1001 Places to remember – Introducing Butchart Gardens to the next generation

If you’re a fan of flowers and visiting Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) then you definitely must go visit Butchart Gardens, especially in the summer when all the gardens are in full bloom. If you’re a flower fanatic, it would be worth a trip to Victoria from Vancouver! I remember visiting Butchart Gardens in the summers, as a child (too young to appreciate nature but I remember the rose garden was impressive) and walking until my legs felt like they were going to fall off. So, my brothers and I decided we should subject our children to the wonders of walking vast distances. OOPS, I mean showing our children the wonder and beauty of plants and flowers. The only ‘problem’ was that I took my family back home during early spring (still kind of cold, sunny but chilly) there weren’t that many gardens in full bloom but there were enough in bloom or about to bloom to keep things interesting. Plus it was nice not having crowds of people all over the place and made it easy to keep track of everyone (for those goofy family photos). It was especially nice to let the younger kiddos wander on their own and still being able to keep an eye on them.

A lot of the buildings still look the same as when I used to visit, decades ago, and all the “iconic” statues that I remember were still there. The park is actually bigger than what I remember, I thought it would seem smaller since I’ve grown and my strides are much longer, but no, we still walked until my legs felt like falling off. Then again, it could be old age or the weight of my backpack full of camera gear. I’m pretty sure there are more garden display and fountain areas than before because due to time constraints, we didn’t even get to walk through them all and we had absolutely no recollection of some areas within the park. We even found an indoor carousel that wasn’t there when I was a kid, not fair, lol. There are benches and rock ledges spread sparsely around this dog friendly park but I didn’t notice that many so if you need a break and see a rest area, take it.

Although there weren’t as many flowers to marvel at, we still had a blast reminiscing and recreating past photos. During one of our ‘messing around, reminiscing’ sessions at one of the statues, we were told by some fellow park goers (yearly members) that Butchart Garden’s is even more beautiful and fun in the winter, when there’s snow! Anyways, we had to cut the messing around to a minimum as we still had a lot to see in the park and other sites in Victoria, like the Craigdarroch Castle (which I wrote about in this post). We only had the long weekend to spend in Victoria as everyone else had to be back to work.

If you get hungry there’s a tea house and restaurant, sadly I’ve never been inside either one, maybe next time. Maybe next time I’ll get better images of the gardens because I won’t be too busy messing around and taking pictures of us messing around (it was a consensus that I’m not allowed to post those photos, lol). There is also a huge gift shop where they sell all the usual gift shop type stuff but what was amazing was the huge variety of seeds you can buy to plant in your own garden. I’m not sure if they sell seeds for all the plants and flowers you can find in the park, but it looked possible, from the sheer number of different seed packets I saw.

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

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1001 Places to remember – Craigdarroch Castle, just WOW!

The Craigdarroch Castle is not really a Castle, it’s a mansion that was originally a family home. Through the years it’s been turned into a military hospital, a College, a school board office, a music conservatory and is currently a Museum. The original stained glass, abundantly found in all over castle are documented as original and authentic by the Institute of Stained Glass in Canada. What makes them so special are the complexity of the cuts, the finely soldered lead joints and the use of cut crystals as opposed to the readily available, pressed glass types of stained glass. This mansion/castle is so well preserved, intricately detailed and having led such a storied life is listed both as a National Historic Site of Canada as well as a World Heritage Site.
 
While the exterior is made of mostly large and bumpy stone bricks, the interior is mainly finished wood, very intricately carved wood. The four floors are furnished with Victorian mock ups of what it would have been like. If you’re into this kind of historic site it’s definitely worth a visit and budget at least a couple hours especially if you’re an admirer of woodwork and details. There’s really lots to see as well as info plaques to read. The museum attendants were all very cheery and polite and more than willing to answer any questions or provide more details of whichever part of the castle you’re in.

 

Just in case you’re wondering, even having been a military hospital, the ambiance wasn’t creepy at all, anywhere. We even asked if there was any haunting shenanigans but the answer was no. Too bad, I think, it would make this amazing ‘Castle’ more amazing! Also, I would suggest to use the toilets before you enter the castle because I didn’t notice any ‘public use’ facilities in the castle. So when you buy your tickets from the ticket counter (in the building next to the castle), use the toilets in there. 😃

 

Located just minutes away from Downtown Victoria (British Columbia, Canada), the Craigdarroch Castle resides in an area full of beautiful and unique homes, in a very peaceful and pleasant looking neighborhood and was a joy to drive through, much like the rest of Victoria, BC.

