Archive for the 'weather' Category


Gran Canaria biking slideshow

It’s been stormy the past couple of days, so the rental mountain bike has been sitting safely underground.  It’s been given a thorough trail test in near-perfect weather over the first 8 days of my two weeks here, so any thoughts of it suddenly splitting in half and sending me tumbling over some of the cliffs I’ve been pedaling along have been cleared aside.  Thankfully, not every bike you get to ride is a piece of crap.  As a little update from home, the store is replacing the frame and wife K has a loaner in the meantime.

The best day was this past Friday, getting out on the road before 7am to arrive at the island’s peak just shy of the 2000-metre level at around 3pm.  Along the way I got a bit lost and so had to head downhill several hundred meters to get on the right road again, so the actual vertical climb was quite a bit more than the 2 kilometers.  I also misjudged the amount of time it would take to let gravity pull the bike back to sea level, returning at 7:30pm long after sundown.  A blinking light back and front was a good precaution along with some warm clothing, because even though it can be close to 30 degrees down on the beaches, up near the top the temperatures plunge and the winds are high.

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My favourite trail from last year is even better.  At least it was last week.  All along the way up I was expecting to be passed by the usual convoy of jeeps laden with the package-tourist daytripper set, tongues clucking and heads wagging as they breeze past imagining the difficulties some people put themselves through.  But two hours up the hill there wasn’t even a single car on the road going either up or down.  The reason became clear after rounding a corner to face a rock slide blocking the road as it runs along a cliff.  I suppose word had already spread and the tourists were on another route somewhere, leaving the whole trail and surrounding countryside all to myself.

I keep hearing the word “dangerous” whenever people find out I’ve been mountain biking alone in the volcanic wilds.  Maybe they’re right, but I don’t know if it’s any worse than lolling around on the beach in the pounding sun for hours at a time amid thousands of others all doing the same thing day after day.  Some of them look seriously in need of hospitalisation.


Dutch skating world on edge as 11-city tour may be announced

What the hell am I doing in Paris?

Talk about horrible timing.  Don’t make me wrong, I like being here, my old friend and I are having a great time and we’ve still got lots of  things lined up to do, BUT:

The famous Dutch 11-city skating tour might be announced this week!

There have been thousands of volunteers working to prepare the course.  All that remains is the go-ahead that the ice is safe enough with an overall thickness of at least 15cm.  If the race actually happens, 16,000 people will take part for the first time in 15 years.  The canals have frozen enough to skate a couple of times since then, but never enough to allow the Dutch to re-open this legendary race.

Not that I’d actually be foolish enough to punish myself with more than 200 km of skating in one go.  My  legs were rubber after about 70km three years ago, and that was just leisurely sliding all day.  These guys go flat out – the record is under seven hours!

I have to arrange time off to get over there.  It has to stay cold another few days after I get back.  Damn you, Paris.


One day I’ll see inside the Yorkshire Air Museum

My whole reason for being in York one year ago was to go to the Yorkshire Air Museum to see the Canadian section and look up any information in their archives about my uncle Vince.  

But as I walked back to the hotel after a glorious first afternoon out in the snow, I started to realise that after waiting a decade or so to even make the trip and travelling half the length of the country just to get there, I was probably going to make it to the front door, but no further.  It wasn’t exactly high tourist season already – part of the reason I’d chosen to go in winter in the first place – but with the city looking much like an ol’ Mother Hubbard gingerbread house, I called the museum to make sure they were open.

I got an answering machine and the usual message about opening and closing times, but nothing more.

Not good.

What the hell, I thought, might as well give it a try and if nothing else at least I’ve seen the place.  So the next morning I headed back over a bridge into town for the stop for the half-hour bus ride out to the museum’s airport hangars.

The bus driver was pretty clear about what he thought of my idea of going to the museum.

“Yoo’ be’er looook i’ u’ I do’ owt ump rfhu toda'” he said, pointing to the sky.

“Yeah, you’re right about that,” I said.  “But I have to go out there to see it anyway.”

Seeing as how the bus route had been changed on account of the snow, the bus driver didn’t charge me for the trip out, which I found quite friendly.  He and I – there was nobody else – quickly passed through the outskirts of York to arrive at the corner where he’d drop me off.  Normally I’d have taken another bus directly to the museum, but it wasn’t running.  Did I need any other clues the museum would be closed?

Since the sidewalk was covered in snowbank, I walked about a mile and a half at the side of the road to finally arrive at the museum entrance.   Deserted.  Already I could see planes – a massive bomber covered in snow was pretty hard to miss – but there wasn’t a soul around.

Placing my boots in a couple of tire tracks I crunched through the empty parking lot and  looked around to find a few planes, a hangar or two, and acres and acres of white.

But around a corner and across a small field I came across what must be the Canadian section.   The plane with two maple leaf flags is probably a Canadian-built Avro, but if you know it’s not, please tell me.  Of course I couldn’t go inside the building, so was left to contemplate from a respectful distance the course of history and my family’s small part in it.

Near the plane is a modest plaque of the Canadian Memorial Hangar:

Per ardua ad astra – Through struggle to the stars: the motto of the Royal Air Force but also others including the RCAF.

Despite the blinding morning sun I was by now freezing cold, so turning in my tracks I headed back for the trudge along the road whence I came to catch the bus back to York, telling myself I’d be back one day.


York Minster in snow

The train from London to York, stuck somewhere half-way, finally lurched forward again after a 90-minute delay.  The safety gate at a level crossing had frozen in the upright position, so the train could not proceed until it was freed.  As the train limped in to York station under heavily laden skies that were once again starting to unload their burden, I figured I was lucky.  I could have been stuck back in London, and who on earth would ever want to be stuck there…?

