Camino de Santiago, Pt 3!

In this final blog post about the Camino de Santiago, I’m just going to cover a few things that didn’t fit neatly in the first two blog posts. This is more of a hodgepodge of interesting details that I wanted to share about the walk and things experienced that are still in my mind.

One of the most defining experiences on the Camino is the dormitory living.  At many stops along the way, there are dormitories just for the pilgrims. The prices average around 10 euro a night and many times they are in the old city center next to the cathedral. Incredible locations at incredible prices! While the accommodations vary from 6 person dorm rooms to open bays for 200 people, it was always an interesting experience, especially when you had a heavy snorer sleeping right next to you! Here a few of the different dorms that I stayed in.

Camino

This was the first dormitory, a place that holds 180+ people. It was easy sleeping as the first day is generally considered the hardest.

 

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This dorm was much more typical of what you would find on the Camino. A room with about 10-20 beds, coed, and a lot of noise and early morning wake ups.

 

Camino

Here was my favorite dorm setup located in Burgos. 6 beds with spaceship style cubes and your own little light, outlet and privacy curtain.

 

Everytime you entered a dormitory, you were asked to take your shoes off (which we gladly did). This was to keep the facilities clean and they always provided storage for our shoes.

 

When walking the Camino, it was important to keep the mind distracted from the painful feet and sometimes flat wheat fields. This was done by talking with other walkers but sometimes you wanted more. And the Camino delivered by having various signs, markings and inspirational messages, throughout the 800km.

 

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A stop sign on the Camino with a fun message!

 

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This painting on a wall caught my attention. Yes, sometimes during the walk I did think about some of the creature comforts at home!

 

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I especially liked the Caution, Pilgrim Crossing signs!

 

Camino

Throughout the Camino, there are arrows guiding you to Santiago. Usually they are yellow painted marks but here someone created this one out of stones! This one was about 2 meters long.

 

Camino

While walking the Camino, the people in the small villages would wish you a Buen Camino and also had permanent messages encouraging you.

 

In addition to the signs on the Camino, there were many memorials and relics. Here are a few.

 

Camino

Here is one of many memorials for people that died while walking the Camino. These were often found at the top of some of the tougher hills and would make you think.

 

Camino

Other memorials were not for someone who died on the Camino but for someone who died elsewhere and their loved ones would leave a picture or belonging.

 

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Another memorial with relics and stones left by Pilgrims.

 

I’ll just wrap up this blog post with a few pictures of some of the animals that we encountered during the Camino. Nothing exotic but they still provided entertainment and a nice diversion!

 

Camino

Here was a very friendly cow who was showing me a good trick. I showed him I could do the same (really!)

 

Camino

Here is another curious heifer! Maybe I should become the cow whisperer!

 

Camino

Around halfway on the Camino, we started seeing a lot of storks. We enjoyed seeing them, especially when they would fly by with their huge wingspread.

 

Camino

I really liked this guy as he had the right message for the Camino walk…slow but steady!

 

That’s all regarding the Camino walk. I highly recommend to give it a try. I know that not everyone can afford to take 5-6 weeks off but even if you can do it in stages of a couple weeks at a time (which several people I’ve met have done). It’s been 6 weeks since I completed it but it’s still very much on my mind.

Buen Camino everyone!!

 

 

Posted in Camino, Spain Tagged |

Camino de Santiago, Pt 2

In the first blog post, I talked about the importance of the people I met during the Camino walk but closely behind that were the amazing sights that I saw when walking for 5 weeks. For several reasons (people waking up in the dorm at 0530 was one!), I was up and walking almost every morning by 0630. While not my normal modus operandi, it did allow for some spectacular sunrises and misty mornings. 

 

 

Camino

Early morning sunburst while walking the Camino

 

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Prayer flags during sunrise on the Camino

 

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The sunrise above a fog bank in the valley below

 

Camino

The moon setting while the sun is rising on the Camino

 

There were a lot of beautiful sunrises but we also experienced some nice sunsets!

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The sun setting behind a pilgrim artwork.

 

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The sun setting with pink skies on the camino

 

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The sun setting behind the cathedral at Burgos

Not only did we have great sunrises and sunsets, we had a lot of beautiful flowers as we were right in the middle of Spring!

