September 26, 2010

A Whirlwind in Europe - Nantes (Day 13)

The night before, Stephane said I could wake up as early as I want to go fishing in the canal about 10 minutes walk from the house. When I woke up at 8am, the little kiddies were already up and about. As a responsible adult, I just couldn’t leave the house with the kiddies unsupervised.

When Mathieu, the oldest brother, woke up, I started packing my gear. Stephane also woke up at 10am, so I headed out the door for about 1.5 hours of fishing. My target was European perch (aka redfin perch). I had some small soft plastics and small red worms for livebait.

I started off working around some docked boats. The water was very murky and full of algae. The bottom was rather soft with very little vegetation. About 10 minutes into fishing, I had a quick hit on my Powerbait T-Tail…but the fish hit it so fast that there was no time to set the hook. I worked another 100 yards of canal without any hits. With only 30 minutes remaining on the clock, I decided to try fishing Ile de Versailles. There was a little dock at the tip of the island where it reached into deeper water.

When I got to the dock, there was a lot of baitfish in the area. These may actually be bleak. If only I had my fly rod because these little fish were taking mayflies stuck on the surface.

With baitfish in the area, there was also signs of larger fish since I saw two surface commotion. I tied on a splitshot rig and baited with a whole red worm. I took about 10 casts without any hits…but lost the worm on the cast. With only 2 minutes left on the clock, this was really my last cast. I casted as far as I could and worked the split shot rig very slowly on bottom. About 25 feet away from me, I felt a hit, then a better hit…and I set the hook. Fish on!

A short fight later, I found my target fish! The European perch fought harder than the Yellow Perch in North America.

7” European Perch (Perca fluviatilis)

The canal has a good population of zander and pike as well…but there was no time to fully appreciate the fishing this time. Next time I visit Stephane, I’ll give it a more thorough examination.

I returned to the house at 12pm and Christelle had just returned from the market with fresh fish and fresh bread. We made a great lunch with melon and strawberry (dipped in red wine) for appetizers, boiled fish on rice smothered with a very rich butter shallot sauce for the main course, and fresh French bread to soak up every last drop of that wonderful sauce. We also had fresh baked Cannales Bordelais for dessert. Although we had more red wine for lunch, I did remember that meal very well.

After lunch, Christelle, her daughter Lila-Marie, their guest student Zhu and I went to a theater festival to see a couple of 30 minute shows. The neighbourhood had 3 small theaters in the area and it was an open house at one of them. I forgot my camera so I had no pictures...but there will be a night picture to come.

When we returned, Stephane asked if I want to ride an elephant in Nantes. Riding an elephant? I was open for any idea so we drove to the riverside of the Loire. This was the elephant that greeted us.

This was a gigantic mechanical elephant where every conceivable body part moved with anatomical accuracy. The trunk even blew out steam!

Nantes is the home of sci-fi writer Jules Verne so the city had taken on the initiative to beautify the city with these wonderful, fantastical machines. They are actually building a gigantic carousel full of these fantastical animals where the riders could manually control the animals. It would be completed in 2012. Imagine this carousel but about 20 times larger.

This area was once a shipyard. Nantes was a famous ship building port. The modern ship building facilities had moved closer to the mouth and this area was now converted to a park. The old factory had been converted to a museum.

Some of the buildings were converted to restaurants with some fantasy sculptures as well.

All along the riverbank, scattered around Nantes, there were modern landscape art installations. This set of rings is illuminated at night with a rainbow of colours. Nantes is a great rejuvenating cities that is spending a lot of money to beautify the city and improving the quality of life for her residents.

I also visited Stephane’s lab. It’s only one year old and all the bench space and equipment were sparkling new.

We returned home for a quick crepe dinner. Crepe smeared with salted butter caramel is the $h!T! It was so very tasty! We also had some traditional crepe with eggs and cheese.

After dinner, we took a picture together. Stephane and Christelle are a wonderful couple. They adopted a Cambodian boy and girl and a Vietnam girl. As you can see, they have a very happy family.

Matthieu, Lila-Marie, Stephane, Anna-Iris, Christelle, me.

After dinner, Stephane, Christelle and I went to a Yiddish music concert at the theater. I was a great night of music and dance. Here I was, a Chinese-Canadian dancing among an entire group of French singing. It was a fitting end to my culture visit to Europe.

