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Further Afield's Journal

Tulips from Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Entry By: 
Joe F.

The Netherlands has a history of growing tulips since they were first introduced here from Turkey in the 16th century. The flowers originated in Central Asia and were cultivated in Iran (Persia) in the 10th century. Carolus Clusius the famous French botanist began to cultivate plants such as tulip, potato and turnip from various parts of the world. 

His expertise in the cultivation of tulips in the Roman emperor’s garden in Vienna brought him to the attention of The Dutch Botanical Gardens. His publications of a number of books and articles on the bulbs and flowers led to what was to become known as ‘Tulipmania’. This was the rage of the 1600s so much so that botanists were in high demand in palaces, manor houses, universities, and noble residences. Tulips grew (pardon the pun) to become more valuable than gold and 10 times more than a commoner’s annual wage. A strain of tulip started to appear, this was red with distinctive white streaks on the petals. It wasn’t known for centuries afterwards that in fact this was a virus that was causing an infection in the petals. The virus was ‘Tulip Breaking Virus’ known today as TBV. The demand for tulip bulbs steadily increased from the start of the 1600s. As word spread the value increased and more people wanted to get involved. The demand in 1636 skyrocketed, some varieties like the ‘Semper Augustus’ were costing $10,000 guilders, the price of a house in Amsterdam. The craze lasted one year and in what today would be classed as a ‘Boom to Bust’ no one could afford the astronomical prices. The demand fell or people got a grip of themselves. 

The Netherlands today is the largest exporter of tulips worldwide, that figure is 2 billion annually, 77% of all flower bulbs come from the Netherlands and seedlings account for $3.8 billion in exports. The country is remarkably flat with the highest elevation of only 70 meters. As a result it has a very favourable climate, fertile soil and innovative greenhouse technology that contributes to its tremendous production capacity. 

The Flower Shop of the World. Keukenhof Tulip Gardens.

The flower park consists of 32 hectares of gardens, (that’s 80 acres approximately), water features, pathways and flowers of every description imaginable. Every year 7 million flower bulbs are planted by hand in the autumn, to flower in the spring. The method of planting is unique. For a colourful garden to stay pretty for 8 weeks you have to have different species of flowers maturing every few weeks, hearing the methods of sowing is a 3 year course in horticulture, in one day. 800 different varieties of tulips are on display. Known as the ‘Garden of Europe,’ it’s one of the world’s largest flower gardens. While tulips are the dominant flower you’ll see hyacinths, daffodils, lilies, roses, irises and carnations. The garden festival starts the third week of March and continues for 8 weeks ending on the third week of May. There are roughly about 25,000 visitors a day during the festival but when you consider the size of the park it’s a very comfortable venue even with that volume of people.

The Keukenhof estate dates back to the 15th century. In 1640 a castle was built and records show that the estate had over 200 hectares. In 1857 the castle gardens were redesigned. In 1949, 20 of the Netherlands top growers and exporters got together and opened the estate to exhibit spring flowering bulbs. The birth of the world’s most beautiful flower and bulb exhibitions was in 1950, apart from the Covid-19 pandemic the gardens have been opened continuously since, and looking forward to celebrating 75 years of bloom and bliss in 2025.

Say it with Flowers. The language of flowers, symbols and meanings.

Red Tulips, the Romantic type, their deep red hue evokes feelings of passion, love and lust. Making them popular for new young couples.

Orange ones convey a sense of understanding and appreciation between two people in a relationship. Both are physically and spiritually connected.

If you’ve a liking for Yellow you display happiness, cheerfulness and hope. The sunshine of your smile. Plant yellow tulips in your front garden for good luck and prosperity.

Purple tulips, a sign of wealth. Queen Elizabeth I forbade everyone except the Royal Family from wearing purple.

White tulips, they are a token of sympathy, sorrow or condolences.

If you are presenting Pink tulips, you are congratulating someone for the birth of a baby, maybe on getting a job or a promotion.

Blue Tulips are the rarest of colours for these bulbs. They convey calmness and serenity. Blue is the most difficult of colours to achieve in flowers.

