PROVENCE ALWAYS conjures fields of lavender and bucolic French countryside for me. We have actually been to the Provence Region a couple times now. We have never really done the countryside and haven’t seen lavender (We haven’t been there in the right season for the blooms). Our first visit was in 2015 with our friends Paul and Linda. We did a wine tasting tour that trip and though we did drive through the countryside, we mostly visited vineyards; and one city: Aix en Provence. Maybe someday I will make a land-based trip to the Provence Region.
BUT THIS was – once again – cruise based. Our ship ported in Toulon, France, situated between Nice and Marseille. In 2015, we had docked in Marseille. Franck, our guide on this cruise told us that the Toulon Port is not really a favored spot. His opinion (he actually lives in Nice) was that it was too remote, and there was really nothing to see or do in Toulon itself. He was one of only a handful of private tour guides who would even make the drive to Toulon, because of its perceived distance and remote location. If and when I finally get the opportunity to have a discourse with someone at Celebrity who influences policy, I would like to have a conversation about these “remote” ports. They seem to have occurred more often in the last couple years. As an aside, we experienced the same phenomena with our “English Channel” cruise in late 2021 on Princess. I am certain there are reasons for it (presumably port fees and restrictions), but we have certainly been spoiled by being able to just walk off the ship in the past – or at least be central to good spots to visit.
WE WERE fortunate that Franck was willing to travel to Toulon for us. He was a great guide, and we had a good tour. We started in a beautiful national park (Parc Naturel Regionale de la Sainte-Baume), with a drive up to a high overlook. From there, we could see the Mediterranean. The views were pretty spectacular. The region is actually known as Alps-Cote d’Azur (something like “Alps by the coast of the blue sea” – my tortured translation, of course). 🙂 In the south of France, this region is temperate, and has always been a favorite of Europeans for its warm weather and seaside along the entire coast (also known as The French Riviera). It also photogenic, from the seaside landscapes to the harbors and boats, and mountains in the national parks just to the north.
WE ALSO learned (by observation) that this part of the park was a popular rock-climbing spot. I posted the image here on Facebook a month or so back, noting that sometimes great shots are a matter of serendipity – “right time, right place.” I felt pretty fortunate to be in that mode this morning. This opportunity also underscored the move back to an interchangeable lens camera. Here I wanted to get in as close as possible and was able to use the 150mm (300mm 35mm equivalent) focal length (not available on my RX100), to make this image.
AFTER THIS pretty cool spot, we went to one of Provence’s perhaps most popular destinations: Aix-en-Provence. A city of approximately 145,000 residents, there is some history there. Not surprisingly, it was founded by the Romans around 100 B.C. The entire region of Provence passed to France in the late 1400’s A.D., including Aix. In 1501, Aix became the capital of Provence. Nearly always a city of culture, it was often visited by such literary and artistic figures as Emile Zola, Ernest Hemingway, and Paul Cezanne.
AIX IS also a university town. Aix-en-Provence University, (now Aix-Marseille University) was chartered in 1407, by Louis II. The university is said to be popular with students throughout Europe, as a high-quality institution in a city that is relatively safe and fun to live in. The university offers courses of study in engineering, humanities, economics, law, political science and administrative planning. As you walk away from the center roundabout with the fountain (Fountaine de la Rotonde), to the east on the avenue Cours Mirabeau, you walk into some of the old city, with quiet, shady streets, and majestic buildings.
LIKE EVERY European city or town, there are churches. Most of them are photogenic. This quiet spot was the one we ventured into today.
FRANCK HAD made us reservations in a restaurant back by the Rotonda Fountain: La Rotonde, where we had a nice lunch. He then rounded us up to move on to our next (and last) stop for the day. LeCastellet is a medieval village on top of a high hill or cliff in the region. It was on our way back from Aix, and just to the northwest of Toulon. The old village has mostly foot traffic, as the cobblestone streets are narrow and winding. It actually reminded me of another, similar village along the French Riviera: Eze. Today mainly a tourist venue, there are many quaint shops and small cafes along these streets, as well as small overnight accommodations.
IN THE village I found a few images photogenic spots.
FTER WALKING around some, we sat in a small cafe and had coffee and wine, before meeting with Franck at the exit from the feudal village to head back to Toulon and reboard our ship. A very nice day. It was just a taste, but I can see that the Provence region is a place that would merit a few days’ stay and exploration.
I THINK maybe we have now had 3 different general cruising experiences. One is what I will call the “sun and fun” experience. To us, that means a Caribbean Cruise. They are almost always warm and sunny. It seems that all the many stops (more are being added yearly) in the islands of the Caribbean have a certain “sameness” to them. A kind of “Bob Marley” vibe. We have done a few fun excursions around the islands, but generally they are all the same. I generally get off the ship at each stop and look for photographic opportunities. Mostly, I find colorful, Caribbean subjects, ala Jimmy Buffet’s “Boats, Bars and Beaches.” That’s not a bad thing. I have made some nice and fun images in the Caribbean. We also spend a lot of time on the ship, in the sun, around the pool, eating and drinking, and generally soaking up the warm sunshine. Since we bought our home in the Tampa Bay, Florida area, the allure of those cruises has worn off somewhat. Then there is what I will call the “see the world cruise.” This has generally translated into The Mediterranean, Europe, the British Isles, and the Baltic for us, so far. I know we will venture further in the years to come, seeing parts of Asia and Hawaii and Polynesia, and New Zealand and Australia. The goal, here is to see new things. The “wonders of the world,” so to speak. It has branched my photography out into travel, street shooting and architectural photography. At the same time, it has afforded continued landscape, nature, and even occasional wildlife opportunities. Photographically, it is more rewarding that the first category.
