Thursday 30 April 2009

Road Trip (7): Peachland to The Cabin

It seemed a shame to leave our peaceful lakeshore cabin early this morning, but as we had a long way to travel today, we didn't have much choice. Nonetheless, we found time to stop and drink a cup of coffee by the lake before we left.

We kept clear of the highways today wherever possible, and found ourselves interesting back roads to travel along. In a country the size of Canada, the most readily available maps show only the major roads, so find a more interesting route is usually a combination of luck and perseverance. We did pretty well, only hitting the occasional dead end, and found ourselves some good routes that wound along the hillside, looking down onto the lake.

Our most interesting road of the day was a single track gravel road, with the sign "no winter maintenance", which more or less means "enter at your own risk". We decided to chance it, and found ourselves on a bumpy, potholed track that clung to the edge of the hillside, with a steep drop on the driver's side down to the lake. Whilst I clung to the steering wheel, and tried to keep us on the road, with tires intact, Grandmere offered the usual, not particularly reassuring commentary appropriate to these occasions - "I hope we don't meet anyone", "I hope we don't have to turn around". Believe me, I had no plans of either backing up or trying to make a three-point turn up there! When we finally emerged at the other end of the road, I was glad of a "put your foot down and go" drive along the highway for a while.

We made a couple stops along the way - first at a desert information centre near to Peachland, and later at a lakeside bird hide, near to Oliver. We didn't find many birds at the latter, though we met an interesting gentleman of Ukranian origin, who, finding Grandmere resting on a bench, stopped for a chat.

This whole area is a mixture of sage bush filled desert and rich farming land. Our route took us through the wineries and orchards, and thanks to all the blossom, I sneezed my way through the countryside. We stopped in Oliver at the Burrowing Owl winery, for a tasting and some lunch, which we ate on the restaurant's balcony, enjoying the sun and the view over the vineyards.

After lunch we found some more backroads, through farm land and wineries, until we ended up in a small town called Keremeos.
Driving through a section of road side stalls, I was amazed to see stall with clogs hanging up. I stopped, looked more closely, and did a double take. The stall had everything Dutch, and then some... Gouda cheese, clogs, Delft blue "stuff" (both china and tack), herring, smoked eel, and a shelf full of Indonesian cooking ingredients, reminiscent of the Albert Heijn. The crowning glory, though, was a section dedicated to drop (nasty licorice sweets, which come in many varieties, and are much loved by the Dutch). I got chatting to the owner - a Dutch lady in her eighties, and she told me that she imports a container of produce from The Netherlands each month. Even, and here she waved a copy at me, the Aller Hande, the free magazine produced by the Albert Heijn supermarket. How many readers it has locally, I wouldn't like to guess!

Further along the road, we climbed back up into the mountains, and slowly the landscape began to transform into something familiar - mountains, creeks and forests - it was beginning to look like Vedder country. Aside from a few trucks, the road through the mountains was quiet, and we were able to enjoy a last couple hours of peaceful scenic driving. It was some time since Grandmere had last driven along those roads, and she marvelled at the improvement in the road quality since her day. I can imagine that these windy mountain roads were quite sporty 50+ years ago.

At Hope the road rejoined the Trans Canada Highway and we sped long to the Vedder. Although I don't consider that our trip is officially over until we reach New Westminster, this really felt like the end point - back on familiar territory and in rush hour traffic.

Wednesday 29 April 2009

Road Trip (6): Golden - Peachland

Leaving Golden to start our journey back home we had a choice of a few different routes. Option 1 - return the way we came, was ruled out very easily (Dad has taught me well), leaving us with the choice of a long journey south via Cranbrook and then heading west, or returning via Revelstoke and then heading south along the Upper Arrow Lake, and then west through the Okanagan.

We decided to take the second of these options as it was a little shorter and looked to be quite interesting. The first hour or so didn't get us very far on our way home, as I wanted to show Grandmere the Blaeberry valley, which I'd seen on my way up to our wolf walk, and was very scenic. Up in the valley, surrounded by farm land, you would hardly know that you were barely any distance from the Trans Canada Highway, it felt like another world altogether.

