Author Archives: laurentfox

Portugal and Basque Country, Part 2

In the last blog post, I was roaming the beautiful cities and countryside of the Basque country of Spain. Now we continue with Portugal.

 

After having spent a few days enjoying the mountains of Northwest Spain, I had to race down to Lisbon in order to meet up with my UK friends, the Hash House Harriers. We spent 4 days in Lisbon with a little sightseeing and a whole lot of song and suds. Quite a good time while there. I had been in Lisbon before in 2004 so I didn’t really need to do the sightseeing however I still roamed around and rediscovered this nice city. 

Lisbon

A graffiti covered cable car in the hilly city of Lisbon.

I also took a quick detour over to the town of Sintra, located right next to Lisbon. This disneyland like place made for a great day trip and I highly recommend visiting the castle and gardens. 

Pena Palace

The Pena Palace, located in Sintra Portugal.

Gargoyle

This Gargoyle provides a questionable welcome to visitors.

Once again, I had enough city life and it was time to start hitting the coastal cities. I drove from Lisbon and basically hugged the Atlantic coast all the way down to the very tip, Cape St Vincent. There were a lot of beautiful rock and sea formations that I was particularly fond of.  In these photos, I mounted the camera on a tripod and did some long exposures of the surf. 

Atlantic

The rocky coastline of Portugal.

Atlantic

More of the rocky coastline of Portugal.

Not all the rock formations where made by Mother Nature. Here in Vila Nova de Milfones, I discovered a beach covered in stacked rock formations, aka Cairns. 

Cairns

A beach full of cairns, human stacked stones.

After having visited many beaches and cliffs, it was time again to start seeing some cities. On my return up through the center of Portugal, I visited the scenic town of Evora, a great quick stop to view Roman history. 

Portugal

The Roman temple of Evora.

 

After this, I visited Coimbra, a beautiful university town sitting on the Mondego river. Sometimes during my travels, I get a good vibe from a town and this was one of those towns, causing me to extend my stay. 

 

Portugal

A night shot of Coimbra and the Mondego river.

 

From there, I kept heading North with a stop in the famous town of Porto and the Duoro valley. It is hear that they make the world famous Port wine and that they have the vineyards just clinging on the side of the mountains. An astonishing site and well worth the visit. 

 

Portugal

The town of Porto, where the famous Port wine is made.

 

Portugal

The Douro valley with the vines clinging on the hillsides.

 

Having had my fill of Port and Petiscos (Tapas), it was time for redemption. And what better place than Santiago de Compostela back in Spain. I did a quick visit there, enjoying watching the Pilgrims arrive and then a quick tour of the Cathedral. 

Camino

A giant incense burner in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

 

Camino

A signpost for the Camino trail near Santiago de Compostela.

 

Being there only reinforced my desire to hike the Camino trail (780km!)  from France next Spring. Hopefully that will happen…

That wraps up this voyage. It was a great time and really met a lot of  people, many of whom are now new friends on Facebook. I do have to say the best parts of these trips are not the food, drink or sites visited, but the people that I have gotten to know along the way. I look forward to my next big trip which should be coming up this Fall. Destination….

 

Posted in Basque, Portugal Tagged , |

Portugal and the Basque Country – Part 1

Another great trip wrapped up, this time headed Southwest. This trip focused on a new area for me (Basque country) and a return to a country that I visited 13 years ago, Portugal. Both distinctly different countries but each having their own charm. Here is a map of the route that I took. It ended up being 4,334 km (2,693 miles), almost completely on backroads as the toll roads were very expensive and you just don’t get to see much when the world is going by at 120 km per hour. 

 

Basque

Here is the out and back route that I took for Basque country and Portugal.

 

I started off visiting the French part of Basque country (Pays Basque) but do to a lot of rain, I decided to move on and visit it another time. I then ventured on into northwest Spain with my first stop being San Sebastian. Having heard a lot of this town, I ended up staying two nights and it met all my expectations. A great city that I would like to return to. Tapas, seashore, mountains, and nice people. 

