OTHER THAN St. Petersburg, this was the port I was most looking forward to. It was one of only a couple where we had actually booked a tour. With St. Petersburg out of the mix, Tallin was – in my mind – perhaps the “next best” photo opportunity with a “Russian” feel (though it would turn out that Helsinki also afforded some great and similar architecture opportunities). Unfortunately, there was a communications failure between us and the tour guide. We got off the ship and followed our way to Town Hall Square, and the designated meeting place, where we waited for nearly 45 minutes, before concluding the guide and any others in the group were not going to be there (we later learned that at the last minute they had sent us a text moving the meeting place). Unfortunately, I think we missed some pretty interesting stuff, and at least one viewpoint I had been seeking out. By ourselves, we just didn’t successfully find it.
you can easily see why it holds as much charm as it does in all the literature
BUT, KNOWING we were already in the center of things, I dredged up my research and we schlepped our way around to at least some of the major points of interest. We found the Russian Orthodox Cathedral and one of the (but not really the best one) viewpoints in the Upper Town. The Cathedral might be the coolest building I have ever photographed. Given its size and our close proximity, perspective was a significant challenge. As I may have mentioned here before, after our Lisbon trip, I decided to change up my lens lineup. I originally was using the Olympus M4/3 setup with just the “kit” 14-42mm (28-84 in 35mm equivalent) lens. Its greatest feature for me was its tiny size. Just 1 1/4″ long, it made the SLR style camera just nominally larger than my pocketable Sony RX100, with nearly identical range). But I have found times where I wanted two different things: wider and longer. I had picked up the 40-150mm lens prior to the Portugal trip to give me the “longer.” But I still missed the “wider,” especially in city and architectural settings. So, shortly after returning from Portugal, I acquired a 9-15mm lens. One of the goals, though for travel, was lightweight and simple. I was quickly moving away from this goal, with 3 different lenses. My next acquisition would be a different longer zoom: Olympus’ 14-150mm. This allows me to cover in 35mm equivalent, 18-300mm with just two lenses. Seemed like a workable compromise. The 14-150mm measures just 4″ long and about 2 1/4″ in diameter, and though heavier than the little pancake lens, is still imminently small, light and portable. And it is more versatile. The 8-15mm is 2 3/8″ long and just over 2″ in diameter (not significantly larger than the non-pancake “kit” zoom that often sells with that series of bodies). This setup fits comfortably in my carry bag for walking around during our travels (I have since used the 14-150 on another trip and photographed some wildlife. While some of it was from behind glass, even that which was not, at the longer end of the lens, shows it to be just mediocre where sharpness is concerned. But the compromise is still important to me, so the jury is still out on this lens).
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral might be the coolest building I have ever photographed
OF COURSE, as experienced photographers know, perspective becomes an issue with longer lenses. The built-in corrections in my post-processing software of choice, Adobe Photoshop CC, for Olympus lenses aren’t as good as they are for other lenses. So I do spend a fair amount of time using Photoshop’s perspective correction tools in post-processing. But by and large, I have been happy with these lens choices. As I have read others’ thoughts on the wide-angle issue, one approach I haven’t tried yet (I need to get out and experiment) is to use the medium length – like the 14-150, for example – and do overlapping shots, to be stitched together later in post. I am not sure that is practical with the pace we often move when on shore or on tours. But if it were to work out, it could shift me back to just one lens again (or 2). Time will tell on that one.
WE ALSO found the walking path between the walls of the 2 cities. In Medieval times, Talllinn was a major port in the Hanseatic League trading routes. At one point Tallinn was divided into an upper town and a lower town and the inhabitants didn’t necessarily get along, which is why there were separate walls around the two cities.
ALKING DOWN Pikk Street, we also found our way to St. Olaf’s Cathedral. St. Olaf’s was known to house the Russian KGB “signal jamming” antennae used to jam Estonian signals in its effort to stop anything that went against their iron rule – and propaganda. The Estonians have, and historically had, a lot in common with the Finns, including some shared language, architecture and religious leanings. Tallin is a favorite “long-weekend” destinations for the Finnish people, and there are some very active ferries running back and forth from Helsinki (as well as from Stockholm, Sweden).
. . . and the old KGB building.
TALLIN’s STREETS were perhaps the roughest and most uneven cobblestone we have seen in our recent travels. You really had to watch your footing. There were also some hills. But all in all, you can easily see why it holds as much charm as it does in all the literature.
IONLY wish that we would have had the benefit of what I know is rich and interesting history here, from an organized tour.
IF THE opportunity arises to return to Tallinn, we will work very hard to get a proper tour scheduled. In the meantime, our self-guided tour basically over, we headed back to the ship. The next scheduled stop was overnight at Stockholm, Sweden.
[I am back. 🙂 Just over two weeks across the world to South Africa, a new place for us, with new adventures. But there is still so much to catch up on from 2022, including the rest of the Baltic and another trip to the Mediterranean. In the meantime, I am processing the images from the South Africa trip. Stay tuned] . . . .
