A New Direction

Cape Town Waterfront
South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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).Β  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.

Cape of Good Hope
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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).

Oceania Nautica
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 202
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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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

IΒ  WILL 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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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.

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

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. πŸ™‚ 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.

Tanqueray “Tree”
Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Street Art
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Street Art
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Woodstock Gin Company
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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WEATHER WAS not 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.”

Truth Coffee Roasters
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserves
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserves

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. πŸ™‚

The Gin Bar
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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. πŸ™‚ I did get a chance at some authentic braai (pr: “bry”) later in the week.

 

Table Bay Waterfront
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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“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. πŸ™‚ Our first couple days were at sea. I will cover the first part of the cruise in the next blog post.

Table Mountain Gondola
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Mohammed “Ally” Ally
“Tours By Locals”
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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AΒ  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.

Cape Town from Table Mountain
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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. πŸ™‚

Cape Seals
Hout Bay, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Penguin Colony
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

View of False Bay
Table Mountain National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Original Cape Point Lighthouse
Table Bay National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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” πŸ™‚ ), 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.

Baboons
Table Bay National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Female Ostriches
Table Bay National Park
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Bo-Kaap
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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. πŸ™‚ 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
Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
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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.

Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

 

People in Your Landscape Photos?

Church; Porto, Portugal
I wanted a shot of this Church all alone (and I did make one early another morning), but I like the way the people in this image come together in the square in front of the church to give some “area context”
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
IΒ  HAVE shot primarily nature, landscape and other outdoor venues for all the years I have been at this. And for many of those years, I worked hard to get people-free images. Still do some of the time. In popular places, it was not uncommon to sit patiently (or sometimes not so patiently πŸ™‚ ) waiting for people to clear a scene. Later, the ability to “remove” things from images digitally softened some of the angst. But that doesn’t always work. I found myself still waiting for opportunities where the “offending” body was in a spot that would be easy to remove. And then, of course, that brings on all the “isn’t that cheating?” stuff.

I liked the way the yellow jacket contrasted with the mostly monochromatic image of Buckingham Palace. It pulls the gold gilded statue top too. I waited for her to walk into the frame and then made the image.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2021
All Rights Reserved]

not every national park, scenic view, or iconic location was put there for me and my camera

THERE ARE, of course, still going to be times when you want a pristine landscape shot. Often the best time to do that is very early in the morning, before tourists and even workers are out. Getting up early takes a certain discipline, but every time I do so, I am rewarded. Often with complete solitude. Sometimes with just a lot fewer people around. Another way to get that kind of shot is to shoot scenes and places where there aren’t a lot of people. Places that haven’t been discovered yet. Or places that don’t have tourist appeal. I have found some of my best farm scenes to be places that haven’t been “discovered” yet. I have also learned – unfortunately – that it isn’t a good idea to identify those locations in this day and age. There are a couple now famous scenes in Vermont, for example, that used to see the occasional photographer in the road near them – usually during the fall foliage season. But today, everybody and their smartphone wants to photograph these places, and in addition to large numbers of people, many of them have zero respect for other’s property. Indeed in recent years, some of these once quiet, bucolic scenes have taken on a “carnival” atmosphere that is totally at odds with what drew us to them in the first place.

Sometimes the image is ABOUT the people. This close shot of the entranceway into the Buckingham Palace Grounds would be boring and static without the guard. I was really shooting the guard, not the palace, here.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2021
All Rights Reserved]
PEOPLE IN the scene can often be perceived as a negative. But I also have to remind myself sometimes that not every national park, scenic view, or iconic location was put there for me and my camera. Indeed, (at least before the advent of the smartphone), the vast majority of visitors to these locations are/were probably there just to see the place. And they certainly have every bit as much of a right to do that (even if they are standing in my photo πŸ™‚ ). Tolerance does not seem to be a popular thing these days, but I still try to practice it.

This is one of my favorite images of London. The two gentlemen engaged in thoughtful conversation makes an otherwise “nice” image of the backside of Westminster Abbey much more interesting, in my view
[Copyright Andy Richards 2021
All Rights Reserved]
IN RECENT years, though, something that I have learned is – especially in my travel photography – putting people (or using the people that are there) in your photos sometimes creates added interest. In addition to scale, they can give perspective, and sometimes create questions. Like what is she looking at? What is he thinking? Or they can help express the pure joy of experiencing one of our worldwide wonders. So, for me the trick has now become how to best position the people that are inevitably there in the image. I have begun to look for those moments. I know I am probably late to the game (but suspect I am still with, or ahead of many of my fellow “nature” photographers). Street photographers often purposely seek out people in their imagery. I have never felt really comfortable engaging people, but I am slowly coming to grips with it. In the meantime, I often try to portray people in the image in a basically incognito way (looking away, or so distant as to not have recognizable face). But other times that is just not possible. And when people are in public, they have a reduced expectation of privacy, so I feel that as long as I am not portraying them in a negative way, it is probably o.k.