Once we hit Revelstoke, we decided to stop for lunch. By that time we were officially back on Pacific Time, so it was really only 11.30 am, a little early for lunch, but as the last major town before we headed south, it seemed a good idea to make the break there.

Leaving Revelstoke we headed south along the Upper Arrow Lake. The road winds along the west side of the lake for some distance, until Shelter Bay, and then drops you at a small ferry. Unlike the Trans Canada, which had been fairly busy, we barely saw any other cars during our trip along the lake. A fact which Grandmere was to comment on repeatedly throughout the day.

We had a half hour wait for the ferry, sitting with our books and enjoying the sunshine, before making the 30 minute journey across the lake. Leaving the ferry, we had our moment of great excitement for the day - a bear sighting by the side of the road! Looked to be a young grizzly, but driving along at 100 km/h, it was hard to get a good look.

About an hour further down the lake, we encountered the second ferry of the day, and were lucky enough to arrive just as it was loading up. In fact, this second ferry, crossing over to Needles, was a cable ferry, and the journey took only 5 minutes. I guess we wouldn't have had to wait long, even if we missed it.

Once we left this ferry, we also left the lake behind, and climbed up into the Monashee mountains. For quite some time we traveled on winding roads, hugging the cliff edge (cue Grandmere: "it's a looong way down"), and climbing back into snowy pine forests. This was a very slow section, with speed limits often dropping down to 40 or 50 km/h on the bends. Finally, we slowly dropped down into the valley again and enjoyed the views of lush farming landscape until we reached the busier centre of Vernon.

After a peaceful day on quiet roads, the increased traffic wasn't too appealing so we kept driving, through Vernon, and on through Kelowna. Grandmere's memories of Kelowna were of a small, pretty town, but from what we saw, those days are long gone. The drive through Kelown along Route 97 brought us along mile after mile of strip malls, and I think we spotted every fast food outlet in Canada.

We continued to Peachland, a small town on the side of Lake Okanagan, and found ourselves accommodation for the night - a cute little cabin on the lake shore. A little fancy, perhaps, for a single night stay, but well worth it. After 10 hours of driving, my hips had completely seized up, and I was glad of finding a quiet place to rest. Whilst Grandmere hadn't been able to hear all the traffic passing by our last motel, I had certainly been aware of it!

Tuesday 28 April 2009

Road Trip (5): Emerald Lake & Lake Louise

I had though that this afternoon we might visit Lake Louise, which is further up the Trans Canada Highway in Banff National Park. Although the lake has a reputation for being rather too popular with tourists, it seemed a shame to be in the area and not to visit.

After a chat with Casey, though, we changed our plans a little, and aimed for Emerald Lake, in the same direction, but still on this side of the B.C./Alberta border, in Yoho National Park. Either way, we had to drive through the Kicking Horse Canyon - a very scenic route with the road hugging the mountain side, and a steep drop down into the canyon - slightly alarming for one like myself that suffers from vertigo. Although it wasn't too bad, it wasn't really helped by Grandmere's comments "It's a looong way down" and "what a steep drop".

Although we didn't stay too long at the lake, as it was rather cold and I was concerned about turning Grandmere into a block of ice, the lake was well worth the visit, and there were very few other visitors. Much of the lake was still frozen over, and the only thing spoiling the view were some of the chalets peeking out from between the trees.

Once we had seen the lake, we continued on to the nearby town of Field for a late lunch at a cute little cafe called Chercher la Vache. Field is a small town, situated on the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Although on our way up here we hadn't seen too many trains, we seem to have seen a lot more now that we're up in the mountains. With the exception of one (empty) passenger train, they were all 100+ wagon freight trains.

With lunch inside us, we decided to make the push for Lake Louise after all, only 30 or so km further down the road. I was pleased to find that we would pass the Spiral Railroad Tunnels, a great feat of engineering which I remember from a previous family trip, 14 years ago. Like so many things, this time of year, though, the viewpoint was closed so I was left disappointed.

This is probably the only time of year you can visit Lake Louise and find the car park empty. I flung my camera bag over my shoulder with enthusiasm, and then my heart stopped as I felt something fly out and hit the ground with a terrible smash. My new camera?? No, thanks heavens, just the bottle of gin that Grandmere insisted we needed!

