Merry Christmas, One and All!

It has been quite a year, making room for peace and kindness in our little sphere while the world goes crazy around us. As 2016 comes to a close, remember to love more and dream bigger.

img_8305
Santa got a DUI after drinking too much gluehwein at the Christmas Market, so now he’s sharing his merry from a bike!
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“I Left My Sock in Montreal”

What do you do when you have a conference in Montreal the week following the May long weekend? Why, you travel early so you can spend the long weekend in belle Montreal, that’s what you do!

I feel like us west coasters have been a bit spoiled this spring with the fabulously warm weather, sunny skies, and beautiful blossoms. Imagine my delight when I discovered that we arrived in Montreal to fabulously warm weather, sunny skies, and beautiful blossoms!

It seems spring has sprung in Montreal, and it’s fantastique! We got to enjoy all the great aspects of spring twice this year, that’s going to be hard to top in years to come!

Spring in Montreal
There are churches and cathedrals everywhere. On our first walk from the hotel I figured I should get the “stone buildings and blossoms” shot out of my system.

We should take a minute to back up a week prior to the trip, when my camera developed an annoying dark spot on the sensor, and had to be shipped back to Nikon for service. Not cool. Fortunately a friend came to the rescue and loaned me a basic Fuji camera so that I would not be completely unarmed in Montreal (Thanks Ian!). The shot above was my first test of the Fuji, and it seemed to do a reasonable job with the bright day.

The bonus of the Fuji was it was light. This is important since over 4 days we walked about 60km around the city! In fact, we did so much walking, Thorsten thought he had blown out a sock, hence the theme “I left my sock in Montreal”.

For the first day we followed a suggested walking route around Old Montreal from the City Walks app. The first stop it recommended was the Montreal World Trade Centre.  The Trade Centre brings restored heritage buildings together under a rather striking glass atrium, and is the home to many artifacts, shops, and businesses.

Montreal World Trade Centre
The Amphitrite fountain & black granite reflecting pool are a main attraction when you enter the glass atrium. I loved the clarity of the reflection and the symmetry of the lamps.

As we wandered around the city, one of the things we were always on the lookout for were the fantastic murals that are everywhere, in residential areas, commercial areas, and everywhere in between. Many depict historical scenes, some are whimsical, others are downright weird, this one was sort of funny.

Rooster mural
“I crush your nissan, crush crush!”

On one of the days our walk took us up through the trails on Mont Royale. Despite it being a spectacular sunny day on a long weekend, the trails were remarkably clear of people. The main trail is more like a road, and is a serpentine up the Mont. The serpentines are dissected by a network of smaller trails through the trees, and that was the route we opted for.

Mont Royale1
This deserted stretch of trail was begging for a photo, so I asked Thorsten to do the honours. I think he has some untapped talent with a camera!

All in all, it was a great trip, and a very memorable May long weekend. We saw so many neighbourhoods, ate too much great food, took in the new Cirque show Luzia, and it was all over too fast! We definitely must go again, Montreal is a fantastic city!

 

Rain or Shine,Outdoors is Fine

“I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery—air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”
― Sylvia Plath

One of the realities of being a “9-5er” is that there are many times when I have a small window of opportunity to get out with my camera, but the weather decides it should flex its muscle a little. Fortunately some creative travel companions, umbrellas (actually used to keep the rain off the camera, not just for the “artful umbrella” shot, and some beautiful westcoast locations often come together to allow me to still get out and play with the camera in lousy weather. That almost makes it MORE fun, as I have to think about what I want to take quite differently.

A few weekends ago one of my coworkers organized a spa weekend on Vancouver Island. My partner and I went over a day early to spend time with his son who lives there. That meant we had a free day to explore the mid island, unfortunately that was the very day there was intermittent heavy rain showers. We decided to stick with the plan and get outside anyway.

I’m so glad we did, we wandered around through the huge cedar trees in Cathedral Grove, we were amazed by the volume and force of the “Little” Qualicum Falls, and we checked out a Buddhist Temple. We also had a delicious dinner, that tasted all the better after a day of activity in the elements.

From a photography perspective, there were times when it was just raining too hard to take the camera out of the bag, but there were many other opportunities where the rain eased or stopped altogether for a spell, and everything was vibrant and glistening. I didn’t come away from the weekend with any particularly awesome shots, but had a lot of fun getting out and trying. There are a few photos from the weekend where I think the ideas were sound, but the photos didn’t quite get to what I had in mind.