Porto, Portugal
I made several images as this woman walked through the frame. I like the way in this one, she appears to hesitate, and you wonder, what is she looking at/for?
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
WHILE INCLUDING people in photographs can be an enhancing factor, I also believe there is a tipping point. I have had times where the venue has been so crowded with people that I have decided not to even shoot it. Sometimes crowds can detract from a shot. Unless, of course, you are trying to depict crowds.

I made this image to illustrate the packed Wine Festival in Evora, Portugal
Evora, Portugal
Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved

IΒ  DON’T think I have used people in images anywhere more than my recent trip to Portugal. We were in two of the most populous cities in the country and let’s face it: there were bound to be people everywhere. Even early in the season. I think this year is perhaps unusual, as people were pent up from the pandemic, and ready to get out and travel again. For whatever reason, there were a lot of people in Lisbon and Porto in late May and early June.

The line (or “qeue” as they say in Europe) for getting into Lisbon’s popular Belem Tower historical site was long. The lone person standing near the water attracted my attenion. Another one of those “wonder what she is looking at” people images.
Lisbon, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
SOMETIMES PEOPLE and their behavior make an otherwise uninteresting image worth a second look. I was walking around St. Kitt during one of our Caribbean Cruise stops and looking for color and interest. The obviously attractive young woman in this shot caught my eye. If the shot were about her, though, having her walking out of the frame is just not very good composition. As much as it may seem so, she is not the true subject of the image. I had all I could do with the fast moving action and my widest zoom to catch the entire important parts of the scene. But mine were not the only eyes she caught. Do you see it? πŸ™‚ I couldn’t resist making this one.

Double-Take
St. Kitts
[Copyright Andy Richards 2014
All Rights Reserved]
THE “SELFIE” has become (for better or worse) a common occurrence in these times. There are times when people compromise privacy, safety, and property in there unending quest to produce the best Instagram selfie. But sometimes it is just people trying to capture a memory It certainly speaks of behavior. The gondola scene at Piazza San Marco on Venice is iconic. Most of us shoot it trying to exclude outside elements. I was doing that one early morning – making a motion-blur image of the rocking gondolas. When I arrived, I saw this young woman who I believe was making a selfie with the piazza and St. Mark’s in her background. It gives great human interest to the image, in my opinion.

Piazza San Marco
Venice, Italy
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013
All Rights Reserved]
IΒ  HAVE made numerous cruise ship pictures over our years of cruising. I am usually shooting either the landscape, or action on the ship. I am never the only one doing so, though most often it is folks with their smart phones (or even tablets sometimes). I love to make images of a harbor as we enter it and dock. As I was doing so in the very picturesque Cobh, Ireland, I noticed the gentleman below doing likewise. I have gotten smarter about my photography over recent years, and was glad I had the presence of mind to capture the scene, which certainly tells a better story than my “solo” images do.

Cobh, Ireland
[Copyright Andy Richards 2019
All Rights Reserved]
OF ALL the imagery I have made over the years, a substantial majority has been landscape – and of that, more than anything, fall foliage. Mountains, reflections, closeups, barns and farms all make wonderful context. Occasionally, people in the image add color, or interest, or even scale and perspective. I shamelessly confess that I totally “copycatted” the following silhouette image, after seeing a colleague framing it up. But what a great storytelling idea. The photo is another “ho hum” fall foliage image without them.

Hiawatha National Forest Lake
Munising, Michigan
[Copyright Andy Richards 2012
All Rights Reserved]
SOMETIMES STAGING people in an image works. During my trip to Vermont in October, 2021, we were composing and contemplating shooting an uphill Vermont back road, framed with colorful foliage. I made the point that this one needed some interest – a person walking up the road. On of our friends offered to “model,” wearing a bright yellow raincoat I had (which was the brightest “prop” we could find). I think the photo worked well. But when I got home, and reviewed the image on my screen, it occurred to me that red would have more impact. So I made it red. I know. That “cheating” thing again. πŸ™‚

Pudding Hill Road
Burke, Vermont
[Copyright Andy Richards 2021]
IΒ  AM certain that I miss many opportunities to use “models” in my images. I am, by nature, not an outgoing person when around strangers. Again, sometimes, I just get lucky. I was walking in the St. Kitt Cruise port area shooting some of the colorful buildings. This young shop employee asked me out of the blue if I would like her to pose for me. I am no portrait photographer, but I thought this was a kind of fun image that would not have been the same without her in it.

