July 27, 2021

The Dutch charm of Curacao

Willemstad’s colorful harbor viewed from a cruise ship.

Few Caribbean ports of call can surpass the arrival awaiting passengers whose ship docks in Willemstad’s St. Anna Bay. As your ship approaches, the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge swings open to allow entry into this narrow inlet overlooked by the restored waterfront warehouses of colonial Willemstad. Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1997, Willemstad’s Dutch gabled buildings were first painted a variety of colors in 1817 when the governor complained that the sun’s glare off the stark white buildings was giving him headaches.

Those same colorful buildings now house shops, art galleries and restaurants catering to tourists that fill the narrow cobblestone streets. But it’s easy to leave the crowds behind when strolling this picturesque port, starting with the waterfront promenade. This walkway leads seaward from the pontoon footbridge to the battlements of Waterfort at the harbor entrance.

Soaking up the waterfront atmosphere in Willemstad.

At the other end of this compact town is another pedestrian bridge, this one straddling the narrow Waaigat Canal. Here you will find a floating market where Venezuelan boats loaded with fresh fruit, vegetables and fish sell their wares. Tourists looking for trinkets are studiously ignored by locals buying their groceries.

Large ships dock at the entrance to St. Anna Bay on Curacao.

Curacao was originally colonized by the Spanish but it wasn’t until the Dutch West India Company took possession of the island in 1634 that the port of Willemstad was established. The resourceful Dutch found a new role for the bitter-tasting Valencia oranges the Spanish settlers had tried to grow – they discovered that the fruit’s sundried peels contained an etheric oil which became the basis for Curacao’s famous liqueur.

The Curacao Liqueur Distillery is located in a former colonial mansion on the east side of Willemstad’s harbor, but we opted to spend the rest of our day in port by taking a taxi to the Hilton resort where a pleasant beach can be enjoyed followed by refreshments and lunch at an umbrella table on the patio overlooking the water.

We were thoroughly enjoying our interlude here when the iguanas showed up. They were very bold and one of the males was extremely large. As they closed in on us, we began to gather up our things in readiness to leave. That’s when a guest at the next table, an elderly woman, cheerfully told us not to be afraid of the iguanas.

“They’re plant eaters,” she said. “They won’t hurt you.”

Nonetheless, we decided it was a good time to return by taxi to the ship.

The Café Culture of Paris

Luxembourg Garden and Palace in the Latin Quarter.

Ernest Hemingway sought authenticity long before the term was coined in connection to travel. In fact, he often took up residence in the places he visited. He spent years living in Paris and later penned A Moveable Feast, which is both a memoir and a literary guidebook to that fascinating city. Lesser known but equally engaging is That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan, a Canadian author who met Hemingway when they were both young reporters working for a Toronto newspaper.

Callaghan reconnected with Hemingway in 1929 when he and his wife travelled to Paris on a much-anticipated sojourn. An up-and-coming novelist, Callaghan was eager to experience the city’s thriving café culture and meet some of the famous authors living in the Latin Quarter, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce. It was during that summer that he and Hemingway spent many an afternoon honing their boxing skills at the American Club’s gym.

The café culture of Paris hasn’t changed much since Hemmingway’s day.

On my last visit to Paris I was keen to see the places described by these two writers. My husband and I were staying in a three-star hotel just a block off Luxembourg Garden, so our mornings began with a stroll past the brilliant flower beds in front of Luxembourg Palace. This elegant 17th-century palace houses the French Senate and overlooks an ornamental pond where children launch vintage toy boats.

Hemmingway lived near Luxembourg Garden on Rue Ferou.

When Hemingway first moved to Paris and was living on meager earnings from his short stories, he often had no money for lunch. So, to avoid the tantalizing aromas wafting from street cafés, he would walk instead through the beautifully manicured Luxembourg Garden. By the time Callaghan came to Paris and looked up his old newspaper friend, Hemingway was a successful novelist and living with his second wife in a fashionable apartment on rue Ferou. If you’re strolling along this cobblestoned lane, which leads from Luxembourg Garden to Place Saint-Sulpice, look for the stone lions mounted on the entrance pillars at the gated courtyard of 6 rue Ferou.

