Marking Time In Prague

Like all European cities, the Czech capital of Prague has timepieces everywhere.

From clocks on towers…

A clock tower in Prague's Old Town

A clock tower in Prague’s Old Town

… And churches…

This is actually the Cathedral of St. Vitus, inside Prague Castle

This is actually the Cathedral of St. Vitus, inside Prague Castle

… To a giant metronome on a hill above the Old Town.

The metronome in Letná Park

The metronome in Letná Park

Each year there’s one moment in time that, in many ways, has more global significance than most others. The strike of midnight on December 31st, which marks the end of one year and the beginning of another.

A few years ago, Sue read somewhere that Prague was one of the Top 10 places in the World to celebrate New Year. I’m not sure who gave the person writing the list permission to make this bold statement, but we decided to see if there was any truth to the claim.

We actually began the evening by going back in time, at least 500 years back in time, in one of the many restaurants located in a Medieval cellar within the city’s UNESCO World Heritage area.

Down in the Medieval cellar

Down in a Medieval cellar

The was even Medieval entertainment (ignore the rowdy bunch in the background)

The was even Medieval entertainment
(ignore the rowdy bunch in the background)

Looks like these candles have been burning since the Middle Ages!

Looks like these candles have been burning since the Middle Ages

Enjoying the festive cheer!

Enjoying the festive cheer!

But where is the best place to see in the actual New Year? In New York it’s Times Square. In London it’s Trafalgar Square.

I turns out that in Prague, the place to ring in the New Year is in front of the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Hall.

Prague's Astronomical Clock

Prague’s Astronomical Clock

The Old Town Hall, much of which dates from the 14th Century, is located on Staroměstské náměstí, the Old Town Square.

The Old Town Hall's Tower

The Old Town Hall’s Tower

At the base of the Old Town Hall’s gothic tower is the famed Astronomical Clock. The ancient chronometer was first placed there at the beginning of the 15th Century, but underwent several phases of tinkering before the thumbs up was given to the final version in the mid 16th Century.

Clock and tower

Clock and tower

We arrived in Staroměstské náměstí with plenty of time to look around the stalls before making our way through the huge crowd to a spot right in front of the Astronomical Clock.

Staroměstské náměstí, with the Church of Our Lady Before Týn on the far side

Staroměstské náměstí, with the Church of Our Lady Before Týn on the far side

10... 9... 8...

10… 9… 8…

At midnight, the intricate workings of the clock went through their motions to the accompaniment of fireworks being launched all over the city.

Midnight!

Midnight!

IMG_6524IMG_6534IMG_6530As I said earlier, I’m not sure who gave that writer the authority to compile a Top 10 list of places to spend New Year. But in the case of Prague, they might just be right!

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenge of Time from Lignum Draco of The Daily Post.

Sorry the photos are a little grainy, but they were taken with an older camera.

If you’re the sort of person that loves experiencing history but with a twist on your travels, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

 

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Arches National Park, Utah

In the summer, the High Desert of Arches National Park is a rocky oven with temperatures often soaring well above 100ºF (38ºC) for days on end. That said, it can get quite chilly in the winter, with even a possibility of snow,

IMG_9786So why would you want to go there?

IMG_9810Because the landscapes and natural rock sculptures are simply breathtaking, that’s why!

IMG_9811With over 2000 natural rock arches within its boundaries, the densest collection in the world, it doesn’t take a genius to work out how Arches National Park got its name. But it’s also home to hundreds of rock pinnacles, fins and balanced rocks.

Delicate Arch is perhaps the most famous in the park

Delicate Arch is perhaps the most famous in the park

It stands atop a high promontory

It stands atop a high promontory

With some friends at one of the Delicate Arch viewpoints

With some friends at one of the Delicate Arch viewpoints

The sheer number of arches and associated features is thanks to the perfect combination of geology and climate… Just the right rock types and layering. Just the right amount of rain. Just the right annual temperature variation. And a lengthy period of geological stability in the region.