St. Kitt
[Copyright Andy Richards 2014
All Rights Reserved]
AS OFTEN as I get “unlucky” or even annoyed with the people in a scene, sometimes I get lucky. The scene in Rome was interesting enough to capture my attention. But when the young man walked into the shot, it seemed like a case of “right time; right place” for me.

The man in the center of the street gives this image a sense of scale
City Center
Rome, Italy
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013
All Rights Reserved]
LOOKING FOR opportunities often begets opportunities. In case of the photo below, we were on a street art walking tour in Cape Town South Africa in January. While mostly shooting the street art imagery, I am always on the lookout for colorful subjects. And – lately – also for human subjects of interest. Here I found both and couldn’t help but wonder if the conversation was about our group?

 

Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

WHILE SOMETIMES, a photo leaves you wondering about the people in the photo, other times it’s just obvious what the person is doing in the photo – and yet still adds interest. This young woman was one of another couple that joined us on the street art walk recently in Cape Town. The focus of the day, of course was the street art itself. Usually in context. But this opportunity presented itself and I liked the symmetry (physical and figurative). There is little doubt in my mind that the inclusion of the photographer adds interest to the already visually compelling subject.

Cape Town, South Africa
Copyright Andy Richards 2023
All Rights Reserved

O

VERALL, I think there is always going to be room in my portfolio and shooting style for both. I will always want to at least try to make “clean” images. Sometimes that means waiting. Sometimes using content-aware processing. But what I have learned is to look for both opportunities. I think both views, for example, of the Pink Street below are interesting. I had to go very early in the morning to get the empty street. But the people in the second image are always there, beginning in the early evening, and by nighttime, the place is packed. That’s reality and if you are going to portray reality, you are going to have people in the picture. πŸ™‚

The Pink Street
Lisbon, Portugal
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
[Tomorrow, I head to Ft. Lauderdale to board a cruise ship bound for the Caribbean for a few days. When I return, I am going to take the blog in a slightly different direction – temporarily. See you in a couple weeks]

Copenhagen

Langelinie Port; Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
OF THE places we were originally scheduled to stop, the two that held the most interest for me were St. Petersburg and Copenhagen. I have beaten St. Petersburg to death here. But Copenhagen. It promised many of the elements that I find such a draw in my photography. There are colors, reflections, boats and buildings with distinctive architecture. It is a relatively small, and very walkable city. I would have loved to have spent more time there.

Langelinie Cruise Port
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
WE CAME in just as the sun rose, and I was up on the deck, as usual, making images in the nice morning light. I was impressed by the size and activity in the Copenhagen Port (I was to learn, later, that this was just one of several ports in Copenhagen).

Langelinie Port
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]

AS IT was, we had just one day to explore. We had found and booked a walking tour with our friends Mike and Elaine for the day. Our meeting point was in town, and we thought that – though walkable – we would probably have better success taking a taxi. Fortunately, there was a taxi stand just inside the port, near our berth. That turned out to be a good call, as the meeting point was about 2 miles from the ship, near the Copenhagen main library.

Copenhagen Main Library
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
MUCH LIKE the inner cities of many European cities we have visited, there are small cafes and restaurants along every street and on every corner. As always, color attracts me, and I loved the red and white theme of this cafe, complete with red and white checked table-cloths. Also like many European cities – at least those in relatively moderate climates, there are always outdoor tables.

Cafe Sorgenfri
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
WE WERE relatively early this morning, and the city was just waking up. I love the mornings, both for its lack of crowds, and for the great photographic light. Lots of contrast makes shooting sometimes a challenge, but when it is right it is pretty nice. My eye naturally travels to streets like this one, with its cobblestone pavement, and brightly colored buildings beckoning in the distance.

Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
FROM OUR meeting point, we walked to the small square housing Copenhagen University, a quite popular university among European students. From there we walked to Christiansborg Slot (Palace), which is a pretty imposing building. The mainly Baroque styled building is the seat of Danish Government and the Danish Supreme Court. It also houses the Prime Minister of Denmark, and offices of the Danish Monarch. According to Wikipedia, Christiansborg Palace is the only government building in the world that houses all 3 branches of government under one roof. There are also Royal Stables on the bottom floor. The site was home to 2 prior castles, the first one built in the late 12th Century. Both were eventually demolished, and in 1733, King Christian VI began construction of the current castle. Christiansborg was destroyed by fire in 1794, rebuilt in 1803, and again partially destroyed by fire in 1884. It was finally restored again, 23 years later and is essentially the building we see today. We walked through the grounds near the stables, and then out the other side, where we exited onto the street. Later, we would return here on our own after our tour and go to the top of the tower shown here, for some pretty spectacular views of the city (including a shot of our cruise ship, the Celebrity Apex).