The lake was frozen over with a layer of thick snow. It would have made a good photograph, and something other than the typical photo seen of the lake, if it weren't for the overcast sky which merged rather seamlessly into the snow on the mountains and lakes. As it was, it was a little dull and miserable looking, not helped by the fact that the snow had been tramped on. Before coming I was sure that I had been to Lake Louise in the past, but seeing it, I have no recollection at all.

On the way back I took the side road up to Maligne Lake, another well known spot which is touted as being more attractive and less popular.Unfortunately, as soon as we took the turning, we discovered that the road was blocked by 2 feet of snow.

The drive back to Golden was lovely. The sun finally broke through some of the cloud to shine on the mountains and around us. For a period in the river valley, we ran alongside a beautiful creek, and I was desparate to take a photograph. Unfortunately, there were no stopping places around, so the spot will have to stay in my memories only.

Back in the motel the long day caught up with us, and we spent a relaxing evening reading our books and snoozing. Going out for dinner seemed too much hassle, so we settled for cheese sandwiches. Sitting on the bed in a motel room, scavenging some dinner, reminded me of Mum and I, five years ago in Bluff, Utah. I seem to remember that that dinner was limited to pepperoni and pickles!

Road Trip (4): Wolves

My visit to the wolves this morning was the primary reason for this trip, and I've been looking forward to it for a couple of months now. The centre has 6 wolves, all of which were bred in captivity, and are part of a wolf education program. Each day, one or two wolves are taken out for exercise, and it is possible for a number of people to join in on these walks.

I was very lucky, expecting to be part of a group of 5 or so people, I turned up this morning to find that I was the only person signed up. It was just me, Casey (the owner), Maya (the wolf) and Jackson (a Karelian Bear Dog).

We drove up about 10 minutes into the Blaeberry valley, where we parked the trucks and headed up into the woods. We walked for about 1 1/2 hours, enjoying the sun and watching Maya. She was fairly shy, but did come up and give my hand a lick. Of course, as well as watching and chatting with Casey, I was also busy with the camera (despite the full backpack, I used the 5D with the 70-200mm the whole time), trying to get some good portraits and action shots.

From a photographic point of view it was quite challenging - firstly, focusing on a wolf which is moving towards you is a difficult, and a number of potential shots were not focused. The light coming through the trees was also very variable, so it was sometime difficult to expose well. I haven't yet had time to go through the full collection of photos, and the laptop is grinding to a bit of a halt. More photos will follow later on the website.

The experience was fantastic, and one I'd gladly repeat.

Monday 27 April 2009

Road Trip (3): Chase - Golden

We were both up bright and early this morning, which gave us enough time to have a little bit of a drive before heading back to Salmon Arm for coffee with cousin Sandi. I was hoping to find a nice spot in Chase where we could view Lake Shuswap, but we were stopped by road works. In the end, we found a nice road running parallel to the lake, which gave a nice alternate route to the highway, and a chance to take a couple photos of the lake.

We spent about an hour at Sandi's and then headed off back to the Highway for the trip up to Golden. As we rose higher into the mountains, the clouds were looking ominous and we hit a number of patches of light rain and snow. The signs saying "wear winter tires or carry chains until end-April" didn't make me feel too confident, so I kept my finger crossed on the steering wheel that the snow wouldn't get heavier.

Fortunately, the weather stayed fairly mild, and we approached Golden around 4pm Mountain Time (clocks forward 1 hour as we'd left Pacific Time). Since we had plenty of time, I decided to stop and investigate the Wolf Discovery Centre, where I will be going for a walk with a couple of the wolves tomorrow. We took a look around the centre, and were given an interesting, and rather depressing, talk about the wolves and their future. The comparison with Yellowstone National Park, and studies into the role of wolves in the ecosystem was particularly interesting. Looking in from the outside as a European, the large wildlife are one of the most alluring aspects of Canada, and yet these animals aren't as well protected as we might hope. Far from being a thing of the past, wolves are still hunted outside of the National Park boundaries (the only place they are protected), and of course road accidents also kill a large number of wildlife each year. In the wild, only 5% of wolves die from natural causes.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Road Trip (2): New Westminster - Chase

Our first day on the road passed fairly uneventfully. As usual, the traffic was rather heavy until we passed Abbotsford, and then quietened down. It was strange to drive straight past the Vedder without stopping, and from that point on we were in less familiar territory.