THIS TIME, though, we discovered a new category, all its own: Africa. What do you do for 16 days in South Africa? Some of the time was spent in Cape Town, and the rest on a cruise ship making 5 planned port stops around the South African Peninsula. After experiencing it, and spending the time there, there is really only one answer. You do wildlife viewing. There is really not much else to do. Perhaps an unfair characterization. But probably an accurate generalization.
When it comes to wildlife viewing, the African Continent is second to none
FOR SURE, there are some spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean on the eastern seashores of South Africa. That doesn’t – in my view – make it a unique travel destination. We saw incredible seacoast views in Portugal and in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. We have seen them again, in the Baltic Sea, and I have no doubt that our views of Norway’s fjord’s in June will be nothing less than spectacular. We have pretty great seascapes of all types on the shores of both the Atlantic and the Pacific right here in the U.S., and our Great Lakes, as well. Don’t get me wrong. The South African water views are worth seeing. They just bolster the fact that the world is an incredibly beautiful place. But they are not the reason to travel to South Africa. Likewise, though we didn’t get far into the interior of the African Peninsula, we are told that Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River (actually in Zimbabwe) are nothing short of spectacular. But are they more spectacular than our own Niagara Falls? Or even some of the “lesser” falls around the U.S. and around the world? Not really. They are not the reason to travel to South Africa. Cape Town is a very cool city, with some pretty interesting features. And the view of Table Mountain in the background virtually everywhere you go certainly adds its own unique quality to the city. We didn’t get to Johannesburg, or the wine regions of Franshoek and Stellenbosch. All have their own charm. No doubt. But at the end of the day, none would top my list of cities or places to visit. That isn’t saying I wouldn’t love to visit them. Just that there are other destinations that have more “draw,” in my view, both historically and photographically.
BUT WHEN it comes to wildlife viewing, the African Continent is second to none. And not surprisingly, virtually every port of call excursion and activity centered around seeing the animals. In spite of reading and hearing about the phenomena of “The Safari,” I was somewhat ignorant of the rank of this activity among “things to do in Africa.” In hindsight, it is the primary thing to do and is the reason to visit the African Continent. Everything else is secondary. At least, that’s my view of it. While we did have some splendid viewing opportunities, we really didn’t take full advantage of the trip. That is not to say we didn’t immensely enjoy our visit. Nor did we completely miss the viewing opportunities, as the photos here illustrate. But we didn’t take full advantage as we perhaps could have. There were other activities, but they weren’t even a close second to the wildlife “drives.” We spoke to fellow passengers who took a couple of the “city” tours and similar excursions. They were largely underwhelmed. We visited the beach and somewhat famous aquarium in Durban. Really “just o.k.” I’ll give it coverage in an upcoming post. But every single wildlife drive or viewing opportunity was acclaimed by all we spoke to. And they were certainly the highlight of our trip, also. If the opportunity to go back arises, we will arrange a several-day tour of the interior of the continent, including Botswana, and Kruger National Park in northwestern South Africa for wildlife, and Zimbabwe, for Victoria Falls.
FOR US, the Port Elizabeth stop was all about our wildlife drive. We were fortunate to have met a couple at the beginning of the trip who had room for two more in a six-person tour. We traveled from the cruise port inland to the ADDO Elephant National Park. Our guide, Mike, was very good. Having grown up over in Cape Town, he had taken up the career of tour guide. Mike picked us up just outside the port, where he drove us the approximately 35 miles inland to the park entrance. South Africa’s third largest national park, and said to have the full complement of wildlife, it is really known for its elephant population. It is a natural habitat for these huge animals, and they have been there for many years. But it has not all been good for them. The park was originally established in 1931, as a refuge for elephants. One of the large agricultural products of the area, particularly down along the flatter land adjacent to the Indian Ocean is oranges. But as the orange groves grew and became established, the indigenous African Elephant population, a scavenging herbivore, discovered the plantations and began migrating toward them to feed. They destroyed much of the groves as they foraged. The farmers began to shoot them as a defense of their groves. At one point, the population is said to have dwindled to only 11 remaining resident elephants. In 1931, South African conservationist, Syndey Skaife established the preserve. Fences were erected, creating a perimeter of the park and over time, were designed and re-designed (today they are electrified), with the goal of keeping the elephants inside the preserve, and presumably safe. In later years, Lions and the Black Rhinocerus were re-introduced to the area. Today, there are more than 600 Elephants in the park, along with many other species of wildlife, including Zebra, Wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, Warthog, Hartebeest, Kudu, Springbok, Ostrich and other bird species, to name a few. We were fortunate to see and photograph a number of these. As you can probably see from the images, the elephants were the most impressive.
