I’m adding an e-commerce component to this web site so you can order images directly. Watch this space!
2016 has been a great year on so many fronts including the weather, but now there’s no escaping the fact that Winter is coming.
I remember when I came to Canada many years ago, the winters were long, cold and arduous. I was built for the more temperate, if cool and damp, UK climate and it was quite an adjustment. Not being a sporty person, I wasn’t out revelling in winters sports, though over time I did try skating, cross-country skiing, tobogganing and even curling! I do have vivid memories of working late into the evening and learning the art of how to coax an old Buick Century to start in minus 20 degrees. I’m glad to say it’s been a while since I’ve had to do anything like that.
That all said, from the beginning I loved to get out into the cold crisp winter air and tread on the crunchy fresh fallen snow to hike around street or field. Being dressed for the occasion always helps! And, it’s an excellent time get out and take some really atmospheric photographs.
Everything looks so different from season to season and some places really excel in the winter. Niagara Falls is one of those places, to my mind. All the ice formations and the water cascading down over the partially frozen falls is beyond dramatic and so picturesque. Can’t beat it.
Winter over more recent years has seemed milder, or at least not as consistently cold, but it does still get there. I wasn’t able to get out as much to do autumn shots this year but I know I was still doing them up until just a few weeks ago, well into November! Now the temperature is dropping and snow is creeping into my mind. Time to prepare, because as we know……Winter is Coming.
Toronto’s Evergreen Brick Works is a rare place that has something to appeal to most people, and it’s definitely a place I love to visit.
Previously know as Don Valley Brick Works, even the old brick-making kilns that have survived from as far back as 1893 are an intriguing sight to behold. If you’re in any way interested in the remnants of the industrial era these kilns and mini rail tunnels give you a good sense of the dark closeness and grime of their working days even though they’ve been cleaned up and out of use for many years. The graffiti that decorates the building is a reminder of the later years of abandonment when they provided a creative playground for adventurous youth.
There’s also much more to Evergreen Brick Works than just this. The focus since the early 1990’s has been on renovation, regeneration, recycling and reuse. Added into the mix is conservation and a focus on local produce through the farmers market and the cafe. Set in the beautiful Don Valley in the heart of Toronto, you can wander along walking paths in a conservation area in full view of the brickworks with the last remaining chimney looming overhead. The additional modern angular office space is a nice contrast with this and the old brick buildings. My favourite though, apart from the kilns, are the metal sculptures perched on the side of the old brick buildings, especially the giant coneflower, or echinacea flower to be more specific. There’s also and the metal (copper?) waterfall, with the both of which I find mesmerizing and love to photograph over and over again. They fill em with some kind of gripping sense of curiosity and joy every time I see them.
There’s also the farmers market, the restaurant, small businesses, child care and gardens added into the mix. If you haven’t been to Evergreen Brick Works, an even if you have, you should pay it a visit as there’s always more to see and do.
I’ve driven through different parts of Pennsylvania over the years but never to Centralia. That might be because Centralia is not easy to find, by road or by map.
Centralia was a small coal mining town in the Appalachian mountain area of Pennsylvania, dating from 1866. With coal mining at its peak in the 1890’s the population reached 2,800 but subsided after that to a more consistent 2,000, where it stayed for quite a while. The real decline though, started later in the twentieth century.
In 1962 there was a fire at the local landfill that changed the whole future of the town. I’ve read several explanations but the most popular seems to be that the fire department deliberately set the fire to clean up the landfill, which was a common practice. However, the landfill was on top of some mine shafts and not only was the fire not extinguished, it actually spread into the mine shafts where it was impossible to reach. The result was that it continued to spread throughout mines, and worked its way beneath the town itself.
In the 1980’s there were clear signs that carbon monoxide from the fire in the mines was having an effect on people’s health and there was significant subsidence going on. This set off the real demise of the town as people moved out (taking buyouts) and by the nineties, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania used “eminent domain” to take control of the town and move out the rest of the residents. There are still a few people left as they refused to move but there’s very little left of the town. The roads remain, a couple of well-cared-for graveyards, and a white church sitting radiantly on a hill surrounded by trees. Buildings have been demolished and a more natural habitat has grown up in their place.