 

San Sebastian

A panorama of San Sebastian from Playa De La Concha

 

Following a couple of days there, I ventured further west stopping of at Bilbao. I was not expecting to like Bilboa much since I’m not a fan of going into big cities (especially with the VW camper), however this city had a charm and would warrant a return in the future. Top of the list for me to see was the amazing Gugenheim museum. It was fun just walking around the exterior and checking out all the angles. 

Guggenheim

The curves of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao.

Another must see in Bilbao is the Puente Colgante (literally “hanging bridge”).  It was fun to just sit and watch is it made it’s way across the river  with only six cars at a time. 

 

Vizcaya Bridge

The Vizcaya Bridge, also known as the Puente Colgante (literally “hanging bridge”)

 

The last thing that I saw in Bilbao was a good surprise. I noticed that there were police everywhere, covering every intersection on a route through the city. When it was time to leave, to my surprise, I found out it was the King of Spain, King Felipe VI!

 

King Felipe VI

The King of Spain, King Felipe VI, making a visit to Bilbao.

 

Well, having had my fill of cities, it was time to head to the mountains and I wasn’t disappointed. The Picos de Europa mountains are beautiful, reminding me a bit of the Dolomites in Italy. I spent a couple of days hiking here with a vow to return again. This was actually my favorite part of the trip and was extremely beautiful. 

 

Basque

The Naranjo de Bulnes is probably the best known mountaineering peak in Spain.

 

Basque

The morning view from my camper door of the Picos De Europa mountains.

 

Basque

A snowy hike above the Fuente De Cable Car.

 

 

That wraps up Part 1 in the Basque Country of Northwest Spain. In Part 2, I’ll take you down to the beautiful country of Portugal. Cheers!

Posted in Basque, Portugal, Uncategorized Tagged , |

Sleeklens Workflow Review

The introduction of digital photography has provided many benefits to include instant feedback, almost unlimited photo captures and photo processing software. However, one of the drawbacks, tied to the photo captures, is the massive amount of digital files that must be processed after the shooting session is completed. The time spent processing and working sometimes hundreds of photos in Lightroom can dwarf the time spent shooting and reduce the pleasure. That is where any program that can speed up this workflow is greatly appreciated. Recently, Sleeklens contacted my photography business to conduct a review of their presets and brushes that are meant to reduce the labor needed in processing images and the following is my review.

 

In case you don’t know what presets and brushes are, presets are basically pre-built recipes for adjusting your photograph. This could be changing the highlights, adjusting contrast, punching up the colors, etc. You just click on a preset and it makes the adjustments for you. Brushes are just what they sound like, little paintbrushes that allow you to add more localized adjustments rather than throughout the whole picture.

 

I opted to try out the Lightroom presets and brushes. They also have Photoshop tools but since I do 90% of my work in Lightroom, I chose that. Installation was very simple with the most important step knowing where you keep your presets and brushes. It just required putting the presets and brushes in the proper folder, restarting Lightroom, and then you were up and running. In addition, they had online tutorials that walk you through every step to have you up and running within 5 minutes.

 

Once installed, it was very simple to use. Their presets were numbered according to when you would want to apply them with 0 being overall treatments to 1-6 being more specific. I found it easiest to just begin with the 0s and work my way down to the 6 level presets. Now, it’s important to note that not all presets create beautiful works of art with all photos. Because every photo is different, some of the recipes don’t look so good and this is where you can try out a preset, judge whether you like it, and if not, go to your history and change it back. Very simple and non destructive. In addition, I found that some of the presets were a little more saturated then I liked but that was simply adjusted by going to the Develop module and dialing saturation down a little. The key to understanding these presets is that they are starting points, not the final treatment (in most cases).  

 

The brushes were similar in ease of use. You simply selected your adjustment brush, click on the brush type (my package came with 30 different effect brushes) and then start painting on the photograph where you wanted to make the change. Like the presets, this allowed changes in color, exposure, saturation, etc but in a much more specific location.

 

Here are a couple of examples.  

 

I noticed that the cactus in my garden was blooming. I purposefully underexposed the photo so that I could try out the presets and brushes and see how easy it would be to “rescue” this photo. I first used the High Dynamic Range preset to open up the shadows. I then moved to the brushes and used a decrease highlights for the outside edges. I also used a mustard color for the flower (at reduced strength) and selectively adjusted the highlights and shadows. A quick crop and I got my Desert Flower picture. 