It was sad to say goodnight to Stephane and Christelle since I would be waking up at 4:30am the next morning to catch a train to Paris. They were super host and Stephane and I had became good friend working together in the past.

It was also sad that my Europe trip was coming to an end. My 13 days in Europe officially came to pass. I had rediscovered so much about my love for art, culture and history…things that I had often set aside in favour for fishing.

September 25, 2010

A Whirlwind in Europe - Nantes (Day 12)

Nantes is the third largest city in France according to my friend Stephane. Stephane is a clinician and senior scientist. We meet in 2006 when I was a co-op student at my current lab and Stephane was a visiting fellow. It was Stephane who invited me to attend the workshop in Ile de Berder. After our workshop, Stephane invited me to stay with him for a couple of days.

Nantes is about 1.5 hours from Ile de Berder. After dropping off the luggage, we had a quick lunch. Stephane’s wife Christelle was putting the youngest kid to bed for an afternoon nap, so Stephane took me to a local fishing store to get a 1-day freshwater license (saltwater fishing does not require a license). The shop was very well equipped with a fishing section and a hunting section. Unfortunately, I forgot what the store was called.

When we returned home, we sat around chatting while Christelle prepared a batter for Canneles Bordelais. When the batter was put into the fridge, we were ready to visit downtown Nantes with the kids.

Our first stop was Château des ducs de Bretagne, a Brittany castle dating back to 1207.

Drawbridge gate



Flying the Brittany colour

In the distance was La Tour LU, the tower from the former Lefèvre-Utile biscuit factory

Our next stop was the very beautiful Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul

Tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany

There were some buildings that had sculpted faces on the façade. According to Christelle, these sculpted faces dated back to the slave trade. Rich families who profited from slavery were able to decorate their buildings (on the right), while others who are not as wealthy had plain façade (on the right). It was an interesting mix of art and history.

We finished our tour at Église Sainte-Croix.

We returned to the house just in time for dinner. After some wine, I don’t remember what the name of the dish I had for dinner (there was salad, bread, wine, more wine, and some fish in a very buttery shallot sauce). It was absolutely tasty because Christelle was an exceptional cook (and baker).

September 22, 2010

A Whirlwind in Europe - Ile de Berder (Day 8 - 11)

Ile de Berder, France – Sep 22 – 25, 2010

This was the start of my workshop in France. After have exhausted my shutter finger in Rome I took very, very few pictures in Ile de Berder. I was also in seminars for 9 hours a day plus social / networking dinners for 2 hours each night. There was little time for photography. Fishing time also came at a premium.

It was rather unfortunate since our meals were worth a few pictures of their own. Ile de Berder and the Gulfe du Morbihan are seafood-producing areas. We had seafood for all lunches and dinners except for one meal when we had steak. We had fresh mussels, scallops, salmon mousse, shrimp, crabs, langosta, sea snails, conch, clams and fresh oysters. Talk about spoiled! LOL

On Sep 22, we arrived at Ile de Berder at 5pm. This region has fairly large tides. During my stay, the tide differences was more than 3 meters according to the tide charts. Ile de Berder is an island during the high tide, but the seabed would be completely exposed during low tide. In the picture below, the two rocky dyke bordered a paved road which was submerged during the high tide.

When I was looking at the map and at various pictures on Google, this location looked promising to hunt for European seabass.

I returned later at night to fish this area on the falling tide. It wasn’t until 9pm that we had finished dinner and there was only 2 hours until dead low tide. The area was extremely rocky and full of kelp. I was fishing the T&C swim grubs on 3/8oz jighead at the beginning. I needed the weight to fish in the heavy current generated by the falling tide. However, the lure was snagged and lost within 2 casts since the shallows had very slow current and low water. I tried to fish with a lighter jighead but the lure would wash through the current too quickly. I heard and saw two surface feeding signs so I fished the area with various lures for about 30 minutes. At the end, I put on a 1/8oz jighead with a Powerbait T-Tail that was trimmed to 1.5” long. I chose to cut the soft plastic shorter since I saw many small baitfish in the shallows around that size.

When I couldn't find anything biting at the dyke, it was time to try other fishing areas. Fortunately, there was a map that I could consult and I quickly found a beach on the other side of the small island. I tried a few casts with the T-Tail off the sand but the water was shallow and filled with kelp. About 50 feet to my right, there was an old dock. The top of the dock was wet but exposed. During high tide, this dock would be submerged.