 

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A field of rapeseed flowers on the camino

 

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A field of poppies mixed with rapeseed on the Camino

 

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Some orange and green plants on the Camino (don’t know what they were, like the colors!)

Lastly the Camino trail itself was beautiful, especially when you could see it stretch off to the horizon. 

 

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The Camino trail stretches off through the fields.

 

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Some walkers in the early morning mist on the Camino

 

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Huge eucalyptus trees dwarf a walker on the Camino

 

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One of the more beautiful paths on the Camino

 

Well, that’s a wrap for this second blog post on the Camino. Next week I’ll do a final blog post on my adventures walking the Camino. It will be more of a catch-all  of different items experienced that didn’t fit in the first two blog posts. Thanks for stopping by!!

Posted in Camino, Spain Tagged |

Camino de Santiago, pt 1….

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve finished the Camino de Santiago, and it’s been very interesting the thoughts that I’ve had. Many friends have asked how I’ve felt afterwards and it’s very hard to explain the feelings that you experience during the Camino. A lot of joy, some pain, but some experiences you would never be able to replicate. I’ve had a hard time figuring out how I would do these blog posts. First was to reduce the photos shot from 2,600 down to 173 and then reduce even further for the blog. I decided that it would be best to break up the blog into experiences and not time based. This is because walking the Camino is more about the journey and not the end. So I’ve decided to begin by just talking about the best part of the trip, the people that I met. It was these people that made the kilometers pass, the days more interesting, the experience more intense. 

So to begin, I just want to show a map of the route, nothing special but it shows where I walked.

 

It looks like a long way and it was but it was what you planned for. It was really great seeing the progress each day. 

This next photo is after the first day. Even though it shows 790, the hardest walk day was already past. 

 

After a day of walking, I found my first family. During the Camino, you find that as you walk, you start to group up and find people that are doing the similar pace and also that are fun to hang out with. So during the first week, this was my family. Two Italians, One Aussie, and two French (ok so i’m only 50%). We had a great time both walking and having our communal meals in the evening. Unfortunately three of them had to return to work and other duties after 7-10 days and the last one stopped to volunteer at an Albergue (pilgrim hotel). So I was off on my own again, for at least a day. 

While walking alone, I was seeing my shadow in the early morning sun. I was so amazed that I had a glow coming off m my head. I was sure that I was blessed but maybe it was just the sun hitting the bald spot on the back of my head?

 

While we were walking, one of our family said that we needed to spend the night in Logrono and do the tapas crawl. Tapas are a Spanish specialtly and usually just a bit to eat with a glass of wine. In Logrono, this specialty was supposed to have started and it was easy to see when we did 10 street long tapa bar after tapa bar. After a while, it got so crowded it was best to just sit back and watch everybody go by. 

Starting on the second day, my French friend Marie insisted that we have Apero (Happy Hour) which I had no problem with supporting. Even after she had to leave back to family commitments, I kept the tradition going with Apero every day, although new friends joining in. 

Occasionally we came across special events, in the photo below, a bar was celebrating their 2nd anniversary of being open. We found out because they were just below our dorm room so we decided to join them. At one stage, they all were laying down and playing some great music. And yes, I did end up dancing with the locals…

 

 

My friends have asked me how walking the Camino felt and I’ve had a hard time expressing the feelings that you experience but it really comes down to the people that you meet and the conversations had during the walk. That to me is the Camino!

 

On the next blog post, I’ll talk about some of the sites seen and hopefully share some of the beauty of this region! Buen Camino! Bisous! 

 

 

Posted in Camino

Lakes and Peaks-Euro Style!

At the end of the summer, I ventured off on my last road trip of the season, this time to visit the lakes and mountains of Italy that I hadn’t explored in the past and a revisit of the German Alps.  When I did my Italy country tour in 2014, I was too tired at the end  of the trip to properly visit the lakes region in northern Italy, so this was my first stop and I was not disappointed with the stories I heard of mountains spilling into beautiful lakes. 

Part 1- Italian Lakes and Mountains

Lake Orta

Lake Orta with the San Giulio island glowing at sunset.

 

San Giulio

A lone fisherman works in the early morning next to San Giulio Island.

 

Orta San Giulio

The town of Orta San Giulio with small alleys and a beautiful lakeside plaza.

