Censorship by Subtraction

Last year I wrote a post about using Cloudflare in this blog. Things were going well until recently when I encountered a problem uploading images larger than 1 MB. A typical photo from my cameras is about 2-3 MB in size, so this meant I would have to reduce all my pics in size to get them to load into my blog.

After about a week of back and forth – first with my Web provider, and then with Cloudflare tech support, the root cause was identified and fixed. Everything is OK now. But that isn’t the real subject of this post.

This is a tiny non-commercial blog mainly of interest to family and friends. As such, it probably doesn’t need to use Cloudflare at all. However, Cloudflare keeps copies of my posts on its servers worldwide, so the site loads faster than it would otherwise. I think it’s worth the effort to set up. Besides, Cloudflare is free for small fry like me.

This site is pretty non-controversial so I don’t expect that anyone would come after me with a bot army to knock it offline. It might be different if I had a major commercial or political website – in that case, Cloudflare offers additional protection against so-called Denial of Service attacks. That is the real reason their services exist.

And to go further, what if this site advocated racism, misogyny or other anti-social behavior? Well, in theory, Cloudflare could protect this site from DoS attacks – much as security protects political figures from attack at rallies.

The question a lot of folks on the Internet would ask is – should Cloudflare do that? In fact, the company has kicked only one client off their service – a virulent neo-Nazi site. That was after this black hat site had been dumped by its web provider and deleted from most social media sites as well.

There were plenty of hackers out there ready to blitz the fascists as soon as Cloudflare dropped them. So in a way, Cloudflare was acting as a Web censor by subtracting their services from the bad guy. Their terms of service give them a perfect right to do that. Some may say this is a good thing.

And yet..the CEO of Cloudflare believes that his company has immense power to say who can be on the Internet or not – simply by refusing to protect a site from attack. He also believes that having this sort of power is dangerous, and it should be used as sparingly as possible. Much as I have little sympathy for sites such as Daily Stormer, I agree.

It took weeks of internal debate – and a statement by the neo-Nazis that there were people at Cloudflare that sympathized with them – before the CEO made the decision to pull the plug and let the Net vigilantes do their work. Even then, he’s not convinced that any one person or Internet company should have the power to zap something he finds objectionable. I sure would not want to be the CEO of Cloudflare.


Victoria Day Ramble

It was a warm and cloudy morning in Almonte this holiday Monday, but no rain was forecast. We decided to walk downtown and see the sights from the old railway bridge over the river.

On the way, we passed the tulip bed at the Veterans’ Memorial Park. They are just starting to look good.

Heading down the trail to the main road into town.

More nice tulip beds – this time at the War Memorial.

The river flow has subsided somewhat, but water is still rushing over the weir beside the old Thoburn woolen mill.

The upper falls are still roaring. Later on in the year, the power dam will limit the flow and they’ll be nearly dry.

For the moment it’s still a pretty good show by Mother Nature.

Still plenty of water going over the Enerdu spillway.

All this liquid is just heading downstream. The powerhouse is at maximum capacity. It’ll be different in July and August.

At least the local pub won’t get flooded now. A couple of weeks ago they had to sandbag the patio.

It was a pleasant walk today, but I’d sure like to see some warmer weather. After all, it’s nearly June.

Still Crazy After All These Years

When I started taking family holidays over 30 years ago I always brought along a camera kit that was heavy and expensive – SLR, 4 lenses, flash, and 15-20 rolls of film. I was younger and stronger then, and airlines were not as stingy about the size and weight of baggage.

If you wanted a decent photo record of the vacation, you were pretty well locked into a camera system like this in 1990. Even then I was often unhappy when I tried to take a pic inside a church or in a low light area. My film wasn’t fast enough, or my camera lens was too slow.

That sort of photography is so 2005 now. Even though I have a nice digital SLR system in my closet, I never think about taking it on a flight/cruise holiday. Too heavy, too expensive, too cumbersome. Besides, my pack of cards sized Lumix point and shoot does everything I need.

When I was in Miami before our last cruise I dropped into an electronics store. The guy behind the counter noticed my tiny camera case and asked what I had inside it. I showed him my Lumix ZS-50.

“Oh, you can’t buy that one now. It’s about 4 years old, isn’t it?”

“You really know your cameras. For the money that is still the best travel camera value out there.”