 

 

On a recent trip to Bologna Spain, I was able to visit the famous Gugenheim museum. There were some storm clouds coming in but I still had time to capture some sunlight on the museum. For the adjustments, I started with a High Dynamic Range preset (seems to be one of my favorites) and then added a medium black vignette. Following this, I went to the Sleeklens brushes and painted the clouds increasing the highlights and clarity. Lastly, I opened up the shadows on the hill just on the other side of the bridge. 

 

 

Overall, I found these tools to be very intuitive and fun to use. They aren’t going to be the one stop solution for all my pictures, however a great starting point for the initial adjustments. I feel that the more I use them and become familiar with their capabilities, the more they will become integrated into my workflow.

 

If interested for more information, here are links to their workflow products.

 (https://sleeklens.com/product/landscape-lightroom-presets/https://sleeklens.com/product/professional-photo-editing-service/,https://sleeklens.com/product-category/lightroom-presets) and https://www.pinterest.com/sleeklens/lightroom-presets/

 

Give them a try and see if it works for you!

Posted in Uncategorized

Wellies in Scotland!

After Ireland, I jumped on the car ferry with my trusty VW camper and headed over to Scotland (which could be seen from the Irish coast).  Upon arrival, it was a deceptively beautiful day, sunshine and green everywhere. I proceeded to visit Edinburgh directly as I was going to run with the local chapter of the Hash House Harriers. Edinburgh was a beautiful city and a lot of fun to walk around and hike on the hills next to it but it was very tough to find a parking/camping space. So I picked up and went about 20 miles away to Linlithgow where I found a car park for 5 euro a day, secure and close to the train station. Plus it had the added benefit of being next to this beautiful lake where there was a great swan show every sunset!

swan

A swan gliding by in the sunset lit waters.

 

A tiny duck plying the waters at sunset.

A tiny duck plying the waters at sunset.

 

A bevy of swans enjoying dinner at sunset.

A bevy of swans enjoying dinner at sunset.

 

A sole swan swimming in the golden lit waters at sunset.

A sole swan swimming in the golden lit waters at sunset.

 

Some beautiful flowers backlit by the setting sun,

Some beautiful flowers backlit by the setting sun.

 

After this brief visit, I ventured further north working my way to the main goal of the highlands. This was a beautiful part of Scotland with very little traffic or people but a lot of sheep! It was also home to some gorgeous scenery, both coastal and mountainous.  I drove along what is called the North Coast 500, basically 500 miles of coastal road that takes you up the east coast, then along the northern coast and back down the west coast (or vice versa) for some incredible scenery. Sometimes I would just venture off and try side roads that looked interesting.

Scotland

Interesting rock formations along the northern coast of Scotland.

 

Here are some shots that I discovered while driving along the side roads, not sure where I would end up and not really caring.

stream

A pretty stream with finger like waterfalls in the middle of nowhere.

 

river

A beautiful river leading off to a small rounded mountain in the distance.

 

scotland

Underneath a bridge in the countryside, a beautiful picture of nature emerged.

 

Visiting Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a visit the Highland games.  I was lucky enough to see two, one very large and one much more local. They are a great way to meet local people, try some local food, and enjoy the music and colors.

Scotland

This young lad had a serious look of concentration before beginning his dance.

 

scotland

These cute young ladies dancing away in a competition, very talented!

 

There was always the traditional bagpipe bands, many times fronted by old crusty fellows….

bagpipes

This older gentleman gallantly leading the band.

 

bagpipe

This beautiful young woman was a nice surprise from the normally older male bagpipe players!

 

Meanwhile att the Highland games, there were the obligatory games of strength such as the caber toss, which is like having to throw a telephone pole end over end.

caber

This gentleman was able to do very well in the caber toss. To get some perspective on his size, he was 2 inches taller (6’4) than me and about 350 pounds!

 

The last area I visited was the Isle of Skye, an island which is connected by a beautiful bridge to the mainland and well worth visiting.

Storr

The Old Man of Storr rock formation on the Isle of Skye.