HELSINKI IS a weirdly modern city (though my photographs won’t show it), with some very classic underpinnings. Originally part of Sweden, the country is essentially bi-lingual (Finnish and Swedish) and even has dual-language street signage (though the Swedish are still a minority of the Finnish population). In 1809, Russia occupied Finland, and under Russian rule, The Grand Duchy of Finland was created. While Helsinki became modernized and industrialized, most of the rest of Finland remained poor and undeveloped. In the 1900’s many of its rural occupants actually emigrated to the U.S. (primarily Minnesota, but there were also sizeable settlements in Michigan’s western upper peninsula). In 1917, Finland won its independence from Russia, and prospered (more or less) as their own nation for the next 20-plus years. The secret “Nazi – Soviet Union Pact” of 1939 “assigned” Finland (along with other Baltic nations – notably Estonia) to the Soviet Union. They invaded Finland in 1939, but were repelled, largely by white clad, Finnish ski troops. Known as “The Winter War,” it insured that Finland remained independent over the next 5 years, but by 1944, the Soviets wore them down and the two agreed to a ceasefire, which left Finland, though they remained a sovereign nation, heavily under Soviet influence. As “reparations,” Finland agreed to cede parts of eastern Finland and Lapland to the Soviets. This rather precarious detente left Finland in the position of “friendly” neutrality toward the Soviet Union, while at the same time, trying to participate in the strong economy of the west.
Helsinki is the only European Capitol with no Medieval past
HISTORICALLY, FINLAND and Sweden have maintained very close cultural ties. You can see a lot of the same kinds of developments (architecture, electronics and tech, for example). The languages are similar. Their religious and governmental institutions are similar. Indeed, there is robust travel between the two cities of Stockholm and Helsinki, largely by boat. Not less than three cruise line companies maintain an overnight “cruise/ferry” shuttle between the two ports. The ferries resemble small cruise ships, replete with staterooms, dining, bars and “nightlife.” It is a popular vacation gambit to take one of these overnight cruises. We saw the ships in the center city port near market square, and several times later in the week during our passage in and out of Stockholm.
THE “COLLAPSE” of the Soviet Union had mixed results. The Soviets were responsible for a substantial portion of Finland’s trade, and that had a depressive effect for a few years. But during the Cold War era, Finland had become known for its modern design, and had grown its timber and paper industries, which resulted in broader, worldwide trade. Eventually, Finland bounced back. One of the notable industries that grew in Finland was its electronics industry (most notably, the one-time telecommunications and cell-phone giant). But maybe the important of developments for the photographer happened during the Russian occupancy. Rick Steves, in one of his books, notes that Helsinki is the only European Capitol with no Medieval past. This is because it remained only a small, rural village during Medieval times. There isn’t any “old city,” like you find in so many other European cities. It wasn’t until 1809 that the Russians decided to move the capital of Finland from Turku to Helsinki (according to some historians, so it would be closer to St. Petersburg). In 1955 Russian Czar Alexander II (who also held the title of Grand Duke of Finland) had a strong affection for Helsinki, and the Russians commissioned German architect, Carl Ludvig to design and construct new public buildings around the area of Senate Square and Market Square. Largely patterned after St. Petersburg, the buildings have a strong Russian “look” to them, with Neoclassical influence . In fact, the area is so reminiscent of Russia, that (during the Cold War and restrictions associated with it) significant parts of the movies Dr. Zhivago and Gorky Park were filmed in Helsinki. Not one to shy away from self-aggrandizement, the statute dedicated to the Czar (who admittedly did a lot for Helsinki) is in the center of Senate Square.
THIS AREA of Helsinki, particularly Senate Square, was in my sights. This particular cruise, coming off of the pandemic, not being our first choice, and being still somewhat up in the air, meant is was one of the least “planned” of any of our cruises. Consequently, we did not have a guide or excursion booked for Helsinki. I had read (primarily from Rick Steve’s book), that Helsinki was one of those cities you could do a self-guided tour in.
HELSINKI HAS a nice tram system that is reputed to hit most of the main spots. We did not use it but opted for one of the ubiquitous “Hop on – Hop off” buses. As a cruise stop, one of the strong negatives of Helsinki (at least in our view) was that the major cruise ships dock quite far away from the city. The way in is either by the shuttle bus offered by the cruise line (for an out-of-pocket charge), or in this case, the Hop On – Hop Off buses, which made the cruise port (just steps from the ship) one of their stops. It seemed to make sense to us to just pay the one fee, rather than pay for the shuttle (which it turns out, dropped off and picked up right at Senate Square – good information for another trip) and the Hop On – Hop Off, once we arrived in the center city.
I FORESHADOWED in an earlier post, that you would “meet” our new friends, Mike and Elaine. The night before we boarded the ship in Amsterdam, after a fairly long day on our feet, we decided to eat dinner in the Movenpick Hotel restaurant, rather than head back out into the city. We were seated next to a couple, who it turned out, were also boarding our ship the next day. They were from near Buffalo, New York and had done a few cruises before. We had a cordial conversation and agreed we would seek each other out on the ship. Being “at sea” for the first day, we did run into them and got to know them better. Mike has a lively sense of humor, and both are fun to be around. We ultimately spent a fair amount of time with them both on board, and we shared a couple on shore excursions. This day, neither of us had a “plan” so we agreed to meet on shore and take the Hop on – Hop off together. We enjoyed each other’s company enough that we decided to “join” them on the Celebrity Constellation this coming February in the Caribbean. We also met some other fun friends on board. We always seem to make new friends on cruises.
