Fast Facts: Vancouver’s Gastown

Gastown Steam Clock Gastown was Vancouver’s first downtown core and is named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a Yorkshire seaman, steamboat captain and barkeep who arrived in 1867 to open the area’s first saloon. The town soon prospered as the site of Hastings Mill sawmill, seaport, and quickly became a general centre of trade and commerce on Burrard Inlet as well as a rough-and-rowdy resort for off-work loggers and fishermen as well as the crews and captains of the many sailing ships which came to Gastown or Moodyville, on the north side of the inlet (which was a dry town) to load logs and timber.

Today, Gastown is a mix of “hip” contemporary fashion and interior furnishing boutiques, tourist-oriented businesses, restaurants, nightclubs, poverty and newly upscale housing. In addition, there are law firms, architects and other professional offices, as well as computer and internet businesses, art galleries, music and art studios, and acting and film schools. Source: Wikipedia

Fast Facts: Busiest International Traffic Airport

Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 (Photo: J. Ritter) London’s Heathrow Airport is considered the busiest airport in the world for international passenger traffic and the third busiest airport in the world in terms of total passenger traffic (next to Atlanta’s Hartsfield–Jackson and Beijing Capital Airport). The airport is located 23 km west of central London, consists of five passenger terminals and sustains more than 76,000 direct jobs. Terminal 5 is the primary hub for British Airways and the airport serves as the main operational base for Virgin Atlantic Airways. The busiest international routes to and from Heathrow include the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland and Germany.

Fast Facts: La Sagrada Família

La Sagrada Família (Photo: J. Ritter)The Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic church in the middle of Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926). Though construction of Sagrada Família had commenced in 1882, Gaudí became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural and engineering style combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms. Gaudi continued to work on the building until his death in 1926. Since then different architects have continued to work on Gaudi’s original idea, with an estimated completion date of 2026.

The building is an architectural and construction work on a grand scale and is financed entirely through donations and visitor entrance fees. Over the years, it has become the iconic identity of the city of Barcelona and is visited by millions of people every year and many more study its architectural and religious content.

Fast Facts: World’s Largest Castle

St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle (Photo: J. Ritter) Prague Castle is considered to be the largest castle in the world. Construction of the Castle began in the 9th Century AD and the Castle buildings represent virtually every architectural style of the last millennium. The Castle has has housed the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors and presidents of Czechoslovakia and today the Bohemian Crown Jewels and kept within a hidden room within the Castle.

Fast Facts: Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie (Photo: J. Ritter)Checkpoint Charlie (or “Checkpoint C”) was the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. Checkpoint Charlie became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of east and west. Soviet and American tanks briefly faced each other at the location during the Berlin Crisis of 1961. After the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc and the reunification of Germany, the building at Checkpoint Charlie became a tourist attraction. The original building is now located in the Allied Museum in the Dahlem neighborhood of Berlin. Source: Wikipedia

Fast Facts: The Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall (Photo: J. Ritter)The Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961 by the East German government and completely cut off West Berlin from East Germany and East Berlin. Between 1961 and 1989, when the Wall was torn down, around 5000 people attempted to escape over the Wall into West Berlin, with an estimated death toll of over 600.

Berlin Wall (Photo: J. Ritter)Today, very little remains of the Wall, with small sections found along the Spree River near the Warschauer Bahnhof and a Berlin Wall Memorial along Bernhauer Street.

Ritterstrasse Berlin

I discovered the name Ritter, which means Knight in German, is a popular one in Berlin.

DSC_9530There is the Ritterstrasse, or Ritterstraße, a mostly residential street in the city’s Kreuzberg district.DSC_9534 In the same district can be found the RITTERHOF, or what looks to be a very old apartment building.

Then of course there is the RITTER SPORT chocolate company, who manage a three-story flagship store called ChocoWorld on the Französische Strasse in Berlin’s fashionable Friedrichstadt district.