Skye

Beautifully green and hilly countryside on the Isle of Skye.

 

Lastly, I’ll wrap up this blog post with some beautiful sunset pictures that I was able to capture on the Northwest coast of the highlands. I have to say they were special because it was very rare to get a day where it wasn’t raining part of the time and heavy low clouds. But, I expected this, packed my wellies (boots which came in very handy!) and jumped into the weather!

 

Durness

Sunset on the beach at Durness.

Durness

More sunset at the beach in Durness.

Durness

More golden sunshine at sunset in Durness.

Durness

The land is basked in golden sunshine near Durness.

 

That’s a wrap on my visit to Scotland. A beautiful country with very friendly people, gorgeous scenery and great food and beer (and whiskey…). Highly recommend visiting, just pack your wellies and raincoat and enjoy what nature brings. It will be well worth it! Cheers!

 

 

Posted in Scotland Tagged , |

Erin go Bragh…Ireland forever!

I have been wanting to travel to Ireland for many years, especially since my father’s side of the family is from there and I had never been.

I also heard how beautiful the west coast was so finally I ventured out and visited Ireland and Scotland.

In this blog post, I’ll just cover Ireland as there was plenty to see. So let’s begin!

In Ireland there were a lot of ruins and lots of green so I decided to try and capture both in an image

Countryside

An old cemetery and ruin frame the beautiful countryside

 

Tower

An old cemetery with a round tower. You see these towers often in Ireland.

 

I do have to comment about one thing of Ireland and Scotland, they had the cleanest, nicest bathrooms that I have found in Europe. This is an important factor when you are living in a van! 🙂

This bathroom really caught my eye due to it’s unique shape. It was also Ireland’s bathroom of the year in 2012!!

 

Toilet

This peculiar bathroom was Ireland’s bathroom of the year in 2012, deservedly so!

 

Throughout the countryside, I would find very peaceful settings in the rolling hills and greenery. This church and lake was very nice!

 

Church

This lovely lakeside church in Gougane Barra was a very serene setting.

 

Next to the church were these reeds which really transfixed my attention.

 

reeds

These reeds reflecting in the water provided some good thoughts.

 

I did find a few streams that really stood out for their beauty.

 

stream

This beautiful stream was really accentuated by the greenery

 

And this one….

 

Stream

This stream had some great white trails as the water descended.

 

While I was mostly in Ireland for the scenery, I did stop in a few towns and catch some music and pubs….

 

Dingle

A jam session in Dingle providing a great mix of sound!

 

And this one….

 

bar

A punk bar in Dublin where I was king of the pool table, at least for 3 games. Great place!

 

And then it was back to nature…!

 

Dingle

I loved seeing the rock formations that have been battling the weather for eons

 

Moher

The Cliffs of Moher were fantastic once the weather cleared (this was 7am before all the tourists showed up)

 

Horn Head

Caught this beautiful sunset in Horn head, up on the Northern coast. Was also my overnight locale which was nice and quiet

 

Ireland

Most of the roads on the trip were single lane with little passing sections that you had to use…and always remember to stay on the left!

 

My last stop on this tour was the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. When I first arrived, about 7pm, there were still a lot of people about so

I waited until about 9pm when they all left and I was able to grab some photos.

 

Giant Causeway

The Giant’s Causeway provided some spooky scenery, especially after dark!

Another viewpoint…

Ireland

Another view of part of the Giant’s Causeway.

And….

Ireland

A view of the bay holding Giant’s Causeway. Beautiful contrast with the green hills surrounding.

I wasn’t too happy with my nighttime shots (at least not when I reviewed them later in the van) and happened to wake up at 6am and drove back

out there. It was great as it was still free entry and no one around!

Ireland

Giant’s Causeway during the morning sunrise.

That was pretty much my trip of Ireland (skipping the 1,800 other photos that I shot).  I really enjoyed the scenery but I have to say that on this trip, it was the people that I met that stood out

much more than the scenery. Very friendly people that I won’t forget.

 

On the map below, it shows my journey of 4,700 miles (7,500 kms)

and how I got from country to country using ferries.

Map

A map of the road trip, all 4,700 miles (7,500 kms) of it!