He didn’t have to convince me. The Lumix has been on two Transatlantic cruises, and one to the southern Caribbean. It’s always worked great. I wouldn’t think of anything else when I travel.

Of course, there are many folks I saw on the cruise who would think I am crazy even taking such a lightweight photo machine with me. They use their smartphones, or tablets – much more versatile and convenient for posting on social media.

I’m still crazy after all these years I guess. But I still want a real camera. Here’s why.

  • Lack of Hardware. I don’t have a smartphone myself. Maria does, but it is a rather modest one and doesn’t have a really good camera in it.
  • Optical Zoom. The very best smartphone camera out there is in the Huawei P30 Pro. Yes, yes I know it’s Huawei – but it has a three-lens Leica engineered system that gives you a 5X zoom. It costs as much as my whole Nikon DSLR system did. My $400 Lumix has a 30X zoom. Nuff said.
  • Image Stabilization. This is a must for low light photography. The camera has it. The really high-end smartphones may have it, but it isn’t as good as the camera.
  • A viewfinder. When the light is intense and your LED screen is washed out, a viewfinder makes the difference between getting a picture or not. My Lumix has a good one; no smartphone does.
  • Battery life. The camera has only one purpose – to take photos. A smartphone is a GPS, computer, telephone. With a backup battery, I could take 700 photos a day if I wanted to. A smartphone might be dead at the end of a day of sightseeing and I’d miss the sunset.

I took this picture in Curacao last year. A lady on the cruise with us told me. “I took the same picture at the same place with my smartphone, but it isn’t as beautiful as yours.” Why yes. That is why I’m still crazy after all these years.

Churches and Fountains

Our fourth day in Rome was sunny and mild, and we finished it with a visit to the Trevi Fountain. More about that later.

We started things off with a visit to the church of St. Augustine.

It is a lovely church – simple but in early Renaissance style. It is not far from Piazza Navona.

Sarah said a prayer at the tomb of St. Monica.

Here’s Monica’s original tomb which was moved from Ostia to Rome.

A famous Caraveggio painting – Madonna di Loreto.

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Think Dave might like to transfer over to the Italian Post Office?

We moved on to the church of St. Louis – the center of the French community in Rome.

Some great art in this church.

Best of all is the triptych of St. Matthew by Caravaggio.

Amazing how the apostles dressed like Renaissance folks.

Here’s Matthew’s martyrdom as Caravaggio saw it.

We took a break from churches to visit Piazza Navona. It’s always a highlight for me.

The kids practiced their coin throwing here.

She’ll get the right fountain later, hopefully.

So nice to see all these fountains working again.

Another one for Facebook I guess.

A few more touristy pics – like this one.

Or this one.

Or maybe even this one.

It was fairly early, and the Piazza is huge, so we were not crowded at all.

Just off Piazza Navona is another nice church – Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. Worth a look.

The original Church was built in the 12th century, rebuilt in the 1400s and extensively remodeled in the late 1800s.

We had to get at least one picture at the Flower Market.

Taking another break while Sarah plans our next church visit.

It’s Jesuit time – this is the Church of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. The dome here isn’t real – it’s painted to fake you out.

Tomb of St Robert Bellarmine – a giant of the Counter-Reformation.

And my favorite Jesuit – Aloysius Gonzaga, who died at age 23 while nursing the victims of a plague.

We moved on the actual Jesuit mother church, called Gesu. This is a real dome, by the way.

I’m not sure St. Ignatius had this sort of church in mind, but hey…

And we found the tomb of St. Ignatius himself. If it gives glory to God, I am sure he’d be fine with it.

After the visit to Gesu, we headed back toward the hotel, pausing for a visit to the Trevi Fountain.

Teddy finally got a chance to throw a coin into the fountain that counts. He’ll be back here for sure.

The fountain was jammed with tourists taking selfies but we managed to squeeze the McLeans in for a photo.

Then it was off for more gelato and back to the hotel. We got packed, had an early dinner and hit the sack early.

We had a long day on Tuesday as we left the hotel at 5:15 Rome time. After flying to Paris, we caught the Air Transat plane to Montreal, arriving there around 3 PM local time. We were home by 7 PM which was 1 AM Rome time – so we were on the go for 20 hours. It was worth it. But it took a while to get over our jetlag.

That wraps up our cruise and time in Rome. I think we’ll just “be” for a while after it.

