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Cruising “The British Isles” – 2019

Eiffel Tower
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our recent Celebrity Cruise was entitled “The British Isles.” So why did I lead with the Eiffel Tower? The cruise “title” is mostly accurate. One would generally think of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and perhaps a couple smaller islands as the British Isles. Our cruise included ports of call in LaHavre, France, Bruges, Belgium, and Amsterdam, Netherlands. But who is complaining? 🙂 . As I often do, I made several hundred images over a 2 1/2 week period. In coming weeks, I will give a more detailed accounting of each of the many new places we visited. Today, I wanted to give just an overview of what a huge territory, and vast subjects we covered.

Dublin Port
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

I have mentioned a few times here, that my wife and I like to cruise. When we can find like minded companions, that just makes it all the more fun. There were 4 of us this time, and I am pretty sure I can vouch that we all enjoyed our time in Europe. When we go to a new destination, we like to arrive in the departing port city a few days ahead, to explore, enjoy, and get to know the city. Though my wife and I had been to Dublin before, we found many new things to see and do during  our 4 days there.

Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

When we were in Ireland back in 2014, we made a very brief trip into Northern Ireland, to see the Church where King Brian Boru was buried. This time we had a full (very full) day from our port of call in Belfast. Our driver and guide, Mark, was as good as we have ever had, and he had some surprises in store for us. As an “outdoor” photographer, I love a pretty scenic image. Northern Ireland did not disappoint. Indeed, as I have been processing images, it is “sneaking up on me,” that Northern Ireland may have been my favorite stop of this trip. I would definitely return and explore further, if given the opportunity.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The following day, we arrived in Liverpool, England, across the Irish Sea. We were scheduled for a Beatles Tour (what else would one do in Liverpool? – well; stay tuned, it turns out: a lot). For my Michigan friends, my quick research lead me to (wrongfully) conclude that Liverpool would be like Flint (maybe we need to organize a Grand Funk Railroad tour in Flint?) :-). Look for my upcoming post on Liverpool. It was eye-opening for me.

Cobh, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Next, we were back across the Irish Sea, and in the south of Ireland, at the tiny, but beautiful little port of Cobh. Cobh possibly rivals Northern Ireland in my view, for photographic potential. I made some nice images there, though at least one of them was one of those (perhaps hackneyed) “must do” shots that has already been done thousands of times. Known locally as “The Deck of Cards,” maybe I was able to make a unique “take” on the famous row of houses with the cathedral in the background. I will let you be the judge: again, in the weeks ahead. We overnighted in Cobh, and spent a day there, and a day touring Blarney Castle (site of the famed, “Blarney Stone”), and Cork City.

St. Pancras Train Station
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

By then, we had spent most of 8 days on our feet. Blessedly, the following day was an “at sea” day. It allowed for some much needed “R&R.” After our day of rest, we arrived in the British port of Dover. For reasons I will expound on when I get to Dover and London, a few weeks out, I might have planned this stop a little differently. But we took the train to London and had a day-long “Black Taxi” tour of London.

Champs – E’lysees
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our next port of call was LeHavre, France. We again overnighted there (this was unprecedented for my wife and me – two full overnight stops). We took advantage of an early arrival and a late departure 2 days later, and again rode the train to Paris, where we stayed overnight. A huge city, we spent 2 very full days there. That barely scratches the surface, but we saw a lot during our time there and I thought it was not only very worthwhile, but one of the highlights of the cruise. I will note in upcoming blogs, that both London and Paris really need multiple-day visits to do them justice. Unless a cruise ends or originates there, it probably they don’t really lend themselves to cruising.