THE HOP on – Hop off buses are a bit of an enigma to me. I am not sure what the business model is, but maybe some kind of franchise? We have had quite mixed results. In Dublin, Barcelona, London, and Paris, we thought they were quite good. They stopped or got very close to most of the sought-after (by us) places, gave us a great “lay of the land,” and ruled out sites we had not made up our minds about. Other places, they were not so good. The worst we ever did was in Malta. While I am sure that are a lot of great things to do in Malta, I would definitely not recommend the Hop on – Hop off as one of them. 😦 Helsinki wasn’t great, either. The problem with Helsinki was that while it passed by most of the prime sights of the city, it never really got close enough for a good look. You would have had to get off at virtually every stop to scout it and see if it was even worthwhile. We rode it to the city center and then found our way to the Senate Square (our – my, at least 🙂 ) first destination. Turns out we could have ridden one more stop and gotten there directly. After that, we walked around the Senate Square, and back down to the waterfront and the Market Square. We had a beer in the famous Cafe along the promenade, and then made our way back to the Hop on – Hop off stop, basically where we started. There, we waited 45 minutes for the next bus (they are supposed to stop every 15 minutes, but we have heard over the years that some are better than others).
WE DID not do any shopping or see some of the more remote things in the city – other than from the bus. But that was o.k. with us. We had a nice day, I had a couple really good photo ops, and we were content to return to the ship for “happy hour.” 🙂
O N THIS last day of 2022, it seemed fitting to reflect on this incredible photographic year, as well as looking forward to what 2023 will bring. When I wrote this same year-in-review post 12 months ago, I could hardly have imagined it could be an even more eventful year. But as good as 2021 was, 2022 has been amazing. It seems like I always used to do some kind of a wrap-up/thanks type piece. Last week, I posted my “favorites.” This is more of a revisit of some of my experiences in this eventful year – both traveling and at home.
FIRST THOUGH, I want to say not only HAPPY NEW YEAR!, but also THANK YOU to all that read this blog. Looking back, we have had some big travel years. And we have had some that, though they were not so big, were very fulfilling, photographically. 2022 was full and fulfilling. May 2023 only be better! I think maybe 2022 yielded some of my best ever images.
TRAVEL INSPIRES most of my shooting these days. A quick look at my portfolio over 40-plus years has revealed to me that a high percentage of my images were made during our recent travel years; and are travel-oriented. I have been revamping my archival tagging system and was surprised (though not shocked) to see that my digital archives number just under 50,000 images. My lifetime count is certainly higher than that. My “tracking” is not completely accurate. I began the more serious endeavor of photography in 1977 and for the first 25 of those years, I had a less than optimal archiving system. Since moving to digital, I have archived everything. By my calculations, I have made an average of about 2,000 images per year over the past 21 or so years. Part of that increase was no doubt the fact that we could shoot with relative impunity, once we no longer had to purchase film and processing (I have actually tried to make a concerted effort over the past few years to make fewer images and be more thoughtful in the field about what I shoot). I once had file boxes of color transparency slides, of which I only scanned and saved a few. And, sadly, that was mainly only from the mid-1990’s on (I know I made some nice photographs in the earlier years – 1978-1982, especially. I didn’t do a good job of archiving. I have only one or two of my slides from the 70’s – 80’s, and virtually none of the work – mainly B&W – I did while on the college newspaper and yearbook staff). I think they call that “young and dumb.” 🙂
EVEN when I am out around home these days, I am spending more time on street shooting and cityscapes these days. So, it stands to reason that my roundup of this year will be mostly those subjects. Still, I did get some time behind the lens for just landscape shooting, and those opportunities were pretty special. A combination of increased travel (4 trips outside the U.S. and one dedicated trip in the U.S.), playing with some new photographic gear (purposed for travel), and perhaps some pent-up, post-Covid attitude, mean more images for me than usual this year (just under 7.000 images). This year’s take was by far the second biggest number I have accumulated over the past 20 years. The biggest (just over 8,000) was the year of our first cruise and our trip to Alaska. I had just acquired my first “full frame” Nikon DSLR, and I took many photos during the Alaska trip (too many).
THE COVID Pandemic of 2020-2021 put a serious damper on things for all of us. I don’t think we are alone in our sentiment that we could not wait to get back out there. We started “gently” in October-November of 2021. This year we hit the ground running, with 3 cruises, a 20-day land-based trip to Portugal; and I made a week-long trip to Maine in April to photograph lighthouses. I also spent some time kicking around my “backyard,” here in the Tampa Area. I will post some “highlight” photos of each trip. There were so many. As always, they can all be seen at my photo website,LightCentricPhotography.com.
IN JANUARY, we took a cruise in the western Caribbean. This one wasn’t a long cruise, but it marked our first time in the Caribbean in several years. It was also our 4th trip on what has become a favorite ship: The Celebrity Reflection. It was fun, and relaxing. We made stops in Nassau, Bahamas; Cozumel, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; and Belize City, Belize. Interestingly, all but one (Belize City) were on small islands off the mainland of these countries.