WE WERE fortunate during the early part of the day to have a bright overcast sky, conducive to photographing the elephants. As the day wore on, the sun became “hotter,” and the usual challenges of daytime photography ensued. The other challenge was that we had to shoot from inside the vehicle. Park rules prohibit exiting the vehicle or even opening the doors. Distance was also a factor in a number of cases. We learned that Lions and Leopards are mostly active only during the very early and late hours – times we couldn’t be in the park. We did not see any cats. This is one of the reasons I would – as I mentioned above – schedule a more full-on safari if I visited again. They get you out during these early hours and you are pretty likely to spot these big cats.
I CARRIED my travel rig on this trip. Thankfully, that includes a zoom that reached out to 300m (35mm equivalent). I would have been very frustrated and disappointed without it. It did a decent job, particularly with the large animals like the elephant. But another trip to South Africa would have me making the effort to carry my more serious equipment. The “full frame,” 46mp sensor on the Sony would have made a substantial difference compared to the m4/3 body’s 20mp sensor, and its comparatively small size. As would the higher quality lens. I could have made better, and more detailed crops of some of the more distant animals. If you are a serious photographer and are making a trip to the African Continent, I would seriously consider carrying your best possible gear, and perhaps something even a little longer than 300mm.
ALL IN all, it was great day, and we not only saw some amazing wildlife that – outside of a zoo – I may never have the opportunity to photograph again, but we also enjoyed the company of some good new friends. Our next stop would be Durban.
AS I turn away from the Baltic, I have also reached an unexpected development. I am getting behind. In the early years, when I started writing this blog, after an initial surge of (probably pent up) thoughts and ideas, it was not unusual for me to hit a lull. This did not really start out as a “travel” blog. Nor is it really my intention that it only be that. Indeed, I still consider it a photography blog. But photography has been the catalyst for many other things – travel being high among them. Back then, we would travel to a major U.S. destination maybe every other year or so. In between, I would make my periodic sojourns to Vermont in the fall, and often to other U.S. destinations, mostly during fall foliage season. That always gave me new subject matter to write about here, and many new photographs. But inevitably, I would get “caught up” and there would be a lull. During these lulls, I would often write about other topics, sometimes philosophical, sometimes about photography technology, gear, and digital subjects. More recently, we have ramped up the travel (probably a result of us both being fully retired, and of a mind that we had better do it while our health allows). Over the past couple years, we have done 2 and even 3 major trips/cruises each year. This has made keeping up more of a challenge. Indeed, I have several non-travel subjects “queued” up, planning to fit them in between subject changes or during anticipated lulls. But there haven’t been any of those, and I don’t see them coming up in the near future. I will continue to sprinkle in the occasional post between the travel posts (particularly if they may relate to the travel or a subject that has come up). But as I write this, I have two additional cruises backed up (posts mostly written), and two more cruises coming up in March and June. Lots to write about and more to photograph.
WHAT I mean by new direction is twofold: where I will go with the next several posts; and the fact that we visited a new part of the world for us. In January, we joined a group of “members” of The Obrien Estate Winery (Napa, California), on a cruise and trip to South Africa. Chronologically, this is out of order. Following our cruise in the Baltic, we did what was for us, at least a 4th cruise in the Mediterranean, along the French and Italian Riviera. We bookended that cruise with several days in Rome prior and several more days in Venice after. During that multi-stop cruise, we visited only one port we had not been to (a few of them several times). That doesn’t mean they weren’t great (we will be in the Mediterranean numerous more times, I am sure). And it doesn’t mean I didn’t take many more, new and – I think – good photos. But it does mean that the “been there, done that” feeling means that I would like to move on, to the South Africa experience, while it is still somewhat fresh. I will come back to the Mediterranean Cruise.
LIKE EVERY cruise, and many of our land-based trips, In addition to seeing great places, we met some new people and made some friends. We generally plan our own itineraries, and therefore can select the venues, whether cruise ships or hotels and vrbo’s. In this case, the itinerary was set by the winery and their travel company partner. This meant that other than the hotel for the first few days in Cape Town, we didn’t really have much say over the rest. This included the Cruise Line/ship. So we had a new experience and adventure ahead of us. I review the ship, Oceania’s Nautica, on my other blog, “I Am A Celebrity” dedicated to cruising (and in particular, our cruises).
WE WERE a group of approximately 40. Interestingly, the ship (with an overall capacity of just under 650 people) carried just over 400 passengers on this cruise. That meant our group made up a full 10% of the ship’s passengers during the cruise. I doubt we will ever experience that again. We knew only one other couple, from a couple prior trips sponsored by the vineyard. But we quickly got to know several others. We spent a fair amount of time together as a group. And I am glad to say we have made some great new friends. As we have in the past, we will undoubtedly stay in touch with some of them (we already have plans to meet one couple for dinner here in Florida next month). As we always do, we also met folks not associated with the wine group. One thing about a 400 passenger-cruise (our usual is more like 1500 – 2500) on a physically much smaller ship; you will probably run into the same people a lot more often.