Waterfall tree watermark
I had the idea of getting a shot of this delicate seedling with the rushing water of the Qualicum Falls in the background. In the moment I couldn’t decide how to achieve what I had in mind with depth of field. I also didn’t quite know what to do with the shutter speed. Speeding it up would add more detail to the water in the background, making the whole photo “busy”. Slowing it down would lose the sense of power from the turbulent water. In the end I didn’t quite capture any of it, but I sure had an enjoyable time trying!

I had a similar experience when I came across four seagulls nicely lined up in the shallow water as the tide rolled in. The water was rough, so it was busy and distracting in the background.

four seaguls watermark
This scene was more pleasing to the eye in a wider shot, but then the seagulls were a bit lost against the rough water. In hindsight, it may have been a more interesting shot to slow the shutter speed down to smooth out the water a bit. Maybe the seagulls will oblige me for a do-over at some point in the future!

 I have been working on taking photos that tell a story, in particular taking photos of people that portray a mood or a story without being overt. Fortunately I have a willing test subject in Thor, I’m grateful for that!

The clouds parted for a while on the Saturday morning on the Island, and we took a stroll through Rathtrevor Park in Parksville. I love Rathtrevor beach, particularly when the tide is out as the beach goes on for miles and there is so much shoreline activity. There is also a great trail that goes the length of the beach, and that was the route we took.About halfway down the trail, we came across an interesting hollow chunk of driftwood.

Thor contemplation watermark
I loved the detail and shadow of this hollow driftwood, but with the harshness of the light it didn’t make a good shot on its own. I took dozens of shots, I preferred a wider landscape frame, but for that I had to back away from the log and lost the impact of the hollow bit. My favourite shot ended up being this one shot from the level of the log, looking up at Thor. I liked the sense of “big sky” from this perspective.

Fast forward to this weekend, and the principle of keeping the camera handy for pleasant breaks in the weather, and accommodating companions came into play again. On our way home from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal where we picked up Thor’s son for a visit, we took a short detour to one of my favourite sunset spots, Roberts Bank in Ladner. I had an idea in mind for a “father and son” shot, and was happy when the guys not only agreed to the detour, but also happily participated in my plan for the shot.

father son watermark
Although there was a beautiful sunset developing, I prefer this shot in black and white. The story wasn’t intended to be the sunset, it was the intent discussion the guys were having. In editing I softened the background so it wouldn’t distract from the main subjects.

I’m interested to note that every photo I have wanted to share with you here is black and white. I do love black and white, I think it is more poetic and emotional than colour. That said, I’ll end on a colour shot, the awesome sunset from Friday evening at Roberts Bank!

sunset march 18 RB watermark
I can’t get enough of the unevenness of the posts, and their awesome reflections on a calm evening at Roberts Bank. The pinks and yellow made the sky interesting, and the reflections so colourful. What a nice way to end a week!

I wonder what adventures this week will hold? The weather forecast says rain to the end of the week, sounds like the gloves have been thrown down!

Challenge accepted! 🙂

Local Escapes

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
“I don’t much care where –”
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

 

I don’t know if you have ever attended a travel expo, travel show, or similar event that simultaneously lights an intense desire to get out there and see the world, and also overwhelms you with choice, rendering it impossible to decide “where next?”.  After experiencing that creative tension for a few years in a row, the last time I attended a travel show, I went with two themes in mind; epic travels to far off places, and 4 day weekends close to home.

As time passes, I seem to do well attending to the “epic travels to far off places” list, but not as well on the “close to home” list.

Last weekend my partner Thorsten and I set about fixing that. We booked a B&B in Pemberton as a base, and set about exploring a few sites in the area. Our original plan was to visit the ghost town of Bradian, about an hour and a half north of Pemberton. That plan was thwarted, however, as we learned the road to the town is inaccessible in the winter months, and the alternate route is several hours longer through Lillooet. We decided we would instead just go and see what options revealed themselves to us.

We decided to stretch our legs on the drive up to Pemberton with a quick stop in Squamish to hike up to the first peek of the Stawamus Chief. It was a great day for it, sunshine and very few people.

For those of you have haven’t hiked the Chief, it’s about 40 minutes of up, and up, and up. The lower part of the trail follows a creek, complete with awesome little water falls.