OUR FIRST port of call was Nassau, Bahamas. I didn’t do a huge amount of photography during this cruise, but I was trying out a new “travel” camera system, so I did carry it around and make a few images. My expectations were not high. I was mostly checking it out for usability and image quality (more on that later). There were at least 5 cruise ships in the port, including The Disney Fantasy, Royal Caribbean’s Fantasy of the Seas, and two Carnival Cruise Line ships. Busy port.
THE NEXT stop was Cozumel, Mexico. A place I had never been to. We did not plan any excursions at all on this cruise (a bit unusual for us, but perhaps less so in the Caribbean). Our “plan” was to get off the ship at each port, walk around a bit, and then re-board. This cruise was really more for the cruise ship atmosphere than anything else. I am sure the beaches, snorkeling, diving and those kinds of beach-sports activities are wonderful in Cozumel. As far as the cruise port and immediate vicinity is concerned, I don’t care if I never see it again. There are vendors in every port in the Caribbean, both in the port area itself, and usually in other parts of the city. I have been to many ports in the Caribbean. The vendors are pretty forward and vocal. But usually if you politely say: “no thanks,” they move on. Not in Cozumel. They were aggressive to the point of harassment. They just would not leave us alone. I couldn’t wait to get away. Ironically, I did buy a T-shirt in Cozumel (one of the few times I have bought anything on any cruise other than food). 🙂
BELIZE WAS just kind of underwhelming. I think I only processed two shots from there (one of which, it shouldn’t shock you, was the local Sen’or Frog “monument”). In Roatan we didn’t even get off the ship (that is probably the first and only time we haven’t at least walked off and looked at the onshore activity. I was able to make some shots from the ship and with some cropping, make them look a bit “nicer.” I am really not trying to be elitist here. I think there is plenty to do there, if you do your homework before you leave (and we really didn’t on this one). I also think getting to know the people, island and culture would be interesting and fun. But it looked very run-down where we docked, and I don’t think just getting off and walking around was really going to gain us anything. If we ever went back, I would certainly want to find some kind of tour. I really would have liked to do something related to the cigar-making industry, but I think that is mostly done on the mainland of Honduras. My take-away from all of the western Caribbean stops was that they were very beach, snorkel or diving-oriented. I have a friend (who is apparently more adventurous than me) who did Roatan’s version of “Hop-on-hop-off busses” (by his description, “ancient, recycled Toyota mini-vans with doors removed”) and took a river boat to a Mayan Ruin in Belize. Maybe we should have planned a little better. 🙂
IN MARCH, one of my sisters (one of 5 sisters and a brother) and her husband came to Florida to “thaw out” (they live in Traverse City, Michigan, where we all grew up) for about a week. They did their own thing part of the time, but we did a few things together, too. Have you ever noticed that when people visit, you tend to go places and see things locally that you either do not do, or never have done? St. Petersburg, Florida has a small, but very cool glass/glass-blowing art museum. We visited it one day, and because I knew it was inside, I took only my Samsung S21 Smartphone. I have remarked numerous times here that – for myriad reasons – smartphone cameras are “not ready for prime time” for most serious photographers. But I have also noted that I am impressed with them and for me they work particularly well in an indoor setting with challenging lighting. I made a few images I liked. I even had some fun playing with a couple to make a composite.
IHAVE had coastal Maine on my horizon for years now. In 2009, my buddy, Rich and I and our wives spent a week in October in Bar Harbor. Our primary destination was Acadia National Park, but we spent a fair amount of time driving to other spots in the area. I got my first glimpse of the Maine Coast that year, as we photographed several Lobster Fishing harbors and the Bass Harbor Lighthouse. These are my kinds of landscape scenes and I really wanted to get back. Having now finally done it in 2022, I want to go back again soon. I have posted only a couple here. There are many more images, including 5 lighthouses and several lobster harbors on my Maine Galleries,here.
TIMING IS everything. Rich works for a company in Michigan that owns a subsidiary company based out of Freeport, Maine (very near Portland). He travels there frequently, and I “piggybacked” on one of his trips (he worked earlier in the week and then took a few days off) and our base of operation was in Portland. But the only time we could mesh schedules was in April (May or October would have been preferred, because of Spring blooms and/or foliage). But we made the most of it. Because of the time of year, we knew our best bet would be to concentrate on lighthouses. And fortunately, there are some really picturesque light houses along mid-coast Maine. We also knew there would be some limited opportunities to shoot lobster harbors.
WEATHER WAS not our friend that week, for the most part. That is unusual for me. I seem to be blessed with good weather most of the time. This trip yielded mostly overcast to cloudy skies, which make photography much more challenging. But there was really only about one half-day complete rainout, and so we got out and took advantage of what we did get. And with what I think is the most photogenic light of the group, at Pemaquid Point Light, we lucked out one afternoon. It had rained all morning and had been cloudy with some showers the balance of the day. We had planned to head back to Pemaquid just to see what happened. Our weather apps predicted partly sunny by late afternoon to early evening. Eventually, we could see signs of clearing to our west. But temperatures were also dropping. This created fog at the seashore, which is a double-edged sword. We could either get some “cool” foggy images, or it would be completely “socked” in. We would see. As we pulled into the parking lot, we could hear the waves pounding (which was quite different from the still, but cloudy morning when we were there a day or two before). And then, almost suddenly, the cloud cover broke and late afternoon blue sky and sun pierced through. We got some great images of the lighthouse and reflection. I also made some nice images of the violent wave break, down on rocks we had climbed on the prior morning.