As I hauled my bag to the hotel about 15 minutes away, passing groups of happy teenagers who looked like the weather had kept them away from school for the day, I started to realise that I had a rare opportunity that afternoon to take some urban winter photos in a place I’d never been before.  Every 15 minutes it would dump like a day-long blizzard, then suddenly clear up.  There was hardly a whisper of wind, so the tree branches were feathered beautifully.

After dumping my bag at the hotel I headed straight for the old town and York Minster, the second-largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe after the colossal Cathedral in Milan.   There were a few people about, but hardly any traffic braving the snowy roads, so it was fairly quiet as I padded through the streets and over bridges, pausing to take in a few sights on the way.

I came across more of the teenagers I’d seen earlier by the station.  They were making the most of the snowfall.   A few of them had climbed over the gates on the ancient wall encircling the old town to pelt snowballs at drivers and pedestrians below.  Others dragged sleds up the steep slopes of a castle and spent the afternoon whizzing down the embankment.  Some didn’t even bother with a sled.

The sun was now low in the sky about a half-hour before dusk. I found myself alone in the immense churchyard, making a slow circumnavigation of the cathedral as the sun played off the snow draping the spires.  Though I’d read how spectacular it is inside – much of it reconstructed after a devastating fire in 1984 –  I left that ’til later, savouring the late-afternoon light and contrast with the brilliant layering of snow.

Enjoy the slideshow if you don’t mind this technical problem I ran into:  I tried to remove from the slideshow the two photos already published above, but couldn’t figure out how.  Still have a lot to learn about this blogging thing.

Monday: frozen out of the Yorkshire Air Museum.

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Plea for video editing software tips

As much as I like our new Sony VAIO laptop, Sony’s PMB video editing software is driving me crazy.

All I want to do is put three simple digital video scenes together to make a short 45-second movie in MPEG-2 format to upload to YouRube to show brother Gordon all the ice clogging the Elbe.  I mentioned it to him on the blower the other night and told him I’d post it.

After two hours of trying to decipher Sony’s cryptic instructions IN GERMAN and scouring various audio-visual forums, I’ve given up.  Out of time, I am left with posting just one short clip because I can’t figure out how to jam them all together to one file.

Oh wait, yes, I figured that out, but it saves the individual .mpg files to some useless Sony-only format that Youtube doesn’t recognise.  And trying to convert that file back to .mpg didn’t work.

I rarely go cap in hand to readers, but  I ask you now: Do you know of any simple video editing software that is easy to use and readily downloadable?   Links to good sites where I might do some more research?  Thanks very much. And in the meantime, here’s that clip.  It was taken from a ferry two days ago.

We plan to be completely cut off from the rest of the world over the next four days, so if I you do have a tip and I don’t respond right away, that’s why.


Global warming in a freezing winter

A while back this blog was trolled by another Fox-watcher who thinks that just because some parts of North America and Europe are going through a cold winter, there’s no longer any global warming.    I’ve stopped posting his comments – sent his latest one straight to trash unread and permanently blocked him – because I got tired of reading his personal attacks.

But if you’re still shivering like we are through this winter, it’s not a sign the global warming trend has reversed and is now cooling.

If you haven’t the 9 minutes to watch this video which explains why, here are a few facts:

  • August 2009 was the second-warmest on record.
  • June – August 2009 ocean temperatures the warmest ever.
  • Canada, North Africa, the Mediterranean and southwest Asia are going through above-average temperatures between 5 and 10 degrees C.
  • The number of record high days has been increasing over the past few decades, the number of record low days decreasing.

Thanks to WriteChic Press.


Hamburg winter looks a lot like Montreal

Excerpt from a letter to a friend who has recently moved to the Canary Islands.

You must have the world’s best timing, because you’ve chosen as your first long winter stretch away from Hamburg the coldest, snowiest winter in the dozen years we’ve been here.  Heavy gusts from the latest storm are hammering the windows right now, though it hasn’t dumped on as much as they said it would.  It’s been wintry for nearly a month and there is talk of the Alster lakes freezing over in a couple of weeks if it keeps up.  Did you go out onto the ice the last time it happened – in 1996?

While out on a walk with K. the other day I repeated for the umpteenth time since it turned cold how much the urban layer of snow, mud, slush and grit has snapped me back nearly 20 years to Montreal, when winter would take hold in early November and hang on to the middle of March, sometimes longer.  Friday we both had a day off, so after finally getting out of bed we headed down to the Elbe for a riverside walk.  I’ve said it before, but I really appreciate shift work for the chance it gives to have the city to yourself.  The park was nearly deserted as was the promenade along the Elbe.  We enjoyed the crunch of cold hard snow under our boots, the glitter of sun on the frost, even the wind blowing billows of stinging ice in our faces.

Stopping for hot chocolate at Teufelsbrück we stood watching the ice flow, getting mesmerised as it whispered under our feet.

About a week ago I started to get lots of hits and queries about skating in Holland from my blog post a year ago, so I went over to the natural ice section of the Dutch Skating Union site and found that nothing’s open yet, but this winter looks like it’s going to be a long one!   I’d love to go again, but I don’t know if I’m going to get the chance this year.  I broke my skates playing hockey a week or so before Christmas and haven’t been able to find a replacement pair yet.  The sporting goods stores in Hamburg either have poorly made crap for the masses – really over-priced, too – or gold-plated blades for professionals.  There’s nothing in between.  I wouldn’t mind shelling out for a really good pair, but there’s no value for money here.  It galls me that the price for the same or even a better model of skate in Canadian dollars online is less than if you’re paying here in Euros that are worth 50% more.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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