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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. 



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. 


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. 



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



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



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!

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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.

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

Land of the Kiwis-New Zealand Pt 2

And now onto the second half of the New Zealand journey.  We last left you traveling southward on South Island leaving Mt Cook National Park. It was on to Queenstown, NZ, a location famous for it’s adrenaline packed activities. We arrived at 1100 a.m. and immediately took off to climb Ben Lomond Peak, located next to Queenstown. While on the way up, we stopped for our packed lunch at the saddle, pretty much 2/3d the way up the mountain. While there, these two girls showed up and decided to start practicing their yoga moves! I’ll have to say it was cheap, humorous, lunchtime entertainment to watch these two!


Ben Lomond

Two hikers taking a Yoga break on Ben Lomond peak in Queenstown, NZ


So after enjoying the lunchtime antics, it was time to tackle the last 1/3d, but definitely toughest part of the mountain. This took us to the top, a grueling 8 hour round trip journey but well worth the panoramic 360 degree views. Truly worth the hike if you are ever in Queenstown!

Ben Lomond

A view from the top of Ben Lomond peak in Queenstown, NZ

After a couple of days in Queenstown, we went to Milford Sound, an inlet of high cliffs and waterfalls next to the Tasman Sea. I’d like to say it was spectacular but unfortunately we had low cloud ceiling and could only see the parts closer to the water. While that was a bit of a letdown, I was able to stumble upon a waterfall near our campground based on a tip from a forest ranger. This photo was my favorite of the entire trip. I really loved the glow of the water from the time exposure and the partial sunlight on the leaves on the left.


A beautiful hidden waterfall near our campground at Knobs Flat, South Island, NZ

We then started up the West Coast of South Island, an area well know for the frequent rains. And it came true for us but only for one night! As we were camping that night, I heard the rains begin and rain for a long time. Not worried as I had a waterproof tent, however when it came time to put on the shorts in the morning, they were soaked and sitting in a puddle inside the tent. When I stepped outside, the tent was sitting in a small pond as we happened to find the low ground of the camping area. A nice surprise but it all dried out!

So our next stop was Franz Josef glacier, a beautiful, however quickly melting glacier in the mountains on the west coast.  Although tired, I was able to capture some late evening sky above the glacier (center of picture) and mountains before finally hitting the bed. Glad I made the effort as it was very serene!

Franz Josef

The setting sun dropping some last rays on the Franz Josef glacier and mountains.

Further up the coast, with a very nice stop in Charleston visiting my friend Anna’s parents (thanks Kay and Chris!), it was on to Abel Tasman National Park for a nice hike. While camping there, nature called and I woke up to this stunning sunrise. It really took some discipline shooting the sunrise as I had other pressing matters but I was able to hold on!

Abel Tasman

A sunrise through the palm fronds at Abel Tasman National Park, NZ

That was the last stop before heading on over to North Island. Our first stop on North Island, we visited my old friends Anna and Ogre, and their lovely kiddos. It was very nice seeing Anna and Ogre after about 10 years, We haven’t changed a bit! Anna took us on a lovely tour of Wellington, a beautiful city that looks like a lot of fun to live in, as seen below.


A view of Wellington, NZ from above the city after exiting the cable car

Following Wellington, we went north to a running weekend on the Eastern coast. While on the way, we stopped at Rotorua, a place famous for it’s geysers, hot springs and sulphur smell. It was interesting to see that even the Swans adapted to this volcanic area!

Black Swans

A pair of black Swans in the waters off of Rotorua, NZ

Following the weekend running through the hills of Eastern North Island, we went on into Auckland where we spent a couple of days.  One of those days involved a self guided city walk which highlighted a lot of hidden features. We really enjoyed this cafe with its view of the Sky Tower!

Sky Tower

The Auckland Sky Tower as seen through a small cafe window.

Just before boarding our plane, we used a few free hours and went to Piha beach located west of Auckland. This was a very interesting beach because of the black sand created by the high iron content from the volcanoes. And yes, it gets very hot when barefoot!

Piha Beach

A panorama of Piha Beach, located west of Auckland, NZ

Overall a great visit seeing some incredible sites. New Zealand was truly remarkable in having such a diversity of geology with it’s mountains, seashores, volcanoes, and glaciers. Truly a wonder to visit!


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Land of the Kiwis-New Zealand Pt 1!

