My Canadian holiday last year was split between two cities – St. John’s followed by Toronto. St. John’s is a city on the east coast of Canada, about as close to the UK as you can get and just five-and-a-half hours flight from London. In fact you can fly directly to St. John’s Airport. It’s where my friends live, who kindly offered to put me up for eight nights and show me the sights before heading onto Toronto.
Surrounded by the natural beauty of Newfoundland, pronounced ‘Newfinland’ by the locals, St. John’s is built around a harbour and overlooked by Signal Hill. It was my first experience of Canada and the North American continent and it definitely lived up to my expectations with wide roads, big cars, and friendly people.
The city itself sprawls from the harbour to the countryside, with the downtown area being a hub of offices and shops. It’s quite different to a UK town or city, as the ‘centre’ doesn’t have a high street with full of commonplace stores, they tend to be on retail parks and malls dotted around the city.
I explored the bars, restaurants, and shops downtown. What made it stand out for me was colour of the jellybean row houses, the sight of arriving cruise ships, and the views from Signal Hill.
I also used St. John’s as a base to explore some of Newfoundland, and even with a week in the area I only managed to cover a small part of what Newfoundland has to offer (the part known as the Avalon Peninsula) getting as far as Come By Chance.
If you get to visit St. John’s I recommend visiting these places… Tim Hortons for amazing coffee, Quidi Vidi for lovely walks and a local brewery, Signal Hill for views over the City, The Bagel Cafe for the best breakfast known to man, the Johnson Geo Centre for some entertaining education, George Street for endless bars and the opportunity to be screeched in, and The Yellow Belly for Canadian Poutine.
The day after visiting Westonbirt Arboretum (see blog post and photos here) I popped along to Cotswold Wildlife Park. The weather was much chillier than the previous day and it was interesting to see how the animals outside were coping with the weather. Some seemed to try hibernation and just slept, and others seemed to be active to keep warm.
The red pandas were particularly active. So much so that they’ll get their very own blog post as I had so many photos of them. Keep an eye out for that post coming soon!
For animals who were behind glass my Lens Skirt came into its own. It really helped to cut out the reflections from the glass and get clear shots. In the monkey enclosure the monkeys seemed intrigued by the Lens Skirt and came right up to the glass to take a look. Unfortunately they were too close for the lens I was using at the time.
For this visit I was using my backup camera body, an Olympus E-PL3, with my normal lenses. I’m very pleased with the photos I got from this body, and it goes to show much of the quality comes from the lens you use rather than the body. The two drawbacks for me were the lack of viewfinder (using just the camera screen was quite awkward at times) and the body was too small to get a good grip of.
The reason I had to use a backup body was that my Olympus OMD E-M1 and shiny new 25mm f1.8 lens were off for repair – the body was suffering from intermittent shutter lockups since fitting the new lens. This was really annoying as it happened on a weekend away and left me with very few photos. Luckily the E-M1 came with a Service Plus warranty and when I called about the issues I was having, Olympus picked up the camera and lens, zoomed it to Portugal for repair, and a few days later it was back in working order. Great service!
It’s been a few weeks since I last blogged some photos – I’ve been away on holiday in north Wales, and the next few blog entries will be about that trip.
North Wales is a beautiful part of the world, with a rugged mountainous terrain which drops to some stunning coastal shorelines; an ideal place for photography. I’ve been to north Wales many times and have experienced the rainy climate the mountains bring, but on this holiday I didn’t see rain once. I wanted to walk along the Aberglaslyn Pass whilst I was there and deliberately chose the coolest day of the week. Unfortunately the cloudy skies don’t make for a great backdrop in some of the photos.
My walk started at the National Trust car park at Nantmor (grid reference SH597462 – where you can park for free if you’re a member), taking me to Beddgelert and back. The majority of the walk is alongside the river Glaslyn, which gives great opportunities for some photos of the river and its surroundings. The river is home to some otters, but I didn’t spot any on this walk. Close by the river is the railway track of the Welsh Highland Railway, a heritage railway that runs between Caernarfon and Porthmadog. A few years ago I spent a weekend helping to lay track for this railway before it opened, and it’s great to see and hear the trains in action and smell the steam engines. The river path crosses the railway track and eventually reaches Beddgelert, a village with a lot of history.
As well as some shops and pubs, Beddgelert is home to the resting place of ‘Gelert’, the faithful hound of the medieval Welsh Prince Llewelyn the Great. The story, as written on the tombstone reads:
“In the 13th century Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, had a palace at Beddgelert. One day he went hunting without Gelert, “The Faithful Hound”, who was unaccountably absent. On Llewelyn’s return the truant, stained and smeared with blood, joyfully sprang to meet his master. The Prince alarmed, hastened to find his son, and saw the infant’s cot empty, the bedclothes and floor covered with blood. The frantic father plunged his sword into the hound’s side, thinking it had killed his heir. The dog’s dying yell was answered by a child’s cry. Llewelyn searched and discovered his boy unharmed, but near by lay the body of a mighty wolf which Gelert had slain. The Prince filled with remorse is said never to have smiled again. He buried Gelert here.”
After stopping for some lunch at Beddgelert, walking up to the station for the Welsh Highland Railway and onto Gelert’s Grave, it was time to walk back along the river.