Somewhere In The World

Burano, Italy
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013]
Is this the Caribbean? Or is it the Mediterranean? 2013 was perhaps the most far-reaching travel year we have ever had. We started in the Caribbean in January. It was our first cruise where just the two of us went alone, to seek adventure. And it was our first cruise on what was to become our preferred cruise line, Celebrity. We made lifelong friends, and we saw parts of the world we had not been to.

In July, we spent a few days in San Francisco, visiting our daughter.

In September, we flew to Venice, where we spent several days, before embarking on our first Mediterranean cruise. Again, on our own. Seasoned now :-).

This is Burano, Italy, one of the islands in the Venice Archipelago. Venice is a place of magic and wonder for the world traveler and we have been back and will go back again. As I worked on this image, it struck me just how much it resembled some of the buildings in the Carribean.

Whiskey

Bushmills, Northern Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In June, 2019, we made our second trip (and certainly not our last) to Ireland. “The Emerald Isle,” as it is oft called, certainly lives up to its reputation. Everywhere outside the city, you are treated to beautiful, bucolic views of land, rock, water, and old buildings. And green. Lots of green.

Before our visit in 2014, I though eating and drinking in Ireland would perhaps be the low point of our trip. I had heard and read things that led me to believe that cuisine was not something you visited Ireland for. I expected beer, potatoes, and maybe stew, would be plentiful. Times have changed. The food is really good and there is plenty of variety.

It is hard not to identify Ireland with beer – expecially Guinness. I have not been a Guinness (indeed any porter, stout, or even IPA) fan. But I have to say that – out of the tap – in an Irish pub, the Guinness drinks very smoothly. I also have developed a limited taste for Murphy’s (Northern Ireland) and Smythwick’s. But only in Ireland.

It is hard not to identify Ireland with beer – especially Guinness

What I hadn’t considered, was the prevalence of Irish Whiskey. Sure, I had heard of Jameson’s and Bushmill’s. But I have always been a bourbon fan, and other whiskeys (including Irish and Canadian) seemed thin, and relatively tasteless to me. And Scotch was just too peaty. All of the above, of course, stems largely from the voice of ignorance. In 2014, we toured the Kilbeggan Distillery in Westmeath, Ireland. We did do some tasting, and while the tour was fascinating, I thought the Irish whiskey was again, “just o.k.” But “when in Rome ….,” right? So in various pubs, I sampled Paddy’s, Powers, Greenspot, and Redbreast. They are fun to “taste,” but I am still not “there” with a regular diet. Give me my bourbon.

Kilbeggan Distillery
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

In 2019, we arrived in a very different Ireland as far as spirits are concerned. Whiskey, of course, in the past 10 years, has enjoyed a huge re-birth of popularity, particularly among the younger folks. Tasting, and craft whiskeys have become all the rage, not just in the U.S., but throughout the world, as has “mixology,” and specialty cocktails. Ireland was no exception and we found more variety and abundance of – of all things – gin (my personal favorite and “go-to”), than anywhere else during our visit to Europe (which this time, included, England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands). To my disappointment, many really “yummy” (a technical term, of course) gins we tried are simply not available in the U.S.

The word whiskey comes from the Gaelic uisge (or uisge beatha meaning “water of life”)

I had always thought “whiskey” (or “whisky” as it is known in Scotland) had its “real” roots in Scotland. The Irish would disagree. Indeed, there was a form of alcohol distilling being done in ancient civilization, but it probably really did develop in Ireland and Scotland, right around the same time period. And it may have developed as much from necessity as any other reason. Like wine, it was in some cases, the only safe way to consume water (of course, we probably use that as an excuse, since if it can be distilled – a heating process – it probably could be boiled, also). Apparently, wine was not to be found in abundance in the early years in Ireland and Scotland, and whiskey took its place. Distilling techniques were brought to Ireland and Scotland sometime between 1100 and 1300 by monks, and was generally limited to apothecaries and monasteries until the late 15th century. Prior to that time, the process of distilling was used in ancient civilization not for consumption, but for perfumes and aromatics.

Pearse Lyons Irish Whiskey
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The word “whiskey” comes from the Gaelic uisge (or uisge beatha meaning “water of life”). also known as aqua vitae in Latin. Whiskey was originally used as a medicine for both internal anesthetic use and as an external antibiotic. The early distillation process yielded whisky wholly unlike what we have today. It was not allowed to age (essentially, by definition, “vodka”). We all have heard of “moonshine.” Contrary to some folks’ “everything important happened first in America” mentality, the term probably did not originate in our own deep south. In 1725, The English imposed the “Malt Tax of 1725,” the economic result of which was to shut down most of Scotland’s distillation. Scottish distillers, distilling whisky at night when the darkness hid the smoke from the stills, in their home made stills, were responsible for “moonshine.”