Consider following me for updates and to find not only my other travel bloopers, blunders and shenanigans but also photography related news/reviews and the occasional contest entry.

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome, as are upvotes and resteems.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

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Photographer’s travel hack. Have you heard of Nitecore?

I’m so excited! I got this Nitecore charger for Father’s Day! Man, I wish I had this on my Japan trip. You can read about the ordeal in my Tokyo Post. I’ve been wishing for a USB camera battery charger for years! This is the model I just got, the Nitecore UCN1.

 

 

Basically, this little device can charge your camera battery via USB. I always carry a portable battery and one that is capable of charging everything I use, including my “mini laptop.” For reference, my portable battery is a 10,000 mah battery with 3A output made by Red Monster (model: power up mini), it’s roughly the same size as the Nitecore UCN1. There’s bigger/better battery packs out there but that’s the one I currently use. Anyways, back to the Nitecore UCN1.

While the packaging/advertisement indicates that it can charge two batteries, it doesn’t mention that it CANNOT charge two of the SAME battery. My wife and kids thought it could so they ordered me 2 units so I can charge 4 batteries at the same time. Oh well. Regardless, it’s still awesome! Being so much smaller than the OEM Canon charger, this Nitecore charger is easier to pack (no wires to mess with too)! Also to make packing lighter on trips, I pack a USB charging hub which is capable of charging 6 USB devices (at 2.1 A) so the four of us can charge our devices (including my batteries now) at the same time without the need to carry multiple chargers, multiple travel adapters etc.

 

 

The Nitcore UCN1 is very light and made of plastic but not the cheap feeling kind. It also doesn’t feel like it is 10 ft drop proof either. The USB cable is permanently attached via thick rubber and is enclosed within the unit when not in use. The display is bright and the data is easily readable. I really love this device and for the sake of preparedness, I’m looking for USB pocket solar panels, lol. Having said that, there are a couple of “issues” or “pet peeves” I have with my units.

1) The display is so confusing to read. It toggles itself between a temperature and mAh meter, then voltage and different mAh meter. One of the mAh meters is how much the battery has charged and the other is for how much is being outputted by the UCN1? This is just my guess as there’s no definitive documentation on the displayed items on the unit or manual. I find it confusing and would rather just look at a power level bar, which brings me to my next point.
2) On both my units, the power level indicators show either one blinking bar or full even though there are bars in between. Even if I put in a full battery, the UCN1 will flash one bar, show the mAh numbers then stop charging and show a full battery meter. After watching several youtube reviews, I’ve noticed that the reviewers UCN1’s battery meter shows varying bars, not like mine (only one flashing or full). So I emailed Nitecore to ask if mine were defective. Basically, they never answered the question saying only that their battery meter is more accurate than my camera’s meter and shows multiple bars. Doesn’t make sense to me, because it doesn’t matter if my camera shows flat battery, 2 bars, 3 bars or full, both my UCN1’s battery meter shows 1 flashing bar, charges then shows full bars and the word ‘end’ when charging is complete.

 

 

According to Nitecore, the UCN1 is capable of: Automatic Current Adjustment, Battery Status Monitoring, Reverse Polarity and Anti-Short Circuit Protection, Battery Recovery.

Here’s the sheer awesomeness of a USB camera battery charger. In a pinch you can charge your battery using your laptop, hotel room’s flat screen tv (a lot have usb ports) I haven’t tried but it should work, car’s phone charger, someone else’s portable battery, those charging stations at airports, convenience stores, the computers in library, PC game room, biz centres etc.

I’m so happy I got these chargers (even if I think the battery level meter isn’t working properly), it relieves a certain sense of stress when it comes to power management, especially since my batteries are getting old. The peace of mind is well worth the price and it’s more cost effective than buying multiple OEM Canon batteries. I think if you travel and shoot a lot, one of the Nitecore chargers is a must (hopefully they make one for your camera’s battery). Oh, I’m not endorsed by Nitecore nor affiliated with them. If I was I probably would have units that read the battery levels accurately, haha.

More info on Nitecore’s website and the UCN1 Manual

All the photos (unless otherwise noted in the post) were taken by me and are available for sale. If you’re interested in buying an image or three, 😃 please don’t hesitate to contact me for more details. Thanks in advance!

Comments & Critiques are always welcome. As are upvotes and resteems, if you like what you see.

Thanks for viewing and best wishes,

Ray

PS. If you want to check out my other ‘works’, you can find them here:

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*** This post was originally posted on Ray’s Steemit Blog.