The famous Left Bank cafés referred to in the memoirs of Hemingway and Callaghan are all within walking distance of Luxembourg Garden. A block north of Place Saint-Sulpice are the famous cafés of St-Germain des Prés, where writers, artists and intellectuals of the 1920s would gather. However, we decided to try one of the restaurants on Boulevard du Montparnasse, a short walk south of Luxembourg Garden, where another cluster of iconic cafés is located.

Famous La Rotonde restaurant on Boulevard du Montparnasse.

La Coupole, Le Dome, La Rotonde and Le Select attracted the likes of Gauguin, Picasso and Hemingway to their tables. We decided to dine at Le Select because this was Callaghan’s favourite spot when he and his wife lived in Paris. Its art deco interior has been preserved and we could easily imagine Callaghan and Hemingway sitting here after their weekly boxing match, enjoying a drink and each other’s company.

One our most memorable meals in Paris was lunch at the café in Luxembourg Garden. What better place to enjoy a croque-monsieur – that classic French bistro sandwich of ham and melted cheese – than at an outdoor table in a quintessential Parisian park.

Danish Warmth in Copenhagen

Danish streets and culture mesh in the sense of connectedness.

We can all use a good hug now and then, and many a Dane practices hygge on a daily basis. They do this by taking time to enjoy life’s small pleasures, especially the sharing of meals with family and friends. If coziness is an essential part of hygge, no one does it better than the Danes, for they wouldn’t think of setting a dinner table without the warm glow of candles, and that dining table is probably Danish modern.

Danish modern design is on display throughout Copenhagen – Denmark’s capital and a busy base port for Northern Europe cruises. A pleasing mix of old world charm and modernist architecture, Copenhagen is considered one of the world’s most livable cities. You can walk everywhere in the downtown core, where pedestrian-only streets include the mile-long Strøget, its five interconnecting streets lined with shops selling an array of Danish products. These include handpainted porcelain, damask tablecloths, fine table linens and wooden toys.

Amid the selection of shops along the Strøget are cafés and coffeehouse serving mouth-watering pastries and freshly-brewed coffee. After admiring the 17th-century architecture at Kongens Nytorv (King’s New Square) you can pop into Reinh Van Hauen bakery for a tasty cinnamon roll called kanel-snegl. Delicious layer cakes, including a chocolate and coffee mousse creation honouring the Danish author Karen Blixen, are served in La Glace patisserie at Skoubogade 3, just off the Strøget.

Danish pastries served with a smile in the Winter Garden Cafe.

After strolling the length of the Strøget, from King’s New Square to City Hall Square, you’ll be ready for lunch at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, an art museum founded in 1897 by the brewing magnate Carl Jacobsen. The museum’s domed courtyard is bright and airy and the perfect spot to pause for a light lunch in its Winter Garden café.

Close by are the famous Tivoli Gardens – an amusement park of twinkling lights, flower gardens, rides and restaurants which first opened in 1843. King Christian VIII authorized its construction upon hearing the convincing argument that people amusing themselves do not think about politics. When Walt Disney began planning Disneyland, he drew inspiration from the magical atmosphere created at Tivoli Gardens.

Modern street art adorns the Strøget.

Opposite the Tivoli Gardens is a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, immortalized as the author of such beloved fairy tales as The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid. A bronze statue of the Little Mermaid sits demurely on a shoreside boulder in Copenhagen’s harbour. She’s a short stroll from Langelinie Cruise Pier and one of numerous attractions awaiting visitors to Copenhagen, a city whose residents know how to enjoy the little things in life.