 

See you next week with the photo blog on Scotland! Slainte!

Posted in Ireland Tagged , , |

Viva Espana!

Recently returned from a mini trip down to Spain (or Espana as they say!). I had a meeting with my running/drinking club (Hash House Harriers) in Madrid and decided to extend the trip and explore the Aragon region in the northern Spain Pyrenees. The trip started off and a good note with the first night in the old town of  Ainsa. It is located in the lower mountains of the Pyrenees while still having some great views of the bigger hills.

 

Ainsa

A view from Ainsa of a mountain range in the Pyrenees covered in clouds.

Because it is not prime tourist season yet, I was fortunate enough to be able to park (with about 20 other campers) just outside the village with spectacular views.  I continued on the next morning taking the scenic route and ending up with a stop in a gorge called Mirador del Rio Vero.  While the gorge looked like a beautiful hike, it was the vultures that were resting on a rock ledge that seemed to catch everyone’s attention. We were all waiting for one to fall asleep and fall off the ledge and then recover in a graceful flight. Didn’t happen but still fun to watch 🙂

Vulture

A volt of vultures resting up before heading out for the hunt.

It was then on down the road as I had to be in Madrid by that afternoon. Unfortunately….bad luck as my VW camper lost all power in the rolling hills outside of Zaragoza. I was able to get the VW restarted and carefully returned 70km to a Zaragoza VW dealer. It was not a good prognosis but on the positive side, the dealership was across the street from the train station, so I left the VW there and jumped a train for the weekend in Madrid. When I returned, I found after 5 days, they hand’t started any repair, so I got to spend 4 more days in Zaragoza. I was only planning to do a drive by of Zaragoza but it worked out much more than that….and I’m glad as I was able to discover this nice city with it’s cathedral, chapels and great food. The main cathedral, El Pillar, is a must see, both inside and out.

cathedral

The Basilica of our Lady of the Pillar stands majestically above the Ebro river.

After the car repair, it was a direct shot to the Pyrenees. The excitement started to mount as I began to see the snow covered peaks in the distance, with small villages sitting serenely in the foreground. My quest was finally being realized!

Binies

The little village of Binies, acting as a gateway into the Pyrenees.

I went to visit the town of Hecho, recommended by the guidebook, but I was not particularly taken by the setting so I went a bit further seeing a sign for a campground up the valley.  After driving about 5 miles up a windy mountain road, I found the campground….closed! So I kept on going another few miles until I came upon a clearing that was gorgeous. I did encounter a road block by some locals but quickly bypassed that!

sheep

Some local sheep owning the road. They were as curious as I was.

A little further up the road and I encountered more free range animals. In this case, it was a small group of horses with the adults wearing cow bells. This colt was very friendly and kept coming up to see what I was doing.

Colt

A friendly colt in the mountains above Hecho.

I proceeded to make a nice dinner and wait for the sunset which was going to be coming in fairly soon. It was well worth the wait as I saw some gorgeous cloud and light play on the mountain tops.

Hecho

The sun setting and clouds drifting on a Hecho mountain top.

From here it was on to my final destination which was Torla and the Ordesa y Monte Perdido national park. This was where the big mountains were, with hiking trails passing waterfalls and flowing rivers throughout. It really was a paradise and a place that I will return to often.  A definite holiday destination for me in the future.

Torla

The small town of Torla, the gateway to Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park

I ended up bypassing the national park and staying in Bujaruelo valley where there were numerous hiking trails and a great campground.

Bujaruelo

A river flows down the beautiful Bujaruelo valley.

Bujaruelo

A mountain range while hiking in the Bujaruelo valley.

 

Bujaruelo

A waterfall while hiking in the Bujaruelo valley.

 

Bujaruelo

A panoramic view of the Bujaruelo valley.

 

I ended my trip a couple of days early as thunderstorms and heavy rain came rolling in. The good thing is that this paradise is located only about 5 1/2 hours from my house so I will be able to return and explore much more. Highly recommend visiting this region if you like mountains, rivers and waterfalls! Happy trails and Viva Espana!