 

The lakes region is comprised of several much larger lakes including Lake Maggiore and the famous Lake Como. While I visited these lakes, I didn’t get the same intimate feeling as I did at Lake Orta. I did however get to experience a very nice sunset at Lake Maggiore while camping for the night. This photo is un-retouched so you can imagine the intense colors. 

 

Maggiore

A glowing sunset on Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy

 

After a visit to Lake Como and Bellagio (beautiful town but too commercialized and crowded with tourists for my taste), I ventured on to the mountains of the Valle d’Aosta region and the Gran Paradiso National Park near Cogne, Italy. This is one of my favorite locations in Italy, right next to the French border behind Mont Blanc. It really is a great location for hiking and monumental views. 

 

Paradiso

A huge bolder sits beside a stream in Gran Paradiso National Park, Italy.

 

Sunrise

The morning light hits the mountains and glaciers in Gran Paradiso National Park, Cogne, Italy.

 

After a couple of days hiking in Gran Paradiso National Park, I still couldn’t leave Valle d’Aosta without a couple more stops. I went over to Gressoney, which was located in another small valley shooting off from the Aosta valley. 

Gressoney

A tranquil setting in Gressoney, Italy.

 

Gressoney

A castle near Gressoney, Italy appears to sprout out from the pine trees.

 

D'Aosta

A small village seems to be clinging to the mountainside in Valle D’Aosta, Italy.

Then it was time to head out and work my way to Hungary. I got this surprise in the morning after driving in to a camping area at night. 

Bleiburg

Steeples appear out of the trees near Bleiburg, Austria.

 

After spending 5 days in the lakes and mountains of Northern Italy, I raced off to Sopron Hungary for a weekend of running with some friends. Sopron was a very nice town and will be included in the future when I visit Hungary more extensively. Following this, I quickly stopped in Vienna and then off the Alps of Germany

 

Part 2-Bavarian Alps

Having lived in Munich for a couple of years when I was in college, I was familiar with Bavaria’s beautiful mountain region. I used to go skiing there and felt I needed to return to discover some sights I hadn’t seen before. The area has some striking mountain scenery and some famous locations as well.  First stop on my visit was to the town of Berchtesgaden. It was above this town that Hitler had a special mountain top home built as a gift from his staff. Being a fan of history, I wanted to visit this former home, now turned restaurant and visitor’s center. While it was beautiful, I constantly had the reminder of the evil that it contained. At least now it is being used for a more peaceful purpose in a beautiful setting. 

Berchtesgaden

Hitler’s mountaintop home called Eagle’s Nest near Berchtesgaden, Germany.

 

While it was interesting to see this famous house, I am always distracted by mountains and ended up doing a 1 hour hike above the home and discovered some beautiful mountain landscapes. 

 

Berchtesgaden

Some sharp mountain peaks above Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden, Germany.

 

Berchtesgaden

A storm appears to be brewing in the clouds above the mountains.

 

After this quick visit to Berchtesgaden, it was off to my next stop, Germany’s highest mountain, Zugspitze, located near the town of Garmisch. It was here that I used to ski while in college in Munich so I was looking forward to some fond memories.

 

Garmisch

The endless mountain scenery above Garmisch, Germany.

 

Zugspitze

A panoramic view from the top of Zugspitze mountain.

 

For my final stop on this trip, I ended up meeting up with 25 other VW California owners for a weekend of camping and drinking champagne in the Champagne region of France. It was great to visit with these folks from several other countries, all with the same fondness for our VW’s and champagne!

 

VW

This photo (by another VW owner) shows our campground in the town of Valdieres, France.

 

Champagne

Champagne vines next to a plowed field appear surreal.

 

That wraps up this mini trip that I did in September. It was going to be longer but was cut short by one solid week of rain, which is not much fun when you are living in a van and running out of dry clothes. Overall, the trip ended up being almost 4,000 kms (2,485 miles) with lots of great scenery, delicious food and new friends. Now it’s time to work on 6 months of photos and start planning next year’s trips.

Happy Trails to all!

 

Trip

A Google Earth view of the route taken on this trip.

 

 

 

Posted in Alps, Germany, Italy, Mountains, VW Tagged , , , , |

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. 

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

 

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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.

 

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

 

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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 |