THE ITINERARY for this trip involved a few days (of our own plan) in the cruise port of embarkation – Cape Town – and then a several-day cruise which included stops in Walvis Bay, Namibia, and in several South African Ports (Elizabethtown, Durban, and Richards Bay), before returning to Cape Town. Getting to that part of the world is more challenging than our flights to places like Barcelona, Rome, London, Amsterdam and Athens have been. At first, we were scheduled to fly from Tampa to Atlanta, to Amsterdam, to Cape Town. The total travel time would have been some 20 plus hours (it is actually a longer flight from Amsterdam to Cape Town than from Atlanta to Amsterdam). But during the planning stages, Delta added a direct flight from Atlanta to Cape Town. Still a 15-hour flight (the second longest we have made – Tokyo from Detroit was slightly longer). The flights are mostly overnight (which is probably a good thing, as we do get a chance to sleep some). So we didn’t leave Cape Town to head back to Atlanta until nearly midnight. Our ship returned to port in the early morning hours, and that left us a full day in Cape Town. For reasons I will mention below, even though we were tired from the long cruise, this final day turned out to be a great one.
IWILL cover all of our time (including the final day) in Cape Town in this post. We spent 3 nights at a waterfront hotel in Cape Town, pre-cruise, and then another full day in an d around Cape Town at the end of the cruise. For that last day, we hired a guide/driver for the day. We landed in Cape Town on Tuesday, and by the time we got transportation to the motel and got checked in, it was mid-afternoon. We had not planned anything for that afternoon, so we relaxed a bit, and then walked over to the adjacent mall, to find a bank, and check it out, generally. Ultimately, we were in search of a meal. We found a restaurant and had burgers, fries and a beer. Not very South African, I know. This was our first experience in a restaurant or bar in country. We were to be consistently astounded at how inexpensive things are there. Unfortunately for South Africa, a large part of these very cheap prices is the result of a tanking economy. In American dollars, our average meal – with drinks and tip – was between $20 and $30 for both of us. Our average Uber ride cost us between $4 -$6.
THE WATERFRONT is nice, but not remarkably unique. There is a mix of working boats and tourist boats. Further in, there is a private harbor for pleasure craft. On the ground, there is substantial development devoted to the tourist industry; mostly bars and restaurants, with a smattering of shops. At night, things were lit up nicely, and I thought it made the area more photogenic. As is my custom, I got out fairly early from the motel room and walked around the waterfront area. In addition to the standard sights at a working harbor, there were some quirky photo opportunities. The “life size” chess board is interesting., I got down low to get a low perspective of it though with all the people around me, I did not lay down on the ground. I should have as it might have yielded a more interesting perspective. But shooting like this does underscore the advantage of an articulating rear screen. Those who know my shooting style know that I don’t usually use the rear screen. But there are times when it really adds to the versatility of the camera. As I look at this now, I could imagine my 3-year old grandson standing next to the tallest nearmost chess piece. He wouldn’t be a lot taller.
THERE IS a cabled walking bridge across the main canal from the harbor back into the private boat harbor. At night it is interestingly lit. It is a swing bridge, and when boats come through, it pivots on a horizontally in from the canal so they can pass. I watched it in operation the first morning we were there.
THOSE WHO know me well know that my “go to” cocktail is a gin & tonic. I am particular about how I like it, with a “short” (whiskey) glass, very little ice, no fruit, and mostly gin. 🙂 Perhaps most importantly is that I like it with a gin that suits my taste. Over many tastings over the years, I have settled on Tanqueray #10 (not “just” Tanqueray), as the “very best” gin for gin & tonics. Well. When I saw this “tree” outside of one of the waterfront restaurant/bars, I of course, had to photograph it.
WE HAD scheduled a walking tour of an older part of town that would feature the street art of Cape Town. Having recently become enamored of street art (it really got rolling in Porto, Portugal, back in May of 2022), I was enthusiastic. It was perhaps the only scheduled excursion during those first several days that actually went off without a hitch. The “big deal” view in Cape Town is probably the large, flat-topped mountain known as Table Mountain. Our hotel room had a great view of the waterfront, with Table Mountain as a backdrop. You can drive up to the base of the final peak and get a pretty impressive view back down on to Cape Town and the waterfront. But the only way to the top is to hike or to ride a funicular (really more like a gondola). That is considered one of those things you should do on a visit to Cape Town. Unfortunately, two things consistently prevented us from doing that. First, for most of the three days, the top was in the clouds, meaning you would see nothing up there. And second, the unusual high winds meant they would not operate the gondola. So once again – stymied.
