Tag Archives: Travel

Tuscany In Black & White

Pienza, Italy

I posted previously about having made a slideshow of color photos from our Tuscany workshop.  A personal project of mine has been to get better at seeing and photographing in Black & White.  I recently created a separate slideshow to showcase my progress toward that goal.  Link to video is below.

Thanks to Jeff Curto for his encouraging feedback and for hosting the videos until I get my own Vimeo page set up!

Video is here:

The Road Beckons

Tuscan countryside near La Foce, Italy

Kathy & I have been capitalizing on our newly won freedom from cubicle confinement & PTO allocation and are ready to set off on our next adventure.  Nothing as dramatic as Italy this time – a quick visit to family and friends in Ohio with a stop or two along the way.  Some time in Shenandoah National Park, down the Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway before returning home to do laundry. 😉  No telling what might happen after that!

Expect postcards and photos along the way!

Randomness, Happenstance and (Sometimes) Luck

Sky and cloud reflections at the Bell Island Pier near Swan Quarter, North Carolina

Making a slight diversion from working on and posting about Italy photos….

Sky and cloud reflections at the Bell Island Pier near Swan Quarter, North Carolina

I first heard the term “stochastic photography” in a post by Ctein on The Online Photographer way back in 2010.  It’s sort of a refined version of pointing your camera at something, taking a boatload of pictures and hoping some of them come out in a way that is pleasing or that somehow meet the intention of what you were trying to capture.  As in “I’ll know it when I see it.”  I don’t always remember to use that technique, although I often recognize situations where it might be appropriate.  Sometimes I even have my camera with me.  While I don’t generally care to make my photographs “about the technique, ” sometimes the technique helps to define the photographs.  Post-visualization perhaps, rather than pre-visualization?

Sky and cloud reflections at the Bell Island Pier near Swan Quarter, North Carolina
Sky and cloud reflections at the Bell Island Pier near Swan Quarter, North Carolina

Kathy & I spent 4th of July week out in eastern NC, in New Bern and Belhaven.  One morning we stopped at the Bell Island Pier, which is a fishing pier within the Swan Quarter National Wildlife Refuge, near Swan Quarter, NC.  It was a beautiful day, with towering cumulus clouds and a deep blue sky.  I noticed the reflections of the sky in the water and decided to see what I could get.

Sky and cloud reflections at the Bell Island Pier near Swan Quarter, North Carolina

Over the course of about 4 minutes I fired off a little more than 100 shots.  It’s a little hard to tell which ones are “successful” but I’ve put together a little collection of a few that I liked.  The ones that “feel right” to me have a nice balance of light and dark, color and no color, with an interesting pattern.  I may decide later on that there are others I like or some that I don’t like, but that’s part of the fun!

Sky and cloud reflections at the Bell Island Pier near Swan Quarter, North Carolina

Thoughts on our Tauck tour – Venice, Florence & Rome

St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy

This is the text from a write-up I did for our travel agent and tour company describing our experiences with the tour we did our first week in Italy.

When Kathy & I decided to visit Italy, we elected to use a tour company primarily due to the logistics involved with driving there and because of the need to tour the major sights with some kind of group in order to avoid spending valuable vacation time waiting in lines.  We chose to tour with Tauck on the recommendation of our travel agent because of Tauck’s reputation and expertise in Italy.  Our travel agent indicated that Tauck provided a good mix of quality accommodations in good locations, a high level of food and service, with knowledgeable and expert local guides and a good mix of organized activities and flexible time.  We found all those things to be very much the case.

From the time we stepped out of baggage claim at the airport in Venice, to the time we joined the line for check-in at the Rome airport, we felt like we were traveling with people and a company that cared for us and looked out for us every step of the way to make sure we had an excellent vacation.

Gondolas along the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

Tour Director

Our Tauck Tour Director was Andrea Orri, an Italy native and obviously a seasoned travel professional.  Andrea consistently amazed us with his ability to communicate details, answer countless questions and essentially herd 40 distinct personalities around without even a hint of difficulty.  All we had to do was show up at the appointed time and everything just “happened” as promised.  His descriptions and explanations were communicated accurately, clearly and with a fantastic sense of humor.  We learned a number of “Andrea-isms” that we will remember and use for years!

We don’t have a lot of special needs or unusual requests, but I have an occasional problem with claustrophobia, especially in tight spaces.  When we mentioned this to Andrea he very quietly and professionally made sure I had a comfortable location on the bus and in the van.  It was great and I never had a problem.

Andrea was always available to answer questions or give input.  He freely provided ideas and directions for places to visit and restaurants to go for lunch or dinner.  He often would make our reservations and provide directions to the places for us.  We know that a lot happened behind the scenes, but what we observed was nothing less than amazing.  If Andrea is representative of the quality of people who work for Tauck – and we have no reason to expect otherwise – there is no question that we would make Tauck our first choice for future travel of that type.