Well after a long blog break (took a while to recover from the return trip!), it’s time to finally update the last stop on my Down Under tour. This was to the long awaited country of New Zealand, land of glaciers, coastlines, and volcanoes and Kiwis! During these travels, we split the accommodations between a tent, AirBnB and single rooms in hostels. Our primary means of transportation was a rental car with hatchback which worked out great for all our gear and food and giving us the mobility to get into areas with less frequent transportation.

Flying in over the South Island, one could see that it was a very geographically tumultuous country. It was pretty exciting knowing that we would soon be down there among the mountains and lakes.

New Zealand

NZ South Island upon arrival

We landed in Christchurch (on South Island), stocked up on supplies and started heading South. One of the first stops was Akaroa, a former French settlement that was later converted to British. It was very typical of the beautiful scenery that you would see on the East coast of the South Island.


The harbor of Akaroa, a former French settlement.

Apparently this British Akaroa seagull did not approve of my taking his picture, perhaps he knew that I was French?


An angry seagull wants food for his picture being taken!

From Akaroa, we went further south and came along Lake Tekapo. This beautiful aquamarine like provided some nice hiking trails and very relaxing views. It was especially cool that this cloud sat trapped in the valley the whole first day that we were there.

Lake Tekapo

A cloud trapped in a valley above Lake Tekapo in the South Island, NZ

The next stop on our South Island tour was my favorite stop and that was Mt Cook national park. I loved camping below these majestic mountains and glaciers and occasionally hearing the glaciers calving.

Mt Cook

Glaciers and Mt Cook (mountain in the right rear) in a beautiful setting.

Since it was such a beautiful location and a clear night, I decided to go out and do some nighttime photography. I initially shot some stars but that didn’t work out to my satisfaction. Then the moon rose and drained the stars of all their brilliance. I was still able to capture the moon starting to shine on this mountain range which was pretty phenomenal to watch.

Mt Cook

The moonrise captured on a mountain range in Mt Cook National Park.

It was very sad when we had to leave the beauty of Mt Cook National Park but there was much more to see of the South Island!

Mt. Cook

Mt Cook National Park as seen in the mirror leaving the park.

That covers the first half of our trip in New Zealand. In the second blog post coming up very soon (I promise!), I’ll talk about the trip up the West Coast of the South Island and then wrapping up in the North Island! Happy Travels!


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Return to Noosa Heads-Pt 1!

Since I left Sydney and returned to Noosa heads, it’s been a busy three weeks. So busy that I’ve decided to break it down in two blog posts so the blog post isn’t too long. In this post, I’ll talk about more about the animals I’ve been introduced to in the last 3 weeks, always amazing here down under. The first, one that I was not really fond of meeting was a huge Huntsman spider just above my pillow in the bedroom.


A captured Huntsman spider is being relocated

Sandra had to capture him and take him outside as I was busy recovering from my heart attack. They are supposed to be great for capturing mosquitos, gnats and small children. While we’re on the subject of spiders, we were walking through a park in Brisbane and came across about 100 Golden Orb spiders above our heads covering an area of about 30 meters just waiting for something to fly by.

Golden Orb

Golden Orbs in the sky

I pity the poor critter that flies into that web! On the less lethal front but still with spindly legs, we came upon a large group of crabs that were cruising in formation on the beach.

Blue Crab

Blue Crab colony moving in formation

These were incredible as they moved in a wave and this was only a small portion of the colony that existed out there. Here is a closeup of the crabs on the run….

Blue crabs

Small blue colored crabs racing away

On the same beach, I was able to get pretty close to some white seabirds just at the moment when they spooked and took off flying. Quite a sight to see in person!


Seabird movement

The birds here are alway amazing…and noisy, sometimes at 5 a.m. but they are still beautiful to see. Here are a few Cockatoos hanging out on some telephone wires


Cockatoos on a wire

It is really cool to see thousands of these Cockatoos congregate in the trees next to the river every night around 6 pm. An incredible chorus of cackles!

Lastly, while visiting some friends in Brisbane, we were invited up to watch the nightly feeding of a friendly possum. He was really mellow and just enjoyed eating whatever leftovers were available! Definitely could make him my pet!


Possum supper time

Next up in part 2 will be some of the locations that we visited during our 3 weeks in Noosa Heads. Happy Travels!