THE STREET art walking tour was in the afternoon. We met at a quirky old mostly outdoor shopping center, The Old Biscuit Mill, in an area of the city called Woodstock. Most of the street art was in an adjacent area to the immediate east known as Salt River. I made a lot of images that afternoon. I couldn’t begin to showcase -or even highlight them – here. But if you find them interesting, you can certainly see them on my LightCentricPhotography website. The Street Art Gallery is here. I will include just a couple here on the blog, though.
OUR TOUR ended where it started, about 3 1/2 hours later. The Old Biscuit Mill is on Victoria Street, and on one corner of the mall entrance is a small storefront gin distillery: Woodstock Gin. They only make 3 gins; their standard gin, and two flavored gins. We had to stop in. I had their regular gin and tonic. My wife likes to try the different flavor infused gins. She really liked the cocktail made with the Tangerine and Fiery Ginger Gin. Unfortunately, we only had an hour before they closed. Somehow, we were able to get a couple drinks down in that short time. Looking for somewhere else similar, the proprietor suggested we walk down the street to a relatively newly opened brewery called appropriately enough, Woodstock Brewery. I had a couple of their lager beers, and we enjoyed about an hour of chatting with the bartender who was serving us. We talked about where we might get some authentic South African food. Oddly enough, they had some there and he never even suggested it. After our afternoon “refreshments,” though, we knew we needed to get some food in our stomachs. We Ubered back to the waterfront area and eventually to the Quay 4 restaurant, which I had seen earlier that day. We first stopped at a gin bar in the Silo Hotel, which my brother-in-law had recommended. He was in Cape Town several years back and had actually sent me a video of the gin selection. Unfortunately, the only way to get in was by reservation if you weren’t already a hotel guest. Reservations were several days out, so it was a non-starter for us. I was in the mood for seafood and Quay 4 had it on the menu. Not the best I have ever had, but decent for a tourist area.
WEATHER WASnot cooperative for us during our initial stay in Cape Town. Everything we had read suggested that December-January is more or less right in the middle of the summer in South Africa. We expected daytime temperatures in the 80s, and plentiful sunshine. Instead, we were treated to an unusual display from Mother Nature. High winds and cool temperatures dominated all 3 of our days prior to the cruise. And that wreaked havoc on our “best laid” plans. My wife has always really wanted to see the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held for all those years. So we had a ferry trip out there booked for our second morning. When we arrived at our scheduled time, there was a big electronic sign that said all excursions were cancelled due to high winds. Nothing they (or we) could do. Disappointing, but unavoidable. Unfortunately, that also meant hundreds of other people’s excursions were also cancelled. Which created a mad scramble for other available excursions. We got on Google (what did we ever do before “smart” phones?) and found a walking tour of a coffee roasting shop and the “parliament” area of the Cape Town city center. We had just enough time to walk up to the main street and get an Uber and get there. We made it right on time. But there was a problem. Nobody else was there. By the time we got that sorted out, we learned that they had not been given notice of our booking and couldn’t come up with anything on such short notice. We should have known better. We booked through an internet outfit called “Get Your Guide.” They don’t own or conduct any tours. They are just a clearinghouse for local tour operators. It bears a word of warning. We have generally had good experience with this group and another as well (like “Tours With Locals”). We can say that the actual operators are generally very good. But it was almost too good to be true that we were able to get right on and book the tour just an hour before it was due to go. We assumed it was set up and there were still openings. What it appears really happened is that they booked it and their system did not timely communicate with the actual purveyor. That seems like a weakness to us. Seems like they should have a way to check with the purveyor and make certain that the tour is going and there are openings. They didn’t do that. A very inefficient setup. Oh, but they were extremely efficient about charging our card – and taking our money. We did get a refund, but what a hassle. And essentially a “blown” day. Not cool, “Get Your Guide.”
WHAT DO you do? Make the best of it, I guess. The next day we were due to board our cruise ship at 11:00 a.m. So, this was really our last day before the cruise. Our purported meeting spot was a coffee roaster and shop called Truth Coffee Roasters. We walked in, got a nice cup of coffee and a tasty cinnamon roll, and chilled for a while. We had been striking out. But we didn’t want to sit around the hotel all afternoon. So, we took another Uber. This time to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. It was a large, peaceful place. I think spring may be the best time to go though. There were some flowers, and things were green. But it wasn’t “knock your socks off” for me. We were also there during the hottest light of the day, so not especially good for photography. Still, I managed to come away with a shot or two.
