Every year for the past 60 years, springtime in Girona has meant flower time. The Temps de Flors festival begins in May and lasts for several weeks, during which this Catalonian city in the north of Spain is festooned with artistic displays made from multitudes of blooms of every description.
I was in Girona the day before the festival officially opened and didn’t get to see Temps de Flors in its full glory, but the tantalizing bit I did see was enough to make this photo essay, and make me want to return and check out the real deal.
Like most festivals, vendors display their wares at the Blackbeard Pirate Festival in Hampton, Virginia. As a bonafide hat person I was immediately drawn to this hatmaker’s display. While her impressive creations were out of my reach, I came away with a heartwarming tale.
There used to be some debate about whether to exhibit her hats at the Blackbeard festival. There are only so many weekends in the festival season and lots of different events for exhibitors to choose from. But now you can rely on seeing this magnificent millinery in Hampton every year, thanks to a natural disaster.
An unwelcome guest crashed the party at the 2012 Blackbeard Pirate Festival. A sizeable tornado ripped through the Hampton waterfront at the height of the festival. Thankfully no one was hurt, but in an instant thousands of dollars worth of hats and other inventory were scattered across the entire waterfront.
What on earth would make a vendor unfailingly loyal to an event hit by disaster? Well, Hampton rose to the occasion. Nearly all of the merchandise was found and retrieved. Locals and festivalgoers alike pitched in to hunt for goods the vendors had lost and much of the inventory was recovered. Boaters at the marina later turned in items found on their vessels and took steps to return them to their rightful owners.
Alton, Illinois boasts an interesting claim to fame. Not only is it the Most Haunted Town in America and birthplace of Miles Davis, it was also home to the World’s Tallest Man.
Robert Pershing Wadlow was born in Alton and is the tallest man ever known to have lived. One of the town’s most popular landmarks is a life-sized statue in his honour that stands in a park opposite the Alton History & Art Museum (which sports the intriguingly ominous tagline “History outlives those who would destroy it.”)
Having an abnormality of the pituitary gland, Robert Wadlow never stopped growing. By the age of four he was already taller than I am! Just before his death from an infected blister at age 22, Robert was measured at a hair taller than 8 feet, 11 inches.
His world record as the tallest man still stands today, in part because medical science has since developed treatments for such conditions.
Also at the site is a replica of Robert’s chair that a furniture company made specially for him. Every giant knows it’s important to have a comfortable chair to curl up in, amirite?
Disclosure and acknowledgements: On this trip I was a guest of the Illinois Office of Tourism. Many thanks to Steven Glynias for snapping the photos.
He stands in the middle of Last Chance Gulch, the main drag in Helena, Montana. The Bullwhacker wields his whip, the tip undulating skyward, caught mid-flick.
The Bullwhacker earned pride of place in Helena by the pivotal role his namesakes played in settling the area. Helena was founded in the gold rush when four men struck gold during their last-ditch attempt to make it as prospectors and miners. A town soon grew around the mining activities and Helena later became Montana’s capital.
The train is what made Helena’s growth possible and kept the town going. Who kept the trains going? The bullwhacker.
The badass, whip-sporting bullwhacker wasn’t for show. We’re not talking railways here. Wagon trains pulled by oxen were the lifeblood of western communities. These trains carried supplies, people, and communications, without which these mountainous settlements would be cut off from the outside world. They simply had to get through, and it was the bullwhacker’s job to keep the train moving.
So now a statue of a bullwhacker stands in the lovely, historic Helena town centre, reminding everyone how we got here.
Traditional Irish music, or “trad” as the locals call it, is one of those things of which one must partake in order to have the full experience of Irish culture.
Having spent well over a month in Ireland, you would think I’d have made it out to at least one “session” in all that time. I’d been to several gigs of other genres of music, and at one point I was staying down the street from The Cobblestone in Dublin’s Smithfield district where I was told by several locals that they have the best, non-touristy trad sessions. But no, it hadn’t happened yet by the time I made it to Limerick and my time in Ireland was drawing to a close.
One of the lovely things about organized tours is that they are full of surprises. This can sometimes be a downside when you are roped into spending time on something that doesn’t hold your interest, but the serendipitous, comfort-zone-pushing surprises far outweigh any occasional pitfalls.
Something I wouldn’t normally have chosen to include in my itinerary is a tour of the University of Limerick, but our hosts wanted to show us their globally renowned sporting facilities and other claims to fame. As we were making our way from the auditorium to the gymnasium, imagine my delight as we were treated to a “surprise” (it was totally staged for our benefit) trad session in the corridor.
Besides their reputation for programs in athletics, sports medicine, and engineering, another popular field of study at the University of Limerick is their degree in Traditional Irish Music. In truth, very few of the musicians in this photo are indeed Irish. The music program attracts international students from far and wide. The performers may not have been Irish, but the music certainly was.
Disclosure and acknowledgements: I visited Limerick alongside other members of the travel media on a press tour organized by Failte Ireland. Many thanks to our hosts at the University of Limerick for our eye-opening campus tour and to our inimitable guide Tony for keeping us on track.
Our family didn’t travel very much growing up. Family vacations just weren’t as commonplace as they are now. One of the ways that I channelled/fuelled my wanderlust during my teenage years was by corresponding with pen pals.
Being the sort of person who doesn’t do things in half measures, and also someone without an especially vibrant teenage social life, I didn’t have just one pen pal. I had about 100.
I’m transitioning to new phase in my life. I’m selling my house and becoming nomadic. That means I have to seriously pare down my belongings. So today I chose to recycle my stash of old letters from pen pals.
I didn’t read any of the letters. I don’t need to reconnect with the vestiges of cringeworthy teenage angst contained therein, thanks very much. But I did clip all the stamps off the envelopes to donate them to Oxfam Canada’s Stamp Out Poverty programme.
As I leafed through the envelopes I became aware just how much of the world I had “seen” through the eyes of my pen friends before I had ever travelled internationally. There were stamps from at least 50 countries, some of which no longer exist. I found myself wondering how things have turned out for my old friends since our correspondence tapered off.
I’ve always loved poring over postage stamps. The vibrant colours, exotic languages and heraldry, historical figures, and compelling artwork — all were springboards for my curiosity about the world, spurring me to research what tickled my fancy or what I didn’t understand. If the Internet had existed when I collected them I likely would have been even more of an obnoxious know-it-all than I am today!
So it isn’t easy to part with such treasures. But on the other hand it seems like a fair bargain — trading my old postage stamps for the opportunity to collect passport stamps instead.
Did you ever have a pen pal? If so, where were they from and what did you learn from them?
Besides the novelty of old-timey drive-in restaurants with roller-skating carhops, eating in the car is not generally a recipe for enjoying food.
Another exception might be this restaurant in Colonia, Uruguay, where you can enjoy leisurely fine-dining at a table for two inside this vintage automobile that is a permanent fixture on the patio.
I wish there’d been more time to enjoy Uruguay. We only spent an afternoon there on our escorted tour, which was really only enough time for lunch and a wander through the bucolic streets of the town of Colonia del Sacramento