Approaching the fins and pinnacles of Devils Garden

Approaching the fins and pinnacles of Devils Garden

Entering Devils Garden

Entering Devils Garden

An arch inside Devils Garden

An arch inside Devils Garden

Looking out between the fins of Devils Garden

Looking out between the fins of Devils Garden

You and I are also around at just the right moment in the Earth’s history! Geologically speaking, the landscape of Arches National Park is a fleeting one. A million years ago it was a rather dull, flat plain. A million years into the future the rock strata that produce so many arches will have completely eroded away. So all of us who have visited Arches can count ourselves extremely lucky!

Skyline Arch

Skyline Arch

And while the High Desert may look almost totally barren, it’s full of life, often in the most surprising places.

A gnarly sagebrush (I think!) with Skyline Arch in the distance

A gnarly sagebrush (I think!) with Skyline Arch in the distance

Add all that to the fact that most of the exposed rocks in this part of Utah have a distinctive red colour, which gives the whole region a warm feeling no matter what the air temperature.

Broken Arch

Broken Arch

The bottom line is, now is the perfect time to visit Arches National Park!

IMG_9805

This post was inspired by Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge, which this week is Things That Are Hot and Jennifer’s One Word Photo Challenge, which is Balance, Dale’s Thursday Challenge, which is Unusual Things, and Jo’s Monday Walk, of course.

For more images of our adventures in Utah, visit Rich and Sue’s Flickr Album 2012: Southwest USA revisited.

The total height of Balanced Rock is 128 feet, with the boulder on the top weighing a massive 3500 tons!

The total height of Balanced Rock is 128 feet, with the boulder on the top weighing a massive 3500 tons!

If you’re the sort of person that loves experiencing the wonders of the nature on your travels, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Xcaret Eco-Archaeological Park, Mexico

Xcaret is located just outside Playa del Carmen in heart of Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. The best way I can describe it is as a fun-filled theme park crossed with a vibrant, open air, interactive ecological, archaeological and cultural museum.

IMG_3982The park is built on the site of an ancient Mayan port called Polé and really takes advantage of this. Dotted around the site, amid the thick Yucatan jungle, are actual archaeological ruins (which we thought were fakes to begin with… ooops!).

IMG_3991For us, as for many other visitors, the best ‘rides’ at Xcaret were the two branches of an underground river, each roughly a third of a mile long. Donning lifejackets and snorkelling gear, you float and paddle along at your own pace, through natural caves and artificially enlarged tunnels and canyons. Fantastic!

Entrance to the underground rivers

Entrance to the underground rivers

Passing through the canyon

Passing through the canyon

One of the tunnel sections

One of the tunnel sections

Sue among the mangroves

Sue among the mangroves

A few of the colourful fish we swam with

A few of the colourful fish we swam with

Around lunchtime we watched the Papantla Flying Men perform their vertigo-inducing rituals, dancing and spinning from the top of a tall wooden pole by ropes attached to their ankles. Apparently, part of the ritual is a sort of rain dance, and sure enough the only rain of our entire vacation (all 20 drops of it) came just as the ritual ended. Honestly!

The Papantla Flying Men certainly need a head for heights!

The Papantla Flying Men certainly need a head for heights!

Almost down... I wonder if they feel dizzy?

Almost down… I wonder if they feel dizzy?

I think they need to work on their bicycle design

I think they need to work on their bicycle design

In the afternoon, we explored as much of the rest of the park as we could, but still fell short. Here’s a bit of a photo-montage of what we did get to see:

Dolphins playing (although I prefer to watch them in the wild, to be honest)

Dolphins playing (although I prefer to watch them in the wild, to be honest)

Cave route to the replica Mayan Village

Cave route to the replica Mayan Village

Gripping re-enactment of a Mayan ceremony in the Mayan Village, dramatically reconstructed above an open bend in one of the rivers we’d swam along earlier

Gripping re-enactment of a Mayan ceremony in the Mayan Village, dramatically reconstructed above an open bend in one of the rivers we’d swam along earlier