We had a choice of two routes, and I had planned to take the Fraser Canyon, which is rather more picturesque. As it happened, we must have missed the turn off, because we ended up on The Coquihalla without realised quite how it had happened. I remember 14 years ago that the Coquihalla route was being touted as the latest greatest thing, but its now in rather bad repair. Whilst the scenery is still nice, it's not a patch on the Fraser Canyon route, and roadworks made it a bit of a sluggish haul. The weather was variable, sunny when we left, but with some scattered patches of snow and rain in the higher altitudes.

Another strange thing about the Coquihalla route was the total lack of rest areas. We had planned to stop for our picnic, but in the event, never found a good place until we reached Chase itself, 5 minutes from our motel! A bonus at the picnic site was a chance spotting of a Northern Flicker, and I managed to get a couple shots as the bird flew in and out of hole in a tree trunk - a nice first opportunity to test the new camera. They're not perfectly sharp - hand holding the 100-400mm, but still given how small the bird is on the frame, not too bad, and a nice sequence. (The image shown here is cropped substantially from the original)

Once in the motel (situated bang on the highway, but comfortable enough) I downloaded the photos, and realised that I still had some set up work to do - setting the camera date, setting the picture type (default was JPG), etc.

After 30 minute to settle ourselves into the motel, we got back into the car, and headed 50km up the road to Salmon Arm, to have dinner with Cousin Sandi (my grandfather's brother's daughter - glad to finally have that straight in my head) and her family. As luck would have it, both of Sandi and Al's children were visiting, along with their 4 grandchildren, so I had the chance to meet a number of relatives for the first time. Driving back to Chase after the meal was a little tiring - plenty of traffic, surprisingly, and some rain - not a great combination on mountain roads at night. Back at the motel, Grandmere and I both crashed out pretty quickly, and slept like logs.

RoadTrip (1)

How many people have a 102 year old (ok, technically 101 for another couple weeks) grandmother who is up for a road trip? Not too many, I guess. I consider myself lucky.

When I arrived last night she told me that the gin and the cans of tonic were packed, and that she was making corned beef hash sandwiches for lunch. The sandwiches, apparently, have been planned for some days now. Her instinct to feed the troups clearly remains intact! (Indeed, she was shocked at breakfast this morning that not only would I be quite happy with cereal, rather than bacon and eggs or pancakes, but also that I considered a single-portion box of Rice Crispies quite sufficient).

It's time to pack up the Behemoth and get on the road for our first leg - up to Chase, on Little Shushwap Lake.


A busy week, and it ended up with an all-night assignment-writing/packing stint. Despite all my panicking, I made it to Schiphol with plenty of time, albeit in a rather spaced-out state, and managed to get myself onto the plane, one Anna Pavlova, MD11, whose interior was rather flashier looking than I remember her counterparts Mother Theresa & Ingrid Bergman being. Lucky enough to have a free seat next to me, I spent most of the flight asleep (virtually unheard of), and arrived in Vancouver in decent enough shape. I picked up a Behemoth from Hertz (it was supposed to be a compact, but I ended up with a choice between an SUV and a minivan), and drove to Grandmere's where I was greated with a very welcome G & T.

Oh yes, how could I forget the most important part of all? I also picked up my new camera - a Canon 5D Mk II. Looking forward to trying it out during the trip.