Chief waterfall watermark
This photo exists only because I needed an excuse to stop and let my lungs catch back up with my legs.

Once at the top, the impressive slab of granite is a nice spot to sit and take in the views.

Chief texter
Nice views at the top, and I’m sure the Facebook update was nice, too. Maybe if this was your daily fitness route, the view would be secondary to your updates and texts, but for those of us that don’t see this every day, the phones stayed in the packs.

With a brief stop in Whistler for a walk around and a bite to eat, we went directly to our B&B in Pemberton. It was a beautiful home with nice hosts just a minute or so out of town.  We confirmed that the road to Bradian was closed, another guest had attempted it with a truck recently and advised there was no chance for my little SUV. With that knowledge, we mapped out a few other options for places to check out nearby.

The next morning we started by taking a drive as far up Pemberton Meadows road as we could manage in my little SUV. We got about 40 minutes out of town, enjoying views of the  Lillooet River as we went. Once we could go no further, we turned back and returned to town. That was when we discovered the best GF banana bread EVER at the Blackbird Bread Bakery. After enjoying the banana bread and a latte, we headed a few km down the road to Nairn Falls Provincial Park. It’s a short 1.5km walk to the falls, and they are worth the visit. The falls are one of those things that are difficult to capture on film, as the powerful rumble of the water and the mist in the air are as integral to the experience as the views.

From there we committed to a bit of a drive, with the T’sek Hot Springs as our destination. The drive takes you past Lillooet Lake, and along the Lillooet River. There are amazing views along the way.

Lillooet Lake
I liked the reflection of the driftwood on this view down Lillooet Lake. The lake was so calm.

I should clarify. The views are for the passenger, the driver needs jedi-like concentration to  drive the often narrow and windy gravel road, dodging other vehicles, graders, and the like. After 48km of excitement, we arrived at the hot springs. I left the camera in the car and made a beeline for the somewhat eclectic collection of tubs that held lovely hot spring water. It was a fantastic way to relax for the afternoon. After a nice long soak, we took a walk around the campground, sussed out a site where we would like to camp in the future, and then got back on the road so we wouldn’t be doing too much of the drive in the dark.

Having worked up a bit of an appetite through the day, we decided to check out the Mile One Eating House once back in Pemberton.  It didn’t disappoint. Possible the best steak we have ever eaten, and the elk meatloaf was pretty awesome too!

The next morning we started making our way back down the Sea to Sky toward Vancouver, with a stop in the Callaghan Valley  to do some snowshoeing. The Callaghan Valley trails are a legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics. We strapped our snowshoes on and headed out on the trail to Finger Lakes. It was a great day for it, with the sun even peeking out every now and then.

Callahagn Valley
Apparently there is a lake under there somewhere!

It was interesting how many huge fungi were growing on the trees, they really stood out with as they were glistening with the melting snow dripping off them.

Callahagn Valley fungus
One of the many large colourful fungus we saw on the trees.

As with most trips, no matter how much you enjoy yourself, once you start the trek home you get increasingly keen to get there.

The funny thing is, once you get home, thoughts turn to where to go next!  There are a still a number of “close to home” places to explore, I wonder which one we will chose next!

 

 

Sunny Revelations

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw

There is nothing like travel to rejuvenate the soul. There are uplifting little notes, even when you are quite convinced your soul is fresh as a daisy at the outset.

I had the great fortune to start 2016 “on the road”. Well, in the air, but you get the idea. My year started with the opportunity to present some research some colleagues and I have been working on at a conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. It’s not everyday my work takes me somewhere sunny so it was a bit of a treat. Given the location, I decided to take a few vacation days and stay for a while past the end of the conference.

If you have never been to Hawaii, I would recommend adding it to your list of future destinations. There is something about the “Aloha” spirit that is light, friendly, and laid back. Everything from the forgiving approach to lost tourists making terrible decisions in rental cars, to cheerful business owners happily offering local tips and stories, makes a visitor feel welcome.

Waikiki enjoys a great sunrise as the sun peeks up from behind the Diamond Head Crater, and spectacular sunsets as the sun sinks in the west. One of the things I enjoyed about both the sunrises and the sunsets were the crowds that would gather to share them together. I didn’t really discover this until a few days into my trip, though, as I fell a little into “hermit-work-mode” and completely failed to get out and enjoy the tropical paradise before and after the conference hours each day. It wasn’t that I was unhappy or distressed in any way, it was just a special blend of laziness with a disappointing lack of appreciation for my surroundings. I think the work aspect of the trip messed with my location appreciation sensors!