WE WERE ready for some refreshment. When we were trying to find the gin bar mentioned above, we googled “gin bar.” We found “The Gin Bar” (the original “Gin Bar”). It was back down in the city center. If you go to Cape Town, I recommend you go there. It looks to us to be a little-known spot, but popular with the locals. When your cab or Uber drops you off at the address listed in Google, you will think you are in the wrong place. But you are in the right place. The way to get into The Gin Bar is to walk into the street front Chocolate Shop and walk straight on through and out the back door. There is a nice little courtyard, and in a few steps, the entrance to The Gin Bar. I think the quirky entrance kind of adds to the ambiance. They have a number of craft gins, and several signature cocktails. Very good. And, once again, we escaped with an astoundingly inexpensive tab. We each had at least 3 drinks, and spent several hours there, before heading back to the waterfront to try a restaurant that purported to serve authentic South African food. You may sense a (gin-based) theme developing here. 🙂
ONE OF the things we like to do when we travel is try the foods of the countries or regions we are in. I like to do the same thing with locally brewed beers. I generally like a Lager. The seemingly most popular South African Lager is Castle. I had several of them while in Cape Town. The other beer I tried – Windhoek – was a Namibian beer, when we were in Walvis Bay, later in the week. But so-called “South African” food was/is an enigma to us. They have their favorites, and they can vary from region to region. But none seem to be particularly unique to only South Africa. For sure, we live in an ever-shrinking world, and “ethnic” foods have often morphed in localized versions (e.g., “Indian” food in London and in Durban). South Africa gets its cultural influence from African tribal culture as well as Dutch, British, German, and more recently Indian cultures. The most universal food type seems to be grilled (or as they refer to it “barbequed”) meat. They call it Braai. I had found a restaurant on the waterfront that claimed to serve “authentic” South African food and we had planned to try it. We didn’t make a reservation, which probably normally wouldn’t have mattered. But because of the wind event and other cancellations, they were overwhelmed and couldn’t seat us. In fact we had a tough time being seated anywhere nearby. We ultimately ate in a non-descript “family-type” restaurant that was so “memorable,” that I cannot even remember what I had. 🙂 I did get a chance at some authentic braai (pr: “bry”) later in the week.
“South African” food was/is an enigma to us
THE NEXT morning, we had breakfast, packed up, and took an Uber to the cruise port just a short distance away. After getting on board, we had a wait while our staterooms were being readied. So we did the predicable thing. We found the bar. 🙂 Our first couple days were at sea. I will cover the first part of the cruise in the next blog post.
ON OUR return to port in Cape Town, as mentioned above, we were picked up at the port by our guide and driver for the day. Ally was an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable guide. I will characterize him as “a character.” He was also caring and attentive. One of us had a “minor” but serious enough injury from a fall early in our day. Ally not only handled the situation diplomatically and efficiently but kept an eye on our friend for the remainder of the day.
A LIFETIME resident of Cape Town, Ally met us at the cruise port, and we spent a great day with him, driving around the cape. We had a long and active week on board and were pretty tired, but ready to see some of the parts of Cape Town we had not gotten to see. Our first stop would be Table Mountain, and the weather cooperated wonderfully. The entire day was warm and mostly sunny. We took the gondola to the top and were treated to some pretty impressive views of Cape Town and vicinity.
WE THEN drove down around the Cape Peninsula, first stopping at Hout Bay for a boat ride to see the Cape Seals. Of course, Ally knew somebody with a boat. 🙂
FROM HOUT Bay, we continued down the coast on the east side of the Cape Peninsula, with our ultimate destination being The Cape Point Nature Preserve, and the Cape of Good Hope (complete with its iconic sign), all in the Table Mountain National Park. But before we got to the park we had two other items on our agenda. The first was the Boulders Bay Penguin Colony just beyond Simon’s Town on the beaches of False Bay. False Bay has a couple of things about it that are noteworthy. First, Simon’s Town houses the largest Naval Facility in South Africa (formerly occupied by the British Navy). False Bay is a “square-ish” bay between Cape Point and Cape Hangklip on the east side of the bay. It got its name centuries ago, because of the similarity of Cape Hangklip to Cape Point. Sailors approaching from the east often confused Cape Hangklip with the Cape of Good Hope, and consequently, the bay as Table Bay in Cape Town. Hence the name “False Bay.” False Bay is also a known habitat for the African Penguin (we didn’t hear it, but apparently its cry is a bray much like a donkey and so it is sometimes known as the “Jackass Penguin”). The African Penguin is listed as an endangered species. In 1910 there were known to be over 1.5 million penguins in South Africa. But by the end of the 20th century that population had shrunk by 90%! According to my sources, this was due to a combination of factors, including the harvesting of their eggs for food and the commercial trawling for small fish (like anchovies and anchovies which make up a significant part of the penguin diet). In the early 1980’s the Boulders Bay area was selected as an ideal breeding ground for the Penguins, with its sheltered beaches and above tide bushes, it afforded a safe place for them and is now a protected natural area for them. From just 2 breeding pairs in 1982, the colony today exceeds 2000 today. It was characteristically warm and summerlike when we arrived there, and the hot sun was actually threatening the young penguins we were being born as we visited. The “hot” light made for challenging photographic lighting conditions. But I managed to make a few images.
THE PARK – nearly 20,000 acres (7750 hectares) – covers most of the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula. The last town of any size is Simon’s Town on the eastern shore of the Peninsula. South of Simon’s Town, while there are some residential properties, it becomes increasingly less inhabited, until you reach the park entrance, where it is completely natural. Admission for a day is about $20 U.S. dollars (352 South African rand). A mostly mountainous, rocky peninsula, there are transitional areas as the land reaches the beach. The park drive is mostly along the shoreline. There are shipwreck sites, as well as rocky cliffs and small sandy beaches. For the most part, they are uninhabited. This scenic area is certainly South Africa’s most famous seaside landform.