Cosmas, Colosseum, and Cats

Our third day in Rome was Palm Sunday. We had originally planned to attend Mass in French at Trinita dei Monti but after climbing the steps we found the church shuttered and locked. They had changed the Mass time. So we went to our familiar St Ambrosio e Carlo and attended Mass in Italian. After that, we headed down Via del Corso to ancient Rome.

We passed by the Marcus Aurelius column in Piazza Colonna.

After we went by the Victor Emmanuel monument we found ourselves at the Imperial Forum.

This was a first for Teddy.

And also for his sisters.

Looking over towards the Palatine hill where the original Forum is located.

You really get a sense of history around this area.

We dropped into the ancient church of Cosmas and Damian. Like most of the really old churches in Rome, it got a reboot in the 17th century.

There is a beautiful loggia and cloister inside the main entrance.

With some lovely flowers,

Even a fountain.

The inside of the church is quite lovely too. Especially the mosaics which date to the 6th century.

It’s only a short walk from the church to the Colosseum.

There were big crowds there, so we didn’t get too close.

But we did take the obligatory selfie.

Or maybe two selfies.

A bit further on is the triumphal Arch of Constantine. It’s the biggest of the ancient arches in Rome.

Heading back into the main part of Rome, we passed what remains of the Circus Maximus. Chariot races anyone?

It sprinkled on and off on Sunday afternoon, so we had the umbrellas handy. After a walk through a jumble of streets, and after asking for directions more than once, we finally reached our objective.

Torre Argentina and the Roman cat sanctuary. Maria and I discovered it in 2016 and the kids loved it.

Apparently this was the site of Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC. The cats don’t mind being part of history.

A few rain showers didn’t bother them either.

These guys are strays but they are well fed and cared for. Not a bad life for a street cat.

After our visit with the kitties we headed back to our hotel, had another gelato at Venchi and chilled for a while. After we got back there was some heavy rain, even thunder – but we missed it. The final day in Rome promised to be spectacular in the weather department.

Peter Paul & Mary

Day II in Rome was a Saturday and we planned to take the Metro. However, our task got complicated right away. Three stops on the Red Line were closed due to emergency escalator repair – including our closest stop Spagna. There was another stop called Flaminia which wasn’t too far away. We had to walk up to and through Piazza del Popolo to find it. On the way, we did a few more touristy things.

There are “twin” churches at Piazza del Popolo – right at the upper end of Via del Corso. we went into the one on the right – Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

Another lovely Baroque interior with an image of Mary over the altar.

The kids took a break before we moved on to the Flaminia Metro station.

It wasn’t long till we found the station and headed over to the Vatican. Only a couple of stops.

We got off the Metro at Ottaviani and walked over to St Peter’s. The square was full; the lineup to get into the Basilica went all the way around it and looked to be about a 3-hour wait. But it was moving, so Sarah convinced me to get in line.

After about 20 minutes we were halfway there. The line was caused by metal detectors at the entrance to St. Peter’s. Once we got by that, we got in immediately.

Because of the crowds inside, Sarah told everyone to wait at the statue of St. Veronica if by chance we got separated or lost. Good thing – because Grandpa got lost.

I was following the family when I was jammed by a tourist group. When the bodies cleared away, the rest of them were gone. They had exited down a side passageway into the crypt.

So I went back and hung out with Veronica (stone edition) until Dave showed up to rescue me. I followed him back down into the crypt where the others were waiting.

During my downtime, I managed to get a photo of the dome from the inside. Did I mention how much I LOOOVE St. Peter’s…NOT!!!!

On our way back to the Ottaviani station we stopped for drinks and pizza. Very elegant lunch dodging the taxis.

After another Metro ride, change at Termini, we arrived at St Paul Outside the Walls.

After the craziness of St.Peter’s, St Paul’s was quiet, serene, contemplative – a refreshing oasis for the soul.

I just sat quietly and decompressed a while.

It was well worth the trip, believe me.

Teddy and Nonna examining the resting place of St.Paul.

They have portraits of every Pope since St Peter and room for quite a few more. Right now the spotlight is on Francis.

After our visit to St. Paul Outside the Walls, we grabbed the Metro and returned to Flaminia. We were ready for some of that famous Venchi gelato and later on – more pasta. So ended our day with Peter, Paul (and Mary.)