Obama in the British Virgin Islands

Barack Obama kitesurfing off Moskito Island in the BVI.(Photo credit Jack Brockway)

When you’re the former president of the United States and have been living inside a security bubble for the past eight years, where do you go to celebrate your newfound freedom? Barack Obama chose the British Virgin Islands, where, as a guest of Richard Branson, he tried his hand at kitesurfing off Moskito Island. This small private island will soon be joining Necker Island as an exclusive island retreat of Virgin Limited Edition, but there are other, more affordable ways to enjoy the BVI.

Chartering a sailboat is one option. Large charter fleets are moored at marinas on the main island of Tortola and Virgin Gorda, and boat bunks are as plentiful as hotel beds in the BVI. You won’t find high-rise hotels or casinos in this unspoiled island paradise, where yachting and diving are popular pastimes

Another way to visit the BVI is on a cruise ship. A variety of cruise lines call at Road Town on the island of Tortola, these ranging from contemporary megaships to mid-sized premium ships to luxury yachts. Tortola receives far fewer ship calls than busy St. Thomas in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands, but Tortola is well serviced with taxi companies and car rental firms.

Cane Garden Bay is one of many beautiful beaches on Tortola.

Shore excursions offered by the cruise lines include sightseeing in an open-sided safari bus and island-hopping by catamaran. Sailing, snorkeling and dive excursions are all featured, including one to the wreck of the Rhone, a 19th-century mail ship lying in 80 feet of water off Salt Island. The Baths on Virgin Gorda, a unique beach of giant boulders, sea caves and shallow pools, can also be visited by boat from Tortola.

Christopher Columbus named the Virgin Islands in 1493, but Sir Francis Drake set the tone a century later when he sailed along the channel now bearing his name, which runs through the middle of the BVI. Rich in pirate lore, the BVI were a hideout for the Dutch pirate Jost Van Dyke and for Blackbeard, who is said to have marooned a dozen or so of his men with a bottle of rum on Dead Chest Island. Nearby Norman Island inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write Treasure Island.

Pusser’s store and pub are popular stops in Road Town.

First colonized by the Dutch, then annexed by the British in 1672, the BVI are today an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. English is the official language and the legal currency is the U.S. dollar. Pusser’s Co. Store in Road Town is the place to buy its famous Royal Navy Rum and the adjoining Pusser’s Pub is where you can enjoy an English-style pub lunch. Road Town is a charming port of shuttered wooden houses and shops trimmed with fretwork, its narrow streets just a short stroll from the cruise port.

Half Moon Cay – A Bahamian Paradise

Half Moon Cay has a beautiful and soft white beach on which to enjoy a long walk.

The palm-fringed cays of the Bahamas have long attracted a motley assortment of inhabitants – from pirates and salvagers to today’s seclusion-seeking celebrities, including Johnny Depp and the Aga Khan. For those of us who can’t afford such tropical solitude, the good news is that several cruise lines also own private Bahamian islands for the enjoyment of their passengers.

Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line pioneered the concept of the private island experience when it purchased Great Stirrup Cay in 1977. Other cruise lines have since followed suit. Royal Caribbean acquired the neighboring island of Little Stirrup Cay and changed its name to Coco Cay. Disney Cruise Line owns Castaway Cay, which was called Gorda Cay when Tom Hanks first encountered Daryl Hannah here in the 1980s movie Splash. Princess Cays, owned by Princess Cruises, is a private beach resort located on the southern tip of Eleuthera Island. Nearby is Half Moon Cay, voted Best Private Island for 16 years running by readers of Porthole Cruise Magazine.

Holland America Line ship at anchor near Half Moon Cay.

Half Moon Cay is the private island I visited one March on an 11-day roundtrip cruise from Fort Lauderdale aboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam. This was our first port of call en route to the Panama Canal and the day ashore at this idyllic island proved to be the perfect place to kick back and unwind at the start of our cruise.

Like most seaborne arrivals, our first glimpse of Halfmoon Cay was at dawn when a cluster of low-lying Bahamian islands gradually revealed themselves in the pearly pink glow of a rising sun. Only a few fellow passengers were on deck to watch while our ship slowly approached this small island lying between Eleuthera and Cat Island, where Sidney Poitier grew up.