 

Posted in Mountains, Spain Tagged |

Mini Euro Trip

With winter finally over, I was getting anxious to get out of the house and off exploring more areas. So into the van I went and headed off for Spain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, basically a mini Euro trip. Sounds like a lot but very achievable as each location is reachable within a day’s drive.  The first stop was down south to the northeastern point of Spain in the Catalonian region. First stop was an old monastery called Sant Pere de Rodes, built in the 10th and 11th century by Benedictine monks. The monastery is still in great shape and well worth a visit for the building and views of the Mediterranean.

Monastery

The Sant Pere de Rodes monastery located above El Port De La Selva

 

Following that interesting stop, it was on down the road to the village of Cadaques, Spain. It was in this once small fishing village that Salvador Dali spent some childhood summers and perhaps drew inspiration for his wild art. It was definitely a place of scenic beauty with mountains coming down to the sea front.

Cadaques

The village of Cadaques, Spain

Neaby Cadaques in the village of Port Ligat is the home of Dali. He didn’t just have his artwork in museums as can seen by the interesting exterior of his home. Wouldn’t it have been fun to have him as a neighbor? I don’t imagine property values dropped when he decorated though.

Dali

Dali’s house with some interesting heads located in Port Lligat, Spain.

Next stop on this trip was to one of my favorite Pyrenees locations and that is the principality of Andorra, located high up in the mountains. I always enjoy going by there because of its natural beauty. Plus you can’t beat the tax free gasoline, alcohol and colognes, a must stop for bargain shoppers!

 

Andorra

The mountains with ski areas above Andorra.

Following Andorra and a quick pit stop at my house, it was onwards to northern France. First on that agenda was to visit the house and gardens of Claude Monet at Giverny. It was here that Monet spent his last half of his life painting and gardening creating several impressionistic masterpieces. Well worth a visit, especially in the springtime when in bloom!

Monet

Monet’s house and garden at Giverny, France.

Monet

The Japanese footbridge in his water garden that Monet made famous

With a bit of nature and artistic culture under the belt, it was time for some sporting action so further north I ventured. Next up was the kite festival in Berck Sur Mer located in the very north of France. There is a reason that they hold the kite festival there as there is a continuous wind and I have to say it was mighty cold the first day. Fortunately the sun came out strongly and so did the kites. I was amazed at the maneuverability that these kites had and really loved all the colors in the sky.

kite festival

The kite festival in Berck Sur Mer, France

kite fesetival

A car fashioned out of kites with wheels that turned at the kite festival in Berck Sur Mer.

kite festival

Random kites floating in the sky at the kite festival in Berck Sur Mer, France

kite festival

Horizontal kites seemingly slicing the sky into sections at the kite festival in Berck Sur Mer, France

 

Well, it was au revoir to France and on further north to a town that I have been trying to visit for a couple of years. Finally I made it a priority and got myself to Bruges, Belgium. I had heard many glowing reviews about this town and have to say that it lived up to its reputation. From the cobble stoned streets and towers to the ancient bars with hundreds of beers available, it is truly a great place to wander for a couple of days. I’ll definitely put it on my revisit list, especially since I found a great campsite not far from town.

Bruges

The Market Square in Bruges, Belgium.

I still had a couple of days before I needed to be in Antwerp so I did a quick trip to one of my favorite cities, Amsterdam. There is a great campground located on the edge of the city giving you quick access into the center. This was the first time I took my foot scooter in and it worked great but I think the bicyclists in the bike lane didn’t know what to do with me in their lane. It all worked out and I will continue using my foot scooter on future trips. While there, I did a walking tour that travel writer Rick Steves gives away for free. His walking tours are great as they point out hidden gems that you wouldn’t notice unless you knew where to look.  This one below really caught me by surprise. It says HOMO SAPIENS NON URINAT IN VENTUM which translates to A WISE MAN DOESN’T PISS INTO THE WIND. The structure isn’t that old and the constructors had a sense of humor.

roman

A columned structure with some advice in latin in Amsterdam

With all the waterways in Amsterdam, it is always fun to be looking at what is going on. I caught this swan creating beautiful ripples while cleaning himself.

Amsterdam

A swan creates beautiful ripples while gently cleaning himself under a bridge in Amsterdam.

