Saturday, May 22, 2010

Halifax: Day 1

I'm finally here in Halifax, and I'm going to try and explore the city as much as possible before I leave for Vancouver. I'm not as interested in actually visiting the museums or galleries this time though, since I'll be moving back to Halifax at the conclusion of my trip anyway. However, I would like to get an idea of what is available in the down town area, and so that will my goal for this weekend. Thus, armed with my special tourist map of down town Halifax, I decided to start at the waterfront this morning and work my way back to Fort George (The Citadel), at the top of Citadel Hill by tomorrow.

I was in Halifax eight years ago and somehow missed the Board Walk all together. I'm still not sure how I did it, since I arrived in Halifax on the ferry from Dartmouth, which lands on the Waterfront (Board Walk).

(One of many painted dolphins along the Waterfront walk. They were commissioned to promote the upcoming Naval Centennial this summer. I'm not sure what Family Guy has to do with the Canadian Navy though.)

(A wonderful tall ship, out for a cruise of the harbour on a beautiful summer day.)

(I'll let this one speak for itself.)

I enjoyed the Waterfront so much, that I more or less spent my entire day there. I walked from one end to the other; had breakfast with some women in their 70s, on a cruise ship trip from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to Toronto; and then turned around and walked all the way back again.

After breakfast, I checked out Halifax's version of The Distillery District, The Historic Properties. While not a fancy arts district, the Historic Properties, as the name would suggest, were once old buildings - warehouses specifically - designed to support the privateers who made Halifax a regular port. Today it's where you'll find what is likely the best gift shop ever, with some of the most unique gifts from local companies and artists.

Near The Historic Properties I also found the excellent Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. It contains two floors of artefacts pertaining to the history of life on the sea in Atlantic Canada, including a powerful exhibit on the Titanic, with recovered items from the remains near Nova Scotia. The most powerful exhibit though, was that of the 1917 Halifax Explosion.

In 1917 two ships collided in a freak accident coming out of Halifax harbour. One of those ships happened to be an unmarked munitions ship, containing cases and cases of explosive gunpowder. When the ships collided, sparks created from the two hulls rubbing lit the munitions on fire. The resulting explosion blew away an entire section of the city, and even sent one girl up on the hill flying half a kilometre.

In the exhibit there were pictures of children with limbs charred black, and skin peeling like burnt paper, along with audio accounts of the tragic events from survivors. It was quite hard to take, and after this I felt I had learned enough about life with the sea life for one afternoon. I headed for home.

(The engine from a roughly 3.5 metre long torpedo.)

(A volunteer painstakingly recreates a miniature model of... well, whatever that is.)

(Marvin, the Museum's Macaw.)

Along the way I couldn't resist checking out a traditional Chinese tea store I saw called Mu Lan. This store imports real Chinese teas and other products, and then sells them at incredibly high prices here in Halifax. The owner was selling the store, and so everything was reduced from 25%-75% of its original price, but I still couldn't bring myself to pay $15 for a small packet of ginseng tea (especially when I have at least twenty packets remaining from a gift I received in Korea). I did however order a pot of Qi Men red tea.

The owner also asked me if I'd like some mung cakes she had made herself. She had mung bean and lotus cakes, but told me most "foreigners" like the mung bean while most Chinese people prefer the lotus. I figured the Chinese must know something the Westerners don't, and that I would miss some secret Chinese health secret if I ordered the mung bean, so I went with the lotus, and it was great.

* * * * *

Back at my hostel I met perhaps the most interesting man in the world. Mr. Hollensen, from Denmark, was a professor of nanotechnology in the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen. He's retired now, but in his spare time he leads a team in Houston (at NASA?) trying to develop the carbon nanotube super battery.

The carbon super battery works much the same as the current graphite super battery, but it does not lose its charge at extreme temperatures, and would therefore be of greater use in space. I'm not really sure what a nanotube is either, but Mr. Hollensen seems to know everything about it.

Mr. Hollensen also once made it to the third round of the World Blackjack Championships, and rode the subway with the president of Sweden, as the president's guest, while he was still president of Sweden. The subway story is actually quite an interesting one:

Mr. Hollensen was a young man at the time, going to university in Sweden. He had heard that the president rode the subway to work every day, and being naturally a curious individual he had to go see for himself.

The young Mr. Hollensen positioned himself discretely across the road to see the president come out of his modest home, without any security guards. The president noticed young Mr. Hollensen and motioned for him to come out from hiding. When he told the president why he was watching him, the president invited him along to see his morning routine.

The then president of Sweden (this is in the 1960s) always sat in the same car every day, and so every citizen of Sweden knew exactly where to find him any time they had a problem.

On this particular day, one of them did have a problem, and he told the president quite angrily that there was an error with his tax statement and that he wanted it fixed. The president looked at the man's form, and noticed that he had in fact been overcharged. He told the man, "go to the office where you pay your taxes and tell them the president said there was a mistake. They will fix the problem right away." Now that's democracy.

Another great story Mr. Hollensen told me, was that of his first trip to America in 1968. He had to make a connection from JFK airport to one in Washington, D.C. He asked an agent at the airport if there was a flight to Washington, and how he could get on it. The agent told him, "this is your lucky day, the flight is just about to leave. Hurry, you have no time. Just leave your bags with me and run through those doors and you will find the plane. Don't worry, I'll take your bags and radio ahead to the stewardesses at the door."

Mr. Hollensen ran to the door and says he "can still remember the stewardess opening the door for (him)." Later, the agent to whom he had originally spoken came onto the plane and handed him his ticket personally. Think about this story the next time you stand in line at airport security, or are treated like rubbish at an American airport.

Mr. Hollensen remembers this story fondly, because it was an example of the "can do" American spirit that originally made him fall in love with the country. In Mr. Hollensen's words, "here was a man who needed a seat on a plane (him), and there was a plane with an empty seat. And this agent knew what needed to be done, and so he put that man in that seat."

I wonder how many angels die when a nation that was once the most respected and admired country in the world, now finds itself the laughing stock of the universe?

1 comment:

  1. Most recent Onion videos and articles are critical of the current state of the United States. Also the season 14 episode 1 news segment of Top Gear was one of the funniest characterization of US people by the Top Gear guys I have ever seen.