After making my way to the dock carefully, I heard a couple of surface disturbance. Looking around with my headlamp, I saw many small baitfish in the shallows. I had fish for striped bass at Montauk before. The striped bass is a cousin of the European seabass and similarly these fish are opportunistic nocturnal feeders. Knowing that striped bass were cautious of light, I switched off my headlamp and waited for a minute. This also allowed my eyes time to adjust seeing in the dark. During my wait, I heard a topwater explosion quite far from shore. After my eyes had adjusted, I fired a cast as far as possible into the deeper water. As I was lifting my lure out of the water, I heard another topwater swirl to my right but closer to shore this time. Purely by reaction, I fired a cast in the direct and got picked up by a fish on the first crank! FISH ON!

It was fighting pretty well on the 8lb mono. After two spirited run, the fish had enough and simply coasted to shore. When I turned on my headlamp, I saw silver and was very surprised my first fish was also my most revered target fish!

12” European Seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax)

I let out a yelp so loud I think I woke up the neighbourhood LOL. I took my first seabass at around 10pm on the first day fishing for seabass! Awesome!

Since it had been a long day of travel and afternoon of seminars, I fished for another 15 minutes for no bites and decided to call it a night when the tide had bottomed out. I went to sleep very happy that night.

Sep 23

The next morning, I woke up at 5am with thought of fishing early. It was rather chilly outside so I stayed in bed until 5:30am. In full dark, I headed back to the dyke. Peak high tide was at 5:30am and I would be fishing the beginning phase of the falling tide in the morning.

There were a lot of surface feeding activities in the morning! Unfortunately, most of the fish were in the shallows far off to my left. There was a high stonewall on that shoreline. Trees and shrubs grew all the way up to the stonewall and the rocky beach was flooded on the high tide. There was no way to reach those feeding fish. Don’t be fooled…I did try fishing the area and lost a few lures to the rock and kelp.

Plan B was to head back to the beach where I had caught the seabass the night before. Similar to the dyke, there were a lot of surface activities. However, most of the fish were about 100 yards from shore where I could not reach. I had two rods with me so I rigged up the long surf rod with Gulp! Sandworm and fished it on the bottom rig using #14 octopus hooks. I was hoping to pick up a few small beach species such as wrasse, sole, flounder and seabream.

There was absolute no action on the surf rod or on my lures intended for seabass. However, when the sun rose, the surf rod started to get some action! There were many fast bites. However, the fish were either too small or too tentative that I couldn’t hook into any fish. I tried waiting for a good run before setting the hook, but most fish just pull line for about 3 seconds before dropping the bait. If I set the hook too quick, I wouldn’t hook up. I believe most hit were just small fish. When 8:30am came around, I had to return to my room for a shower to start the next day of seminars.

I had plans to fish that night…but after about 4 drinks during and after dinner, I was done for the night LOL.

Sep 24

It was 6am in the morning again when I woke up for the morning fishing session. I didn’t bother with the dyke but returned to the beach. This morning, there were very little surface activities for some reason. It took about 1 hour of casting before I got a hit in the blind. There were no surface activities 30 minutes when I got a hit. Again, my lure had just landed when I got hit. The fish fought like another seabass and it certainly was one. This one was between 13-14”…just a few centimeters short of the legal 36cm minimum slot keeper limit.

Fishing was rather slow, but the sunrise was beautiful.

I only took a couple of hits on the surf rod. Fish were just not active for some reason and the bites that I got were very short and fast. There was no enough time to even reach the rod! It was time to leave at 8:30am and the fishing session ended much too quickly!

There was no plan to fish this night since we had a boat cruise dinner that would last until 10pm. During dinner, we had a massive seafood platter with some fresh, live clams. I never had live clams and personally, I liked them cooked better. There were a lot of live clams left after dinner and well…the looked like bait to me LOL. I took about 10 of them and stuffed them into my pocket for the next morning’s fishing session. Why waste good bait? LOL.

Sep 25

This was my last fishing session on Ile de Berder. I had hopes of catching seabream and ballan wrasse here, but so far my fishing plans had not executed well. With live clams as bait, I had renewed enthusiasm. I had also found a new fishing location the day before on the walk back to my room.

My new location was a rocky outcrop that dropped steeply into 5-6 feet of water with a rocky bottom. There were some isolated clumps of kelp that was very fishable. Instead of fishing for seabass, I put all my concentration into the surf rod. This rocky environment was prime for ballan wrasse.

