Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: On a clear day...


This photo first appeared here over eighteen months ago during the winter of 2013/2014. Two winters ago was the last time that Islanders enjoyed a decent ski season. Last year's record warm temperature shut the resort down after a mere three weeks.

So far this year things are looking up for our local mountain with lots of snow and new owner/operators who are flush with cash apparently.

In fact, as you are reading this, I hope to be skiing down the slopes. You can normally see a live feed of the inner tube runs here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Wave-ing goodbye to nice weather...

Waves and wind pound Victoria's breakwater.
Wind and waves pound the breakwater.

Vancouver Island had a rough December, setting rainfall records and enduring a goodly number of wind storms that kicked the stuffing out of us.

During summer, the Ogden Point breakwater is a must-do activity when the sky is clear, and the ocean is a rich sun-kissed blue.

In the winter when the cold wind is howling and grey frigid waves and spray are breaking up and over the concrete blocks... not so much.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Raptors

A Cooper's hawk pays us a visit.
A Cooper's hawk...
We live close to a nature sanctuary so it's not unusual to see less common birds in our yard. We keep a lot of bird feeders around to attract them. It's always especially thrilling to see a bird of prey up close.

The bird above is a Cooper's Hawk, one of the smaller members of the hawk family. S/he landed on our patio lamp a few days ago looking around for a small mammal to eat. 

We were once sitting in our backyard on an early summer evening when we noticed a small mouse exploring some of the rocks in our garden only a few feet away from us. The little creature was entertaining us with his scrambling when WHOOSH... one of these hawks came screaming around the corner of our house barely five feet off the ground. The little rodent had only enough time to let out one quick squeak before the raptor snatched it in a blur and flew off, leaving us stunned at how fast it all happened. The unfortunate critter was barely an inch long. I still wonder how the bird even saw it from around the house.

The bird below landed on our garden fence a couple of months ago. It's a red-tailed hawk. They are frequently used for falconry. If you've ever watched any Hollywood movie that featured the sound of an eagle or a hawk, you were probably listening to the cry of one of these birds. We have a lot of fat grey squirrels in our neighbourhood that like to raid our bird feeders. In a weird way they are also bird 'feeders' for raptors like this who come around looking for the squirrels.

A red-tailed hawk looking for a meal in our yard.
A red-tailed hawk...
Finally, here is something I learned while looking up this pair of birds... a group of hawks has many collective nouns, including a "boil", "knot", "spiraling", "stream", and "tower" of hawks.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lights of fancy

Strands of Christmas lights at the Victoria Bay Centre..
The glow of seasonal lights at the Victoria Bay Centre...
Christmas 2015 is only a couple of days away, but the local malls have been uncharacteristically quiet for this time of year.

Perhaps I don't get out enough, but people this year don't seem to be caught up in rampant consumerism as they normally are. Even Black Friday in the United States seem to come and go without the usual shopping riots that are a staple of media in late-November. And that's a good thing...

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Creepy critter

Creepy aquarium critter...

All legs and feelers, an alien creature emerges from its cave at the Xcaret aquarium. Actually, he's pretty small... only about eight inches wide.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Aquaman My Friend...

Taking a stroll along the lagoon floor...
Taking a stroll along the lagoon floor of Xcaret...
Not far from Playa del Carmen is Xcaret Eco-Park. Among its attractions is this one which allows visitors to don a modern-day diving helmet and walk along under the water via handrails.

No, your monitor is not out of focus. The fresh water of the river mingles with the salt water of the ocean producing this blurred effect. Even with our snorkeling masks on we couldn't always see clearly through the effect and certainly my camera's optics weren't up to sorting things out.

You can read about my impressions of Xcaret here...

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Royale-ty on the Mayan Riviera

Our resort in Playa del Carmen...
Early morning at the resort...
The Royal Playa del Carmen is located along the waterfront resort strip of Playa del Carmen about sixty kilometres south of Cancun on Mexico's east coast.

It's considered one of the smaller resorts although my wife and I found it plenty big. If you're curious about our impressions of the resort, check out my Tripadvisor review...

Sunrise over the Royale...



Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Modesty of a Lady


Victoria's Empress resort under renovations...
Victoria's Empress undergoes a face lift...
Under the gray drab skies of winter, Victoria's landmark Fairmont Empress Hotel is undergoing a $30 million dollar makeover from new owners, who bought it a couple of years ago. Custom tarps that mimic her normal appearance hide the fact of her face lift.

Around the corner the Hotel Grand Pacific -- seen in behind the recently updated Steamship Terminal on the Inner Harbour -- is also under wraps, hidden under more traditional white tarps.