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Again, not really the “British Isles,” we ended our cruise with stops in Bruges, and Amsterdam. Known for its beer and chocolate, I sampled a little of both in Bruges. It is an impressive, historical, and very small city, which was well worth the visit. In Amsterdam, we rode the canals, did the obligatory walk through the “red light” and “cannabis” districts, and generally saw some impressive sites. Amsterdam is, again, a massive city. We only got a little taste of the more touristic (as they say in Europe) parts of the city.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In the end, we were exhausted, but the trip served up many new places, and added to our list of places to explore in more detail in the years to come. The only “gear” I carried was the Sony small camera (RX100iv) and my small tripod (which did not see any use). On cruises, it is rare to be on location in early morning, late afternoon, or at night. The only possible “night” shot might have been the Eiffel Tower, but the timing and place were just wrong. If I were to make a longer stay, land based trip, I might rethink the gear. I love the lightness and portability of the small camera. But I find myself missing the versatility of the DSLR on some occasions. The coming weeks will cover each of the above – with images – in more detail.

Bumpy Rhodes

Bumpy Rhodes
Rhodes, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

I was “mia” once again last week.  I took an unscheduled trip to Vermont to attend the memorial service of a dear friend, mentor, and second father to me.  New England’s fall colors were essentially done, by then, but it wasn’t a photo trip anyway.

Rhodes Harbor
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Bumpy Rhodes.”  Why that name?  Not knowing much about the island, we discovered a tour called “Bumpy Rhodes.”  The guides ran a couple old converted all terrain military vehicles all over the island, on many of its gravel back roads.  Some of them were military and some were park roads, but the guides had contracted for access.  Some of the places we went would not have been passable without this vehicle.

Mountain Top View
Rhodes, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Our Mediterranean cruise was, as noted earlier, denominated a “Greek Isles Cruise.”  With Malta and Mykonos, we were now right in the middle of the heart of the cruise.  Our next stop was the Greek Isle of Rhodes.  Rhodes seemed to me to be essentially rural and much of its terrain, rugged.  Honey bee hives were strategically placed all over the island, and we saw olive farms everywhere we went.

Lyndos
Rhodes, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

There were some areas in that were more populated, and tended to be resort type areas, with nice hillside homes, and pretty beaches.

Lyndos
Rhodes, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

Our guide, George, told us that numerous celebrities have from time to time made Rhodes a vacation destination, including Anthony Quinn (who has a beach named after him) and  Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, who owned a mansion there.

Anthony Quinn Bay
Rhodes, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

On our way back to the ship, George stopped for a view which is a favorite of mine and asked me to make a panoramic image.  Now I just need to get his information and send it to him 🙂

Mediterranean Panoramic
Rhodes, Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

All in all, we enjoyed our day on Rhodes, but I had been looking forward to our next stop for months.  Next up: Santorini

Old City of Rhodes
Greece
Copyright Andy Richards 2017

 

It’s Going to Get Better!

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of “Venice” in my view
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Wow.  Here I am, yet again, apologizing for a rather long hiatus from writing.  It has been a very full summer, with lots of business and personal activity, and some travel (none of it photo-related).  So I have let the blog languish.  It will be another couple weeks before much additional activity, but I think that is a good thing.  🙂

The ubiquitous black gondola (shown here with the also common blue cover) is a favorite subject of photographers
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Next week, we leave for another Mediterranean adventure.  This time, we will spend several days in Venice, and then board our cruise ship in Civitavecchia (Rome) for a tour of Sicily, several Greek Isles, and Italy’s Amalfi Coast.

Beach Resort
Amalfi, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

It goes without saying that I will be toting the camera, and expect to come back with some new material for the blog!  So, I will see you in September.

Restaurant; Mykonos, Greece
Copyright 2013; Andy Richards

2014 Caribbean Cruise – Part 2

Rainbow in the Caribbean Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Rainbow in the Caribbean
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our next 2 stops were Dominica and Grenada. At the risk of offending the residents of those two fine islands, what I have learned over the years is that these Caribbean islands have a bit of “sameness” to them. They all seem to have some mountain terrain and all have beautiful, sandy, white beaches. The people seem genuinely friendly and industrious, but they have certainly bought into the tourist economy.  In this part of the world, warm sunshine, unexpected but light, rain showers and spectacular skies are common.  And, same or not, what can be wrong with seven days of 80 degree sunshine, Caribbean water and beaches and great food and drink?

