Saturday, October 8, 2016


I'm used to travelling solo by choice, but now I have to go alone. My husband passed away ten months ago and after two years of being unable to travel and then ten months of dealing with his estate, I am now able to spread my wings again.

I have plans, BIG plans for 2017.

I have booked a Russian cruise for September 2017 after a week in the UK visiting friends. After three days touring Moscow, we sail north for seven days to St. Petersburg, which we tour for another three days.

After spending a few days in Paris, I head for Amboise, which is the base for my small-group, chateaux and wine tasting tour in the Loire Valley. I'm going to add a couple of extra days at the front end of this adventure.

Back to Paris for a couple more days, and thence to Ottawa on my way home to see family and perhaps stay till after Thanksgiving.

My biggest shock has been the single supplements (SS). Some are as much as a 100% of the per person cost — I won't go there! The Russian cruise ships have single cabins and a very reasonable SS. And this is partly the reason I'm not cruising the Loire River. The other reasons are that the road tour has a much cheaper SS and visits the chateaux I'm interested in. The vineyards offered are better too and I shall get to eat in French restos, not on a ship.

I haven't firmed up my trip in April yet as I'm waiting for a few adventures to firm up. But I will be going to Morocco, hopefully for a writers' retreat, and back through Gibraltar and Madrid to visit the Prado.

My passport is about to get a work-out! But first, my annual golf pilgrimage to Palm Springs in a month.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Although I wasn't able to travel far afield in 2015, I spent much time with Bella, my Nikon. At Christmas 2014, my husband gave me an 18-300mm lens to replace the two kit lenses that had come with the camera that were not particularly good. The new one turned out to be much better and I experimented to find its sweet spot in different light conditions.

I also used my time working on my post-production knowledge and began to figure out how to make HDR work for me. 2015 turned out to be a great year for photo ops, including a Kerrisdale Cameras field trip to the BC Highland Games and paid photo shoots, one in Palm Desert, CA, for example.

Photography in the field and editing at the computer is a must for travel writers, so that they can add value for their editors with high quality images.

My photographic record of 2015 is now in a portfolio that I'm proud of and a preview can be seen here:

Monday, December 21, 2015


One good thing about touring the wind farms in Palm Springs on the coldest, greyest day I've ever experienced here, was that the wind was blowing.

At the foot of Mt. Jacinto
Nearly four thousand windmills used to line the San Gorgonio Pass north of Palm Springs at the entrance to the Coachella Valley – now they total about two thousand. Here the Santa Rosa and San Bernardino Mountains squeeze the prevailing westerly winds through a funnel. It's a perfect place for a wind farm, if unattractive.

Windmill Tours are the only company to provide tours and they have gained rights to entry on the privately-held land. We saw everything during the hour and a half visit, starting with a visit to an outdoor display of the older windmills' parts, which gave me a clearer idea of how they worked and how they are now controlled, and a drive all over the site. We also learned about the need for two natural gas plants for periods of peak consumption when there's no wind (rarely!). Tour reservations must be made online and the tour costs USD$47.00 per person.

Older wind turbines are still working

Since 1985, windmills have been erected here on various leased lands. Some turbines were not efficient and some collapsed in the early days. We saw examples of these as we rode the comfortable tour bus listening to the commentary. (The tinted windows made photography almost impossible and I would have liked a few more stops at the most scenic places. We planned to return later on a sunny day, as we now knew how to get there, but we never did.)
Modern and huge

Today modern wind turbines are replacing the Vestas (older versions) and are needed in fewer numbers. However they need more space. They are gigantic –  420 feet tall with a nacelle the size of a semi-truck and blades over 130 feet long – and each can deliver 3 megawatts of electricity per day in ideal conditions. The nacelle provides the controls to capture the wind, change the pitch of the blades, a gearbox, and a braking mechanism. I was amazed at their size and cost.

The total electricity produced by the windmills in the San Gorgonio pass  is about 1822 gigawatts annually. It equates to the amount of energy used by 180,000 typical US homes in one year.

As land is cleared of the older windmills, solar panels are filling the empty spaces between the modern monsters; they are computer controlled too and turn to face the sun on its journey from east to west.

Near the end of the tour, we visited a local café for free date shakes, which many loved but I did not. I don't enjoy dates....

Overall, this was a good tour especially for engineers and those interested in alternate power generation. The weather proved challenging for photography and for staying warm outside. Few participants had cold weather gear in Palm Springs!

Solar panels filling in where the old
windmills used to be (looking southeast)

Images: © Photos by Pharos 2015. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 15, 2015


The view from Le Chateau Montebello of the Ottawa River
My husband, a native of Ottawa, has long wanted to visit Montebello in western Quebec, Canada. His parents were invited to stay at Le Chateau Montebello and he remembered hearing about it when he was small.

In 2015 we got there at last because our son and daughter-in-law invited us to Ottawa for Thanksgiving. It's a perfect time to see the fall colours and we booked three nights at the acclaimed chateau.

Montebello is actually a small village on the banks of the Ottawa River, an hour's drive from Ottawa. A popular vacation spot in the summer, we found in early October that most of the cafés and restaurants were closed. No doubt some would re-open for Christmas and the snowy months, but we were out of luck.