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Doin the Down Under

I had a wonderful invite to come visit down under to Australia and New Zealand and of course jumped at the opportunity. After a 24 hour flight from London (with 3 hour layover in Dubai), I arrived and hit the ground running….


Shot of me enjoying a hike in Noosa National Park

I was met at the airport by my girlfriend, number one photo assistant and chef extraordinaire, Sandra!


Number one photo assistant and Chef extraordinaire Sandra!

We proceeded to the beach for a great camping weekend with a lot of her friends. The beaches here in Noosa Heads are incredibly beautiful with nice warm water and cooling sea breezes.

Pacific Ocean

A vista of the Pacific Ocean off of Noosa National Park

In the quick week that I have been here, I have been amazed at the variety of animals that I have never before seen. Everything from these Rainbow Lorikeets off of the balcony…


Two rainbow Lorikeets nibbling on a Palm tree

to this interesting looking bird on the coast…..

black bird

An unknown seabird sitting on the coast in Noosa National Park

to this sea turtle cruising along in the Pacific Ocean….

Sea Turtle

A sea turtle enjoying the waters off of Noosa National Park

and lastly this Goanna lizard that raced up a tree.



An Australian Goanna hiding in a tree on the North shore of Noosa Heads


Close up of the Australian Goanna 


I also experienced a venomous red bellied Black Snake about 6 inches from my bare feet and a bat called a Flying Fox with about a 5 ft wing span but was not able to capture these guys on camera for some reason (rumors of me running away are totally false!)

In the next post, I hope to share some more animal pictures in the wild, specifically a kangaroo, koala and if I’m lucky the elusive Flying Fox.

G’day Mates!!



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Tour De France

While working my way up to Brussels for a meeting of international athletic philosophers, I was able to swing by a leg of the Tour de France. It was in the small mountains of Alsace but still with some steep hills.

I read that is was best to catch the riders going up the steeps so I left my car at the bottom and hiked up about 3km to what looked like a good area. (It must be noted that you have to do this about 4 hours before the riders are expected,especially if you want to participate in the Caravan where they toss free gimmees, lots of fun).

So, well stationed near the top, and here came the front riders…leading is the guy wearing the jersey for best hill climber…

Even though I'm wearing a clown jersey, I'm not happy.

Even though I’m wearing a clown jersey, I’m not happy.

Closely behind was the first French rider in Chocolat….

French rider, think it's Ribron. Chocolat.

French rider, think it’s Ribron. Chocolat.

These guys were really sucking some wind and this was not the worst climb for them. Pretty crazy that they did 100 miles with all these passes

This 2 mile hill is tough. I had to walk it but not as fast as these guys.

This 2 mile hill is tough. I walked it but not as fast as these guys.

It amazes me that these guys are able to have a conversation. Looks important!

"So did you hear Pierre LeForge slept with a t-shirt seller last night???"

“So did you hear Pierre LeForge slept with a t-shirt seller last night???”

This guy just looked too good, I think he snuck on part way up the hill!

Winner of the Hero up the Hill Look!

Winner of the Hero up the Hill Look!

And bringing up the end (but not last), this poor gent must have crashed a little before arriving to us. All I can say is “Ouch”. Kudos on him for keeping going!

Winner of the Ouch Award! He was near the back, didn't see the race telecast for his wipeout but at least he finished!

Winner of the Ouch Award! He was near the back, didn’t see the race telecast for his wipeout but at least he finished!

After watching, wanted to go watch another leg but tomorrow is a rest day for the Tour so I’ll move on North. Ciao!


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Italy Wrap Up

Well, I’ve been home a little over a week now and finally starting to recover. The trip lasted about 7 weeks beginning the first week of April.  I covered about 5300km (3,300 miles) and shot over 3,400 images (a few of which are keepers!)

Here is a map of where I went along with the stops for overnight (yellow pins).  (Please click for larger image)

Screen Shot 2014-06-01 at 11.30.31 AM


As you can see, I did miss the toe and Sicily. This was because I had to be in Venice for a flight to Germany and didn’t have enough time to properly visit Sicily. My plan is to do another trip and cover Sardinia, Sicily and try to catch Corsica at the same time.

I also didn’t get to spend enough time in the Dolomites and Northern Italy area (lakes, Milan and Turin). I plan on getting back to there soon, maybe this fall, depending on how things go.