In the Netherlands the latest figures for 2023 is that $3.5 billion worth of fruit and vegetables were exported, with the flowers, bulbs and seedlings amounting to $11.0 billion. Agriculture, horticulture and the food sector employs 636,000 or 9% of the Dutch workforce, this includes all of the supporting industries that’s involved.

Canada and the Netherlands have close ties with each other. When WWII broke out the Dutch Royal family fled to England where they were treated as ‘the government in exile.’ In 1940 the Queen sent her heir Her Royal Highness Princess Juliana and daughters to Canada. Arriving in Halifax, Nova Scotia in June, they later settled in Ottawa. In 1943 Princess Margriet was born to Princess Juliana and Prince Bernard. When the war ended and the Royal family returned to the Netherlands, as a show of gratitude each year 10,000 tulips are sent to Ottawa, a bed of pink and purple tulips was developed in the Civil Campus of the Ottawa Maternity Hospital where the Princess was born and another was planted in the Commissioners Park. The tulips are still sent to this day. On occasions when the Dutch government are invited to Canada it’s usually Princess Margriet who does the honours, after all she is the only royal blood to have been born here. After the D-Day landings in France on June 6th 1944 the Canadian and Allied forces moved northwards through France, Belgium and eventually the Netherlands which was liberated in April and May 1945. The Dutch people owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Canadian army and the Canadian nation. From 1947 to 1954 more than 80,000 Dutch citizens migrated to Canada, these were mostly farmers who moved to Southern Ontario and Alberta. Their ancestors are still farming here today. 






Quintessential Nationality of Winemaking People in France

Bordeaux, France
Entry By: 
Joe F

The Wine Geese region of Bordeaux in France derives its name from the Wild Geese migration of soldiers and landowners who fled Ireland for France after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. It’s a mind blowing phenomena that the battle was fought in Ireland, between the Catholic King James II of England and his son-in-law the victorious Protestant Dutch Prince, William of Orange. 

After the battle had ended, 14,000 Jacobite soldiers and supporters fled to Europe, joining armies in Spain, Italy, Austria and France. Others decided to leave the military lifestyle behind and experiment with other avenues of employment to recuperate some of their previous wealth they had forfeited through land, taxes and property that was confiscated with being on the vanquished side. There were opportunities a plenty for these adventurers. Flourishing as merchants, traders, and farmers that expanded into owners of estates, that developed into vineyards of notoriety, particularly in the Bordeaux region. These people were to become the Quintessential Irish ‘in exile’. “It had long come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen. They went out and happen to things”. 

In the late 17th century, Irish Catholics represented 75% of the population, an oppressed people by a combination of wars, religious persecution and loss of property. Meanwhile the English parliament passed a series of laws protecting English landowners and farmers against cheaper cattle and wool that hurt Irish Protestant landowners. As a result there was few opportunities in Ireland for ambitious second or third sons whether Catholic or Protestant, so for political, religious or economic reasons they were being pushed out of Ireland. They settled in Spain, France, Belgium and England, the largest colony of 280 families had settled in the Bordeaux region of France. One of the amazing facts about the families that settled in Europe, they were of different backgrounds religiously. While the communities in Bordeaux were both Protestant and Catholic the relationships were businesslike and friendly. Confessional differences played very little role, but along the marriage lines these were extremely rare, otherwise the communities were united. 

An island that’s 51.5° to 56.5° N latitude would not have a suitable temperature for growing grapes therefore the Irish would have no knowledge of cultivating or harvesting grapes. Necessity is the mother of invention and so these people learned very quickly the methods of distilling wine. What was in it for France to have the Irish buying land in their country, the answer was, Irish salted beef, they needed it for provision for the Navy, Marine ships, and to further export it to French colonies in the Caribbean and Polynesian islands. For the Irish, the opportunity to have something that’s not in Ireland was vineyards and the production of wine. As in any businesses that one starts, you have to have a market and there it was right next door, England. The British Empire was expanding, the manifest of the ships cargo always had a sizeable number of barrels of wine, provided by the Irish wine producers from France. Even though Britain and Ireland had the same monarchy, taxation and tariffs were much different, the importation tax on wine from France to England was prohibitive for the majority of people. The French winemakers remained steadfast in their policy of producing fine wines, especially as they had perfected the art of aging wines from 3 to 7 years, thereby eliminating the need to blend different varieties, some of poorer quality. This policy has seen the oldest winery in France still in the hands of the same family since 1722 when Thomas Barton the quintessential Irishman purchased the Chateau Leoville Barton in the Bordeaux region, generations afterwards the wines are exported to 130 countries.