Review of the Pingyao International Photography Festival

The Pingyao International Photography Festival 2017 is held within the Pingyao Ancient City, Pingyao County, Shanxi Province, China.

PIPF 2017 Gate outside the ancient city adjacent to park.

It is the largest photography exhibition in China and 2017 marked its’ 17th anniversary. What I thought was really unique about the PIPF is its’ location, it’s set in the county of Pingyao, in the section of the city that’s kept it’s “ancient” Han Dynasty architecture for the most part. Hence the name for it, “Pingyao Ancient City” there is much historical significance to this city, so much so that it has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. A truly awesome venue for a photography festival.

If you’re a participant attending the opening ceremony, you will need your participant’s badge to get into the central seating area. You may want ot be prepared with an umbrella or hat as the area is not sheltered and the ceremony maybe be delayed. Have a bottle of water because it gets hot sitting out there.

Parade to kick off the opening ceremony at the PIPF 2017

The amount of security inside the VIP / Participants area was significant.

The theme for 2017 was “With Original Inspiration, For Brighter Future.” The exhibits cannot be finished in a day if you attend the opening ceremony and have an open floor session for your works. Even without attending the opening ceremony and without an open floor session I doubt you can see all the works in a day. The exhibits are not all in one place/building, they are spread out all over and not just inside buildings but the outside too. I found works on the ancient city walls, on fences between buildings etc. There is so much to see and do! In fact, no one in our delegation had the time to visit places outside the city walls (I left the earliest).  But I think I saw the most of the city as I took a full day to do the touristy thing with my daughter. I figured I can see the works in the PIPF catalogue, I was wrong. The catalogue doesn’t include all the works (and it’s roughly 450 pages thick). Our contingent (the Photographic Society of Singapore) had 6 members participating, of which each had 6 images of 1m on the longest edge. There were many larger prints as well as smaller ones (Polaroid size). I hope that gives you an idea of the number of participating images which may give you an idea of the size the collective venue must be. The highlighted areas on the photo of the map below are the major exhibition areas.

Map of the major exhibition areas at the 2017 PIPF

Within the ancient wall, there is another barrier preventing gas powered vehicles from entering, however, battery powered scooters, golf carts and bikes can still enter and operate. So those golf carts are the “taxi’s” within the inner city and cost 10 Yuan (there abouts) per ride. There were a lot of people but not so much that it was uncomfortable. In regards to photography related merchandise, I only saw one tent selling photo gear (vests, filters, tripods) I’m guessing the photo vests were really cheap as many many people were looking, buying and wearing. As for the other stuff, I didn’t really look since I wasn’t looking for any gear to buy. Didn’t really notice any “branded” gear either.

Battery powered taxis within the inner city.

Battery powered taxis within the inner city.

Now for my fellow photographers, if you’re into ancient architecture and details, there are tons of things to shoot. Landscape photographers will probably have to go outside the walls.or you can hope for a spectacular sunset which you can compose well while on the wall. However, a guy with a bike will come riding around the wall around 18:00 to get you off the wall. Seriously, I had just setup my tripod and about to slot in some filters when the guy came up and started blah blah blah’ing…couldn’t understand anything except “closing” in a not too pleasant tone, he stuck around to make sure I started packing up, maybe because I fired off a few shots. Anyways, we were really close to the main gate (exit off the wall) so I tried to snap and walk without inviting another visit from the guy on the bike.  At the main gate there were many photographers still snapping and other people shooing people off the wall so don’t pack up all your stuff just yet, you still can get a shot or two off.

Sunset on Pingyao’s ancient city wall.

Needless to say, there were some truly remarkable works on display! I saw some really awesome stuff that made me wish I had shot it or wish I can go there.  Being a history buff I loved the atmosphere, architecture and historic tourists spots. I would very much like to visit again for more than 3 days and perhaps make it out of the city to see landscape.If you ever get a chance to get to the Pingyao International Photography Festival, it’s worth it!

A big thanks to the the Photographic Society of Singapore and our curator Mr. Vincent Liew for this opportunity and the PSS contingent for the photos below…

You can find more photos taken in and around Pingyao and the PIPF2017 in my Pingyao, China Flickr Album



Review of Wooden Pagoda, Hanging Temple, Heng Shan mountain

So my second day in Datong started with a pre negotiated price of 500 Yuan for a taxi to take us to the wooden pagoda, Hanging Temple and Heng Shan then back to the hotel. A private tour guide will cost roughly 1000 Yuan and a price chart in the hotel lobby advertised this trip to be 750 Yuan. So I think we did alright. This price included the tolls but not parking fee up on Heng Shan and didn’t include lunch. As usual, the driver waited in the parking area.