Roma Day I

The trip from Civitavecchia to Rome took about 90 minutes thanks to mid-morning traffic. Maria sat in the front with the driver and they chatted amiably in Italian all the way. The kids were getting a bit carsick by the time we reached the hotel so we were happy to get out and about.

After leaving our bags at Hotel Condotti we headed off to the Spanish steps. As you can see above, the Roman sunshine was quite dazzling.

Sarah and Teddy recreated their 2010 pose in front of the Spanish Steps. He was not asleep in a stroller this time.

Part way up the steps, we looked back and could see that there was quite a crowd today – much more than when Maria and I were last here in November 2016.

We walked along the road at the top of the steps that led us past the Spagna metro station.

There were some very good photo ops on the way – like this one.

Or this one. Eventually, we found our way to the entrance of the Borghese Gardens. We walked along and soon found ourselves in front of a tiny carousel. The kids wanted to take a ride,

Depending on their age, the response to the carousel varied. Rapture…


Well not so much.

I suppose tolerance is the most you can expect when you’re 10 years old.

So what is this gelato stuff all about? You’ll find out later, kids.

Heading back to the Spanish Steps, we stopped in at the lovely Church of Trinita dei Monti.

Later that afternoon we visited the Church of San Ambrogio e Carlo, which was just a block or so away on Via del Corso.

San Ambrogio e Carlo is the parish dedicated to the Norwegian community, as evidenced by this painting of St.Olaf of Norway.

On our way to the Pantheon, we passed Piazza di Pietra – a spot that Teddy enjoyed a lot in 2010.

It was all new to his sisters, of course.

Nice to see there’s no more scaffolding on the Pantheon.

But there sure were a lot of people inside and outside the building.

“Grandpa, why didn’t they finish the roof? Rain can get in.” “They didn’t know how, Teddy.”

We went into the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, where a choir and orchestra were practicing for a concert later that day.

The tomb of St Catherine of Siena. Most of her is here at least; apparently, they sent her head back home. Go figure. And with that thought, we ended our first day of sightseeing. Time for some pizza and pasta!

Getting There

We had one sea day left before arriving in Civatavecchia. The weather – which had been beautifully benign all cruise long – suddenly got a bit nasty.

In the wake of a low-pressure area, the winds blew from the north at 40 knots, The captain noted one gust of over 60 knots. That is ugly.

By afternoon, we were rockin’ and rollin’ – and we had to start packing for debarkation tomorrow. That sent us looking for the Bonine.

Naturally, the rough stuff lasted all during the time we were pulling suitcases out from under the bed, and staring down into them as we packed. Wonderful experience.

By the time we finished packing, had dinner, and put the suitcases out for collection all the motion was a thing of the past as the Med calmed down.

We had a good view of the island of Corsica as we passed between it and Sardinia.

Early next morning we found ourselves snugly docked in the port of Civitavecchia. Our Roman holiday was about to kick off.

While we were getting ready to leave, a couple of Costa ships joined us in the port. One was older.

And one was newer – a Costa Concordia sister ship.

After breakfast and a brief wait, we disembarked from our home away from home and picked up our luggage on the pier. It was one of the best checkouts ever. We sailed through customs and our driver was waiting for us at the end of the customs hall. Roma here we come!

Map-Free Valencia

When we docked in Valencia we noted that the Viking Sea was berthed near us. Viking is best known for river cruises but also has a sea cruise division. Very nice ship.

The port of Valencia is some distance from the central city. We had to take a ship’s shuttle bus over to the Serranos Gate, In our haste to get on the bus, we did not get a map. This is something I hate to do – explore an unknown place with no idea where you are going or what you are doing. However thanks to the shuttle it worked out OK for us. We did manage to see quite a lot of old Valencia.

The bus pulled out past some neoclassical warehouses that appear to be used for temporary storage these days.

At the port entrance, we passed the Clock Building (1916.) It’s used as a headquarters for the Port Authority of Valencia.

After about a 20 minute drive we arrived at the Serranos Gate. We had to cross a bridge over the Turia Park. This is the former riverbed of the Turia River, which was diverted away in the 1960s as a flood control measure.

We headed across the bridge and through the gates into old Valencia.

To escape the crowds we got off the main street and wandered through the old barrio near the gate. There were lots of little bars and restaurants. Reminded me of the Barri Gotic in Barcelona but not as large.