Again, the fishing in the dark was very poor on the surf rod. As the sun rose, I had a few rapid taps on the rod and set the hook on a little fish. This black goby loved the clam so much that it was able to take the #8 baitholder hook. Luckily, it was only hooked on the upper lip.

5” Black Goby (Gobius niger)

I caught another black goby about 15 minutes later.

At 8am, the tide was dropping fast and the current was rather strong. I started to bottom bounce my surf rod with a 1oz weight. On my third drift, I had a couple of taps and set the hook on another little fish. This one was a wrasse! At the time, I thought it was a juvenile ballan wrasse and I was very happy to have accomplished my goal. When I got home, I found out it was a Baillon's wrasse. Oh well, it was still a new species!

6” Baillon's Wrasse (Symphodus bailloni)

I caught another Baillon's wrasse before 9am. I actually missed two morning talks because I was reluctant to leave without catching a seabream. Oh well…you can’t catch them all.

And such was my fishing adventures at Ile de Berder. It was a very beautiful and tranquil holiday location. One day, I hope I can be back to fish the area some more. It appears that daytime yields more action from other fish species while nighttime was strictly seabass fishing. If only I had more time to fish during the day, I could only imagine the number of additional new species that could be caught.

September 21, 2010

A Whirlwind in Europe - Vatican (Day 7)

The Vatican was one of the most tremendous experiences of my life. Not only was it a religious pilgrimage for this Roman Catholic, it was also an artistic pilgrimage as an artist. The only word I could found was awestruck and speechless. So for most of this travel log, I will just let the pictures do most of the talking.

Tip: Again, it was worth every extra dollar to purchase a ticket online. The Vatican Museums opens at 8am. At 8am, the line was already 2 hours long for the ticket office. EVERYONE has the same idea to line up early…so it doesn’t work! With an online ticket, all I had to do was to show it to the ticket collector and there was absolutely no waiting!

Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities inside the Vatican Museum.

Painted ceilings

Wall-sized tapestries in the Room of Tapestries.

The next room was the Galleries of Maps

The maps were okay. They looked so yellow because the entire ceiling of the gallery was gold painted! Every inch of the ceiling was filled with art…painting, woodwork or sculptures.

A few more tapestries that was hung in the pope’s residence…

Passed another small room with a painted dome ceiling…

To the Sobieski Room…

Into the Room of the Immaculate Conception.

The next few rooms contained some of the most famous frescos in the world…the Raphael Rooms.

The Baptism of Constantine

One of the paintings on the ceilings…the perspective, light, human form, depiction of atmosphere...I learned about it in my art course...but to see it in person, it is truly a masterpiece.

The Expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple, Stanza di Eliodoro

Disputation of the Holy Sacrament, Stanza della Segnatura

The School of Athens, Stanza della Segnatura

Fire in the Borgo, Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo

The Coronation of Charlemagne, Stanza dell'incendio del Borgo

Continue along the hallways, it led to the staircase to the Sistine Chapel…

Really…does this need any introduction? By Michelangelo?

The artwork was exquisite! You could tell the attention to details Michelangelo has planned for this enormous painting. Every angle was considered depicting the perspective and lighting. The painted sculptures and human figures came out of the 2-dimensional surface. They in fact looked to leap off the ceilings!

I couldn’t get a good picture of the fresco on the side of the chapel due to the sunlight shining too close to the fresco and it was impossible to get the right exposure.

After the Sistine Chapel, there were hallways after hallways of this…

…and these…

This stained glass was especially beautiful.

Then we entered the Pinacoteca with its many paintings.

All of a sudden, you stepped into a dark room with this magnificent piece.

And the Garden of Eden…

At the end, I exited into the foray with a spectacular spiral staircase. I waited 20 minutes before the timing was right to shoot this staircase without anyone on the steps (they were all hidden in this picture!)

Following the Vatican Museum, it was a short stroll to St. Peter’s Basilica.

Time to enter the Basilica…

Pieta by Michelangelo

More inside the Basilica…

Outside, the Vatican Guards stood vigilant

After a full morning and early afternoon at the Vatican, I was officially oozing with art. This was my last day of personal travel and it was a very fitting end to my wonderful Euro tour. At 6pm, I had an overnight sleeper train to catch that would take me from Rome to Paris. The train would arrive in Paris 2 hours later than scheduled and it was a dash finish to catch my connecting train to Vannes…but that’s another story to tell.