These tarps represent some kind of engineering voodoo to be able to resist the high winds that have been buffeting Victoria for the last week.

Another local hotel under wraps...
The Grand Pacific under wraps...



Friday, December 11, 2015

Sunny Hola-days in Mexico

Carvings celebrate The Day of the Dead.
Carved masks celebrate Mexico's Day of the Dead.
So far Victoria has been having a wild and wet winter. Still it was nice to recently spend a week down on the Yucat√°n Peninsula in Mexico.

We stayed on a resort in the VERY tourist-y town of Playa del Carmen. Many of the nearby tourist shops featured wood carvings of this sort that are a theme of El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), a traditional Mexican holiday that coincides with Halloween in North America.

Whereas our version of the holiday is all about scary things that go bump in the night, their version is more uplifting... it's the time of the year when spirits of departed family members can briefly unite with their still living loved ones.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wayback Wednesday: Santa Claus is comin' to town..

Colourful floats of the Santa Claus parade...
Colourful cars and trucks in the 2013 Santa Claus parade...
2015 Santa Claus Parade in Victoria a couple of weeks ago. We found it... well, sort of boring.

Maybe it had to do with the fact we chose a location near the end of the parade route from which to watch it. Normally we pick a spot much closer to the beginning of the parade route.

There were large gaps between the floats. Few of the floats seem to have the customary seasonal music coming from them. Also, there were way too many special interest groups in the parade that seemed to consist of a banner held aloft followed by a milling group of ordinary people walking along and vaguely waving at the crowds on either side. Sometimes it was impossible to tell if they were part of the parade, or just spectators marching along the route.

In the end, we left before seeing the big man in red himself.

A couple of weeks later we attended the Santa Claus parade in nearby Sidney and enjoyed it much more. It was short but entertaining... no gaps between floats, no groups of random people to act as parade 'filler', mercifully just one military band with their wretched bagpipes...

As I didn't take any blog-worthy photos at either parade, I'm recycling these photos from the Nov 2013 parade instead.

Children look on as the parade goes by...
Kids enjoying the spectacle...
Santa Claus waves to the fans...
The main attraction!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Overdue thanks...

A pair of Mikes, post-repair...
A pair of Mikes...
Today I need to express my way-too-late thanks to some people who stepped up to help us during our recent trip through Oregon. Almost from the start, our vacation was plagued with technical problems.

On the day we were due to leave Cannon Beach, our bike rack which mounted to the bumper of our trailer suffered catastrophic failure.

Although I'm smiling in the photo above, it was a different situation an hour or so before that. I found myself at the side of the road trying to jury rig a repair while my wife walked back down the road to our campsite to seek help. Four-letter words were flowing freely from my mouth I'm embarrassed to admit.

Suddenly a passing car pulled off the road and in behind me. The driver leaned out his window and asked if he could help in any way. That's how I met Mike and his family.

After surveying the situation, Mike went way out of his way to drive me to the local hardware store. He helped me to locate some of the bits and pieces that I needed to effect repairs. Once we got back to the trailer he also provided the tools and some of the labour to get us fixed up and mobile again.

During this ordeal, his wife Katie and their kids patiently sat in the car waiting for the two Mikes to sort things out so they are equally deserving of a shout-out.

Thanks, Mike, for all your help, patience and advice... you saved us from a vacation disaster...


Friday, December 4, 2015

High over Portland

US Bancorp Tower in downtown Portland...
US Bancorp Tower in downtown Portland...
The 30th floor of the US Bancorp Tower in Portland is home to the award-winning Portland City Grill which offers the best views of the city skyline.

Portland towers...
Portland towers...


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Keeping it weird...

A sample of Portland's public art...
A sample of Portland's public art...
Portland, Oregon's unofficial motto: "Keep Portland Weird" appears on billboards, bumper stickers and walls throughout the city. It perfectly summarizes their quirky, funky attitude. Portland has become a favourite destination for my wife and I.

You'll find a lot of public art throughout the core of the city. Most of it is off-the-wall and some of it is downright strange in keeping with their motto.

Kinetic art in downtown Portland...
Kinetic art sways in the wind in downtown Portland...
The kinetic art installation above is located across from their famous bookstore Powell's Book Store. The centre piece rotates and sways in the wind.

Elsewhere we encountered this bizarre thing that looked like a cross between an angry root vegetable and that damn creepy guy-in-a-rabbit suit from the movie Donnie Darko.

Weird or angry art?
Bizarre art piece in downtown Portland...