As the ship’s anchor was lowered, Bill and I headed to the lido for breakfast. While lingering over our morning coffee and croissants, we observed the first tenders taking passengers to the island. We hadn’t booked a shore excursion, so there was no need to rush ashore – which is just as well when you’re cruising with teenagers. By the time our boys were up and ready to go, there was no line-up for the tenders and we were soon disembarking at the island’s marina.

Map of Bahamas shows location of Half Moon Cay.

Half Moon Cay, originally called Little San Salvador when purchased for $6 million by Holland America Line in 1996, was renamed for the 17th-century Dutch sailing ship captained by Henry Hudson. Upon acquiring Half Moon Cay, Holland America transformed this uninhabited island – used solely by nesting seabirds – into a unique port of call with its two-mile-long, crescent-shaped beach and shoreside attractions that include interpretive nature trails and a straw market run by locals from neighboring Eleuthera.

Best of all is the fact that Half Moon Cay’s pristine beauty has not been compromised. Designated a Wild Bird Reserve by the Bahamian National Trust, the island’s brackish lagoon is an important nesting ground for terns, shearwaters and herons. Only two percent of the 960-hectare island has been developed, with the rest preserved as a bird sanctuary.

The sailing and watersports off the beach are safe and fun.

After strolling the pathways that lead from the welcome center to various attractions, we headed toward the far end of the island’s beautiful beach and settled into some loungers near a watersports center. We’re a boating family and spend our B.C. summers out on the water, so the sight of Hobie Cats and Sunfish sailboats for rent by the hour immediately caught our attention. Bill and our younger boy, John, were soon pushing off from the beach in a Hobie Cat. They had a pleasant sail, tacking back and forth in the steady trade wind, enjoying the warm breeze before turning the boat’s bow back toward shore.

At one point a tropical rain shower temporarily drove us from the beach to the shelter of the nearby Captain Morgan on the Rocks bar. Designed to resemble a washed-ashore pirate ship, this open-air bar was a great place to enjoy a refreshment and listen to live music provided by the ship’s band. At mid-day a barbecue luncheon was served in the nearby dining pavilion.

By early afternoon it was time to leave Half Moon Cay. We caught one of the last tenders back to the ship, sorry to leave but soon talking about our next port of call as the Zuiderdam raised anchor and sailed for Orangested, Aruba.

For information on Holland America cruises to Half Moon Cay visit: Holland America

William and Kate visit Canada’s Yukon

Kate and William in Carcross, Yukon. (Photo: Chris Jackson / Getty)

How refreshing to see British royalty embrace Robert Louis Stevenson’s approach to travel. The famous author of Treasure Island and other classics once said, “Travel is the chance to come down off this feather-bed of civilization and find the globe granite underfoot.”

On a recent visit to Western Canada, Prince William and his wife Kate openly displayed their preference for down-to-earth experiences over pomp and ceremony. Their accommodations at the stately Government House in Victoria were no doubt in keeping with the luxury they are used to, but the couple looked happiest when donning casual clothes and flying to remote wilderness areas such as the Great Bear Rainforest of coastal British Columbia or the islands of Haida Gwaii, which were originally named the Queen Charlotte Islands for one of Prince William’s ancestors. But he didn’t seem to mind the name change. In fact, he and Kate looked like a pair of lovebirds who had escaped their gilded cage as they paddled, fished, sailed and hiked their way around some of Canada’s most scenic locations with big smiles on their faces.

They left their two small children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, in a nanny’s care for one night back at Government House while they flew to the Yukon. The British press was aghast that the future heir to the throne was checking into a three-star hotel in Whitehorse, but I doubt if William and Kate will be posting a negative review on Trip Advisor about their stay at the Coast High Country Inn. In fact, they looked blissfully rested and relaxed the next day while visiting Whitehorse’s McBride Museum and watching children perform at a First Nations Ceremony in the village of Carcross.