Monday 20 April 2009

Alas poor 40D

The verdict is back from the repair centre about the state of my 40D. Not good news - the card reader is broken and they don't consider that this comes under the guarantee. Having raised the issue with Canon, I'm now waiting to hear if they have changed their mind.... my guess is though, that I'll be stuck with the 430 euro bill for the repair.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Choral Evensong - 18 April 2009

  • Introit: This Joyful Eastertide Wood
  • Preces & Responses: Smith
  • Office hymn: Ad cenam Agni providi
  • Psalm: 149 (Stanford)
  • Canticles: Wood in E flat
  • Anthem: Blessed be the God and Father Wesley

Thursday 16 April 2009

Het Geldersch Landschap

Living in Zuid Holland doesn't do much to dispel the traditional image of The Netherlands - flat polder lands, crossed with drainage ditches, wildmills and bulb fields. Vising Gelderland, however, has been a great opportunity to remind myself of the country's other faces. After a day behind the laptop in the training room, I hired a bicycle from the hotel reception and set off for a 2 1/2 hour ride through the woods.

Whilst in England we would hesitate to call this landscape hilly, there is no denying that the land does undulate somewhat (the highest elavation of the Veluwe is apparently 100m), giving the opportunity to experience the rush of wind when freewheeling downhill. The area is littered with well marked cycle paths, but apart from a small section through town on the main roadways, I saw virtually no-one.

The woods may have been empty of human life, however, with the continual accompanient of bird song it was never silent. I caught sight of a quite a number of birds, including blue tits, coal tits, magpies and some unidentified smaller and larger "brown jobbies" near the path. The undisputed highlight, though, was the sighting near the end of the ride of an adult wild boar with three young, chasing each other through the woods, and across the path ahead of me - a magical moment.

Speeding up Java Applications (1)

Yet again I'm out of the office on a training course, this time not in easily accessible Amsterdam, but in the middle of the woods, some 15 kilometres out of Apeldoorn, in the east of The Netherlands. The full day's work and 3 hour journey were immediately forgotten, however, when I found that my accomodation for the next two nights would be not the anonymous hotel room I had expected, but a little cottage. Hard to remember, at this point, that I was here for work, not a holiday.

The course is "Speeding up Java applications", given by Jeroen Borgers of Xebia, and focuses on both tooling and best practices for developing performant Java applications.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

VNF West - 14th April 2009

As of this evening, I became an official member of the VNF West Fotoclub. Today's meeting was given over to a presentation by Han Bouwmeester, a Dutch wildlife photographer, who specializes in bird photography.

The first half of the presentation showed a selection of bird photographs taken in The Netherlands, many relating to specific project such as Kingfishers and Owls. The photographs and description clearly highlighted just how much work is required in preparation, study and sheer patience. This was not, of course, news to me, but nevertheless always a slightly depressing reminder.

Perhaps realising this, the second half of the presentation focused on a trip which Han leads to the UK, visiting the Farne Islands and Bass Rock. These photos gave a good example of places which are more within the reach of the average amateur photographer, who also has a day job! Following such an organized trip means that you can fairly easily visit places where you are pretty much guaranteed wildlife sightings, and subject to weather conditions, will always come home with full CF cards.

Other news from the club, the website is now online.

Monday 13 April 2009


The Easter weekend flew by so quickly that I hardly realised it had happened. On Good Friday I sang with the Haarlem choir in the morning, and of course had my usual rehearsal in Amsterdam in the evening. On Saturday evening I sang again, this time for the Paaswake (Easter Vigil Mass) in Amsterdam - a marathon service which lasted 2 1/4 hours (fortunately, not including a sermon, or we surely wouldn't have been finished before midnight!).

On Sunday I managed to start painting my bedroom, a long overdue task, which has now been moved to top priority as I have finally ordered some carpet for the room. Sadly my remaining plans for the weekend - dinner with friends, falconry workshop and singing lesson were somewhat scuppered by falling ill on Sunday evening and taking to bed/sofa until work on Tuesday morning... and lo, another weekend gone...

Saturday 11 April 2009

Paaswake - 11th April 2009

  • Viadana: Exultate Justi
  • Aichinger: Regina Caeli
  • Hedley: I saw water flowing
  • Palestrina: Sicut cervus desiderat

Friday 10 April 2009

Good Friday - 10th April 2009

Good Friday service at the Anglican Church in Haarlem, followed by a lunch together with the choir.