JUST BEFORE I left for my Maine Trip, our friends and neighbors, Bruce and Joyce, invited us to join them on a 20-day trip to Portugal later that Spring. Portugal was one of the few significant countries in Mediterranean Europe that we had never been to, and with our love for travel, we jumped at the opportunity. Flying into Lisbon on May 18, we spent the next 4 days there. Our hotel was right in the center of the Baixa (a low, flat part of Lisbon – probably the only flat part, LOL – kind of a valley between two mountains). Our hotel was a perfect location, within easy walking distance to many of Lisbon’s popular spots. Out our front door was a grid of walking-only streets. During the afternoon and evenings, there was outdoor restaurant seating, which we frequently availed ourselves of. During the day and at night, the streets were busy. In the mornings, they were often nearly deserted. Nearby, there were plazas and fountains, and the riverfront. Of course, I was out every morning. Again, so many images. Shots of intimate small street settings, Towers. And the Jacaranda Trees were in their glorious purple bloom everywhere. See many more very cool Lisbon images on my LightCentricPhotography photo site, here.
LIKE MANY European cities, Lisbon is very mass-transit oriented. Probably the most popular of their public transportation vehicles is their well-developed tram system. This includes the rather well-known “Tram 28” which makes its circuit through many of the city’s most popular areas. All-day and multiple day (often combined with other transportation forms like subway and bus) fares are available at really reasonable cost. It is a good way to see central Lisbon. The only downside is that if you do so during the main hours of the day, it may be very difficult to get back on if you get off. We waited in line for about 4 trams before we were able to get on one at the beginning. Then, they fill them up. But a fun and interesting ride, anyway.
DURING OUR stay in Lisbon, one day we traveled out into the eastern part of Portugal, to Sintra. It is best known for its two famous Castles, Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle. Unfortunately, our tour did not include (and we did not know better) the Moorish Castle. I have vowed that on the next trip to Portugal we will go back there. But Pena Palace is pretty spectacular and very colorful. Again, my one image here does not do it – or the area – justice. To see the rest of the Sintra and Pena Palace shots, gohere.
FROM LISBON, we traveled North to Porto, (probably the “namesake” of Portugal, and one of the most photogenic cities in Europe, in my view). This city is special to me on a number of levels. First, I fell in love with “old city” feel. I also loved the food. But most of all: the photographic spots there! Because we were there for so long, I felt comfortable going off and doing something just for me on this trip. 🙂 I found a nighttime photo walk in Lisbon and signed up for it. It was a good outing and we did some pretty nice photography. It was very reasonable in cost. But probably the best thing that came from it was our guide’s suggestion that I contact another photo-tour guide in Porto and spend a day with him. It was my good fortune that he had a time available for me – and that I was his only customer that day! He took me to spots that I may never have found on my own, and certainly not within the time frame of a couple days. What a day. Perhaps my best city photographs ever. I think that, among other things, has convinced me That Porto is perhaps my favorite European city (maybe tied with Barcelona). Choosing a favorite is impossible. So again, I encourage you to look at allmy Porto Photographson my LightCentricPhotography photo site.
WE MADE a couple side-trips from Porto, including the Douro River Valley, and Aveiro.
THE SECOND night we were in Porto, I walked down to a researched site about 10 minutes from our hotel, to set up and shoot a nighttime image of Porto, along the Douro River, with one of its prominent bridges. I would like to get back there someday earlier and try to make a sunset image. But this one will have to do for now.
WE SPENT another 4 days there, before heading south. On one of those days, we traveled out to the famed, Douro River Valley, where Port Wine was originally made, and where many of the grapes are still grown. The large, famous Port makers have mostly moved closer to Porto. As you can see from my gallery, The Douro Valley is spectacular.
MY WIFE and I also traveled by train one day to nearby Aveiro. Once known for its fishing industry, and its unique and colorful, gondola-style boats, which were used to gather seaweed brought in for fertilizer for its farm fields, Aveiro today thrives primarily on tourist trade and the local university. Down near the waterfront you can take one of the above boats for a cruise around the canal. The waterfront itself is fronted by some wonderful, art nouveau buildings. It was a short walk from the very modern railway station and there were some very colorful photographic sites. You can a few more of my Aveiro shotshere.
WITH A stop in the ancient walled city of Evora for two nights, we then finished our amazing time there in the Algarve (a pretty popular and even famous ocean beach area) in Lagos, Portugal. Evora was once the center of Roman and then later, Ottoman control of the region which eventually became Portugal. There are ancient castles, churches, a wall surrounding the old city (our hotel was inside the walled city), a huge aqueduct, and many examples of the architecture of the times. See more Evora pictureshere.
THE ALGARVE is a region in the south of Portugal, that mostly borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. Particularly along the southern tip of the peninsula, there are several very popular beach communities. Tourism and summer residents are a large part of the economy there, but there is also fishing, agriculture and other related vocations that contribute to the economy. It is so very different from what we saw in Lisbon and Portugal. But picturesque, if not touristy, and very fun. And the seafood was wonderful. The rest of my Algarve Pictures are inthis gallery.