One road that attracts some attention is the abandoned section of PA highway 61 (the road was rerouted) which has severe subsidence and can often be seen with smoke from the underground fire making its way up through the broken surface. Combined with all the colourful graffiti that covers it, it can be quite a strange sight. A strange sight to match a strange story. And still the fire burns on.
You can find more info about Centralia at
Eastern State Penitentiary is an uneasy sight when you first approach it. Its thick, high grey stone walls and medieval fortress look don’t betray the fact that it was built to keep people in, rather than out.
I visited Eastern State Penitentiary while travelling around Pennsylvania and making a stop in the lovely city of Philadelphia. Standing in the popular Fairmount area of the city it seems like an odd place to have a prison, but there it is, looming eerily since it was first opened in 1829.
ESP was the first prison of its kind, bringing in a new approach in dealing with prisoners. Moving away from the old prison system where men, women and children were all thrown in together and left to their own devices, this new system focused on rehabilitation through isolation and penitence. While prisoners had relative luxury (flush toilet, central heating, running water, and even their own small exercise yard) they were locked in their own cell alone, with only a bible to read, no interaction with others and even having a hood placed over their head on the occasions when they were allowed our of their cell. The idea was that they would have time to think about their crimes and how bad they were, leading to penitence. Hence the coining of the term penitentiary. Of course now, this seems like a form of severe deprivation, if not torture, but at that time, this Quaker inspired system seemed quite radical and forward thinking.
The actual building of Eastern State Penitentiary, with its cell blocks radiating from a central observation area, has served as a model for hundreds of other prisons all around the world including South America, Europe and Asia.
With additions to the building and changes to the way prisoners were treated over the years, ESP was finally closed in 1971. ESP is now in a derelict state, but serving as a museum. You can wander around and see the cells, originally with small, secure doors, and the “Eye of God’ skylights in the original cells. There’s even an opportunity to see the rumoured luxury of Al Capone’s cell!
If you’re interested in finding out more about Eastern State Penitentiary, you can go to https://www.easternstate.org
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Istanbul while I was on a trip to Turkey. Often referred to as the Gateway to Asia, at least if you’re coming from the west (otherwise, the Gateway to Europe!), Istanbul straddles the border of the two continents. The Bosphorus provides the natural divide and the bridges across connect the two.
An ancient city that’s had a few names before Istanbul (Constantinople, Byzantium), and been at the centre of a few empires, this is a city with tons of things for its millions of visitors to explore.
Key attractions include the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque. This is an outstanding example of classical architecture that combines Islamic and Byzantine Christian features, among others. Apart from this, you can also find the Hippodrome, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace just steps away. So you can cover a lot of ground, so to speak, in this one small area. Well worth it.
For a taste of something different, just a short walk away is the Grand Bazaar. This is one of the oldest and biggest covered markets in the world with around 4,000 shops spread over sixty one streets. Shoppers paradise! You’ll not see many markets like that. Just a walk through is an experience in itself, again because of the fantastic architecture, and the busy atmosphere. And if you’re wanting to buy, you can get all sorts of things – clothes, accessories, sweets, furniture, carpets – and they’re keen to make a sale. The whole process of haggling (which is pretty much mandatory) is an entertainment in itself, though it can sometimes be hard to work out how much of a bargain you actually get in the end, assuming you buy something.
And then of course, off-the-beaten track of the main attractions are plenty of back streets with small comfortable hotels (I stayed at the Asmali Hotel), restaurants with great food and atmosphere, street-side and rooftop patios, and great views. The locals are great to talk with and really helpful.
There’s no doubt that businesses in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey are hurting right now, and that’s unfortunate. It’s a great place to be, and in terms of security, barring the south-east of the country, I would feel no more at risk than in any other large city, in fact, maybe less so.