St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, Italy

Accommodations

We found the hotel accommodations to be outstanding.  The hotels themselves are centrally located with good amenities, we could not have asked for better.  Our hotel in Venice was literally steps from St. Mark’s Square.  In Florence, we were an easy walk from the Uffizi Gallery, the Duomo and other sights.  We could have used taxis but decided to enjoy the walking.  Our hotel in Rome was centrally located, with a number of sights, restaurants and shopping within easy walking distance.  Because of the sheer size of Rome, we used buses a lot more there than anywhere else.

Michelangelo’s “David” at the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze (Academy Of Florence Art Gallery)

Itinerary

We knew going in that this was a “hit the highlights” tour, and that there would be a lot of things we would skim over or simply miss.  It’s just not possible to see “all” of the things in any one city in an entire lifetime, but we saw all of the “important” things with ample free time for the things that we wanted to see on our own.  In Venice, I wanted to get out early and photograph the canals before the tourists arrived.  In Florence we wanted to visit the Galileo Museum, and in Rome we wanted to walk to the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.  We did all of those things and more during the plenty of flexible time we had.

The after-hours visit to the Sistine Chapel was itself worth the price of taking the Tauck tour.  To be able to spend 30+ minutes in that space with a group of only 100 people, fully narrated by our guides, was truly a special experience.  To my knowledge Tauck is the only company with that kind of access, and knowing how the usual tours are herded through quickly and without any narration, I would not have wanted to do it any other way.  To have that amazing visit capped off with a dinner on the grounds of The Vatican, the evening could not have been more special.

Overall, we felt that the pace of the tour was just right.  It would have been nice to have more time in the places we visited, but by missing all the lines we actually had more time in each of the places we did visit than most people would have had.  The only thing we really weren’t prepared for was the amount of walking we would do, and we thought we had prepared!  There were just a lot of things to do and places to see.  It was no problem to exceed 10,000 steps per day on a regular basis!

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence

Local Guides

Every tour group has a guide, and most of them are good.  But we were especially impressed with the local guides that Tauck used in each city.  They weren’t just locals who speak English, but were degreed art professionals who knew and could explain in intricate detail the history and importance of the places and pieces we visited.  Being able to learn about those things was an added detail that we hadn’t expected but were happy to have been able to experience.

Our visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy

Logistics

I mentioned earlier that things “just happened.”  We never had to wonder about where to go, what to bring or what we were doing.  On transfer days our luggage “disappeared” then “reappeared” at our destination.  Transportation was always on time, restaurants were always ready for us and things were just right.  I can’t imagine a more flawless experience.

Our visit to the Colosseum in Rome

Fellow Travelers

Most of our fellow travelers were similar in age and demographics to us – 50’s to 70’s, with a few older and some teen and 20-year old kids and grandkids.  It was a group of seasoned travelers with an appreciation for the food, culture and experience.  We were surprised at the number of first timers – both to Italy as well as with Tauck.  As an introductory tour to both that was understandable.

Our visit to The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica

Value

The perception of value is a very individual thing.  Our Tauck tour appeared to be quite expensive, and it was, and many people would question whether it was worth the price.  But when we consider all the things that were included, plus all of the advantages we gained in terms of time, access and experience,  I personally would not have wanted to give up all of the positives to save a few dollars.  I will say that the Tauck tour was an excellent product and that the quality lives up to the promise.  Sometimes we pay more than we’d like for the experience we want.  The “worth-it” decision is a personal one but one that we feel was appropriate for this vacation.

Other Considerations

While this tour is not billed as “all-inclusive” it does include a lot.  But it is important to be aware of and understand the cost of things that are not included.  All of that free time and meals “on your own” come with a cost, and while each traveler has a certain amount of control over their spending, these are not inexpensive cities and everyone should plan, and budget, accordingly.  And that doesn’t take into account the SHOPPING!

It is possible to do A LOT of walking, with a lot of steps, bridges and cobblestone streets.  Be sure you know what you are getting into before you book.

In summary, we had a fantastic week and look forward to an opportunity to tour with Tauck again!

Our visit to The Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica

Galley Tour on Celebrity Summit

Galley tour on Celebrity Summit

Another highlight of our recent cruise and part of our chef tour was a tour of the galley.  We have done galley tours before on numerous cruises, but ordinarily they are held in the morning, and the most exciting thing you see is someone making gravy!  For this tour we were taken through the galley during dinner service, and it was quite an experience!

Chef Stephen on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit

It’s been a long time since I worked in any kind of restaurant environment, and I’m not sure I actually qualify to say that I worked in any kind of restaurant!  But the things we found most impressive were how clean and organized things were, and how friendly everyone was, especially while they were busy.  I took a lot of photos on this tour, and these are just a few, to give you a “taste” of the experience!

Escalator from the dining room to the galley
Executive Chef Kuldeep Singh on Celebrity Summit
Dessert station!
Dessert station!
Dessert station!
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit
Galley tour on Celebrity Summit

Chef Tour in Nassau

Chef Stephen

In my earlier post about the Conch Guy I mentioned that we had taken a tour in Nassau with one of the chefs from our ship.  In addition to the fish market, we visited a roadside vegetable stand, a couple of guys cutting up coconuts for juice and meat, as well as a distillery.  Here are a few more photos from that trip.