THE PHOTOGRAPHIC opportunities in Portugal (especially Porto, in my opinion) were as good as I have ever experienced. We haven’t done a lot of extensive land-based trips, so this was an uncommon experience for us. And for me, a welcome change to the travel routine. The one real negative for me with cruising – as a photographer – is that you only very rarely get to experience a location in the best light (early morning, late afternoon-evening) and almost never at night. Shooting cities at night can be pretty fun for a photographer. Here, I knew there would be several such opportunities, and some pretty nice landscape shots. I was not disappointed, and I am certain there will be another visit to Portugal in my future!
AS WE have customarily done since moving to Florida, we spent 2 weeks back in Michigan visiting family and friends during the 4th of July holiday. I don’t usually spend much time “behind the lens” on these trips. But this year, my sister and brother-in-law took us on a drive to the Lake Michigan Lakeshore – some of Northern Michigan’s prettiest scenery along Lake Michigan and some inland lakes. One of our stops that day was the Point Betsie Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. In my view, not one of the most photogenic of lighthouses, which we were at in rather harsh lighting conditions, I still made a few images.
WE WEREN’T done yet. Not by a long shot. At the beginning of September, we left for Amsterdam. We were scheduled to cruise the Baltic Sea on the Celebrity Apex. A “makeup” cruise of sorts. In 2020 we were scheduled for a cruise in Iceland, Ireland and the U.K. Covid shot that one down and we then went through a series of 3 or 4 “re-bookings,” one after another, they cancelled as Covid hung on longer and stronger than the world had anticipated. This one finally “took.” It actually had me kind of excited because the overnight stop was St. Petersburg, Russia. What photographer wouldn’t be excited at that prospect? [Warning: soapbox speech 🙂 ] In the past century, we have had two narcissist, power-hungry, and just downright insane characters who fancied themselves “world leaders.” Both obsessed with nothing but their own power. Neither had any common sense, sense of morals or decency. One of them was the prime mover in perhaps the worst and least – justified war in the world’s history (certainly modern history). Thankfully, (though only after much horrible death and destruction, including the attempted extermination of a whole race of people), the first one is dead (presumably at his own hand in the face of defeat in WWII). The other one is – to the world’s detriment – still alive. Much of the world saw, after the fact, the horrible atrocities Hitler wrought, but confoundingly we either cannot see history repeating itself, or we are just too complacent to address it. Vladimir Putin is, in my (ever so 🙂 ) humble opinion, Hitler reincarnated. The parallels are stunning. I ask myself every day how one man can have so much evil influence worldwide? [O.k. I’ll climb down off the soapbox]. Needless to say, St. Petersburg was scratched from the agenda after Putin’s War began.
WE WENT anyway, even though nearly 50% of cruisers on this one cancelled. Yeah, St. Petersburg was a big deal. But not enough to cancel a cruise that turned out to be a pretty interesting part of the world. We spent a couple days in Amsterdam, and then cruised up into the Baltic, stopping in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Denmark, before returning to Amsterdam. Amsterdam had a kind of “been there, done that” feeling to me as far as photography was concerned. We did some really interesting historical tours though. One of the most impressive parts of the beginning of that cruise was the sail away through the northern passage from Amsterdam out to the Atlantic. I expect to see windmills in Amsterdam. The old-fashioned kind. But I was surprised at the number of modern wind turbines around the Netherlands (and other parts of the Baltic).
UR FIRST stop was in the northern part of Germany, in a seaside, beach-vacation town of Warnemunde. We had no high expectations from this stop, and I think the best photos were right from the top deck of the cruise ship. There are just a few other “Warnemunde” imageshere. We cruised northeast across the Baltic over the next couple days, and landed next in Helsinki. One of the really fun aspects of cruising for us has been meeting new friends from all around the world. In 2019, before the world shut down, we met two fun couples from the northern part of England. We spent some time with them during the week, both on and off shore, and have kept in touch. This time, we met several more couples from the U.S. and Canada. One of the really fun couples is Mike and Elaine, from upstate New York. We spent a fair amount of time with them, also. I had breakfast nearly every morning with Mike. We actually have plans to cruise with them again in February, 2023 in the Caribbean. In Helsinki, neither of us had hard plans, so we got off the ship together and boarded the Helsinki “Hop on – Hop Off” bus (which stopped right in the cruise port, just steps away from the ship). We had a fun day. Helsinki is geographically fairly small and I think we probably saw most of it from the bus. We only got off right down in the downtown area, where most of the historical sights were. In my research, I learned that Helsinki was probably going to be the closest we would get to a St. Petersburg experience. Czar Alexander had a fondness for Helsinki after the Russian occupation and authorized some pretty extensive building, including Senate Square and the Helsinki Cathedral. There is also a beautiful Russian Orthodox Cathedral nearby. The waterfront is fun and impressive. I made just a few nice Helsinki images, which can be seenhere.
THE REPLACEMENT port for St. Petersburg was the medieval town of Visby, on a small island which is part of Sweden, called Gottland. We took a walking tour through the old walled city, learning some history, and seeing some very old buildings. It is a pretty and photogenic city, as can be seen in my Visby Gallery.