DSC_9589In addition to the same delicious Ritter Sport chocolate bars you can buy in Canada, you can find about 25 additional flavors and products, including some the size of an iPad, on the shelves of most convenience and grocery stores in Berlin.

Fast Facts: The Lowdown on Getting High

dsc_9292 Apparently Amsterdam’s famed coffeeshops, where cannabis has been freely sold and smoked since the 1970’s, have come under fire from conservative lawmakers, who have enacted extra license requirements and purchase restrictions for both Dutch citizens and tourists. However, as it would seem with many things in the Netherlands, people don’t really follow the law, nor are the police really enforcing it, and Amsterdam’s more than 300 coffeeshops remain as popular as ever.

A Flight Done Right

KLM 747-400 Despite the fact that nobody really speaks English, the folks at China Southern Airlines did a remarkable job of getting me and my bag from Harbin in northern China all the way to Amsterdam in 14 hours, which was something of a surprise to me. At the airport in Harbin, my questions regarding the quick KLM connection in Beijing were answered in rapid fire Mandarin, and about all I understood from the exchange was the China Southern agent pointing to the baggage tag labelled PEK-AMS, indicating the bag would be automatically transferred to the connecting flight in Beijing. Then, at the very busy airport in Beijing, another China Southern agent was waiting at the arrival gate with my name written on a sign, and I was escorted through a special corridor to the international departure gates, and happily sent on my way. After a comfortable ten hour flight, my bag arrived at the same time I did at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam and off I went, duly impressed with the customer service provided by both China Southern and their partner KLM.

Keeping Time in Beijing

Breitlng PlaneYou can buy a Rolex watch in Beijing for five dollars or you can buy one for $5000. I am pretty sure the ones they sell in this mall – dedicated solely to watch companies – will last you slightly longer than the five dollar models. After all, they did take the trouble of dragging this plane to the entrance of the mall.

Fast Facts: The Forbidden City

Forbidden City The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing and now houses the Palace Museum, which is the city’s most popular tourist attraction. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government. Built between 1406 and 1420, the complex consists of 980 buildings and exemplifies traditional Chinese palatial architecture. The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. Source: Wikipedia.

The Great Firewall

ChromeOopsYou run into a lot of screens like this one when accessing the Internet in China, which is most annoying. For example, you cannot access Facebook, Twitter, some western news services and most, but not all, of Google’s services. This means no YouTube or any of Google’s photo sharing services, such as Picasa or Panoramio. You can, however, access Gmail. You also cannot get satellite images of Beijing using Google Maps. Curiously, all of Microsoft’s online services appear to be available.

Fast Facts: World’s Busiest Rail Line

Shinkansen Map The Tōkaidō Shinkansen in Japan is the world’s busiest high-speed rail line. Carrying 151 million passengers per year (March 2008), it has transported more passengers (over 5 billion, entire network over 10 billion) than any other high speed line in the world. Between Tokyo and Osaka, the two largest metropolises in Japan, up to thirteen trains per hour with sixteen cars each (1,323 seats capacity) run in each direction with a minimum headway of three minutes between trains. Though largely a long-distance transport system, the Shinkansen also serves commuters who travel to work in metropolitan areas from outlying cities. Japan’s Shinkansen network since its inception had the highest annual passenger ridership of any network until 2011, when China’s high speed rail network surpassed it at 370 million passengers annually. The Shinkansen network of Japan still leads in cumulative passengers. Source: Wikipedia

Fast Facts: Tokyo Skytree Tower

Tokyo Skytree The Tokyo Skytree (東京スカイツリ) is the tallest free-standing broadcasting tower in the world, reaching a full height of 634 meters. The Skytree is the second tallest structure in the world after the Burj Khalifa (829.9 meters) in Dubai, the tallest man-made structure in the world. The main role of Tokyo Skytree is the transmission of digital terrestrial broadcasting, including the relay of television and radio broadcast signals. The tower includes two enclosed observation decks located at heights of 350 and 450 meters, making them the highest observation decks in Japan and some of the highest in the world. Visit the Tokyo Skytree website.