Dock From the Cruise Ship Deck; Dominica Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Dock From the Cruise Ship Deck; Dominica
Copyright 2014 Andy
Richards

The high vantage point of the modern cruise ship deck give a “birds-eye” view of these islands and is a viewpoint that one might not otherwise have to shoot island images.

Downtown St. George's, Grenada Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Downtown St. George’s, Grenada
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

A downside of cruising is the very brief glimpses you get of each stop. I am pretty certain that the best way to “see” these islands would be to spend some time there, with some local knowledge. While we were in Dominica, we did not venture far from the docks. We walked around the small downtown of Roseau, and eventually landed at a wharfside bar for one of the local beers. In Grenada, some of our group took a tour. Again, we didn’t venture far from the port.

Bar in Dominica Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Bar in Dominica
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

One thing, however, that all of the islands of the Caribbean have, is color. It seems to be everywhere, and it draws the eye.

Tug Boat in Caribbean Waters Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Tug Boat in Caribbean Waters
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Bar in the Caribbean Copyright 2014  Andy Richards

Bar in the Caribbean
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Caribbean Cruise 2014

Celebrity Summit St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Celebrity Summit
St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our cruise in February was the third, consecutive year we have spent a week aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean. There is nothing like the warm, Caribbean sun, some good food and drink, clear water and sandy beaches, to thaw out from the cold, hard winters of Northern Michigan. And this has been a winter like none that I can remember – relentlessly cold and snowy.

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

So, this year, we embarked on what promises to be an annual event; this year from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to venture into the Southern Caribbean. Last year, our ship docked in San Juan Harbor, during on its way to our Eastern Caribbean ports of call. St. Kitts was as far South as we were to venture. But our short afternoon in San Juan yielded beautiful lighting and the old Fort of San Cristobal – a short walk from the ship – made for some very photogenic scenery. Our plane landed in the San Juan Airport at 2:30 in the afternoon, and our ship, The Celebrity Summit, was not scheduled to depart until later in the evening. Based on last year’s visit, we were naturally looking forward to walking the downtown, perhaps revisiting the Fort, and taking in some of the local food and drink.

Building on Main Street St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Building on Main Street
St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

To our disappointment, the Cruise Terminal for cruises originating in San Juan is nowhere near the downtown harbor. There did not appear to be a good way to go from the Terminal to that area, so we were really unable to enjoy any of San Juan on this trip. We have booked a cruise that is pretty similar to the 2013 cruise on the same ship (The Celebrity Reflection) for February, 2015, which has a stop in San Juan. Hopefully, we will get to see more of this beautiful territory in 2015!

St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

This cruise had 5 Caribbean island stops – the most we have seen (2 more than our 2015 planned cruise). Each of these islands has its own history and cache. But to an extent, all of these islands have a “sameness” to them. Perhaps sadly, they are all very dependent upon the tourist/cruise economy. This is evident as you disembark the ship for each island to find the same tents with t-shirts, trinkets, and “island” clothing. It is common to be approached as you leave the visitor center and “sold” on a “tour” of the island or the city. All of them have the beautiful turquoise Caribbean ocean and white sandy beaches. All of them have cold beer and seafood. The people are friendly and industrious, but the standard of living appears to be lower than we are used to here in the United States. Automobiles are common, but living quarters are small and often “run down,” at least by U.S. “suburban” standards.

Beach with fort in foreground St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Beach with fort in foreground
St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Our first stop was St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of all the islands we visited, this one seemed the least “touristy.” I have read, and heard, that it has long been one of the favorites as a long-term vacation destination. We did not see any evidence of high-end tourist accommodations, though, where we landed. We saw more of a “local,” island living flavor here than any other place we stopped.
A highlight, ironically, for me, was the local cemetery. It was a surprisingly colorful and photogenic place. There were also several large churches. St. Croix might be a place to visit with either a seasoned, occupant or a guided tour.

One thing, however, that all of the islands of the Caribbean have, is color. It seems to be everywhere, and it draws the eye.