“Beer” prior to distilling
Pearse Lyons Distillery
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

During our trip in 2019, we visited, and tasted, in two Irish distilleries: Bushmills in Northern Ireland, and Pearse Lyons, in Dublin. In addition to tasting some very interesting – and fine whiskeys, we learned a bit about the process of whiskey-making. All distilled spirits start with a “beer,” made from some type of plant-based material. Whiskey is generally based on corn, wheat, barley or rye, or some blend. These grains may be “malted,” or not (malting is a kind of “pre-soak” process that allows the grain to sprout, releasing enzymes which aid in the sugar-production phase of the product).

Kilbeggan Distillery
Copyright 2014 Andy Richards

The second (and important, because it distinguishes the beverage from wine and beer) is the distilling process. This is done with a still. The stills for making whiskey are usually made of copper, which removes sulfur-based compounds from the alcohol that would make it unpleasant to drink. This process can be complex. For example, most Irish whiskey is distilled 3 before the aging process (in contrast, most Scotch whisky is distilled 2 times). Pearse Lyons is a very small operation. The distillery is housed in an old church. The interior was pristine – and beautiful (as can be seen by the stained-glass window behind the still).

Copper Pot Stills
Pearse Lyons Distillery
Dublin, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Aging, though, is what makes whiskey “whiskey.” Vodka is distilled until clear and reaches an alcoholic content of 95% by volume (generally diluted before bottling). It may also be charcoal filtered to remove color. Gin is basically vodka, which undergoes the addition step of infusion of “botanicals” (primarily juniper berries and often citrus or flowers of various plants) to impose its unique flavor. But whiskey is “whiskey,” primarily because it is aged.

Aging, is what makes whiskey “whiskey

In Ireland, whiskey must be aged not less than 3 years (usually it is more like 5 – 7 years). Most often it is aged in charred oak casks. However, in recent times, distillers have begun to experiment with casks previously used to age bourbon, or wines (often imported from the U.S.). This – in my mind – is where the proverbial “rubber meets the road.” I thought again, for the most part, that the “straight” Irish whiskeys were about the same as my observations back in 2014. But some of them aged in previously used casks picked up the syrupy, sweetness I appreciate so much in a good bourbon. I could drink some of them on a regular basis.

Bushmills Distillery
Bushmills, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We visited the Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland. Bushmills has the distinction of  being the oldest licensed (1608) whiskey distillery in the world. Bushmills, is named for a town located on the Bush River, in Northern Ireland. A couple weeks back, there was a photo with me on Facebook standing next to a $100 bottle of Bushmills Irish Whiskey at the distillery. It was very popular among my Facebook friends.

Unlike wines, whiskey does not mature in the bottle

Interestingly, though, the age of the bottle has nothing to do with the taste/quality of the whisky. Unlike wine, whiskey does not mature in the bottle. The “age” of a whiskey is determined only while it resided in the cask (though it still might have a value due to its rarity – I know they wouldn’t let me touch it J ).

100 – year-old Bushmills Bottle
Old Bushmills Distillery
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We also learned that single malt whisky is whisky from a single distillery made from a mash that uses only one particular malted grain. It may contain blends of whisky from many casks, and even from different different years. Blended malt whisky is a mixture of single malt whiskies from different distilleries.

Cask strength (also known as barrel proof) whiskies are rare, and usually only the very best whiskies are bottled in this way. They are bottled from the cask undiluted or only lightly diluted. Single cask (also known as single barrel) whiskies are bottled from an individual cask, and often the bottles are labelled with specific barrel and bottle numbers. The taste of these whiskies may vary substantially from cask to cask within a brand. Finally, that distinctive, smoky taste of Scotch whiskey comes from the way they roast the barley, using peat.

Ha’Penny Rhubarb Gin
Pearse Lyons Distillery
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Whiskey and demand, has begotten another “rage” in Europe now: Gin. Not only did we find whiskey distilleries throughout Ireland, but we found that many of them have begun distilling gin. And in other parts of Europe we were in, Gin was a huge part of the scene.