Shortly after the American War of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was the American ambassador to France and he visited Bordeaux, remarking afterwards about the amount of Irish names that were prominent in the wine business, Barton, Foster, Lynch, Kirwan, Clarke, Dillon, Phelan, and others. Jefferson became president of the USA later.

If we are looking for another quintessential Irishman however we need to focus on the Cork born Richard Hennessy whose legacy is the most recognized today. A second son of the landed gentry, he wasn’t going to inherit the estate. He joined the French army and had a checkered career there, foregoing this livelihood he started in the drinks industry. His son joined him and together their company matured into the famous Hennessy Cognac brand that accounts for 40% of brandy sales globally. Today the company is partially owned by the drinks company Diageo.

Don’t let me hear you talking about ‘the good old days’ in Bordeaux. Did you know that in 1603 a werewolf was reported to roam the streets, and in 1609 a rumour was ‘ignited’ that a witch was seen by someone. When the witch wasn’t found the local constabulary came to the logical conclusion that in fact the woman who declared that she seen a witch, was herself possessed by a demon and she was the guilty party. Having been tortured until she confessed she was duly burned at the stake, and all this happened before the winemaking business became as popular as it is today. A parliament appointee de Lancre took the sightings of witches to heart and had as many as 80 women put to death. The stories got worse of course after the French Revolution with people going around with their heads under their arms after a visit to the guillotine. Then there’s the story of the dragon in tower, I could go on of course, but no. Join us on a trip to Bordeaux and let these legends be brought to life.






The Antarctic Ocean and Continent. The Last Wilderness.

Entry By: 
Joe F.

When visiting the Antarctic, you’re in fact in the ‘Last Wilderness’, an area of incredible beauty, unspoiled landscapes, and wildlife that only dreams are made of. Conservationists are playing a huge role in the protection of the ocean, the whales, penguins, seals, seabirds, the krill and the single cell algae that’s the stable diet for sea life, the various species of whales are humpback, killer, and blue whales. 

These migrate to Hawaii and other winter breeding grounds in the tropics and subtropics to give birth to their calves, the waters are more shallow and warmer, providing a safe and protected environment to nurture their young. 

Studying geography in my school days I was always fascinated by the place name ‘Tierra del Fuego’ the southernmost tip of South America, nicknamed the ‘End of the World’. The flight from Toronto takes you to São Paulo, Brazil. After a short stop then it’s on to Buenos Aires, Spanish for “fair winds” or “good airs” the capital of Argentina that’s situated on the shore of Rio de La Plata. An opportunity of staying here for a night or two would not be wasted. You’re in a city that’s recovering from years of economic stagnation. This is a vibrant city with a population of 15 million people. The city has matured through one financial crisis after another, the International Monetary Fund had to rescue them from figures of inflation that were at 100% at one stage. 

Spending a day in the city that’s alive with activity, students always bring life into an area as do the office staff that are employed in the banking, financial services industry, the technology sector, and so many other employment areas throughout the city. Visit the restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs, and bistros that have menus to suit all palates. Going through the galleries and museums telling the history of the city and the nation, listen to the music steal through your mind ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina’ taking you back to the story of Eva Peron, the wife of the president Juan, the revered First Lady who championed workers rights, support for the poor and the downtrodden, the rights of women in politics and in education. She died way too prematurely at the tender age of 33 years. In the movie Evita, Madonna played the leading role.