My next trip was scheduled to be Ireland and Scotland in July but that is looking like a delay as I would like to continue work to establish my photo business, save up some money for house renovations (new windows and door coming in June, yay!), and figure out what I want to achieve on these road trips.  I will still do mini trips and post photos from these adventures.

It was great fun seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and a lifetime of memories achieved. Thanks to all along the way, both online and in country.  Cheers! Laurent




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The mighty Dolomites

Wrapping up a beautiful week traveling in the Dolomite mountain region of Northern Italy. These mountains are very scenic with their rugged spires; very dramatic scenery everywhere you look. Below this shot of a village puts the large mountains in perspective.  (Please click photos for larger view)

Small Village in the Dolomite mountains

Small Village in the Dolomite mountains

I had a couple of opportunities to go hiking (when there wasn’t too much snow). This beautiful 3 hour hike only had a couple of people that I passed all day. It was gorgeous but also very windy.

Soaring Peaks in the Dolomites near Selva, Italy

Soaring Peaks in the Dolomites near Selva, Italy

I had to go over a lot of passes, many of them still covered in snow. This one started to snow before I got over the pass.

Storm clouds while going over Selva pass.

Storm clouds while going over Selva pass.

Here is a shot of my van/home on the pass with a huge snowbank in the background.

My VW standing proud with a large snow bank behind it.

My VW standing proud with a large snow bank behind it.

While it was quite snowy in places, there was some nice weather and signs of spring coming out.

Spring flowers in the Dolomites

Spring flowers in the Dolomites

Here was a nice sunset on a beautiful mountain. I stood in some very strong winds for 2 hours to get the shot but I feel it was worth it.

Sunset in the Dolomite mountains above the town of San Vito DI Cadore

Sunset in the Dolomite mountains above the town of San Vito Di Cadore

I came across one of the most beautiful emerald green lakes that I’ve ever seen. It really was stunning.

Brilliant green lake Carezza in the Italian dolomites

Brilliant emerald green lake Carezza in the Italian dolomites

After spending a rough night sleeping in the city (too much traffic going by to sleep well), I went up a mountain to relax and stumbled upon this oompah band playing in the village. So much for napping as I had to listen while having a nice beer and weisswurst.

An oompah band firing off the tunes in San Genesio, Italy.

An oompah band firing off the tunes in San Genesio, Italy.

One of the towns that I visited is called Cortina D’Ampezzo and they hosted the 1956 winter olympics. You can still see remnants of the games throughout the town.

The Ski Jump from the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina D'Ampezzo

The Ski Jump from the 1956 Winter Olympics in Cortina D’Ampezzo

Well, a gorgeous part of Italy that I need to visit again in the future. So much more to see, maybe when there is a little less snow. Ciao!


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Amalfi Coast

Well, it’s been quite a drought of wifi access and thus no chance to post blog updates but it looks like I will have good wifi for the next couple of days so here we go. Based on some conversations about Amalfi from a friend, I decided to drive it backwards from Salerno to Sorrento.  This worked out nicely because it allowed me to view the coast from the driver’s seat without having to try and peak out the passenger window. It also kept me from the edge and death drop.

View of the Amalfi Coast

View of the Amalfi Coast

While it was beautiful, it was extremely hard to enjoy because of the crazy traffic and lack of areas to pullover for photos.

This was a recurring event, something I'll call Amalfijam!

This was a recurring event, something I’ll call Amalfijam!

I did stop at Ravello as this was not on the Med but above the Med and there were still parking spaces early in the morning. Here a found an idyllic place for this waiter to chat on his cell phone. Hope he appreciates what he has for a work place!

Waiter talking on a phone in the town of Ravello. Couldn't ask for a better view while chatting!

Waiter talking on a phone in the town of Ravello. Couldn’t ask for a better view while chatting!

When I got to the town Amalfi, the closest parking space was 8 kilometers down the road (and you had to walk back on the road with cars whizzing by and no sidewalk so the only picture I got was while waiting in traffic.

The town of Amalfi coast. This was the only shot I could get as I couldn't park .

The town of Amalfi coast. This was the only shot I could get as I couldn’t park .

I had heard it is best to take the bus for the Amalfi coast drive and that may be true, especially if it allows you to get on and off.  Finally a last shot as I was pulling back into Sorrento.

The bay of Sorrento at the end of Amalfi coast.

The bay of Sorrento at the end of Amalfi coast.

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