Traipsing around Dublin, one of the gins I really liked was called Ha’Penny Gin (taken from the pictured historic Ha’Penny pedestrian Bridge over the River Liffey). To my delight, we learned during our visit to the Pearse Lyons distillery, that this was their product. I tasted their Rhubarb infused pink gin and fell in love. Alas, it does not appear to be available in the U.S. If anyone finds it, I would love to have some in my bar.

2019; Another Gratifying Year

Pipers Meadow Pond
Palm Harbor, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

2019 was an eventful year. In March, I officially retired from my law practice in mid-Michigan, and moved – permanently – to Florida. In May, I became a grandfather, and we have had fun watching our grandson develop. I have done some brief exploration of the Gulf Coast from Sarasota and to the north. We took 2 cruises in Europe in June and again in September – October. In the middle of all of this, we took on a substantial home-remodel project, which has not been without its “bumps” in the road. 🙂 But I can say that we have been very fortunate to have our health, and the opportunity to enjoy our retired life, explore the world a little bit and spend time with friends and family. It has been a good year, and our fortunes are good.

It has been a good year

As 2019 comes to a close, as I have done in years past, this is a “year-in-review” post, with some photographic “highlights.” I put “highlights” in quotes because I am not saying that these are the “best” images from each spot, but I hope they evoke a sense of the places we have been this year.

“Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge”
St. Petersburg, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In early June, I traveled down to Anna Maria Island, just off shore from Bradenton, to see a friend who was attending a wedding of a mutual friend/client of ours. On the way down, I explored the fishing piers on both the north and south side of the Skyway Bridge (officially, “The Bob Graham Sunshine Skyway Bridge”), which crosses Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Bradenton on Interstate 75. The bridge is a pretty spectacular bit of architecture, and will be, I am sure, the subject of one or more detailed photographic studies in the future. I have already looked at some projected sunrises and sunsets during the winter months. I shot this image from the south fishing pier, in very cloudy, overcast conditions. I was able to coax a lot of color out of the raw image with the estimable power of photoshop.

Anclote Gulf Park Fishing Pier
Tarpon Springs, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Later in the week, I explored some of the parks along the Florida Gulf. Just north of Tarpon Springs, The Antclote Fishing Pier’s wooden structure makes a nice foreground for Florida’s ubiquitous Gulf Side Sunsets.

Fred Howard Park
Tarpon Springs, FL
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

South of Tarpon Springs just a bit, is the Fred Howard County Park. It is a large expanse, which deserves a bit of exporation, to see the variations on directional lighting and color of sunlight. This image was also shot in early June. There is a lot to explore here in Florida. I have made a pledge to myself that once our remodel project is completed, I will get out with my gear and do some serious traveling and shooting around northwest Florida.

Northern Ireland Coast
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Later in June we took a 2 week trip and cruise to “The British Isles.” Some of it – notably London and Paris – were kind of a whirlwind “taste” of what is there to see (we already have a 3 day trip – pre-cruise – to London in 2020 in which we will see the city much more in-depth). We did have some great quality time in other places. We spent several days in Ireland and it comes by its “Emerald Isle” moniker naturally. It may be the most photogenic place on earth! We were particulary impressed by the scenery in Northern Ireland, but the south was not be be left out. The view of the countryside, as we entered the Cobh harbor is idyllic.

Cobh, Ireland
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We spent a day in Liverpool, and that may have been the biggest surprise to us about England. It is a grand city, with lots to do and see, including its imposing architecture. And aside, of course, from The Beatles, there is a lot more to the city’s history. But of course, it is difficult to overshadow London in terms of photographic grist. So while I made a number of nice and personally memorable images while in Liverpool, it is an iconic London image that I will show here, the famous “Tower Bridge.” Often mistakenly referred to as “London Bridge,” this structure is a definite draw to photographers (at least those of us fascinated by bridges). Our tour did not get us the normal iconic shots of the bridge, nor the oft-made nighttime images (though I certainly will try to get them in 2020 when we return). We did make a very brief side stop below the bridge and as I illustrated in October entry, “Its All In Your Perspective,” I was able to make a pretty decent image after some serious manipulation in Photoshop.

Tower Bridge
London, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We spent and overnight in Paris, and again only learned that we really need to do a few days there to even begin to do it justice. I might have taken 100 shots of the Eiffel Tower. They can be seen here on prior blogs and on my LightCentric Photography Website. As I was reviewing my Paris images though, I was thinking about George Gershwin’s “An American In Paris,” and particularly the sounds mimicking the fast-paced traffic and movement in the city, and this image seemed to invoke that music in my head.