Following Amsterdam, I started heading towards Antwerp but made a stop at the Keukenhof gardens located in Lisse, Netherlands. I had heard stories about the 80 acres with 7 million flower bulbs and thought springtime would be the perfect time to visit. Unfortunately, so did a million other people and I have to say I didn’t stay long as the crowds were just a bit too overwhelming for me and it just wasn’t enjoyable. It was a beautiful place but maybe there is a better time to visit, who knows.

Keukenhof

Tulips glowing in the sunlight at Keukenhof gardens

Keukenhof

A wide range of flowering bulbs at the Keukenhof gardens in Lisse, Netherlands

I wrapped up my tour in Antwerp where I spent the weekend running and socializing with a large group of friends. It was then back down to my house to host some guests and do a little more garden renovation. Next trip coming up soon will be a journey to Madrid for a weekend followed by some time in the Spanish Pyrenees hiking and enjoying the old villages. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Posted in Amsterdam, Belgium, France, Holland, Netherlands, Pyrenees, Spain Tagged , , |

Cambodia Cruisin, Part 2!

Last week’s blog highlighted the beautiful and very friendly people of Cambodia and now for the second half, I want to highlight some of the landscape and action scenes that I saw.

As I was flying into the country, I was really impressed to see the water, sun reflections and boat traffic. To me, this really stressed the importance of water to the people of Cambodia, as seen in the next 3 pictures. Swimming, washing, fishing, all done in the streams, ponds and lakes and throughout Cambodia!

Phnom Penh

Sunlight poking through on the Bay of Thailand before arriving at Phnom Penh

Takeo

A young boy leaps of the bridge over a dam near Takeo, Cambodia.

Takeo

A line of fishermen preparing to cast nets in a lake near Takeo, Cambodia.

Tonle Sap

A boat tows a house (and TV antenna) to a new location on the Tonle Sap river, Cambodia

Before heading to Cambodia, I heard about the famous bats of Battambang and their nightly feeding session so I made sure to catch the event. Fortunately I was warned about not being under their departing path (as it made for a nasty surprise) so I climbed up the side of the mountain and captured them at eye level. I like the abstract nature of this shot!

Battambang

Millions of bats flying out for dinner from a cave near Battambang, Cambodia

Our final destionation was Angkor Wat and when we arrived, we weren’t disappointed. The immensity and amazing workmanship of the place was a marvel. The attention to detail was evident everywhere you looked.

Angkor Wat

A solo Monk reflecting near the water at Angkor Wat temple.

Angkor Wat

A line of columns symmetrically placed in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Angkor Wat

A memorial within one of the hallways in Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat

A panorama of the Angkor Wat complex, with reflection at dusk.

And of course I have to add a couple pictures of the ever present Monks.  It was always great to see them with their bright orange robes contrasting with the aged Temples.

Bayon

Some Buddhists Monks visiting the Bayon Temple, with a window of enlightenment above!

Angkor Wat

A group of Buddhist Monks enjoying the visit at the Angkor Wat Temple, Cambodia

That is a wrap on the Cambodia experience. Truly a memorable bike/photo trip with some great friends. If you get a chance, definitely try and visit, you won’t be disappointed.

Rabbit Island

The sun setting with a golden cast on the bay next to Rabbit Island, Cambodia

Posted in Angkor Wat, Cambodia Tagged |

Cambodia Cruisin!

Well, took a quick detour on the European travel to Cambodia! An offer to travel across Cambodia by bicycle with 12 friends was too good to pass up and definitely lived up to my expectations.  The tour, mainly on back roads, consisted of approximately 60-80km a day with a Cambodian guide and two support vehicles, a great way to travel.

 

cambodia beer

Ice cold beer after a dusty trail!

While the scenery and temples were magnificent, it was the people that really stood out for me.  I can still hear the children shouting “Hello” and running out to wave to us. We always made a point to respond with a hearty Hello and a wave back as we were impressed by their enthusiasm to try out some English.

Cambodia Kids

Kids sneaking away from class to see the foreigners!

 

cambodia kids

A few of the kids from a small village out to see the strange visitors!

 

cambodia kids

Some shy girls walking home from school with their portable shade branch.