Flying into Ushuaia, there’s a shuttle bus to transfer passengers to the cruise ship. On board instructions and introductions are carried out by staff members. Cruising to the last of the Seven continents, one cannot but be transported back to those explorers and adventurers that have gone before us. James Cooke crossed the Antarctic Circle in 1773, the Magellan Straits, Sir Francis Drake who circumnavigated the world in 1577-80, Wendell Sea and Ross Sea. Two days into the cruise and we arrive at the Drake Passage and an awesome body of water to go across. 

The ship uses an innovative hydro-jet propulsion system to allow the purpose-built World Traveller ship to maintain location without the need to drop anchor. This allows you to get closer to the environment and wildlife without disturbing their habitat. We transfer to the zodiacs, small rubber boats that can get up close and personal to the shore. Here is where the action is happening, penguins with their chicks, protecting them and then baling away from them, into the water like a torpedo in search of food. There are seals basking on the beaches, birds trying to get their share of the spoils. Whichever of the species that are there we are cautious not to disturb or distract them in any way from their activities. Their lives are precious and we have a duty as visitors to protect the environment and everything associated with that.

Lectures on board the ships, tells us about the ‘Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration’, the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s saw a terrific upsurge of exploration in Antarctica. The challenge was, who would reach the South Pole first? Men like the British seaman Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Thomas Crean, Roald Amundsen and Sir Edmund Hillary. The stories of these explorers will capture the imagination. The world’s last frontier, that moment when for a person or a nation that flag or marker says I am the first person to have arrived here. You’ll hear the tales of ships stranded in ice, starvation and lives lost. The greatest race of all in my opinion is that of Amundsen the Norwegian and Scott the English man. Different methods and modes of transportation were used. Scott brought ponies, dogs and two tractors. He had a team of about 90 people, Scott’s expedition was financed by the British government , the Admiralty and others, there were scientists, teachers, botanists, and tradesmen. Amundsen took a smaller party, using dogs only. He had with him the Norwegian champion skier who proved to be the ace in the hold. Having arrived at the final camp before the South Pole, Amundsen and five others went on with the dogs and three sleighs. Bjaaland the skier was invaluable as a team member, he trimmed the sleighs down to the thinnest for the purpose of weight. With the skier out in front the dogs had a target and a leader to follow. Amundsen and his team were the first people to reach the South Pole in December 1911. The expedition team made it back safely to their base and to Norway having left supplies for Scott and his team. Scott and his team did arrive at the South Pole a month after Amundsen in January 1912. Sadly on their return back to base camp they all perished.

The story of Ernest Shackleton and his ship the Endurance with a crew of 28 has been published in several publications. Films have been made of how their ship got stuck on an ice bank, for days they struggled to get free. As the ship groaned and twisted in the grasp of the sea ice, the sailors emptied whatever they could onto the packed ice. Finally when the vessel surrendered to the crushing, freezing ice they watched the ship crack and deliver its fractured remains over the frozen snow or swallowed it into the ocean, the crew just watched in awe for over a period of months as this took place. Shackleton, Crean, and Mosley the ship’s captain had left the area to find help, crossing South Georgia they reached the Norwegian whaling village. After 497 days the crew who had set up shelters and living quarters beside their ruined ship were rescued.

As you cruise through the ice and floating glaciers and land on the continent of Antarctica you will notice that there are mountains and hills there. The highest peak is Mount Vinson, it rises to 4,892 metres. Since 1966 approximately 1,200 people have climbed it. Depending how quickly one acclimatized to the conditions it takes 5 - 9 days to complete the climb. 

What’s the difference between the Arctic and the Antarctic, the Arctic is an Ocean while the Antarctic is a Continent. Both have magnetic fields, the inclination of the Earth’s field is 90° downwards at the north magnetic field and 90° upwards at the south magnetic field. 

Even though we all know that penguins love the cold there have never been any found in the Arctic. At the Antarctic there are an estimated 44,000,000 penguins, that’s a lot of poop on a white background, a trivia question true or false, can penguin poop be seen from outer space. Wait for a drum roll, Yes it Can.