We had arranged for this driver the day before and had gotten used to way of driving. This day though, he took us through corn fields and back roads when the “main” road was closed. At one point we had to get out of the car in order for the car to make it over a bump! It’s amazing how he managed to not get lost!  Anyways, he picked us up at 8:00 am.and the first stop was the wooden pagoda.

Yingxian Wooden Pagoda
Yingxian Village, Shanxi Province, China

The trip took roughly an hour and it was a nice scenic ride for the most part. The Yingxian pagoda is quite the site, it’s leaning a bit and as a result you can’t go up although we did see one or two people on the second floor balcony. From online reviews, I thought an hour should be enough time even if we could have gone up to the second story. We spent two hours there and didn’t even get a chance to look around the town as our driver was walking around looking for us!

In front of the Yingxian Wooden Pagoda

Behind the Pagoda is a temple and a yard. In the yard area is an exhibition hall and open space, some nice looking flowers there and an old looking door that’s closed and locked. The temple is cool too and if you go to the very back you’ll get a view to where that old door in the yard leads to. A very big courtyard of an old palace looking building (looks abandoned though).

Temple behind the Yingxian Wooden Pagoda.

Yard beside the Yingxian Wooden Pagoda.

I really do hope that the Yingxian Wooden Pagoda gets UNESCO World Heritage status, it really is a feat of engineering and a site to see! Was well worth the 50 Yuan entrance fee, in my opinion.

Hanging Monastery
Hunyuan County, Shanxi Province, China

Wide view of the Hanging Temple of Mount Heng.

Our next stop was the Hanging Temple (Monastery)  which took about 1 hour 15 minutes by taxi from the Yingxian Wooden Pagoda. The Entrance fee was125 Yuan. If you’re afraid of heights, you may want to give this a miss. The hanging temple is made of wood and the floor boards creak and may sway. The pathways are narrow (two people cannot pass shoulder to shoulder). The railings are around mid thigh height (I’m roughly 5’10”) in many areas and my be a bit unnerving. If you are wearing a back pack, going up and down the narrow stairs may be tricky, you may bump your head or get stuck.

Narrow stair case of the Hanging Temple.

Slender poles supporting the Hanging Temple.

Having said that, it is quite a sight and experience. Everything felt solid enough to walk on. We took an hour to see everything but rushed a bit as we think that’s what the taxi driver was saying since we had one more stop to go.

Overall we felt that there should be more to see for the ticket price but maybe we missed some? There was a blocked pathway leading up to areas you can see from up in the temple, so maybe it would be better when that section reopens.

Heng Shan
Hunyuan County, Shanxi Province, China

The start of the upward hike up Heng Shan.

Heng Shan’s scenic area is roughly 30 minutes up the mountain from the Hanging Temple. We spent 3 hours hiking up and down the mountain and couldn’t finish it as the path lead to a totally different part of the mountain in which we wouldn’t be able to communicate with our driver where to come get us. Also, what we thought was the peak, wasn’t we found another staircase going further up but running short of time (we had to get back down the mountain) we elected not to find out what was up top.

An entrance to one of the many temples on Heng Shan.

An entrance to one of the many temples on Heng Shan.

There are a few temples on the way up to the top but some were closed. Thankfully there was a “rest stop” about 1/2 way with toilets and a drink stall. The view is of the the valley below is nice. To get to what we thought was the top you have to climb a VERY STEEP flight of stairs. It was scary just looking at it. On the way up and down there were people making their way on all fours! There’s enough to see up there to make it worth the effort.

Steep stairs to the top most temple at Heng Shan.

Temple at the top of Heng Shan

To truly enjoy Heng Shan we feel you should devote more than 3 hours. The entrance fee of 50 Yuan plus the 10 Yuan parking fee we feel is more than reasonable for this place. It’s truly remarkable. One thing to note though. As you leave (towards the end of the day) you may get approached by other taxi drivers to take their cab. This one guy went so far as to tell our driver we wanted to go with him but told me that there were 2 more passengers to ride to Datong. So I ok, they can ride with us. It hadn’t crossed my mind that he was poaching us until he beckoned for us to follow him (we were already in our taxi) so I said no, closed the door and motioned for our driver to go. He seemed upset but I couldn’t ascertain whether he thought we tried to bail on him or that the other guy was poaching. Anyways, something to be aware of.

For more images taken in and around Datong, check out my Datong Flickr Album.