Cemetary; St. Croix; USVI Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

Cemetary; St. Croix; USVI
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The Rear View Mirror; 2013 In Review

Gulfport, Florida Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Gulfport, Florida
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

I think my first New Year’s Resolution was not to do a “year in review” piece here (the second was not to do New Year’s resolutions – they never get fulfilled anyway 🙂 ). 2013 was such an enormous year for us that I couldn’t help myself. I am a bit late here as we start the second week of 2014 already. I spent my Christmas/New Year holiday in our home in Florida, and I have not set myself up to blog from there yet. I can write and post, but my image library is not in the cloud (yet).

But I digress (which was probably a resolution some past year – not to). As noted, 2013 was a big year for us—perhaps the biggest since I graduated from Law School and moved here to Saginaw, Michigan.

O’brien Estate Wine Cruise

Some time in 2012, we had planned and booked a 2 week Mediterranean Cruise, and some extra days in Europe. One would have thought that was enough to bite off in one year. But late in the summer, we received an invitation to join the O’brien Estates Winery from Napa, California on its “first” Caribbean Wine Cruise on Celebrity Cruise Line (we had joined the “allotment club” when we visited the O’brien Estate Vineyard on our October trip to San Francisco in 2011). The package looked like a good deal and we were always interested in a warm weather trip during our dreary SADD inducing winters here in Michigan. For about the same cost as we had cruised a year earlier on Princess Lines, with about the same accommodations, we also participated in some extras, including 5 events involving O’brien Estates wine as part of the package, a tour of the ship kitchen, and wine cellar. The O’brien wines, by the way, are really, really good!  So we signed up.

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Our Cruise Ship from the Fort San Cristobal; Old San Juan
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

This was a first of a kind adventure for us, as we have never really traveled in a situation where we knew absolutely nobody. Somehow, we survived the ordeal, and in the process made some great new friends, Lou and Penny and John and Agata. We spent a fair amount of time together during the cruise, and have stayed in regular touch since. They are really great folks and we had more fun than we were entitled to.

We also had a chance to get to know Bart and Barb O’brien, owners of the O’brien Estate, on a more personal basis. This would lead to another fun and notable event in our 2013. Stay tuned. They also announced yet another O’brien Estate event in 2014, for which we readily signed up – a tour of Ireland.

On the cruise, we toured the Fort in San Juan, saw some of the old sugar plantations on St. Kitts, and watched airplanes land so close we could nearly touch them on St. Maarten. My biggest regret from this cruise was not enough time to set up and photograph one of the landing planes. One more reason to return to St. Maarten.

Sometimes things happen faster than you plan

Tampa/Palm Harbor

About 2 years ago, my brother in law, who we are close to and spend a lot of our leisure time with, moved to the Tampa Bay area. We visited him a couple times and it soon became evident that he was going to put down some serious “roots” there. We have speculated that it would be nice to be closer, and we have always planned to retire to a warm weather climate. Sometimes things happen faster than you plan. We started looking at homes in the vicinity of Clearwater, Florida (for the geographically challenged, just Northwest of Tampa). We liked the homes and the neighborhood up there. We made a couple trips specifically to spend time with our wonderful realtor, Julie, and, on Memorial Day weekend (in what may be the most impulsive – yet not so much, as my wife did a ton of “homework” first – thing we have done during our 30 years together), we made an offer on a house in the little community of Palm Harbor. Our offer was accepted and we suddenly found ourselves a 2 home family, for the first time in our marriage. We are thoroughly enjoying it and spent the first of what we expect will be many, Thanksgivings and Christmases there this year. It has been a big, but positive, change for us.  (Julie, our realtor, by the way, is really good at what she does!)

Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

O’brien Estate – Reprise

Aonair_winery

Aonair Winery; Napa, California
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

O‘brien Estate hosts several events during the year, including its annual “Date Night at the Drive-in” in July of each year. Via text and e-mail, Lou and I began “spitballing” about going out for it. It developed into a plan and in late July, we again joined Lou, Penny, John and Agata, for a 3-day visit to Napa, which included a cookout with Bart and Barb, and two days of wine tasting in Napa and Sonoma, culminating in the Date Night event. We had a great time and will have many good memories of this trip.