Eventually it dawned on me that I’m responsible for creating my own experience and enjoyment, so after ditching the briefcase and grabbing the camera bag one evening, I headed down to the beach to see what I could find.

As I ventured past the pools and restaurants, the beach and a big breakwater came into view. That was when I saw the guy.

connected

All around him was activity, surfers heading in and out of the water, vacationers finding view points for the imminent sunset, people walking, talking, sitting, soaking it all in. If this guy had just paused to check something quickly on his phone, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him at all. After all, I had just checked my phone to confirm the exact sunset and sunrise times for my location. He caught my eye because he stood motionless for a good 15 minutes, watching something on his phone, there on the breakwater, surrounded by the crashing surf in front of a colouring sky.  Granted, he could have been dictating the cure for cancer that had just suddenly come to him, or doing some other meaningful and important task on his phone, but as I watched him I saw my own behaviours from the past days and it was the kick in the ass I needed. This guy launched me into adventure mode, I’m grateful for that!

For the rest of my time in Hawaii I made sure I witnessed every sunset, and most sunrises. Each one was majestic and good for the soul.

Hawaii sunset 2
There is no shortage of places to experience sunsets on Oahu. The smell of the ocean, the sound of the waves rolling in, and the dramatic skies combine to make a special kind of magic.

On the first free day my colleague, her daughter, and I got up before dawn and ventured out to Pearl Harbor. If you get there before the gates open in the morning, they waive the entrance fee for the first 100 or so people. An adult admission is $65USD, so the savings for the 3 of us made it worth getting up early. If you are in Honolulu, I’d recommend visiting Pearl Harbor. As well as being a moving memorial to the lives lost on December 7, 1941, it is an interesting and well presented account of the events that led up to the attack, and the attack itself.

In addition to the USS Arizona Memorial, the battleship USS Missouri is, as my brother eloquently states, “an imposing piece of kit”.

USSmissouri-battleship-pearlharbor-warship
The USS Missouri is an impressive sight. If you feel compelled you can purchase a tour to check her out. If you are more like me, a bit of a tightwad, and would rather just read up on her history, you can do that here.

My last 3 and a half days on O’ahu were vacation days. In addition to the early visit to Pearl Harbor, we also took a drive around the island. It was the first of 2, I also did the drive myself the next day. Driving around the island is another activity I would highly recommend. There are amazing viewpoints, interesting sites, nice parks, and neat little places to stop for food. One of the places I was particularly interested in visiting was Haleiwa on the north end of the island. Haleiwa is just adjacent to one of the most popular spots for viewing sea turtles. Apparently they come up out the water and hang out on the sand. I say “apparently” because despite 2 visits to Turtle Beach (you can see why I may have got my hopes up), there was nary a turtle to be seen. It turns out the surf was particularly high, and turtles are no more enthusiastic than humans to be pummelled into the reef and rocks so they had sought out calmer seas. Oh well, a good reason to return some other time, and the surf that chased off the turtles was sort of fun to watch as well.

Sunset wave
The surf pounding the rugged shoreline was not only an awe-inspiring sight, but was also a powerful sound track. I spent hours just sitting watching the waves crash in.

I also spotted, from shore, a humpback whale playing in the surf, slapping his tail and generally putting on a show. That display inspired me to sign up for a whale watching tour that ended with a similar result to my visit to Turtle Beach. We saw several blows from humpbacks, but not the actual whales. I guess technically that means I saw a substantial amount of whale snot, but the whales themselves were a bit coy. Nonetheless, it’s always fun to get out on the water, so I enjoyed the morning.

On my last full day before heading home, I decided to hang back for the sunset. Every other evening I sought out an unobstructed view of the sinking sun. On the last evening I was more enchanted by all the other folks who were out for the same reason I was, to feel the magic.

Waikiki sunset
I enjoyed the way a small crowd would assemble in the early morning hours for sunrise, and here in the evening for the sunset. It was a light, friendly atmosphere, everyone there for the same reason. Connectedness among strangers.

It was exactly the experience I would have crafted in my mind if these things could be planned. It was in the same location that I first saw the fellow on his cell phone days before. I did take a few minutes to thank that guy in my mind for giving me the nudge I needed to get out and create a fulfilling experience for myself as the week played out.