Champs-Elysees
Paris, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Though we ended our trip in Amsterdam, perhaps the highlight of this part of Europe was not the Netherland, but Belgium. We spent a quiet day in Bruges, a medieval city with a lot of history. Even thought Amsterdam is known as a city of canals, the most impressive canals I have ever seen outside of Venice were here.

Bruges, Belgium
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

In spite of the the manifold canals here, the red light district, and the huge influence of canabis, the image below is the one that most conjures Amsterdam in my mind.

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Briefly recovering from this trip, my “tour planner” informed me that we were booked again, for another cruise in September; this time to Spain, France and Italy. We spent much of the time during the heat of the summer working with plans for our re-model, getting to know our grandson, and enjoying the (hot) summer sunshine of Florida. By the time September rolled around, we were ready for another trip.

This one was special. It was the first time my wife and I had cruised without traveling companions in a number of years (indeed, I think we have only done that a couple other times). But we knew from prior experience that we would meet others on the ship and this time we were certainly not disappointed. My friend know that I enjoy “the occasional” cigar. 🙂 . We have learned that on our preferred cruise line – Celebrity – there are a couple dedicated smoking areas on board, and that one is the primary “cigar smokers” area. It happens to be on the top rear deck of most of the ships, which is also a wonderful place to sit and watch a sunset and the sail-away from our ports. Even though they are not generally smokers, our significant others will often join us for drinks and the sunset. In this case we continually ran into several other “regulars” to that smoking area and became friends with two couples from Manchester, England, some folks from London, and a couple from Australia. We ended up dining with one couple from Manchester a few nights, and joining both of them on shore for the final day’s excursion. We also joined a couple small group tours on shore and met a few other folks who we have exchanged information with. We have even talked of a trip to the Manchester area one day in the future.

Capri, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our first stop out of Rome was Naples. We have spent a fair amount of time in the Port of Naples, and had seen much of the vaunted scenery, like Sorrento and The Amalfi Coast a couple times. So we bought tickets to the ferry to the Isle of Capri, with no particular agenda in mind. I later learned of some “iconic” places in Capri, but did not know about them while we were there, so I just shot what I saw, looking for images that “spoke to me.” I had thought of Capri as this beautiful Mediterranean Island, with expensive restaurants and shops – playground of the rich and famous. It was all of that. But there was also many quiet places that were clearly private, residental, and spectacular. This image was made in mid-day in some very difficult lighting conditions and does not represent my technically best work. But it does bring memories of a very enjoyable and peaceful visit to this Mediterranean Island.

Monastery; Valldemossa, Mallorca
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

The following day we stopped in Mallorca, Spain.  We knew nothing about this place previously, and joined a small group tour. Like so much of Europe, there is a lot of history here. in common with the many other Mediterranean locations, its mild climate and accessible seaports make it a popular location. Part of our tour took us to the small, mountain community of Valldemossa, where we toured a beautiful old monastery. This was a day of “small spaces” images and there were some really nice ones.

Port of Barcelona
Barcelona, Spain
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We returned to Barcelona (where we had spent several days in 2015), for an overnight stop. We spent time in Park Guell and a small group history and tapas tour of the old gothic city center. Barcelona is one of those places you want to return to again and again. Because of our overnight, I was able to get a nighttime shot of the harbor, as well as a couple nice sunrise shots out over the Mediterranean.

Montserrat
Barcelona, Spain
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Because of the overnight, we were able to take a day trip north from Barcelona to Montserrat, an Abby in the mountainous region on the northern boundary of Catalonia. It had great historic importance, is an incredible site with commanding views in every direction from the summit. As the image illustrates, the Abby complex is impressive. We look forward to our next visit to Barcelona!

Promenade des Anglais
Nice, France
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our next stop was Monte Carlo, Monaco. From the port, we traveled with a small group tour, to Nice, France before returning and spending the balance of the day in Monaco. Nice’s old city is another beautiful, historic European town, with narrow streets and impressive architecture, as well as lots of outdoor spaces. The center is an outdoor market that was very charming. I made some nice images. But during our entire time in Nice, I kept thinking about the 2014 terrorist attack when a large truck was driven onto the main seaside promenade, killing many people and injuring others. Not a remarkable image, the shot here was taken as much as anything, to remind me of this senseless action.