Alaska cruise passengers visiting the port of Skagway can book a shore excursion to Carcross (pop. 300), which was originally called Caribou Crossing and is located on the shores of Lake Bennett. It was here during the Klondike Gold Rush that hundreds of stampeders, after making the grueling mountain trek up the Trail of ’98, set off in makeshift rafts down the treacherous Yukon River to the Klondike gold fields.

A rail line eventually linked Carcross with Whitehorse, where travellers would board a sternwheeler to continue their journey by river to Dawson City. Whitehorse attractions include the MacBride Museum – a complex of log buildings which includes a cabin built by Sam McGee, who was a prospector and friend of the poet Robert Service. Whitehorse and other parts of the Yukon can be visited on a variety of land tours offered by Holland America Line (Holland America ).

Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, is a port of call on round-trip cruises from Seattle and can also be visited, pre- or post-cruise, from Vancouver. There is regular floatplane service from Vancouver to Victoria’s Inner Harbour, where William, Kate and their two children boarded a floatplane after waving good-bye to hundreds of well-wishers gathered along the sea walls. Government House, the royal family’s home away from home during their week-long stay in Victoria, is open to the public. Check its website for details on tours and opening hours (Government House).

An Unforgettable Taxi Ride

The start of our light speed ride from Venice airport to hotel.

“This is one boat ride you’ll never forget,” said Ernest Hemingway to his friend, A.E. Hotchner, upon their arrival in Venice. “No one ever forgets his first ride down the canals of Venice.” The famous author and his biographer were climbing into a motor launch dispatched from the Gritti Palace when Hemingway, a frequent visitor to Venice, uttered these words.

I too have taken a water taxi to my hotel in Venice and it was indeed an unforgettable experience. After landing at the Marco Polo Airport with my husband and two teenaged sons, we emerged from the baggage claim area to see signs at several counters announcing there were no motoscafi (water taxis) available.

It was the height of summer and very busy but we weren’t discouraged by the prospect that all of the city’s water taxis had been reserved. We walked with our luggage past the crowds and headed outside to the water taxi docks. Most of the slips were empty, with only a couple of these classic cabin cruisers tied up. We approached a boatman who was striding down the dock and about to leave with his customers and their luggage stowed on board, but he called to a boatman on a nearby dock.

Some words in Italian were exchanged and he gestured for us to proceed to the next slip where an empty water taxi was tied up. We hustled over to where the other boatman was standing and quickly negotiated a price for him to take us to our hotel, or perhaps I should say we nodded our heads when he said the ride would cost us 110 euro. Then he took our bags and we climbed aboard.

Well, suddenly four jet-lagged travellers from North America were wide awake as we sped across the Venice lagoon, our vessel’s polished mahogany topsides gleaming in the mid-day sun. My hair blew straight back in the apparent wind as we raced past the fairway buoys marking the channel that leads from the mainland to the cluster of islands upon which the magical city of Venice was built.

Still flying along the canals of Venice.

The boat slowed as we approached the islands of Venice, then turned into a narrow canal, our driver threading his craft past the medieval buildings lining the edges of islands connected by footbridges. It appeared our motorboat would barely squeeze beneath some of these low bridges but our driver was unfazed as we maintained a steady speed along the winding canals busy with waterborne traffic.

Passing iconic St. Mark’s Square.

A few minutes later we emerged from these narrow side canals into St. Mark’s Basin where dozens of vessels, including the city’s vaporetti (boat buses), were moving in all directions and churning the waters that lapped onto the piazzetta in front of St. Mark’s Square. We took in the panoply of passing sights, including views across the water of St. Mark’s Cathedral, before whizzing past the entrance to the Grand Canal.

Finally we pull alongside our hotel on Giudecca Canal.

A minute later we were pulling up to our hotel overlooking the Giudecca Canal. Taking our cue from our driver, who obviously didn’t have a minute to spare as he quickly hauled our luggage onto the dock, we disembarked, paid the fare and he was gone. Our whirlwind arrival in Venice was, as Hemingway said, one we would never forget.