In 1959 the Antarctic Treaty was signed by twelve countries, banning any military activities in the region. The area is preserved for the fish and sea mammals that are found there plus the penguins, seals and birds. Scientists, botanists, geologists, biologists, mathematicians and international naval personnel have a right to inspect what’s going on. Numbers are curtailed when visiting Antarctica, only one ship can visit a site at any one time. Vessels with more than 500 passengers shall not make landings in Antarctica. A maximum of 100 passengers may be ashore at any one time.

For peace and tranquility, an area that’s untouched, protected and preserved, heavenly and out worldly there are few to compare.






Costa Rica

Central America
Entry By: 
Joe F.

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America. It’s bordered to the north by Nicaragua, Panama to the south, to the east the Caribbean Sea and west is the Pacific Ocean. The landmass is just 20,000 sq. miles with a population of about 5.25 million people. 

Tourism has a big role to play in the economy with 3 million people visiting there in 2023. When one considers the support industries involved and the numbers they employ in hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, visitor centres, foodstuff manufacturing facilities, maintenance crews, transportation, staff at various sites, the construction industry, finance and insurance companies, it has a major impact on the economy of the country. A small number of cruise ships dock there. The languages spoken are Spanish, English and many languages of the indigenous people.

The Industrial sector is attracting some worldwide companies, Intel, the semiconductor chip manufacturers employ 2,000 personnel, Proctor and Gamble the health and hygiene products company, and Baxter Health equipment, are opening up avenues for graduates from universities.


Farming and agriculture production accounts for 9% of GNP. Bananas, and pineapples that are the most traded fruits in the world and are grown in abundance in Costa Rica, coffee is also a major crop. Natural resources are Hydroelectric power, forestry, and fisheries.


The district is famous for its biodiversity, there are 30 national parks, with the tropical and volcanic influences on the climate of the region hundreds of different species of animals and birds, flora and fauna, plants and fungi and other microorganisms working together in ecosystems to maintain balance and support life. There are 5 Blue Zones in the world and Costa Rica has been recognized as 1. A blue zone is an area of extreme longevity, in the Nicola Peninsula, Costa Rica we have the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians. The Blue Zones are areas where people live longer but they are the healthiest, happiest and fittest of people. Have a purpose to live, be it light work, friendships, rest regularly, and diet. That was the sound advice from one centenarian recently.


Costa Rica is one of the top 3 destinations in the world for surfing. For recreational activities it was here that zip lining was first introduced. The term Adventure Tourism was conceived here, with the water activity, hiking trails, mountain climbing and the occasional camping and food cooking. San Jose is the capital city with an international airport, there are two other international and 14 domestic airports. Most international airports are flying directly to Costa Rica.


In 1502 Christopher Columbus landed in this area, it was his fourth and last voyage to the Americas. Costa Rica was populated by the Spanish in 1522. For three centuries Spain ruled the area. The countries sought independence in the 1820s, Costa Rica was granted sovereignty in the 1830s. The country is a democratic republic, with a president as head of government and a constitution that was drawn up in 1949. A civil war had broken out earlier and when it ended a decision was made to abolish the military. The country has a Public Force, it’s the Costa Rican national law enforcement force which performs policing and border patrol functions.


The economy is in reasonably good shape. Unemployment is at 6.5% and inflation at 9%. Education is very highly rated having a literacy rate of 97%. Education is free from kindergarten to the end of high school, with students receiving free books and supplies. Health care is free for Costa Rican citizens who are most financially most in need. Visitors should have health insurance cover. There is no minimum wage. There is social security and pensions for people who have been working in the country and paid a subscription towards their social security.


The Costa Rican culture is a vibrant blend of indigenous heritage with a Spanish colonial influence, mix a dash of Jamaican, some Chinese and other cultures combined with festivals galore, plenty of beer, a horseback riding parade and a bloodless bull fight. Now you know you’re in Costa Rica. October 12th is Columbus Day and a cause for celebration. 