The chateau gobsmacked me. It's a vast, star-shaped log cabin built of ten thousand red cedar logs from British Columbia and it's surrounded by parkland. The builders took only three months to complete it in 1930 as a private vacation club for the wealthy elite from Montreal and Ottawa, as well as prime ministers and royalty. The grounds have a marina, stables, a curling rink, a golf course, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, and much more. The members enjoyed this club summer and winter. When it snowed they cross-country skied, skated, curled, snowshoed and attended wonderful Christmas parties. In July and August, they hiked, sailed, swam, rode, and partied some more. This lifestyle did not last and the chateau became a hotel decades after WW2 and hosted the G7, NATO, other distinguished meetings. Now it's part of the Fairmont chain, recently acquired by the Accor group.

Inside the hotel is a vast circular lobby around which are the galleries of the upper two floors. Dominating the centre is an enormous stone chimney, below which are six fireplaces surrounded by couches and arm chairs. There is a bar too, with a friendly barman, shops, and the front desk.

The galleries are lined with old photos of the hotel and club members in Chateau Montebello's heyday and they are worth viewing. Around the railings are tables and chairs, often with a chess set or backgammon board to while away the time. The rooms radiate from the galleries and are good sized and comfortable. The bathrooms are small but modern, and the wifi is excellent.

When guests are hungry, there are several options and they're all superb. Aux Chantignoles, wraps-around the banquet room and looks out to the terrace with the Ottawa River beyond. The food was absolutely divine and most sourced locally. We had two dinners and two breakfasts here. There is also the Seigneurie Bar that serves bistro food and good local beer. In the summer, Le Riverain on the huge terrace delivers barbecue fare.

All in all Le Chateau Montebello was quite an experience combining luxury, history, politics, and more. It was a visit I was thrilled to make.

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2015. All rights reserved

Saturday, September 19, 2015


Thirty dollars each way in mid-September will get a vehicle and two retired passengers onto the ferry to the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver. Little traffic and few tourists make for a quiet, relaxing getaway. Weather can be lovely too.
Neither my husband nor I had been there for decades and with few recommendations to assist, we selected Painted Boat Resort and Spa for our three-night getaway. I remembered the winding and narrow main road though, lined by towering evergreens and few views of the coast because most of the shoreline is privately owned. After 63 kms from Langdale's ferry dock, we arrived at Madeira Park. The resort is about eight years old and built on the steep slopes down to the water. The view was stunning.

The units are cleverly stacked so everyone who stays here has that view overlooking the marina. But nothing had prepared me for the unit we stayed in. (They're all two bedrooms.) I gasped as I walked into the huge open-plan living/dining room with a kitchen to delight the most discerning cook. It was so well-equipped, we enjoyed dinners in every night. The master bedroom and living room have decks and there is a BBQ off the dining area. The master ensuite is also huge with a soaker tub and separate shower. The beds embrace you and we slept like newborns!

Painted Boat overlooks Gerrans Bay and Beaver Island in Pender
Ebb tide at Painted Boat
Pool Lagoon
Harbour. As the tide floods and ebbs, two tiny islands join and separate. Herons fish along the shore; kayakers paddle in and out of the marina. The resort faces west with the promise of sunsets. A major benefit of staying at Madeira Park is a good supermarket and a liquor store, both of which are well-stocked, in a small shopping centre. The other advantage is that exploring by car or boat north of Sechelt means beautiful spots are close by just waiting to be found. Many boat rentals and tour companies are based out of Pender Harbour.
Garden Bay

Beaver Island is linked to Madeira Park by a bridge and has a marine park at its southwest corner. We explored the north coast of Pender Harbour on a glorious sunny day and lingered over a great lunch at Garden Bay Hotel's pub that provides a huge outdoor patio above the bay. This spot is busy with boats big and small, and boat tours run from here up to Chatterbox Falls in Princess Louisa Inlet. Earlier we had stood below the historic Sundowner Inn to take photos of Pool Lagoon and Hospital Bay. The fall colours had begun to make their appearance and softened the more gloomy hue of the evergreens.

Our last full day was overcast but dry and we headed up to Egmont, near the ferry dock that leads up to Powell River. This tiny village is home to two big draws. The first is West Coast Wilderness Lodge, an attractive retreat with all modern comforts. The views from the restaurant and bar are breathtaking. You look towards Jervis and Princess Louisa Inlets with blue mountains as the backdrop. Two islands dot the Skookumchuk Narrows in front of the lodge.

We had the best meal of the getaway here plus glasses of pale ale. The home-made curried coconut, cauliflower soup was fragrant and warming. I chose to have the special — squid steak, grilled to perfection, and resting on a wonderful thick ancho-tomato sauce. My husband tucked into an ahi tuna clubhouse sandwich with tuna confit. It was a good four inches high! There is a huge viewing deck below the resto and a vine-covered patio for dining beside it.

The second draw is the standing wave — a two kilometre hike away. Kayakers and surfers come from around the world to ride it as the tides sluice in and out of the Narrows. We did not do the hike as the tides were wrong. I wish it had been the right time because it is a photographer's dream to take shots of the derring-do!

We will return to stay at the lodge and take advantage of the boat tours and the photography, but will also take a few days at Painted Boat to relax awhile and I will also try out their spa.

IMAGES: © Photos by Pharos 2015. All rights reserved.