into a glitter jewelry box.
Comino is a small island between Malta and Gozo. The crystal clear blue sea invites you to enjoy swimming, snorkeling and diving. Historic St. Mary's Tower (built in 1618), now serving as a look out and staging post to guard against contraband and illegal hunting of migratory birds, was historically a defense tower which saw active service again for both World Wars.
Despite the mere 5 km stretch of sea between Malta and Gozo, Gozo is distinctly different. Life in Gozo moves at a leisurely pace, is greener, cleaner, more rural and smaller. Gozitans are known for their friendliness and welcoming nature. Rugged landscapes and a spectacular coastline provide the traveller experiences ranging from rocky inlets to red sandy beaches. Enjoy the easygoing aura of the island. Wherever you look the sea is never more than a stones throw away.
Malta marvelously combines intriguing depth with simple pleasure. Providing for a unique travel experience.
Friends, laughter, and, oh ya, photography.
"Hey, let's go two hours west of Thunder Bay, Ontario at the end of November for a self directed photography workshop." Really!?!
Isn't it cold that time of year? Won't there be snow and ice? What!?! The cabin we rented has no running water?? Not to mention is in the middle of nowhere. Jeez Louise!!
Pack your parka Alice, we're off to Quetico Provincial Park for whatever comes our way.
What came our way was an absolutely fantastic trip full of laughter, deepening of friendships, the serenity that comes with the quiet cold of northern Ontario and a new found appreciation for saying 'yes' to experiences.
Snow gently landed on our windshield as the three of us made our way west from Thunder Bay. The danger of hitting a moose after dark was real so our goal was to make it to the park before sunset. Had me wondering if this venture was a vacation or simply a game of chicken - Nature vs Human Numbskulls.
By happenstance, upon entering the deserted park we ran into Jason, a park ranger. I'm sure with thoughts of "OMG city girls in his head" he kindly guided us straight to our cabin. He let us know that we were the only ones in the entire provincial park. And his name was JASON!
Stepping over the threshold of our cabin the three of us were dumfounded when we saw that it was a single room cabin. Certainly didn't have to do much head swiveling to take in the whole place. We were going to have to be neat and definitely live out of our bags.
First order of business was to find the latrine. The three of us headed in the direction Jason had pointed. The sky was cloud filled and the park was being enveloped by darkness. It was at this point I realized that this 'vacation' would require a certain symbiosis among the three of us. Trust all of a sudden became paramount. I didn't expect anything disatrous to happen, it wasn't like we were attempting to summit Mount Everest, but still we needed to rely on each other to care for one another.
I love the our of doors but it still amazes me how a benign day lit landscape can become a menacing threat once the light of day disappears. Each sound is magnified and turned into a charging moose or a wolf with bloodthirsty fangs. With my vision limited and my ears as big as saucers I certainly made night time water getting, from the nearby lake, a very efficient activity. One of those challenges in life that is supposed to make me stronger I suppose.
Bundled up, our day hikes were marvelous. We stopped every so often to try to capture a shot but really the beauty of the day was in the soaking up of the peaceful atmosphere while enjoying the simplicity of it all. Besides seeing a few squirrels and a million rabbit tracks, a friendly Grey Jay was the only wildlife we saw. Skidding down some hills, preventing one of our mates from taking a picture of herself in front of a possible bear's den and having our Grey Jay dive bomb us made for the excitement of the day.
Smokey campfires, cooking (beer chicken on the BBQ), lively scrabble games, a little drinking, storytelling, futon fighting, photo reviewing thoroughly occupied our evenings. The ease with which we interacted was as refreshing as the cold November air.
Not surprisingly, some would say that this was not a vacation they would enjoy. For me, eventhough I could literally see the lake freezing, it was a wonderful trip. The three of us are already talking of backcountry trekking next SUMMER!! LOL
Spectacular 7000 foot coral reef drop off.
Today I felt as though my mere matter had no business being between the sun's penetrating rays and the ground. The thermometer is telling me that it is only 32 degrees, however, a few seconds of out right exposure was all my skin could manage before feeling as though my body had been put under the broiler in an oven. I marvel at those frolicking here and there without appearing at all concerned about internally combusting. Seems I am a wee bit sensitive to heat.
The white sand beach is beyond inviting. Soft sand squeezing between my toes has me wanting everyone to take turns molding the sand around their feet. Looking up from the sifting sand my eyes are treated to the shades of blue that only the ocean can conjure up.
I place my snorkeling equipment on the lounger while I put on a t-shirt. Visions of a thoroughly cooked snorkeler's back are erased with the donning of the protective layer. Snorkeling equipment in hand, I head to the warm calm water of the Atlantic Ocean. Janet, Sasha and Jaime are of the adventurous sort as well.
Our destination....the reef drop off. Turks and Caicos is home to the third largest reef system in the world. Most impressive is the 7000 shear cliff drop to the depths of the ocean. Trying not to exaggerate, I would say we were required to swim a kilometre out from shore to reach the miraculous drop. The darkest of blue coloured water delineated the reef drop off point.
With only the sounds of my breathing and the odd heave hoe blow on my snorkel keeping me company I take in the sights of the ocean floor. Desert like in its colouring and terrain, it is not intimidating in the least. Depths of five to thirty feet allow me to clearly see my surroundings. I am enjoying the comfortable solitude.
Raising my head I see we still have a fair distance to cover before reaching our detination. Placing my face back in the snorkeler's position I begin to wonder how a 7000 foot drop effects the ocean. Will a powerful current assume the driver's seat of our destiniy? Will the temperature of the water plummet? Not deterred we continue on our quest.
With a few meters to go I can see the edge of the reef. My heart rate accelerates even as I type this. Like taking a leap off a cliff we swim out over the edge. Our bodies now suspended over nothingness, the seemingly supportive shallow waters no longer beneath us. The breathtaking mystery of the abyss is complicated in that it is both frightening and exhilarating. Outer space is a thought that comes to mind. Floating weightless with endless darkness as the foreground and background.
I am captivated.
Why New Brunswick? A formidable answer....the town of St. Andrews by-the-sea.
The roar of the prop plane engine intensified. The scene outside my window began to blur as the plane gathered speed. Lifting off, I felt like I was leaving home.
On this four night family vacation I came to learn that the Canadian province of New Brunswick has a seaside gem of a town named St. Andrews by-the-sea. The town left a wonderfully warm impression.
Located on the Bay of Fundy we watched the rise and fall of the greatest tidal change in the world. The ocean's ebbing and flowing enhanced the unique character of the town. Brightly coloured houses, quaint shops, seaside patios and a captivating history solidified the towns place in authenticity.
Exploring what the town had to offer had us whale watching, sea kayaking, taking a jeep tour of Ministers Island, experiencing the Thursday morning town market, walking on the ocean floor, stepping into the cells of the town's historical prison, wandering Kingsbrae Gardens, brousing many quaint local shops and enjoying great meals.
Rich in wonderful subtlties this small town holds more than it's own as a destination.