With the Spanish influence here for so long, the main religion is Catholicism. The particular days through the child to adult stages are celebrated, Baptism of a baby, Penance and Eucharist meaning thanksgiving, Confirmation coming of age, Weddings, Holy Orders the ordination of a priest and Funerals. Each festival or Sacrament marks the stages of life. Read the book “Twenty Years A-Growing” by the Irish author Maurice O’Sullivan. When life expectancy was not as long, an old man declared your life is twenty years in bloom, twenty years stooping and twenty years declining.













The Great Migration

Entry By: 
Joe F.

The first time I had the privilege of going to Africa and experiencing a Game Drive, I was intoxicated by the sheer beauty and wonderment of such a spectacle. 

Lions, elephants, hippopotamus, rhinos, hyenas, leopards, giraffes, zebras, these are the few that come to mind on this wild life encounter, but take a look at the smaller creatures and the amount of different species of birds that do their part, breaking up droppings and eating carcasses to prevent any diseases from spreading and so on.

It’s a lesson in science to learn how this conveyor belt effect works, you’ll be surprised by how many contributors add to this environment. I was with a group, touring Africa, not game hunters in case you get the wrong impression. 

Nature is an educational lesson when we can experience it up close and personal. The wilderness can be heartbreaking in its cruelty and rawness for the act of survival and yet it’s enchanting when you encounter its effectiveness for the protection of the continuous support and existence of the herd.

If any of you are into music, there’s a song recorded by a group called Toto. “I bless the rains down in Africa”. One wonderful piece that keeps spinning in my head, “I know I must do what’s right. As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti”. As the rains stream down to the music one can appreciate how valuable water is to life. As you’re watching the migration, of hundreds of thousands of animals leaving the area in search of grasses, herbs, water and sustenance, you cannot but think that this is the ‘greatest show on earth’, and can be seen on the African plains. The wildebeests lead the charge, followed by the zebras, gazelles and other herbivores that follow the food trail. Crossing the Serengeti in Tanzania and then the Masai Mara in Kenya, the migration travels in a clockwise direction. The journey covers over 2,500 kilometres. Recognized as one of the new seven wonders of the world, when millions of animals cross the Serengeti National Park and plunge into the Grumeti and Mara River. This migration is the highlight of the trip for many travellers. The wildebeests don’t just keep galloping up and into the river, they recognize the danger. Approaching the banks they pause, withdraw, for hours or maybe a day, braying and restless, then in an overpowering moment of madness or a flush of adrenaline or enthusiasm some decide to jump. There are no false starts called in this race, as one or more moves, then the avalanche has started, crocodiles in the water take their required quota, many animals are hurt and lost trying to get across the river. This crossing is the most unforgiving part of the journey. The crocodiles in the water, the predators on the river banks and the treacherous currents all take their toll. Annually it’s estimated that 200,000 animals are lost. Their demise on the journey is not in vain, the corpses contribute to the rivers ecosystem by adding 1,000 tons of biomass to feed the Serengeti Plains. 

The temperature and climate dictate the movement in different areas, hence the reason why the migration happens throughout the year. These animals complement each other on their journey, some animals are not capable of digesting the various grasses along the trail, so with the different taste buds, nothing goes to waste. This is particularly true of the wildebeests and zebras. With this volume of animals moving, there are a number of unwanted animals within their midst, they are the predators lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, wild dogs, crocodiles, eagles and vultures. This is nature’s circle of life, only the strong survive. You may witness a kill but you’ll certainly see the new born calves, foals, fawns etc. 

You’ve seen the migration on the discovery channel and TV but being up close and personal is something like watching a video on your hand held phone and then going to a cinema and watching it on Mega Screen. Many people travel for different reasons, it may be for sun, beaches or the fun of seeing someplace. The Great Migration is a destination tour that will have an overwhelming impact on your impression on nature, why the climate needs to be protected, why the Plains of Africa are the most beautiful and enticing destinations for that small group tour that’s not rushed, not invasive to the area. The drivers and guides involved in the promotion of their habitat are interlinked to the region and terrain. Like the rulers of these areas that have gone before them, they are leaving their mark here, declaring that not only are they the Masters of the land, but also its Servant.