Christiansborg Palace
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
Christiansborg Palace
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
 

View From the Tower; Christiansborg Palace
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
Celebrity Apex in Port
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
F

ROM THE front of the palace, we walked back north, across the canal and into the ritzy shopping district. I spotted the original “Flagship” Royal Copenhagen store on one of the street. I wore RC for many years, and still have a bottle of it. At some point, somebody suggested it had a bit of an “old mannish” scent, and I abandoned it. But I kept it, knowing full well I would be an old man someday. Well . . .Β  here we are. Guess it may be time to break that RC out again? πŸ™‚ We walked back west from the square, toward Nyhavn.

Nyhavn
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
N

YHAVN WAS the main spot I wanted to see in Copenhagen. Running east and west from the old “Kings Square” part of the city out to the main canal which separates the Island of Christianshavn from the mainland, the Nyhavn Canal was dug by hand in mainly by Swedish prisoners of war, in 1660-1675. The canal was intended to accommodate ship traffic with cargo and fish, into the old city. The area was populated with rowdy sailors and known for drinking and prostitution, among other things. One notable fact is that famed Danish writer, Hans Christian Anderson lived in Nyhavn from about 1845 – 1975. The northern, more sunny side of the canal is flanked by the colorful buildings you see in the images, and fronted by small, mainly fishing boats along the jetty. The relatively smooth water surface makes it good for reflections and in spite of the rather late time – mid-day – I was able to produce some reflections. As ships became larger and modes of ground transportation developed over the years, the significance of Nyhavn for these purposes diminished. In the mid 1960s, a movement began to revitalize the area, and in 1980, the streets flanking both sides of the canal were converted to pedestrian traffic only, for the length of the canal. Today, Nyhavn is a popular tourist and nightlife destination. The north side is lined with restaurants and some shops. Our guide was accommodating of my request to walk on the south side, so I could photograph this scene. Given that we were in more or less mid-day sun, it was everything I hoped it would be. I was glad today that I had the 9-15mm lens with me.

Nyhavn
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
OUR GUIDE had mentioned to us earlier in the day that one of the “draws” of Copenhagen is that it is a very walkable city. We could see that. We walked to the end of the Nyhavn canal and turned again northeast. We walked along the main canal. The views across were impressive, including a shot of the Copenhagen Opera House, and some modern architecture housing.

Copenhagen Opera House
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
Modern Architecture Housing
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
WE STOPPED for a drink (included in the tour price πŸ™‚ ) here and a brief rest, where we had the opportunity to learn more about our tour guide, who is doing this partly to help support her two children and herself. Our next stop was Amalienborg, the home of the Danish Royal Family. Originally built for 4 “noble” families and founded by King Frederick V, this “compound” in the middle of the city is unique. There are 4, identical palaces situated around an octagonal courtyard. The first residence was built by/for Queen Sophie Amalie and is thus known as “The Queen’s Palace.” The other 3 have served over the years as private residences other members of the Royal Family. The view into the courtyard is spectacular, with a fountain at the entrance, and the green-domed, marble, Rococo designed, Frederik’s Kirche (church) in the background. The palace exteriors are “Classical” and the interiors are said to be Baroque (we did not go inside).

Amalienborg Castle
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
Amalienborg Castle
Copenhagen, Denmark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
O

UR TOUR ended shortly afterward, and we walked back to Christiansborg Palace to climb the tower (I make it sound worse than it is. There is an elevator most of the way up πŸ™‚ ). From there, we found a taxi back to our port. We had no trouble finding the taxi stand. We did have one problem, though. None of the 4 of us had memorized the name of our port (Langelinie). We had about an hour before the all-aboard time. Our taxi driver spoke very limited English. He asked us which port? We all looked at each other with wide-eyes. There were – apparently 5 ports to choose from. We eventually worked it out that it was indeed, Langelinie. Lesson here: πŸ™‚ Don’t leave the ship without knowing the name of the cruise port! Our trip was almost over. We had one more day at sea, which we would make the most of. In addition to Mike and Elaine (who we are now joining on a Caribbean Celebrity Cruise in February 2023 – just over a week from today), we met a couple from New Jersey, and their friends who got engaged on the cruise. We also met a very nice couple from Canada, who ended up joining us for dinner every night. We had also met Flo and Jim, before the cruise, as they live just 20 minutes north of us here in Florida. We had lots of fun with these new friends. The New Jersey couple were also cigar smokers, and we had a least one more celebratory cigar on the last at sea day. It was a fun cruise and yielded much more photographically than I thought it might. Copenhagen is a place I would love to return to one day!