AT THE point of the Peninsula stands the Cape Point Light, warning seagoing vessels off of the rocky coastline and guiding them around the cape. There is a kind of interesting story there. The original Cape Point Light is at or near the highest point on the cape and can be seen from the parking lot of the Table Mountain National Park visitor center. There is a funicular that can be taken up to the light, as well as a walking path. We did not do either. The best I could do was to photograph the light from below, in the parking lot. We were there in the highest light portion of the afternoon, and any photograph would have been a lighting challenge (as this one was). But this is no longer the working light for the Cape. The original light was so high that – coming from the west (Atlantic) – ships were seeing it “too soon,” and it actually had the opposite effect of what it was intended for. It actually falsely brought the ships in too close. In 1911, the Portuguese Lucitainia, wrecked just south of the Cape. It is thought that seeing the light too soon, and being falsely assured, was the primary reason for this wreck. Sometime later, a new light (now the working light) was built at a lower elevation. This means that the ships now don’t see the light as soon, which has the effect of keeping them off the Cape longer.
OUR FRIENDS, Craig and Georgia (we first met them on our very first O’Brien Winery sponsored excursion, years ago), having the same flight as us back to the U.S., joined us for the day. Craig has a hip problem, and my wife has issues with her feet. Both are capable – and plucky. But walking up the path was really out of the question. Collectively, we didn’t have enough interest in the old Lighthouse to take the funicular. But there was another reason we didn’t try to walk the path – or anywhere else on the cape. While there are certainly a number hikers, there is also a fair amount of wildlife there. Some can be dangerous. But it’s not what you might think. It isn’t Lions (or Tigers or Bears, “oh my” 🙂 ), or any other cats. Rather, it is Baboons. Looking at my photograph (the best I could do from inside a vehicle, through the window glass), they look almost “cute,” furry and cuddly. The aren’t. They can be among the most dangerous of South African wildlife, perhaps partly due to being underestimated. They generally hang together in what are referred to as “troups.” Their natural habitat is the mountainous regions like the Cape affords them, with transitional vegetation as the land approaches the ocean. Their natural food sources are fruits, roots, bulbs, honey, insects and scorpions. They are omnivores. I have emphasized “natural” for a reason. Human-provided food sources have become a serious problem. The Baboons are not only very smart, but they are also extremely aggressive toward food. The have dangerous teeth and claws and will not hesitate to attack people – not for any reason other than they may think you have food. They can be as large as a small human, and certainly as heavy as an average person. They are tremendously physically strong. There are signs everywhere. The brochure for the park makes it illegal to purposely feed them, and notes that because of the aggressive behavior from receiving food from humans, Baboons (a protected species within the park) sometimes have to be destroyed. Earlier in the day, when we stopped for lunch at a magnificent restaurant overlooking the ocean, there were signs warning about Baboons. There were also electrified fence wires near the edge of the ground (which our waiter told us are basically useless if the baboons come around). Wildlife in South Africa is real.
OF COURSE, there is other wildlife in the park. We saw several Ostriches. They are – in keeping with the oft-heard saying – “a strange bird.” Interesting. Huge. Curious, but cautious. We had seen a fair amount of wildlife during the week while cruising. Ally could have taken us to another part of the park where we would have been more likely to see Springbok, Kudu, more Baboons and Ostriches, and possibly Giraffes. Probably no lions in the park, and no elephants. There were a couple major challenges to good photography of these animals. First, the light was pretty “hot.” Second, we were shooting from a vehicle and my seat did not have a window that opened. The glass presents an obstacle to good quality. And third, we were often far enough away that details would be a challenge. Given that earlier in our trip – during the cruise – we had all had some great wildlife viewing opportunities, we decided to forego that part of the park to head back to Cape Town for one other photo destination that I had in mind.
BEFORE HE returned us to the Cape Town airport, I asked Ally to make one other stop. I had read about an area known as Bo-Kaap (or sometimes, “The” Bo-Kaap). I originally thought it was a separate village, somewhere near – but outside of – Cape Town. It turns out that is right in the city in a neighborhood situated on the foothills of Table Mountain, at the base of Signal Hill, just to the southwest of the “Victoria and Alfred” Waterfront where we stayed. Once known as “The Malay Quarter,” it was a racially separated area during apartheid. In the late 1700’s a wealthy Dutch farmer purchased several tracts of land where Bo-Kaap now stands. “Bo-Kaap” translates as “above the ocean” in Afrikaans. The farmer built rowhouses which he leased to his slaves. At the time, the indigenous African people had resisted Dutch (and British) incursions, and largely moved east. Consequently, slaves were often imported from Indonesia and Malaysia. Hence, the “Malay Quarter.” During apartheid, the Bo-Kaap was populated with many other minorities. But the majority of the population were the slaves, who were primarily Muslim. Today, the area is still populated with approximately 58% Muslims, and is said to be the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in Cape Town.