It must take ages to put on all that make-up

It must take ages to put on all that make-up

The Mayan re-enactment approaches its climax

The Mayan re-enactment approaches its climax

Jaguar Island

Jaguar Island

The vibrant and eclectic Mexican Cemetery

The vibrant and eclectic Mexican Cemetery

A dragon... I mean, er, an iguana! These guys run wild all over the park

A dragon… I mean, er, an iguana!
These guys run wild all over the park

Replica of the pre-Hispanic ball courts found at Mayan sites such as Coba and Chichen Itza

Replica of the pre-Hispanic ball courts found at Mayan sites such as Coba and Chichen Itza

That evening, we stayed on for the ‘Xcaret Mexico Espectacular’ in the beautiful, purpose built Tlachco theatre. For me, the most interesting part of the show was the first half, which included re-enactments of the enigmatic ball game played by the Mayans in the ball courts mentioned earlier.

Xcaret Mexico Espectacular

Xcaret Mexico Espectacular

The show begins with a bit some Mayan ball skills

The show begins with some Mayan ball skills

Fire hockey! I’m sure this would be a big hit in Canada!

Fire hockey! I’m sure this would be a big hit in Canada!

The arrival of the Spanish

The arrival of the Spanish

And some sea creatures (I'm totally lost at this point, but still enjoying the show!)

And some sea creatures
(I’m totally lost at this point, but still enjoying the show!)

Nice fans!

Nice fans!

The Papantla Flying Men are back!

The Papantla Flying Men are back!

That's got to make your head spin!

That’s got to make your head spin!

I want to get off!

I want to get off!

As you can probably tell, we had a wonderful day at Xcaret. Which is why I’m so excited to be going back there in November!

Rich & Sue in the underground river

Rich & Sue in the underground river

This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenges of Vibrant from Jen H. of The Daily Post and Organised Noise from Paula of Lost in Translation.

For more images of our adventures in Mexico, visit Rich and Sue’s Flickr album 2011: Mexico.

IMG_4147If you’re the sort of person that loves experiencing nature and history but with a twist on your travels, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Villa Doria Pamphili Park, Rome

We arrived  in the romantic city of Rome one beautiful October morning just after dawn. Although unsurprisingly exhausted by our transatlantic flight, we were determined to fight the jetlag, and so hit the ground running (or at least walking), as usual.

We spent much of that day exploring Vatican City and the surrounding area. Early evening found us about a mile to the south, in the Villa Doria Pamphili Park, led there by a string of geocaches.

St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, from the south

St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, from the south

I didn’t realise at the time, but Villa Doria Pamphili is one of the largest parks in Rome, covering an area of approximately 450 acres.

There was already a villa on the site when the Pamphili family purchased the property in 1630 and started enlarging the estate by buying up adjoining vineyards. When Cardinal Giambattista Pamphili became Pope Innocent X in 1644, the whole thing had to be upgraded, of course.

Pope Innocent X's Casino del Bel Respiro (which has nothing to do with gambling, by the way)

Pope Innocent X’s Casino del Bel Respiro (which has nothing to do with gambling, by the way)

The last Pamphili died in 1760 and the estate eventually became the property of Prince Giovanni Andrea IV Doria. It has been known as Villa Doria Pamphili ever since, although today it’s a public park.

Cascades/grotto on the formal canal

Cascades/grotto on the formal canal

The modern park contains a wealth of buildings, sculptures, fountains and gardens, many of them dating back centuries. However, the same can be said of practically everywhere you look in Rome.

Cappella Doria Pamphili

Cappella Doria Pamphili

Consequently, the thing, or more accurately, things that really captured my attention were the trees. Perhaps because they reminded me so much of the Serengeti’s acacias.

Acacia-like trees in Villa Doria Pamphili Park (Perhaps someone knows what species they really are)

Acacia-like trees in Villa Doria Pamphili Park
(Perhaps someone knows what species they really are)

They looked especially stunning backlit by the sinking sun, as day turned to night.

Villa Doria Pamphili Park at sunset

Villa Doria Pamphili Park at sunset

This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenges of Backlit from Jennifer’s One Word Photo Challenge, Romance from Nancy’s A Photo A Week Challenge, and Jo’s Monday Walk.