 

 

Visby (Gotland) Sweden

Port at Visby, Sweden
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
WHEN WE booked this cruise (back in late 2021), the marquee stop was most certainly St. Petersburg, Russia. No matter your politics or your world history gestalt, it is understandable that St. Petersburg is a sought-after destination. In splendid contrast to an otherwise perceived, repressive, cold, mostly poor, while geographically vast country, St. Petersburg is Russia’s bright light, presented to the world as an enlightened and modern “utopia-worthy” city. Its namesake (both he and the city were named after St. Peter, the apostle), Romanov Czar Peter (“Peter the Great”) may have been the primary responsible Russian leader for bringing Russia into its own as a modern, “westernized,” world power. Serving as Russia’s capitol city for 200 years, it also became Russia’s cultural and naval center. Under the Czarship of Peter, the Russian Navy was built. Peter was a student of “western” civilization and studied their military, architecture, and even fashion trends. St. Petersburg was designed and built largely in the classical and neoclassical styles and became the showcase of the Baltic. After the 1917 Bolshevic Revolution, the capitol was moved to Moscow. In 1924, the Soviet Government renamed the city Leningrad (it was briefly Petrograd previously). In 1991 the citizens, by citywide referendum, returned the name back to St. Petersburg. In terms of its culture, architecture, layout and history, it appears to be a wonderland for visitors. But alas, not these visitors. 😦

Marina
Visby, Sweden
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]

AS TENSIONS increased between Russia and the Ukraine, and consequently, the rest of the world, whether we would still go to St. Petersburg came into question. Nations and travel-related companies other than our cruise line announced that they would no longer travel to St. Petersburg. As war broke out, Celebrity joined the long line of (ultimately unanimous) travel purveyors to eliminate St. Petersburg from their stops. While it was partly due to the safety of passengers, and certainly due to deteriorating relations between Russian and virtually everyone else, I hope it was partly philosophical. There is no good reason in the world to spend money on Russia’s economy today! If they had somehow preserved the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg in spite of the war, we would certainly have cancelled our cruise. A sad state of affairs for the citizens of St. Petersburg and of Russia.

An Entrance to the Walled City of Visby
Gotland, Sweden
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
BUT CELEBRITY now had to adjust. Their response to the problem was twofold. First, they changed the Stockholm port to an overnight (that didn’t work out – for entirely unrelated reasons – more on that in the Stockholm post). They then added a previously unscheduled stop: Visby. Visby is a smallish city on the Swedish island of Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea. Its location made it at one time a strategic trading spot, one of the most important Baltic Sea ports of the Hanseatic League. Today, it holds strategic military importance, as well as a robust tourist business. With a population of nearly 24,000, the city of Visby accounts for nearly half of the entire Gotland population. Outside of Visby, what remains is all rural.

Visby
Gotland, Sweden
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]

THE CENTER of Visby is an old, medieval, walled town. It is one of the most well-preserved medieval cities in Europe. These days, Visby caters primarily to tourism and in recently years a fair proportion of those tourists come from cruise ships. Particularly because Visby was a late addition to the ports, once again we had no tours scheduled. We did learn however, from Mike and Elaine, about a walking tour that convened in the center of the old city. We made the rather long walk from the ship to the Tourist Information Center (TI) where we found our guide. The tour was a couple hours long and was quite interesting. Mostly though, I saw Visby as a last-minute add-on, with some rather nice photo ops in the mix for me.

Visby
Gotland, Sweden
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
Β ASIDE FROM history, the city was well kept, and had many picturesque old buildings, cobblestone streets, and other fixtures you might have expected to be part of daily life in an old medieval city. And, as expected in any old European city, there were churches. The central Christian church – interestingly, immediately adjacent to the Jewish quarter – was large and rather spectacular.

Church/Cathedral
Visby, Sweden
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]
A

FTER THE tour, we walked around a bit more, and headed back to the ship. Not the most memorable, port we have been to, Visby was still nice. And the weather was sunny (if a bit hot). All in all, we were cruising, traveling, and seeing new places. That seems to check the boxes. Next stop, the much more anticipated Tallinn Estonia.

Visby
Gotland, Sweden
[Copyright Andy Richards 2022
All Rights Reserved]