My daughter lives in San Francisco, and we were able to “bookend” our visit, spending time with her. On our last day, she took us to the St. George Spirits distillery in Oakland, California, where we learned a lot about the making of vodka, gin, liquors, and even some bourbon blending. Of course, there was some tasting that went along with it. It was a fun afternoon, with a little side-trip to Yerba Buena Island, halfway across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, between Oakland and SF. Unfortunately, it was a blustery, dark day and photography wasn’t at its best.

St. George Spirits copyright 2013  Andy Richards

St. George Spirits
copyright 2013 Andy Richards

The “trip of a lifetime” happened in September

A Mediterranean Adventure

After much planning and anticipation, the “trip of the lifetime” finally arrived in late September. Passports in hand and luggage dangerously close to the maximum weight, we left Saginaw to fly to Paris and then Venice, via Detroit (yes, Detroit has an airport, even though they don’t have a football team). I had never done a transatlantic flight before. We had tight accommodations, and I wonder if the number of times the flight attendant call bell rang, just as I was finally dozing, approached several thousand! But we made it and even made the change at DeGaule, and eventually, landed at our home for 4 days, on the Venetian mainland.

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of "Venice" in my view Copyright 2013  Andy Richards

Light and color make this gondola image the quintessential rendering of “Venice” in my view
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

GONDOLAS Venice, Italy 091320130006

Gondolas, Venice, Italy
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

We were directly across the street from the Mestre Train Station and the ride to the Island and the Ferrovia Train Station was one stop, 10 minutes, and about $1.20. We spent a lot of time walking on the Island of Venice, with trips to Murano to see the glass factories and Burano, to see the pretty pastel structures along the canals, and to buy some of their world-famous lace.

The primary reason for this trip was a planned 2-week Mediterranean Cruise on the Princess Cruise Lines Flagship; The Royal Princess. We once again made some new friends, Scott and Pam. We met them first for dinner on Venice, where we had a nice time getting to know each other. Later, we had a couple of tours together and finally, shared a cab for two days after the ship breakdown, enjoying the Almalfi Coast and an afternoon in Rome together. They were great companions, with a lively sense of humor and we immensely enjoyed the time we spent with them.

Temple Erechtheion; Acropolis; Athens, Greece Copyright  2013  Andy Richards

Temple Erechtheion; Acropolis; Athens, Greece
Copyright 2013 Andy Richards

They say “it doesn’t get any better than this.” I’ll bet it does!

If you have read the past several blogs, you know that I am in the process of chronicling this cruise and will get back to that in the coming weeks, covering Ephesus, Istanbul, Mykonos, the Amalfi Coast and our brief time in Rome.

We finished up our year with a partial move to Palm Harbor, and celebration of the holidays there, with our children both joining us for Christmas. There is an old commercial that says: “it doesn’t get any better than this.” I’ll bet it does. 2013 was a great year for us, but we look forward to even better things to come, spending more leisure time and travel together, and – hopefully, more of it with friends and family. 2014 looks to be an exciting year for us, too.

Regular readers here may not that there has been a hiatus in posts, which I try to make weekly. During the winter months, I expect to spend at least one weekend a month in Florida and (as noted above) am not yet set up to effectively blog from there. So, though I will try, I will probably be doing only about 3 blogs a month. But hopefully, a planned Mediterranean Cruise in February and the Ireland Trip later in the spring will provide some additional interesting photo opportunities and narrative. I haven’t yet had the opportunity to take advantage of all that Florida has to offer. So I look forward to presenting some Gulf Coast images in the future.

I wish everyone who reads hear a happy and prosperous 2014 (albeit belated) and express my sincere gratitude to those who read, follow and occasionally comment and add to whatever I bring here! Best to all.