Backlit by the sun, you could almost be in Africa

Backlit by the sun, you could almost be in Africa

If you’re the sort of person that loves exploring on foot on your travels, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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The Real San Blas Islands, Panama

White pristine beaches. Crystal clear waters. Relaxation and perhaps a spot of snorkelling. That’s what I’d been led to expect from Panama’s San Blas Islands, both by what I’d read beforehand and what I’d been told during our visit to Panama City a couple of days earlier.

A few of Panama's San Blas Islands

A few of Panama’s San Blas Islands

The reality of the Carti Island couldn’t have been more different.

IMG_3610First of all, Carti has no beach to speak of. Not only is every square inch of ground given over to more practical uses, the island is surrounded by pontoons and jetties, so very little of its shoreline is even visible.

The dock at Carti

The dock at Carti

Making good use of space: is that a shed or an outhouse?

Making good use of space: is that a shed or an outhouse?

A pontoon pig pen

A pontoon pig pen

And anyway, while the sea might be crystal clear, the litter floating on its surface would put most people off going for a dip.

The water could do with a bit of a spring clean

The water could do with a bit of a spring clean

So here’s the million dollar question: Can any small place visited by a cruise ship remain ‘real’?

A boat from the past encounters a ship of the future

A boat from the past encounters a ship of the future

Tradition meets tomorrow's modern world

Tradition meets tomorrow’s modern world

Personally I think that Carti has. At least for the most part.

Houses made from wood, straw and whatever people can get their hands on

Houses made from wood, straw and whatever people can get their hands on

A typical 'side street' on Carti

A typical ‘side street’ on Carti

The village hall?

The village hall?

OK, so it’s impossible to deny that the calling of the occasional cruise ship hasn’t had an impact. The constant call of “One dollar!” from the younger children, while they encourage you to take pictures of their pet monkey/bird/cat is proof of that.

"One Dollar!" for a photo with a kitten?

“One Dollar!” for a photo with a kitten?

How about with a parrot?

How about with a parrot?

Yet the island hasn’t been sucked into mainstream tourism. There are no shops filled with the regular plastic nonsense on Carti, for example. That doesn’t mean there are no souvenirs or trinkets to be bought, but they’re all sold right out of peoples’ houses and, for the most part, look locally made. My impression was that the locals regard visitors as a welcome additional source of income, rather than central to their daily life and economy.

Local crafts being made and sold

Local crafts being made and sold

The sight of so many women wearing the traditional brightly-coloured Kuna Indian dresses was a joy. And from what I understand, this isn’t just show for the tourists.

Traditional Kuna Indian dress

Traditional Kuna Indian dress

The women in the canoe are ignoring the visitors, yet still wear traditional dress

The women in the canoe are ignoring the visitors, yet still wear traditional dress

But that doesn’t mean that Carti is stuck in the past. Clear evidence of a strong belief in education indicates that that the islanders are preparing their children as best they can for a future as part of the modern world.

The main school building

The main school building

Most noticeably, there is a fair-sized school for older children from Carti and surrounding islands. It was oddly familiar to see school uniforms in a place so different from where I now live.

A normal school playground

A normal school playground

Local crafts and global school uniforms

Local crafts and global school uniforms

A typical school scene anywhere in the world: students asleep at their desks!

A typical school scene anywhere in the world: students asleep at their desks!

We also came across a medical centre, complete with posters providing preventative healthcare advice, not to mention what appeared to be a library.

A peek inside the medical centre

A peek inside the medical centre

The village library?

The village library?

We even witnessed one young boy being taught to read and write.

When worlds collide: At first, daily life on Carti seems very alien to those of us from the modern ship at anchor in the distance, but take a closer look and you'll see something totally familiar...

When worlds collide: At first, daily life on Carti seems very alien to those of us from the modern ship at anchor in the distance, but take a closer look and you’ll see something totally familiar…

... A small boy learning his letters from his mum or sister

… A small boy learning his letters from his mum or sister

When I first stepped off the boat onto Carti, I have to admit I felt a little uncomfortable at the obvious difference in wealth between the locals and my fellow visitors.