WE NEXT sailed to Tallin, Estonia. Tallin is a small, walled medieval city. It is known as the oldest such city in the Baltic. It is unique in that it was at one time two separate walled cities that abutted each other so closely that the walls formed a narrow walkway between them. The inhabitants did not trust each other, and gates were closed during the night. Estonia was occupied by Russia (and later the USSR) for many years, and the Russian influence can be seen there. Estonian Citizens are also very independent and proud of their own heritage. Tallin was once an important and strategic port on the trade routes (an important part of The Hanseatic League). Today, it is a favorite vacation and nightlife spot – especially for the Finns and Swedes. There was a lot to photograph there, as you can see from the Estonia gallery here, on my website. The Russian Orthodox Church is probably the most impressive church I have ever photographed. There were many other good photographic opportunities here, as you can see from my Estonia Gallery.
IN PLACE of the overnight in St. Petersburgh, Stockholm became our overnight destination. But even that changed, as, during our stay in port, the ship captain announced that we would be leaving port in the early evening the night before to avoid some bad weather conditions (so we missed our overnight – and our visit to the ABBA museum). One thing I didn’t realize prior to the cruise was that the sail into Stockholm from the Baltic involves a narrow waterway that it takes several hours to navigate. I think that was the highlight of Sweden! We got to see much of rural Sweden with some pretty nice landscape opportunities from high up vantage point of the upper ship deck. As you might guess, I spent a good amount of time on the upper deck for the sail in and back out. My numerous shots can be seen in mySweden Gallery.
STOCKHOLM ITSELF is a major city, with very large, impressive municipal buildings and an old medieval part of the city that was very touristy and crowded. My favorite photographic subject in the city was the Riddarholmen Cathedral.
THE FINAL port was Copenhagen, Denmark. If I were “king of the (Celebrity) world,” I would have made Copenhagen the overnight stop. A bit like Helsinki, Copenhagen is a compact and very walkable city. And it has some wonderfully photogenic buildings, as well as a great waterfront. We had arranged a walking tour with our friends Mike and Elaine. It started fairly early in the morning, so we took a taxi from the ship into the downtown area, where we met our guide. After spending a few hours with her, we did a bit more walking and exploring on our own, including climbing (thankfully mostly by elevator) into a tower that gave us a great panoramic view, including the cruiseport and our ship. I thought the port area was also very photogenic and made a few images from the ship as we came into the harbor in the nice morning light. You can see my Copenhagen images here. There was a great Royal Palace Compound, the Government Palace, a University and Churches. I went there with one spot high on my agenda: Nyhavn. You can see from the photo why. I would love to go back there at night.
WE STILL weren’t done. 🙂 We had made plans earlier in the year to go on a cruise with some family members. Some of them had never been in Europe, or parts of the Mediterranean before. Some had been some places, but not others. Having been to the area at least three other times, there was a lot of familiarity for us. But there is always something different; a different spin; a different agenda, and different photographic opportunities. We made the best of some pretty great spots. We started in Rome, where we spent a few days before boarding the Celebrity Edge in Civitavecchia. We then cruised to La Spezia, Cannes, Toulon (Provence), Barcelona, Sardinia, Sicily, and Naples. On our return to Civitavecchia, we flew to Venice for a few more days, before returning home. Whew! Long, and at points exhausting trip. Photographically, there were some really high points!
ROME IS a city we had been to two times before. But each time, only for the day. Having the luxury to stay for 3 nights in a VRBO right in Rome was special. And it meant I would get out in the morning light. I did not get any nighttime shooting in there, though. But during the days we got to see the Vatican (perhaps because of post-Covid and maybe the early morning tour, we got a much more intimate view of the place – on our last visit there were shoulder to shoulder crowds everywhere we were in Vatican City). We also had a much more thorough tour than our previous walk-through on our own, of the Roman Forum and the Coloseum. On the day we arrived, our driver took us to a couple impressive spots, including a fountain we had never seen before. And, of course, the Trevi Fountain (that was every bit as crowded as it was on our first visit). Having spent 3 plus days there, it would be impossible for me to choose a photo or two that would be “representative.” And everyone has seen the Colosseum, The Vatican, The Trevi Fountain, the Royal Palace, and the Roman Forum. All my images of Rome, including a number of new ones from this trip are inthe Rome, and Vatican Galleries, on my photo website. The image here is just a very short walk from our VRBO, taken just after sunrise one of the mornings we stayed there. It is probably my favorite Rome image.
IWAS “laying in the weeds” for La Spezia. On our Mediterranean cruise in 2019, we had stopped in La Spezia. I knew about Cinque Terre back then, but I really wasn’t prepared to do it justice. And to add to that, we had a mostly rainy day. I got to just one of the 5 villages (Manarola). But it was a learning experience. Among other things, we learned about the commuter train from La Spezia through Cinque Terre, stopping at all 5 of the villages. There is an all-day ticket for 18 Euros. The time between stops is between 5 and 15 minutes. It is possible to do several (maybe all) of the villages in a long day. With a large group (we had 6) it is not always easy to get organized and going. Especially without a tour or specific plan. And especially when all in the group aren’t especially early risers. So, I made it known to everyone that I would be off the ship as soon as we were cleared and would meet them in one of the villages once they got going. That worked for me. I got to photograph what I wanted of 3 of the 5 villages, which I had concluded were the most photogenic of all: Riomaggiore, Manarola, and Vernazza. Those images can all be seen inmy Cinque Terre Gallery. The consensus of photographers whose accounts I read was that Manarola was the best of the 3 to photograph. I don’t know that I would agree. It is certainly photogenic. It is also, by far, the easiest of the three to get to, with the train station being very close to “the action.” And I do think it would be the village of choice to stay in for an overnight or two. But I really likedRiomaggiore!