Chef Stephen at a roadside fish market

Our guide was Chef Stephen from Jamaica, and he explained a lot about the different things we saw and how they were used in island cooking.  While we or the chef weren’t permitted to bring anything back to the ship due to health regulations and ship policy, Stephen used many of these same ingredients and themes when preparing the meal that we had back on the ship that evening.

Roadside produce stand
Roadside fish market
Roadside produce stand
Roadside produce stand
Roadside produce stand

In a separate post I’ll share photos from our galley tour.  But unfortunately I was too busy enjoying the food to take any photos at dinner!

Sampling fresh coconut and coconut water
Sampling fresh coconut and coconut water
Sampling fresh coconut and coconut water
John Watling’s Distillery
John Watling’s Distillery
John Watling’s Distillery
John Watling’s Distillery

The Conch Guy

The Conch Guy

One of the ports on our recent cruise was Nassau, in the Bahamas.  We did a shore excursion there that involved touring some of the island’s fish and produce markets with one of the chefs from the ship.  One of the stops on our tour was at a roadside fish market where fishermen brought in their fresh catch.  Coolers after coolers with fish of all types – including snapper, grouper, mahi and lobster.

Roadside fish market stand during our Chef’s Market Tour shore excursion in Nassau, Bahamas
Roadside fish market stand during our Chef’s Market Tour shore excursion in Nassau, Bahamas

Also at this stop was a tent where a man was shelling conch for conch salad.  If you aren’t familiar, a conch is a sea creature that grows in those beautiful pink shells that everyone likes to collect.  He used an ax to punch a hole in the shell in just the right spot, then dug the conch out of the shell with a knife.  The conch was then chopped up, marinated and mixed with veggies for a salad.  Delicious!

The Conch Guy
The Conch Guy
The Conch Guy
The Conch Guy

Watching the conch man work the shells was as interesting as eating the conch.  Kathy asked him if he ever cut himself.  He just smiled and said, “sometime, mon, but not in a long time!”

Conch salad!

Oh, There Were People in San Juan, Too!

Trio On A Bench

Cedric commented on my last post about how the lack of people contributed to the “Tranquilidad” of the scenes.  Of course not all of my photos were devoid of people, as the people are a large part of what makes San Juan special.  Here are a few photos “with” people as a counterpoint against those without.

Painting a Fine Line
Afternoon Walk
Three Dimensional
Wrong Way
Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit
Scenery near El Morro Fortress in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit
Lunch at Barrachina, allegedly the birthplace of the Pina Colada. In San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit

An Unexpected Visit to San Juan

This Way!

Kathy & I recently returned from a cruise to the Caribbean.  We’re getting pretty good at the cruise thing – this was our 23rd cruise – but we’re still practicing!

An Address I Could Live With!

This cruise was on Celebrity Summit.  Celebrity has become our favorite cruise line, mostly because they just know how to do good food and good service.  While all of the lines are good, we’ve come to really like Celebrity.

Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit
Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit

Summit is one of Celebrity’s older ships, but we chose it because it is one of their smallest, at just 2,000 passengers.  The ship we were on last year was over 4,000 passengers, while we saw a ship this time that was over 6,000!  While I would love to experience one of those ships, that’s just a shipload of too many people!

Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit
Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit

This cruise was supposed to stop at Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, but Punta Cana doesn’t have a  dock for the cruise ships so it is one where they need to take passengers ashore using tenders.  The seas were too rough there for tendering, so we ended up in San Juan, PR instead.  While we looked forward to Punta Cana, we love San Juan and were not at all disappointed to end up there.

Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit
Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit

Kathy & I spent our time in port walking around Old San Juan.  We had lunch (and Pina Coladas!) at a nice restaurant that claims to be the birthplace of the drink.  More to come on that, but for now, here are a few random photos from our time walking the streets of the old city.

Random street scenes in San Juan, Puerto Rico during our cruise on Celebrity Summit

Seventeen for Seventeen

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland

I haven’t typically jumped on the “Best of….” bandwagon, but as my buddy Paul says, “My blog, my rules!”  Or something to that effect. 😉

I picked these photos as much for the quality of the memory as for the quality of the photograph, but criterias is criterias, right? Many if not most have been posted previously, but again….  Your money back if not completely satisfied!

We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeves for 2018, so stay tuned! 🙂

Shoreline near the Tarbat Ness Lighthouse on the Dornock Firth near Wilkhaven, Scotland
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle

View from the A87 on the Trotternish Peninsula, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Royal Cottage on the shore of Loch Katrine, Scotland
View across the Cromartie Firth on the A9 north of Inverness
View from the A87 on the Trotternish Peninsula, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Nature cruise around the harbor in St. Augustine Florida
Waynesville, North Carolina
The Hotel 1829 in St Thomas, USVI
Morning on Pantego Creek, Belhaven North Carolina
Not a bad view to wake up to. View from our villa at Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Sunset at the Sunset Gazebo. Half Moon Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica
Ogon’ki Ensemble from Russia performing at the Mountain Street Dance in downtown Waynesville NC
Random street scene in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota
Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota
Aboard Norwegian Epic on our cruise from Tortola back to Port Canaveral