The Queen’s Birthday

Trooping the Colour for the Queen.

Cruise passengers flying to England to embark on a cruise should plan to spend time in London. This famous capital is rich in culture and historic attractions, and is home to one of the world’s most recognized citizens – Queen Elizabeth.

No one celebrates a birthday with the pomp and pageantry of the reigning British monarch, and festivities this year to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday have been especially ebullient. Londoners showed up in full force to wave the Union Jack at a huge street party and parade along the Mall and to cheer for a woman who has never wavered in her pledge of dedication to the Commonwealth. In a Cape Town radio address made nearly seven decades ago on her 21st birthday while touring South Africa, the young princess declared that “my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

Well, her life has indeed been long and her birthdays numerous. In fact, the Queen has two birthday celebrations each year – her actual birthday is April 21st and her official birthday is the second Saturday in June when the City of London pulls out all the stops with Trooping the Colour. This is a 200-year-old military ceremony in which the ‘colours’ (flags) of the battalion are ‘trooped’ (carried) down the ranks. After inspecting the troops, the Queen rides in a carriage at the head of her guards back to Buckingham Palace where she and other members of the Royal Family gather on the balcony for a fly-past by the Royal Air Force.

The Mall, open to pedestrians on Sundays, leads to Buckingham Palace.

Queen Victoria was the first monarch to take up residence in Buckingham Palace and was Britain’s longest-reigning monarch until her great-great-granddaughter surpassed her record of 63 years and 7 months in September 2015. Queen Elizabeth’s style has been markedly different to that of Queen Victoria, who spent much of her reign in mourning after the death of her husband. The current Queen, by contrast, has travelled the globe to meet countless people from all walks of life, and she sports bright colours and fanciful hats when she greets her subjects.

But the current Queen does share her great-great-grandmother’s love of Balmoral, a royal retreat in Scotland where she spends her annual summer holiday. Queen Victoria, who loved all things Scottish, purchased the Balmoral Estate in 1852 and commissioned the existing castle. The estate grounds, gardens and Castle Ballroom are open to visitors from early April to the end of July (visit www.balmoralcastle.com for ticket information).

When the Queen is vacationing at Balmoral, her London residence is opened to visitors. During the months of August and September, the State Rooms and Garden at Buckingham Palace can be visited on pre-booked tours (visit https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/ for ticket information).

Donald Trump and the Klondike Gold Rush

Skagway’s gold rush buildings have been preserved.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump boasts of many things, including his wealth, his popularity and his hand size. Less trumpeted is the fact that his paternal grandfather, a German immigrant named Friedrich Trumpf, kick-started the family dynasty with money he made during the Klondike Gold Rush. The two-storey hotel he ran in Bennett, British Columbia, wasn’t as impressive as the Trump Tower his grandson would erect in New York City eight decades later, but the Bavarian businessman – also known as Fred Trump – did make a handsome profit from his Arctic Hotel’s saloon and bordello.

Located on the shores of Lake Bennett, the boom town of Bennett was where stampeders, after making the daunting climb up the White Pass or Chilkoot mountain trails, would pause in their journey to build makeshift rafts, then continue on their way down theYukon River through the treacherous Whitehorse Rapids to the Klondike. But once the railroad from Skagway to Whitehorse was completed, business slowed in Bennett and Trumpf moved his hotel operations to Whitehorse.

The White Pass & Yukon Route railcars carry cruise passengers to Summit Lake.

The historic townsite of Bennett is now featured on an excursion offered by White Pass & Yukon Route’s summertime rail service from Skagway. However, there are few original buildings still standing in Bennett and cruise passengers arriving for a day in Skagway often opt for the shorter trip in vintage railcars to the White Pass summit, leaving themselves plenty of time to stroll the streets of Skagway – one of the best-preserved towns of the gold rush era. Many of Skagway’s original buildings still stand and several of these have been painstakingly restored by the National Park Service.