CANNES, OUR next port, is supposed to be a playground for the rich and famous. It seems like that is a common theme along this stretch of the Mediterranean known as the French Riveria. But we didn’t spend any time in Cannes, but instead 4 of us took a train to Monaco, where we walked to the Monte Carlo Casino. We had been in the Casino before, but it was still interesting to walk around, though we did not gamble. In the end I think we all mostly enjoyed strolling along the avenue leading up the casino and along the waterfront. We stopped for probably the nicest lunch we had during the entire trip.
THE NEXT day, we docked at the port of La Seyne-sur-Mer in Toulon, France. About the only thing memorable about Toulon is that it is in the heart of Provence. Our private guide that day said that he was one of only two who would drive all the way to La Seyne-sur-Mer, because it was so out of the way. We were fortunate that he would, because he took us on a really great tour. Years back we had docked at Marseilles (no doubt a more convenient port for passengers and guides). We started out in a nearby National Park with some stunning views from up in the mountains, down over the riviera. We went to Aix-en-Provence (we had been there before in 2014, but the others had not). It is another beautiful old city with fountains, piazzas, churches and majestic buildings. We had lunch there and then headed back toward our ship. On the way we stopped at the medieval village of LeCastellet, a quiet, charming little village tucked up into the mountains. My Provence Gallery showcases a few of the images I have made in the Provence Region, including Aix-enProvence and LeCastellet. Perhaps the coolest photo-op I had in 2022 was the “right time – right place” shot of rock climbers preparing for their rappel down the mountains in the National Park.
OUR NEXT stop was Barcelona, Spain. We have been to Barcelona a handful of times now, staying a few days each time. It is one of my favorite European cities (Porto, Portugal, being the other). But we had seen much of the city already. On our last visit, we had a tour to the nearby Montserrat Monastery and a winery that was cut short because of a Catalonian demonstration. We wanted to finish it, so my wife and I left the others to their own designs in Barcelona and returned to Montserrat: mountains northeast of Barcelona. It was a nice day. It started out quite foggy, but as our morning progressed, the sun broke through and I made what I think is a very nice photograph of the mountains behind the monastery.Montserrathas its own gallery on my website.
AFTER BARCELONA, we went to a place we had never been to; Sardinia. A part of Italy, it, like so many of the European distinctive regions, has its own history, language and culture. It seemed to us that food was a big regional thing in this part of Italy. The next day we would be in Messina, Sicily and my wife and I took a food tour on our own. I didn’t make any real memorable images in either place this time, though I did post a few photos in the Sardinia Gallery on my website.
THE FINAL stop on our cruise was Naples, Italy. Again, we have been in port at Naples multiple times. One of the reasons it is a very popular cruise ship stop is its proximity to so many sought after sites in the area. From Naples we have been to the Amalfi Coast two times, and to the Isle of Capri. But the other big event is the ruins of Pompei and Herculaneum. We had not been to either and this was a long, but fun day visiting them. Each has its own gallery with many photographs in myItaly Galleries. I included the Pompei image here because of the classic clouds in front of Mount Vesuvius. These ancient, but sophisticated, civilizations are spectacular, and the preserved ruins include homes, shops, restaurants, displaying impressive stonework and mosaics. They are rivaled only – in my experience – by the ruins of Ancient Ephesus, in Turkey.
VENICE IS another incredible European city that we have been to multiple times. I have often described Venice as “eye-candy” for the photographer. On this trip, I concentrated less on shooting everything in front of me and more on some of the little things – as well as enjoying the city with our friends who had not been there. As always, I made a few images. You can see all my Venice images in the Venice Gallery on my photo website.
YOU WOULD think that would have been enough. But there would be one more fun and successful adventure. When we moved from Michigan to Florida, in stages, over the last 10 years, I learned that an old high school classmate was an avid photographer, and a 30-plus year resident of Tampa. We touched based a couple times and vowed to get together to do some photography. Finally in early December, knowing the city would be dressed up for the holidays, I reached out to Mark, and we ultimately got together – him being my local guide – to make some really good images of the Miami Skyline. It was fun, and we plan to do it again soon – somewhere in our area. I just set up aTampa Galleryin the past few days, with many more of these nighttime skyline images. Hope you’ll check them out and enjoy them. And I would also encourage you to check out Mark’s work here.
WELL. THAT’s my year in pictures. The images shown here are not necessarily my “best” nor by any stretch of the imagination, all of my take for 2022. They are meant to show what I had to work with. I would be honored if you will go to my LightCentricPhotography photo site, peruse some of the galleries, and leave a comment or two. I am very thankful for a robust, healthy (in spite of the Pandemic), and very full year of travel and photography. I wish all a successful and Happy New Year!Good shooting to all you photographers out there.
[On Monday, we begin 2023, flying to Cape Town, South Africa, for a few days and then boarding the Oceania Nautica, for a cruise “around the horn,” so to speak. On returning later this month, I will resume our 2022 experiences, with the Baltic Cruise series. Hope you will hang on. Stay tuned.]