I enjoyed my visit to O’ahu, and will definitely return one day. There are many places I want to return to to see another day, in another way, and so many places I didn’t get a chance to visit on the first pass. Until that day, I wonder where the next adventure will reveal itself?

Art Breaks

Every now and then, we need to turn off the logic centre of our brains and agree to do something that is so absurd and ill conceived, you really can’t explain it to a normal rational person. Those times are where the best stories come from.

I have just returned home from such an adventure.

I have learned in life that there is no need to go to all the trouble of creating a “bucket list”, so long as I have friends who are diligent with creating their own and I’m ok with random adventures that weren’t previously even on my radar.

It turns out going to Spain and cycling the Camino De Santiago pilgrim’s trail was a bucket list item for a friend of mine, and in a moment of weakness I agreed to go along and even helped coerce a few others into joining us. Now let’s be clear, I don’t even own a bike. The sum total of my cycling experience in the last 10 years was spending 2 days on a bike last year during a tour of China. In my defence, I DID ride the stationary bike in the work gym a few times in the weeks leading up to this silliness, but in hindsight I’d have to say that didn’t really achieve an optimal level of conditioning.

To add to the absurdness of the venture, as soon as one of my good friends from the UK discovered I was going to Spain, she talked me into signing up for a 10km run in the Palma Marathon. I’m also not a runner. Well, not unless someone is chasing me, or the coffee shop is closing.

After all of these great ideas have been accounted for, the itinerary looks like this:

  • 4 days in Palma, Mallorca, where we will run the race and do some sightseeing;
  • From Palma to Pamplona, where we will pick up rented bikes and start cycling for 10 days in the direction of Santiago de Compostella, from where our flight home is booked.

As bookends, there is a day in Barcelona on either side as that is were our international flights arrive and depart from.

When we all gathered in Palma there were seven of us in a rented apartment by the time siblings and all were accounted for. We had a nice time in Palma, the uphill-both-ways 10 km run in the heat not withstanding. We had great meals we prepared ourselves, delicious wine, and a nice little day trip to Soller and Port de Soller.

The following are a few photos from my wanderings on Mallorca:

Nothing says Europe more clearly than a narrow alley adorned with a scooter!
Nothing says Europe more clearly than a narrow alley adorned with a scooter!
One of the things I loved about Spain was the consistently awesome plants and planters in the windows! From the smallest towns we cycled through, to the largest cities, the windows were cheery, and usually had at least a plant, if not an elaborate plater with bright flowers spilling out.
One of the things I loved about Spain was the consistently awesome plants and planters in the windows! From the smallest towns we cycled through, to the largest cities, the windows were cheery, and usually had at least a plant, if not an elaborate planter with bright flowers spilling out.
Plants consistently seemed to grow out of nowhere - out of stone walls, in this case a plaster wall...Rugged little greens!
Plants consistently seemed to grow out of nowhere – out of stone walls, in this case a plaster wall…Rugged little greens!
In Port de Soller there were stacks and stacks of nets drying in the sun. I liked the colors and lines.
In Port de Soller there were stacks and stacks of nets drying in the sun. I liked the colors and lines.

From Palma we headed to Pamplona, via Barcelona. We had long enough in Barcelona for a quick walk to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. It’s a pretty impressive building, with stairs and cascading fountains leading the eye up to the grand structure on the hill. We didn’t go in, as we didn’t have the time for that, but we enjoyed wandering the grounds and nearby parks.

The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya is a beautiful structure and well worth a visit. The fountains alone kept me well entertained for some time!
The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is a beautiful structure and well worth a visit. The fountains alone kept me well entertained for some time!

From Barcelona we took a train to Pamplona, where we discovered the rented bikes had in fact been delivered to the hotel. No way to weasel out of the cycling now! The following morning we loaded up the bikes and set out in cold, but dry weather. It took us some time exploring the streets of Pamplona to locate an albergue that would issue us a Pilgrim’s Credential, the “passport” that would gain us access to the albergues, or hostels along the Camino de Santiago pilgrim’s path. It was afternoon before we officially hit the road, and came to the sobering conclusion that Spain is rather mountainous.

It quickly became apparent to me that it was a very good idea to take my big camera, rather than a more compact point and shoot, for two reasons; first, I had plausible grounds for whining that I had to carry extra weight on the hills, therefore I was slower; and secondly, it was expected that I would take frequent “art breaks” to take photos.