  • Prayer for Lent (Hopper)
  • Tantum ergo - Severac
  • Like as the hart - N.Rawsthorne
  • Passion Gospel - Byrd
  • Psalm 130 -J.Bell
  • Reproaches - Vittoria
  • Wondroous Cross - Wilby
  • Agnus Dei - Anglican Folk Mass
  • Hymn: NEH 90

Thursday 9 April 2009

Playing truant with the butterflies

I couldn't help but feel like I was playing truant from school when I left work today at 1pm with four photo-fanatic colleagues, in order to visit Vlinders aan de Vliet, a butterfly house in nearby Leidschendam.

Walking into the butterfly house feels like stepping into the rainforest - surrounded by warm, humid air and tropical bird song. The only jarring features being the four enclosing walls, and the small children that invariably trip over your tripod legs.

Watching the butterflies was fun, but photographing them a great challenge, hampered by movement, high f-stops, and distracting backgrounds. I used two lenses for the job - a 105mm macro lens, and the new 70-200mm f2.8. In the end, I had very few pictures that I was really pleased with, as many either suffer from movement blur, or insufficient depth of field. I have, however, put a small gallery up on my site.

Having seen Marcel in action with his macro flash equipment, I have a feeling I have found yet another item for my photo equipment wish list.

Links to the others' photos will follow.

Tuesday 7 April 2009

Keukenhof Photos on Heron Photography

The last couple trips I've taken up to Haarlem/Amsterdam have been brightened by the increasing number of bulb fields that are springing to life. Therefore it seemed appropriate to also upload the set of photos I took at the Keukenhof two years ago to a gallery on Heron Photography.

Puffins Online!

Some more catch up work - a selection of photos from the second photo workshop I did last year, Puffins on Skomer Island, are now also uploaded to the Puffin Gallery. Looking back, they are for the most part rather disappointing - contrasty light combined with small, fast black and white birds is definitely a challenge.

I've also installed Joomla on the site - it still needs some customization, but at least it's a beginning.

Tennis Stars

A bit of a departure today from my usual photographic subjects - not wildlife, but a couple of colleagues on the tennis courts. It was the first time I tried out my new 70-200 mm f2.8 IS lens (just upgraded from the f4 non-IS), and whilst the results show that I could use some more practice in the sports arena, I'm pleased with the lens.

Monday 6 April 2009

Gannets online!

Last year I visited Bass Rock, for a photography workshop focusing on gannets (see Gutted about Gannets and Got my Gannets Back). With all the stress of corrupted disk and photo recovery, I never had time to process the photos at the time.

Whilst I still need to get my site set up, here is a sneak preview of the gannet photos at Heron Photography.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Organ Benefit Concert

Back in Haarlem today for a benefit concert for the restoration fund for the organ at the St Josephkerk.
The concert was given by members of the Haarlem choir, the Anglican Singers and the ECS (how I came to be involved) with Patrick Hopper on the organ.

  • Give almes of thy goods – Christopher Tye
  • Psalm 27
  • Jubilate in Bb – Stanford
  • Harwood in A flat – Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis
  • Let Saints on earth – Anthony Caesar
  • Organ - Howells
  • God be in my head – Sydney Nicholson.
  • Now the God of Peace – Gerald Knight
  • Psalm 22
  • Hear my Prayer O Lord – Adrian Batten
  • Christ whose glory fills the sky – Darke
  • Solus ad Victimam – Kenneth Leighton
  • Organ – Leighton
  • Bless O Lord, us thy servants – John Harper.
  • O for a closer walk – Grayston Ives
  • Prayer of King Henry VI – Henry Ley
  • Benedictus – Karl Jenkins
  • I give to you a new commandment – Nardone
  • Brewer in D – Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis

Saturday 4 April 2009

Choral Evensong - 4th April 2009

A long day singing today - up and out of the house at 8.15 for a rehearsal in Haarlem, and then straight onto Amsterdam for Choral Evensong. By the end of the service I was ready to drop, fell asleep in the train (again!) but this time I woke up in time to get out...


  • introit: Turn thy face Attwood
  • responses: Smith
  • office hymn: Vexilla Regis prodeunt

  • psalm 51
  • canticles: Watson in E
  • anthem: Solus ad Victimam Leighton
  • antiphon: In manus tuas (from Domine Meus) de Morales