ORIGINALLY PAINTED white, Bo-Kaap is known today for its brightly colored buildings. My oft-repeated mantra (is that redundant?) on this blog is color. 🙂 So naturally, I was attracted. Perhaps unfortunately, we were nearing the end of our day and did not have a great deal of time to wander around Bo-Kaap. I will certainly go back and spend a bit more time if we ever return to Cape Town. I have since seen a couple of really nice (and effective) panoramic images of Bo-Kaap. We were somewhat hurried, and I wasn’t “on-the-ball” enough to consider making a panoramic or two. The area is a very tight neighborhood, of mainly row houses. It requires wide angle images, or close studies, in my view. I pretty much don’t feel that I did it justice. It is said that when the inhabitants of Bo-Kaap gained independence, the brightly colored paint was a symbol of freedom and did not begin until the late 20th century.
BO-KAAP ESSENTIALLY ended our South African adventure. When we first planned the trip, I did my usual “quick and dirty” research. Originally, what might today be referred to as the “indigenous people of South Africa” were black, “African” tribes with names like Khoi, San, Bantus, Xhosa and Zulu. While some of them (notably the Zulu’s) did develop somewhat organized and “sophisticated” permanent settlement, for the first several centuries, Africa remained essentially wild and natural and these peoples were very small group, hunter-gatherers who moved often. In the 13th Century European Explorers arrived. During the so-called “Age of Discovery, first Portuguese and later Dutch explorers “discovered” Africa as they searched for an alternate to the “Silk Route” to the West Indies. Too far, east, they instead referred to this land as the “East Indies.” In 1488, Portuguese sailing explorers first rounded the Cape of Good Hope. It appears, though that it was later, around 1652 that The Dutch East India Company, brought significant settlement into the Cape area. They founded the Cape Colony (now Cape Town and vicinity) and the Cape Town Trading Company. The company, however, diligently avoided colonization, or establishment outside of the settlement in Table Bay. The intention was that it be an outpost of the company, whose sole purpose was as a waypoint to re-supply their trading vessels. Over time, however, some employees who had finished their contract with the company, were granted limited rights to farm and establish housing, though they continued to be governed by the company (from Amsterdam). These Dutch-turned “Afrikaan” farmers were known as Boers. Over time, they developed their own customs, way of living, and even language. During that time period, the Dutch had dominated Cape Town. Partly in search of better lands for their farming activities, and at the same time, chafing against Dutch remote authority, many of the Boers continued to expand eastward into the African interior. These “explorers” were known as Voortrekkers (or Boer Trekkers). Near the end of the 18th Century, through machinations, mostly occurring back in Europe between the Dutch, the English and the French, the Dutch ceded the African territory to British Control. By 1806, Africa was pretty much controlled by the British Empire. There were many tensions in Africa at that time, between the Dutch, the English, and the Boers, as well as between these Europeans and the indigenous tribes. In 1833, the British Slavery Abolition Act, had severe repercussions for the Boers, who felt strongly that they needed slaves in order for their farms to survive (an eerie parallel to the U.S. southern agriculture industry and eventual Civil War). To some extent unlike the U.S. attitudes toward slavery, the Boers viewed this from a religious perspective. In the rear-view mirror, it was a clearly twisted justification, but in the times, it created much turmoil between a somewhat embittered Afrikaan population and absentee (but thought-to-be absentee “do-gooders,” mostly from England). Eventually, tensions resulted in armed conflict between the Boers and the British (The Boer Wars). Initially, as a result of the First Boer War, the Boers prevailed, and the result was the independence of The South African Republic. But tensions between the nations continued, and the lure of minerals and diamonds, as well as control of the sea passages and ports was too strong for the then imperialist-leaning United Kingdom. In 1899 the tensions once again erupted into war (The Second Boer War), in which the British ultimately prevailed, and essentially ruled South Africa until their independence was granted in 1910. During this historical period, a culture of white dominated (probably due mainly to superior military power) racism predominated the South African culture. This culminated, of course with the infamous “Apartheid” period from 1948 to the early 1990’s. If you go back to many years to that period where the Boer independent culture developed, it puts these strong (although terribly wrong) feelings of racial superiority, and the “necessity” of separation in perspective. During our cruise I heard a lecture given from a professor from Cape Town University. His summary of the state of South Africa today was not optimistic. While apartheid has been abolished, the powers that ultimately took over appear to be largely corrupt and incompetent. The so-called “elections” are – from much of what I heard from citizens – kind of a farce. The economy is in critically bad condition, and the prediction is that there may well be economic, political and possibly military chaos in the short term. Personally, I hope not. I wonder, though, if our visit to South Africa was timely. Back, in 2003, we visited Istanbul, Turkey. Shortly after our visit, things there had deteriorated to the point that cruise ships and other excursions simply no longer went there. It is heartening to see that, some years later, cruise ships are stopping In Istanbul once again, signaling that stability may well have returned. I wonder if we won’t see a similar progression in South Africa in the very near future. We can only hope that any period of such instability will be short-lived. Time will tell.
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.]