Here is how a typical day would go over the 10 days we cycled: Up at 6:30 or 7:00, as the albergues required you to leave by 8:00am. Sometimes there was breakfast at the albergue, other times we would find something in the village or town before we hit the trail. We would usually stop for a coffee mid-morning, and then a late lunch, at which time we would decide how many more km we had in us and pick a destination for the night. Once we arrived in the town were we would stay, we would get registered in an albergue, have the most awesome shower of our lives, then have dinner. Go to bed, repeat!

For perspective, here is a screen shot of the route we followed. We used the awesome app maps.me that gave us offline access to routing and pinning features as we travelled.
For perspective, here is a screen shot of the route we followed. We used the awesome app, maps.me, that gave us offline access to routing and pinning features as we travelled. We covered approximately 400km between Pamplona and Leon.

The weather wasn’t always very cooperative, we saw rain and high winds a fair bit so there were days the camera didn’t come out of the pannier, but I did manage to get a few shots that give a bit of an idea of some of the sights we saw. I will confess, on the very steep bits there was nothing but our own misery to photograph, so the photos may seem more airy and flat than I have portrayed in this narrative!

This was such a typical sight. The spire of the church would be the firs thing to come into view, then the rest of the town, draped around the hill. A welcome sight, when that was where we planned to sleep for the night!
This was a typical sight. The spire of the church would be the first thing to come into view, then the rest of the town draped around the hill. A welcome sight, when that was where we planned to sleep for the night!
Many towns were accessed by either a bridge into town, or a bridge out of town. Some of the bridges were quite picturesque, particularly on a nice sunny day!
Many towns were accessed by either a bridge into town, or a bridge out of town. Some of the bridges were quite picturesque, particularly on a nice sunny day!
We spotted this awesome example of engineering just outside Burgos. Apparently it is a structure from an Arab trade route, and has quite an extensive footprint of caves and tunnels in the hillside.
We spotted this awesome example of engineering just outside Burgos. Apparently it is a structure from an Arab trade route, and has quite an extensive footprint of caves and tunnels in the hillside. The photo isn’t as clear as I would like, since it was a rainy day, but the structure is so interesting, I’m willing to work through the photo quality issue!
So confusing, what speed IS it? 130? 150? 155?
So confusing, what speed IS it? 130? 150? 155?
We finally got to the flat bit (250km between Burgos and Leon), only to realize that when all the windmills are pointing in the direction you are headed, the winds may not be in your favour! In between the vast expanses of fields, very organized forests have been planted. I understand they are there as a windbreak and to minimize erosion.
We finally got to the flat bit (250km between Burgos and Leon), only to realize that when all the windmills are pointing in the direction you are headed, the winds may not be in your favour! In between the vast expanses of fields, very organized forests have been planted. I understand they are there as a windbreak and to minimize erosion.
I may have taken an unseemly number of photos of doors and windows, this particular one had a gentleman in the shot as well!
I may have taken an unseemly number of photos of doors and windows, this particular one had a gentleman in the shot as well! These doors make up one of the entrances to the cathedral in Leon.

We finally arrived in Leon, 250km short of Santiago de Compostella. We left our bikes there for the rental company to pick up, and took the train to Santiago in order to make our flight.

I think most of us wish to go back to Leon, and walk the remainder of the trail in the future. Cycling is not really the best way to do the trail, and not only because I’m not a fan of cycling! The trail is not intended for cycling, it is made for walkers, particularly the steep sections. Taking a bike on the trail is slow going, and the alternative is taking the highway, which isn’t really in the spirit of the pilgrimage. I had embarked on this trip with the idea that I would have a great deal of time for contemplation and clarity of thought. Instead I was mostly trying to not die, navigating on-ramps and off-ramps, steep hills, and sharp switchbacks. There is also the social aspect that is missed when you don’t walk. Many of the walkers meet others, walk together, see the same people over and over and form bonds. Cycling the route puts you out of sync with others, and you do not make the same connections and bonds as the walkers do.

All that said, it was an adventure, and I saw parts of Spain I would have not seen otherwise, so it’s going in the books as another adventure, and I can confidently inform you that I have not run out to purchase a bike upon my return home!