Situated at the head of a scenic fjord, Skagway was a single homestead when the first steamship filled with prospectors heading to Canada’s Yukon pulled up to the dock in the summer of 1897. Saloons and brothels were quickly constructed and a boomtown was born. Soapy Smith and his gang of con men soon controlled the town’s activities and Superintendent Sam Steele of the Northwest Mounted Police called Skagway “the roughest place in the world.”

Grave of Soapy Smith at Gold Rush Cemetery in Skagway.

Jefferson Randolph Smith II (Soapy Smith) was born into a Georgia plantation family, which was financially ruined by the American Civil War. Soapy decided to make his mark on the world as a con artist, saloon proprietor, gambling house operator, gangster and crime boss. He eventually made his way to Alaska where he met his maker on the streets of Skagway. A cairn near the waterfront marks the spot where Soapy Smith was killed in a shoot-out and his grave is in the town’s Gold Rush Cemetery.

Friedrich Trumpf had better luck than Soapy Smith. He left the Yukon with a small fortune in his pocket (about half a million in today’s dollars) and died years later during the Spanish Flu Epidemic. His German widow and their eldest son, Fred, parlayed Friedrich’s New York real estate holdings into the business empire ruled today by Fred’s son, Donald Trump.

The year of the selfie stick?

Anne is asked to take a picture with a selfie stick.

Looking back on 2015, it could be dubbed the year of the selfie stick. At least that was the buzz at a bridal shower I attended just before embarking on a summertime trip to Europe. Those metal rods designed to hold smartphones had become so ubiquitous they were being banned at some public venues, such as museums. But from what I observed this hadn’t dampened the zeal of street vendors selling selfie sticks in the busy tourist centres of Italy. Most visitors seemed to resist buying one of these telescopic extenders and those who wanted to widen the view of their self-portraits simply asked a bystander to take their picture. And that bystander was often me. I would nod yes to this request, and then a smartphone would be placed in my hand.

I should mention that I walk around with a single-lens reflex camera slung around my neck. It’s a digital camera, but it is not a phone. I don’t even own a smartphone. So “why me?” I kept wondering as I stared at the unfamiliar object I was now being asked to take a picture with. “Just tap it here,” the phone-owner would say before stepping back to pose beside his beaming girlfriend and wait for me to take a photo.

One morning at dawn my husband and I, who were waking early due to jet lag, decided to walk the streets of Venice while they were quiet and the air was cool. Few others were up yet, just the occasional jogger, as we strolled alongside the canals and across stone footbridges. Then we came upon a small group of early risers who were admiring the famous view at the entrance to the Grand Canal. As Bill and I approached, they asked me if I would take a picture of them. And so began my European vacation, taking photos of complete strangers on their smartphones.

In Rome when I was taking a picture of a young couple in Piazza Navona, the guy thought I had too much foreground in the photo when he checked the image on his phone and not enough of the baroque fountain they were standing in front of. So I took the photo again, and again he wasn’t completely happy with the result. By this time his girlfriend was laughing and I decided it was time to slowly back away and rejoin my waiting family.

While lunching at the Pitti Palace’s courtyard café in Florence, where we watched some brazen pigeons knock a wine glass off a table, I remarked to my husband and two teenage sons that although nearly everyone seemed to be taking selfies with their phones, I hadn’t seen too many people with selfie sticks. A half hour later, as we strolled though the Boboli Gardens, I was not only taking a picture of a couple on their smartphone, but holding it with the selfie stick it was mounted on. My husband was amused by all of this and would take photos of me taking photos of other people. But I actually didn’t mind. The fellow tourists who approached me were always polite and smiling and thanked me for taking their picture.

I can appreciate the appeal of taking selfies. My sons were doing it and they got some good spontaneous shots of themselves in front of famous landmarks. As long as it doesn’t become obsessive, let the selfie seekers have their fun. The one tourist trend that did bother me was seeing a beautiful bridge in Paris covered in “love locks.” What happened to the old adage of take only pictures, leave only footprints.