Rejoining the main street, we soon found ourselves at Plaza de la Virgen. Here we discovered the Church of Our Lady of the Forsaken – the patroness of Valencia. This basilica was the first Baroque church in Valencia – built in the 1600s.

It has a beautiful dome over the main altar.

And it is quite lovely inside, although the exterior is plain.

Just down from the basilica is the rear entrance to the cathedral with some statues of the apostles over the door.

Another photo of Plaza de la Virgen.

It’s a lovely spot, if quite busy.

This imposing building is the Palau de la Generalitat – center of the Valencian regional government.

We moved on to the entrance to the cathedral – unfortunately, it was crammed with tour groups so we couldn’t get in without a wait.

The bell tower for the Cathedral – called Miguelete, it was built in the 13th and 14th centuries.

In front of the cathedral is another pretty square filled with flowers.

A floral closeup from the Cathedral square.

We walked on to the civic square – known as Plaza del Ayuntamiento.

Some really great architecture around the Valencia civic square.

On our way back we stopped into one of the older churches – the 14th century St. Martin. It has been updated to more of a Baroque look over the centuries.

Another dome lets in the light. This church is well worth a visit.

We worked our way back to the city gates.

Then we headed back across the bridge to the shuttle bus stop. The Turia park is really lovely.

The Serranos bridge with the church of Santa Monica in the background.

Heading back on the bus, we passed several bridges over the former Turia river. This floral strewn one was particularly appealing, especially if you like geraniums.

After getting back on the ship, I had a chance to photograph a bit more of the port.

Valencia is the biggest container port in Spain.

That strange looking ship in the distance is an auto carrier.

The blue and white hoops in the distance mark the Oceanografic Valencia building – Sarah, Dave, and the kids went there while we toured the downtown. They had a great time.

So ends our day in Valencia, Next stop – Rome. But we have a sea day before we get there.

Elegant Alicante

We took a bit more time to get from Gibraltar to our next port of Alicante, Spain. By 10 AM we were starting to see signs of land.

As we sailed into the harbor, we could see the fortress of Santa Barbara looming over the city.

A reproduction of the Spanish ship of the line Santa Trinidad is anchored in Alicante Harbor. The original Santa Trinidad was the Spanish flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Sarah, Dave, and the kids took an elevator ride up to the top of the hill to visit the fortress. We elected to explore the town.

The authorities offered a free shuttle bus from the port into town, but when we got off the ship there was a long lineup and no bus in sight. We decided to walk along the seawall into Alicante. This gave me the opportunity to get some good photos of the ship and the surrounding area.

At the end of the jetty was an elevated walkway which gave us a good view of the castle, the beach and the clear waters of the Mediterranean.

Looking back across the harbor to the ship. It took about 20 minutes to walk over to the entrance to the old city.

Once we reached the port entrance and crossed a busy seaside avenue, we found ourselves on the Explanada de Espana – as beautiful a pedestrian walk as I’ve seen in Spain.

About six million tiles make the trompe l’oeil wavy footpath.

We turned up one of the Ramblas leading off the Explanada. This guy appears to be eating alone – or maybe just drinking.

Soon we came to the austere entrance of the co-cathedral of St Nicholas.

It was quite lovely on the inside, however. It’s Baroque in design – early 1600s.

The church was very well lit – unlike some Spanish ones we’ve been in.

No doubt the dome helps with the lighting. On the outside it’s a beautiful light blue color.

Back on the Rambla we discovered lots of little squares with flowers blooming.

We headed over towards the fortress through the old town. There seemed to be no shortage of bars and Tapas spots.

Eventually, we found ourselves at the gothic church of Santa Maria. The oldest in Alicante, Santa Maria dates to the 1300s and was built on top of a mosque. It had to be rebuilt in the 1600s after a fire – hence the baroque entrance. Unfortunately, the church was closed so we couldn’t look inside – maybe next time.

Santa Maria has two asymmetrical towers. The right-hand one is from the 1300s. The left-hand one with the clock dates from the rebuild in the 1600s.

We headed back down the hill and soon found ourselves back at the Explanada – time for a little souvenir shopping.

Then it was time to head back to the ship. We could see it over past the yacht harbor. We decided to grab the shuttle bus back as our feet were getting a bit tired.

So ended our interesting day in elegant Alicante. Another port awaits us tomorrow.

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