The Great Wall, and Open Doors

Where did we leave off? Oh right, the dismal photographic failure on the Bowron Lake chain. It was not long after that I purchased a “Kathy Proof” camera, a Nikon AW120. I’m so glad I have this little camera. It goes in my backpack for skiing, hiking, can handle watersports (more so than I can, in honesty), and was purchased just in time for a tour around China!

The trip to China was a guided tour, so our in-country transportation and accommodation was looked after, but much of the tour was cycling, hiking, and otherwise active transportation. I was travelling with a backpack, and the little Nikon AW120 was ideal as it was small, rugged, and takes great pictures. And oh boy, there were pictures. If you have never been to China, I highly recommend it! We travelled with G Adventures and I was so impressed with the number of major landmarks they packed into the 15 day tour! It was action packed, with amazing sites every day, no shortage of photo opportunities.

What a rare treat to have the Great Wall almost to ourselves! We spent 2 fabulous days on the wall, the first day on restored sections, as seen here, the second day on an unrestored, beautifully rugged section. I wasn't sure how to edit this, as the smog was quite heavy, though fortunately not right down to the ground that day. I feel the black and white gives the best sense of the texture of the wall in the foreground. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
What a rare treat to have the Great Wall almost to ourselves! We spent 2 fabulous days on the wall, the first day on restored sections, as seen here, the second day on an unrestored, beautifully rugged section. I wasn’t sure how to edit this, as the smog was quite heavy, though fortunately not right down to the ground that day. I feel the black and white gives the best sense of the texture of the wall in the foreground. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The one challenge I faced and didn’t know how to overcome, either in the moment, or later in editing shots, was the heavy smog. At first I thought it might pass in photos as “mystical mist”, but it became apparent it doesn’t behave the same as mist or fog. It has grey/brown color that shows up in photos, and it often comes right down to the ground, making even close up photos a bit hazy. It’s really as gross as it sounds. Apparently it’s not always as bad as it was when I visited, but that’s the luck of the draw, I suppose. I resorted to black and white edits quite a bit to downplay the smog, which was a bit of a shame as there were so many vivid colors, vibrant landscapes, and beautiful buildings that are integral to the culture and the history of China. The Ping’an rice Terraces were one of those  vibrant sites, such an amazing place to hike through, especially right as the rice was ready for harvest. I feel like this photo is a bit over-edited, compensating for the smog that washes out the amazing landscape a bit in the unedited photo.

The beauty of the Ping'an Rice Terraces was a highlight of the trip. The rice was ready for harvest, and had a beautiful golden glow. The terraces were first built by the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), and have been worked by hand ever since.
The beauty of the Ping’an Rice Terraces was a highlight of the trip. The rice was ready for harvest, and had a beautiful golden glow. The terraces were first built by the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), and have been worked by hand ever since.

One of my favourite cities was Xian, and I was so happy that we stayed there for a few day. There was so much to see, and the evenings were absolutely alive in the city, particularly in the Muslim Quarter, where there was a huge market and loads of delicious street food. On our way to the Muslim Quarter, we walked past the city’s Drum Tower, all lit up against the backdrop.

The Drum Tower of Xi'an, along with a Bell Tower, are the symbols of the city, and mark the beginning and end of each day. The bell rings at dawn to welcome the new day, and the drums sound at dusk.
The Drum Tower of Xi’an, along with a Bell Tower, are the symbols of the city, and mark the beginning and end of each day. The bell rings at dawn to welcome the new day, and the drums sound at dusk.

Once we arrived in the Muslim Quarter, the streets and adjacent market were alive with people. It was crowded, but there was such a light atmosphere it didn’t feel close, like large crowds sometimes can. We sampled some traditional foods, some delicious, some less so!

Sampling the glutinous rice cake (as delicious as it sounds...) in the Muslim Quarter in Xi'an. A moment captured in the bustling noisy crowd.
Sampling the glutinous rice cake (as delicious as it sounds…) in the Muslim Quarter in Xi’an. A moment captured in the bustling noisy crowd.

Considering I was often rushed trying to take photos as I didn’t want to delay the rest of the group too much, and I couldn’t upload photos to see what I had until I got home, overall I was pleased with the moments and places I captured.

Reflecting back on the trip a few things stand out. Of course it reaffirmed that I love to travel, and although that was my first travel with a tour I’d recommend it, particularly in areas with a significant language barrier. There is no way I could have seen as many tremendous sites if I was trying to arrange all my own transport and accommodation.