 

Cambodia kids

A young girl patiently waiting for her mother to finish working the salt fields.

 

Cambodia kids

Ok so this one was not so excited to see us!

 

The adults were equally kind throughout the country. I was amazed how some of the people had so little yet they seemed so happy, really should be a lesson to all us in the commercialized western countries and our desire to reach happiness through purchases of material goods.

Tonle Sap fishermen

Four fishermen pausing to see the boat full of foreigners on the Tonle Sap river.

 

Cambodia people

Two women and a man that were in the Temple came out to see the strangely dressed foreigners.

A blog post about the people of Cambodia wouldn’t be complete without a couple of shots of the Buddhist Monks that you would see throughout the country. The Monks wearing their orange robes always stood out in a mystical way and I would always stare and wonder about their lives. They were also very gracious and unassuming.

Buddhist Monks

Two Buddhist Monks on a hiking trail to visit a waterfall.

Buddhist Monks

4 Buddhist Monks relaxing in the shade near a temple.

 

Great people in a great country. In the next blog post, I’ll focus more on the scenery and temples, again spectacular in this beautiful land.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Cambodia Tagged |

Poland Part 3!

In this blog post, I’ll wrap up my tour of Poland. After Warsaw, I proceeded north to the port city of Gdansk. Gdansk is famous for having started the Solidarity movement with Lech Walesa at the helm. I highly recommend taking a half day and visiting the Gdansk Solidarity Center. A very well done exhibit that helps tell the story of Poland’s break from Communism.

Gdansk

The Gdansk Solidarity Center with the Fallen Shipyard Workers Monument in the Foreground.

 

Following a couple of days absorbing the sights of Gdansk, I headed eastword with a quick stop at Malbork Castle, a very serene location normally but the day I went was an annual festival that was a bit too commercial for me. I did this find this pleasing scene off from the crowds though.

Malbork Castle

A tower reflecting in the pond at Malbork Castle.

From there, it was on to a historical location called the Wolf’s Lair. This was Hitler’s Headquarters for almost 3 years during the war with Russia on the Eastern Front. Really an amazing place with concrete walls 8 meters (26 feet) thick for protection from possible bombing raids. Walking the paths and seeing the buildings where so much history was made was interesting. The Germans did demolish as much as they could when they left and now nature is taking over and reclaiming this place.

Wolf's Lair

Bunker 13, the personal quarters of Hitler, had 8 meter thick concrete ceilings.

After all the cities and historical visits, it was time to catch some nature. I headed off to an area called Masurian Lakes, a beautiful part of Poland in the northeast with rolling hills and beautiful lakes. It was really some nice driving and looking at the bucolic landscapes and pretty flower fields.

Masurian Lakes

A peaceful morning dockside at one of the Masurian Lakes

Yellow Daisies

A field of yellow Daisies with bees a buzzing!

 

As you drive around Poland, one animal that you see plenty of is the Stork. Poland has 25% of the world’s storks and you see them nesting in almost every village. They stick around in Poland until August at which time they all head down to Africa! Nothing wrong with going where the sun is!

Storks Nesting

Storks nesting on an abandoned building in the Masurian Lakes region

A huge nest built by a stork in the countryside of Poland

A huge nest built by a stork in the countryside of Poland.

 

I wrapped up my visit to Poland by visiting the mountains in southern Poland near the town of Zakopane. These mountains have gorgeous hiking trails and border the country of Poland and Slovakia. It’s highly recommended that you wear sturdy soled hiking boots and the trails were very rocky and caused for some sore feet.

Zakopane

Hiking in the beautiful mountains of Zakopane, on the border of Poland and Slovakia

 

Nearing the top of my hike after 4 hours (hiking from my campground) I was within 100 meters of the cross. However it was here that there was a traffic jam requiring a one hour wait to get to the top. Most of the people took a cable car up and did a one hour hike and were not really in shape to make this last section. I didn’t really feel like waiting around so continued on.

Mt Giewont

The cross on top of Mt Giewont is a very popular destination for Polish visitors.

 

In the final blog post of the Poland Tour, I work my way home with an unexpected stopover in Austria. Please come on back and enjoy the next update! Thanks!

Posted in Poland Tagged , |