Monaco
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Lots of interesting material in Monaco. So I chose the shot from above, showing the entire Principality of Monaco, just to illustrate how small it is. As a sovereign nation, it is larger, only than the Vatican. It is an image that, in other places, might only be the main downtown portion of a single city! We enjoyed our time there as much as anywhere. As it turned out, it was our next-to-last stop.

Port of La Spezia
La Spezia, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

We were scheduled to stop at Santa Margerita Ligure and Portofino, but rough seas prevented us from anchoring and tendering in and there is no deep water port along which we could dock pierside, so we unfortunately skipped the stop. We will have to look for another cruise or trip that gets us there, as we were really looking forward to exploring. This turned our next stop into an unexpected overnight, again affording me the chance for a nighttime shot of a seaport. Since I don’t get much opportunity to do this – especially from the unique high perspective of the top deck of a cruise ship, this is one of my favorite images of this cruise.

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our final stop was La Spezia. I had really been keying for this one, as we planned to visit the picturesque and quintessential Italian Riviera site: Cinque Terre. Unfortunately, our weather deteriorated at this end of the cruise and although I was able to get some very nice shots of one of the towns between rain showers, it only gave us a desire to return one day soon.

Cinque Terre
Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Oh, and the opening image? That is the pond I get to look at from my Lanai every day. I was up early one morning and saw this color developing and was able to capture it. Wishing everyone a great 2020, as we look forward to more travel and exploration, and I look forward to making more pictures!

 

Cinque Terre

[Clicking on an image opens it in a new tab with a higher quality image and view. I encourage you to do that]

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

Cinque Terre. It translates roughly, to “Five Lands.” This area of the Ligurian Sea and part of the Italian Riviera is perhaps the most romantic in terms of its pull and charms. The pictures of the mountain/seaside villages are commonly found in travel brochures and literature. There are 5 small, villages built into the rugged coastline of the Mediterranean. They are connected by a railroad and by a hiking trail. There is also a highway way up above the villages. The best way to travel between them – for most of us, appears to be by railway. A day pass is relatively inexpensive and the stops are between 10 and 20 minutes apart. The stations are all right in the middle of the villages, making access easy. Cars are generally not allowed below the parking areas above each village.

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

Beginning on the northern part of Cinque Terre, the five villages are:  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Cinque Terre is a National Park and a UNESCO Heritage site. It gets a lot of travel, yet even with masses of people, there are vantage point which allow for some spectacular photography. The pastel colored buildings built into the mountain coastline create wonderful opportunities for photography in many different light conditions, including nighttime reflections, if you are there for the right conditions.

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

Unfortunately, the weather conditions during our trip here were in some ways the worst of the week. The skies were mainly cloudy, with showery and rainy conditions prevailing. The wind was fairly brisk much of the time. And as in so many other instances, we were here on a cruise with a planned one-day stop. So going in, I knew my oppurtunity was going to be daytime shots. As the following image shows, access to wonderful panoramic landscape shots are easily accessed, via a fenced walkway that goes out along the water, looking back at the village.

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

 

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

My research suggested that the most photogenic of the 5 villages were Manarola and Riomaggiore. Manarola is clearly the most photographed, and perhaps the most accessible. We were traveling that day with 2 other couples, and given the timing and the questionable weather, we decided to put all our effort into Manarola. We learned the railway system as we went. We learned that the best plan was to take a taxi to the railroad station and in the future, I will obtain the all-day pass. I would also like to plan a trip to stay over one or two nights. It would be possible to stay in La Spezia, but I would want to have a good idea of the railroad schedule, so not to miss the last train. Or plan to stay in one or more of the villages.

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
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If you are a hiker, I think it would be a wonderful trip to start at one end and hike between the villages. It would probably be possible to do it in about 3 days (maybe even less), but it would also depend on how much time you would want to take in each village. I had originally planned to do both Manarola and Riomaggiore, but circumstances made it so that did not happen. Given better weather and a better understanding of the geography, I would definitely strike out on my own (or with other photographers) and plan stops (perhaps multiple) in both of these villages.

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

As you can see, like almost any location I visit, in addition to the iconic shots, there are opportunities for close compostitions, as well as finding your own unique shots.

Manarola
Cinque Terre, Italy
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved

On occasion, I find one of my shots that I think would do nicely as a painting, or at least a canvas presentation. I think the Manarola shot fits that “bill.”

Perhaps fittingly, this is the penultimate Blog Entry for 2019, and ends the series of travel posts for 2019, with a lot of new places and travel. I expect 2020 will add even more new travel. In the meantime:

Merry Christmas !!