Secondly, I realized I wanted to be more intentional about photography. I didn’t want to just be taking a quick shot of something as I whizzed by. I wanted to go places with the purpose of taking photos (maybe not work, my employer would frown on that, but other places!). I also realized I wanted to learn more about photography to improve the quality of my photos. Fortunately for me, all of those wants are possible to attain, as long as I make room for them in my life and habits!

Old Cars and New Toys

I got a little ahead of myself in the last post. In thinking it through, I can’t skip the “my cell phone is all the camera I need” era, there were too many important habits picked up during that time, good and bad.

Some of the first camera phones I had were sub-optimal at best. Their limitations didn’t stop me from taking dark grainy pictures at ever increasing intervals, however, I was pretty delighted with the iPhone 5 when it came along. It became my camera, its communication functionality took a back seat. I always had it with me, and as I got more in the habit of using it to take photos, I started to notice a change in the way I was seeing my environment. Looking back at photos from that time, there is a clear shift from “here’s where I am” to “here is what I’m seeing”, it’s a subtle, but important shift. The idea of seeing the world more slowly appeals to me on every level, as the very nature of the world we live in pushes everything to go faster, to think and do in temporary measures as something different or better will come along within a few breaths. Finding something that gave me opportunities to pause just be for a spell was truly welcome and needed.

It wasn’t all reflection and inner peace, though.  Along came  all the editing apps, filters, and my favorite, Colorsplash! So much fun, it’s like finger painting. I love reading all the blogs and “10 things you should never ever ever do to a photo” opinion pieces that deal out the scathing rebuke for using tools like Colorsplash. I get it, if I was trying to position myself as a “fine artist”, apps like Colorsplash would probably be at the bottom of my list of tools. When I’m trying to entertain myself on a long flight, it’s my go-to game, and no one is going to take that fun away from me!

A few years ago I spent two weeks visiting Cuba with family. We travelled around quite a bit, and saw some amazing sights and architecture. I captured the whole trip, and edited the photos on the iPhone 5.  I was pretty pleased with the outcomes. Once I uploaded the photos, however, I began to notice that I had been quite heavy handed on the editing, and in many cases, the photos were not nearly as sharp as they seemed on that little screen. I started to have the nagging thought that I needed a more substantial camera, and a do-over in Cuba, just for the photos, of course.  The glorious beaches, and amazing towns and cities have nothing to do with it!

The streets of Havana had such an amazing atmosphere, and the classic old cars were a big part of that. This old beauty belonged to our landlords, from whom we rented an apartment for our stay in Havana. They took us to some of their favourite spots around the city in this beautifully maintained classic. Note the application of Colorsplash, it kept me entertained and not pestering my seat mate for most of the flight home!
The streets of Havana had such an amazing atmosphere, and the classic old cars were a big part of that. This old beauty belonged to our landlords, from whom we rented an apartment for our stay in Havana. They took us to some of their favourite spots around the city in this beautifully maintained classic. Note the application of Colorsplash, it kept me entertained and not pestering my seat mate for most of the flight home!

Shortly after that trip, I had another amazing photographic opportunity, a kayak trip through the beautiful Bowron Lake chain in Wells Grey Park in British Columbia.

This is the point where I would share a photo of the beautiful Bowron Lakes with you, but wait, I don’t have any!

On the first day of paddling, we were caught in a fairly substantial rainstorm while out on the water.  Storms move quickly up there, appearing from seemingly nowhere as they blow in over one of the mountains that line the lakes.  Although my phone was in a waterproof case, either through user error or a failed seal, the case filled up with water on the crossing, and I was without a camera for the entire ten day trip. On one hand, being camera free forced me to really experience and remember the trip, but there were more than a few moments when having a camera would have been pure gold. That first night, for example, as I sat on the shore staring at my soggy phone, a moose calf swam by in the lake about 15 feet away from me.  The next day a black bear sow and her two cubs were waiting on the shore near our camp, posing beautifully for a photo, not to mention all the exceptional scenery in that part of the province. I believe that is what the kids these days are referring to as an “epic fail”, on my part!  That experience was what it took to move me to the next step of a journey, the step of the journey where I owned both a phone AND a camera.  Of course, it was a baby step, and the camera was purchased for it’s ability to survive in water, and for being small enough to mimic the cell phone from a portability perspective, but it was a step, nonetheless! More on that later!