Friday, June 28, 2013

#812 Ottawa Jail Hostel, Ontario, Canada
For those who have actually been to jail I imagine that this is not all that exciting or amazing, and I hope that this is the only experience I will ever have of one.

Basically, when Carleton County Jail, better known as Nicolas Street Jail closed in 1972 after more than 100 years of action (it was built in 1862 next to and connected by a tunnel to the courthouse), the hostel took it over and allows visitors to sleep in the cells -- they make great dorms! The top floor of 'death row' has been restored and you can see it on a tour.

It was famous for being the site of the hanging of Patrick Whelan for his assassination of Thomas D'Arcy McGee, and he's said to haunt death row. Surprisingly, it seems as if there were only 3 (official) executions there, the last being in 1946. Excavations of the grounds have turned up several unmarked graves, and the conditions in the jail were inhumane with severe crowding (150 prisoners sharing 60 smaller and 30 larger cells), and 6 solitary confinement cells. The gallows remain and the location (as a tourist attraction) can't be beat!
Restored singles on 'death row'

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

#813 Laguna de la Cocha, Pasto, Colombia

Deep in the greens of Narino province in Colombia, 20km from Pasto (yet feeling like much further as it is over a mountain) lies the 20x5km Laguna de la Cocha. A 'cocha' is a lagoon in Quechua, one of the main dialects of the region,  and the it is also known as Guamues Lake. At the mouth of Rio Encano, Las Cochas, the main town, straddles the river and a canal as it empties into lake. It is a pretty village with cabins and parillas (grills) serving cuy (guinea pig) and trout, with a delicious desert of cheese and jam (dulce de mora). The peace, quiet, provinciality, green and mistyness give it an almost swiss-chalet feeling and its "ramshakle buildings" are a picturesque step away from bustling, grungy Pasto.

Perusing the sweets, hats and other crafts, mingling with other visitors from Ecuador and Colombia and wandering along the canals crossing the rickety bridges makes for a pleasant few hours.

In addition, there is a short boat ride across the lake to Isla Corota (and the Santuario de Flora y Fauna, a national park, though in poor repair as we were not allowed to go around the island due to erosion of the path). At an altitude of 2830m, it is a well-preserved evergreen cloud forest with an unusual small chapel research station and 550m long boardwalk (closed June 2013) that leads to a mirador and excellent bird-watching.

One of the unique ecosystems in Colombia (of which there are many) is the cloud forest (where they recently "discovered" a new mammal, the Olinguito), and Isla Corota is a really accessible example.

Source: Lonely Planet Colombia 6th Edition Aug 2012

Monday, June 24, 2013

#814 Canterbury Cathedral, England

Hidden behind a tiny gate in the old town of Canterbury is the enormous Canterbury Cathedral, seat of the main Archbishop of the Anglican Church (the "Mother Church" for all Anglicans). But despite all this, it's a pretty cool building in itself. I don't think I've been in another cathedral of this sort of size that is split-multi-floored, with the main Nave level and its spectacularly high pillars which splits at the front of the church with a Crypt below (the oldest part of the church) and the Quire and Trinity Chapel on the upper floor. There's also the Chapter House and Cloister to the side and the many other old church buildings.
The cathedral is 72m high in a mixture of Romanesque, English Gothic and Gothic architecture, and was built by William of Sens and William the Englishman. It houses the graves of many people famous in English history from Thomas Becket (who was murdered in the cathedral by minions of Henry II who said "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?" but probably didn't mean death) to Edward the Black Prince to Henry IV and other royals.

Because of its more than 1400 years of worship (Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine as his missionary in 597AD) it includes many historical relics. The Normans left their legacy in the Crypt with their typical round Romanesque columns. A fire in the 12th Century led to subsequent rebuilds of the Quire and Trinity Chapel, and much of the beautiful stained glass dates from this time, especially the miracles and stories centering on St. Thomas. The cathedral also had to be significantly expanded to accommodate all the many pilgrims visiting his shrine. The Catholic heritage can be seen in the ruins of the Infirmary, Bakery, Granary, Brewery, which are near to the new Herb Garden. World War II left its own impact -- most of the surrounding town and the cathedral library were flattened and ruined by bombs. In March 1539, it ceased to be an Abbey, and became a 'college of secular canons'.

The Bell Harry Tower. The Cathedral has 21 bells spread over 3 towers: 14 in the South West (Oxford) Tower were cast in 1981, the clock chimes are in the North West (Arundel) Tower, while the oldest (cast in 1635) is in Bell Harry. 

Two styles of stained glass had me fascinated. The wide eyes of the girls below was reminiscent of a Disney style, whereas the stark man was more in the lines of Soviet art. The many eras have led to many different artists!

More stained glass windows. This sculpture (at right) is in the crypt. It was made from old nails taken from the Cathedral roof then fashioned by Antony Gormley into the 6 foot 'Transport'.
An arial view of the cathedral taken from one of the exhibits inside the cathedral.
The Cloisters, reminiscient of a peaceful monestary have beautifully carved corridors and a green-grass center. The legendary 'Green Man' of Europe can be seen perched high above amongst the intricate carved ceilings.

Friday, June 21, 2013

#815 Champs-Élysées, Paris, France

One of the most famous roads in the world is the chic, impressive, promenade Avenue de Champs-Élysées in Paris,and they themselves call it the most beautiful avenue in the world. Leading up the hill to the impressive many pronged roundabout hosting the Arc de Triomphe, and leaving the Place de la Concorde and its obelisk, the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries gardens behind it, it is the epitome of French style and culture. Now, of course, it is populated with high street brands and other shops already known around the world, but it still has its (very touristy) cafes and shines with the Christmas lights and parades of Paris.

 It's width of 10 lanes typify French tree-lined city planning that can be seen across the world. These trees are horse-chestnut, but other cities host their own species depending on the climate. It is named for the Elysian Fields of Greek mythology. A very pretty place!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

#816 Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala

In the incredibly techtonically active Central America, it's hard to think of what would be a super volcano, but what is now the Lago de Atitlan would have been it, but that was more than 84,000 years ago, and since then, three other small volcanoes have formed along the edges of the lake: Atitlan, San Pedro and Toliman. So catastrophic was the eruption, called Los Chocoyos, that it can still be measured in data gathered from as far away as Florida and Ecuador.
I drove over the steep caldera and came into the main town of Panajachel, a charming town with a market based Main Street and a lot of small tourist boats. We took one of those boats and crossed the lake to the Mayan village of La Laguna, which had many weaving artisans and fascinating artwork painted on the village walls. It is reached from the lake over a series of reeds and planks and is very pretty and traditional.
After that we had a short crossing to San Pedro La Laguna, a place full of Spanish language schools and backpackers! I also loved the huge fish in the city fountain!
Our final destination was the bigger center of Santiago Atitlan, a bustling busy tourist town, prosperous in its markets and restaurants, but otherwise quite crowded and busy. We wandered to the top of the hill, did a bit of shopping and found a nice place to eat before returning to the boat back to Panajachel.  It really was a beautiful part of the country and a center for crafts and traditional wares as well as the Mayan culture still surviving!

Map from