Locals and tourists mingle on Carti's main street

Locals and tourists mingle on Carti’s main street

Dugout canoes meet modern cruise ship

Dugout canoes meet modern cruise ship

But after spending a couple of hours exploring this tiny speck of land on foot, the feeling I took away from the islanders was optimism. They seemed to be a people making the most of what they have, but with a keen eye on the future.

One of Carti's neighbouring islands

One of Carti’s neighbouring islands

A last farewell from a Panamanian family

A last farewell from a Panamanian family

One final thought:

Carti Organic Garden, planted by the islanders, or perhaps the school children The sign reads "We have created an organic garden using the resources on this island" Now that's building an Optimistic Future based on what you already have!

Carti Organic Garden, planted by the islanders, or perhaps the school children
The sign reads “We have created an organic garden using the resources on this island”
Now that’s building an Optimistic Future based on what you already have!

This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenge of Optimistic from Krista of The Daily Post, Future from Ailsa of Where’s My Backpack? and Jo’s Monday Walk.

If you’re the sort of person that loves experiencing the local culture on your travels, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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London ABC

With the publication of Jaspa’s Journey 2: The Pride of London scheduled for later this year by Speaking Volumes, we rounded off our Christmas/New Year visit to the UK with a couple of days in London.

While heading for Bank Tube Station on our first evening in the capital, I noticed the following street sign…

DSC_2431It struck me that there can’t be too many place names in London (or anywhere else for that matter) that begin with the letters ABC. If you can think of any, feel free to share!

And just for fun, here’s a more familiar example of London signage, in this case just around the corner from Abchurch Lane…

DSC_2430This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenge of Alphabet from Michelle W. of The Daily Post and Cee’s Odd Ball Photo Challenge.

If you’re the sort of person that loves experiencing something a little fun and unusual on your travels, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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Transformers Invade Paris!

OK, so technically it was just one Transformer (which couldn’t actually transform).

DSC_1011And it was really more of a Visit than an Invasion.

DSC_1006And the Paris in question is a small town in Southern Ontario, not the capital of France.

DSC_1015Other than that, the title of this blog is absolutely accurate.

DSC_1012Those of you familiar with Transformers movies will know that the leader of the good guys is a hulking heavyweight robot called Optimus Prime. Now things like that tend to stand out, so when he’s trying to be inconspicuous, Optimus transforms himself in to a sleek and shiny (but still pretty heavyweight) truck.

DSC_1024Back in November last year, the actual Optimus Prime truck used in the last installment of the Transformers movies, Transformers: Age of Extinction, drove all the way from Alabama to Ontario. Its various stops in Brant County allowed fans of the films (like me!) to meet a real life movie star!

DSC_1019Yet there was a serious reason behind the visit. The truck was in Brant to pay tribute to 7-year-old Evan Leversage, who was battling with terminal brain cancer at the time. Unfortunately, Evan was too ill to see Optimus in person, but his brothers enjoyed the juggernaut on his behalf, and Evan’s schoolmates made a video for him in front of the truck.

DSC_1009Sadly, Evan died less than a month later, but not before his entire village celebrated Christmas early for him. And although I never met Evan, I know I’ll always remember him whenever I watch a Transformers movie, and see Optimus Prime’s truck.

Looking this shiny takes a lot of elbow grease from driver, Chad Mills

Looking this shiny takes a lot of elbow grease from driver, Chad Mills

This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenges of Weight(less) from Ben of The Daily Post and Robotic from Paula of Lost in Translation.

Even the wheel hubs have Transformers logos!

Even the wheel hubs have Transformers logos!

If you’re the sort of person who loves a bit of escapism on your travels, why not sign up and follow my continuing Journeys here at Jaspa’s Journal (on WordPress or Bloglovin’), or through my website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr?

And if that’s not enough for you, the first three Jaspa’s Journey novels will soon be available to enjoy, both as ebooks and in paperback! Perfect for Kids 8 – 80!

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