Giant Amoeba: Blog http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog en-us (C) Srivathsan Doraiswamy vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Mon, 12 Mar 2018 15:52:00 GMT Mon, 12 Mar 2018 15:52:00 GMT http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/img/s/v-5/u934378008-o267110241-50.jpg Giant Amoeba: Blog http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog 90 120 The Jurassic Coast http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2018/1/the-jurassic-coast Man O'War BayThe authorities had stopped visitors going down to the beach due to a crack on the rocks and was deemed unsafe After protracted abstinence from any leisurely pursuits, there were a few talks, in the power circles, about taking a break "from it all" and heading out on a much needed holiday. The year 2017 had whizzed past us in a blur and before we knew it, we were upon Christmas break. 

The first mention of any holiday was made sometime during late October/ early November when one of the regulars in our group felt he was perpetually jet-lagged with all the official travel and desired, for a change, to embrace travelling for pleasure. It was agreed then that the days immediately following Christmas up to New year be considered as potential travel dates.

Our holiday group is typically made up of a minimum of 7 or 8 people to all the way up to 13 or 14 people depending on people's availability. It is easier to organise a holiday for a smaller group size than the full complement. You seldom get a property that can take in all 14 people at once unless it has been planned very well in advance - sometimes as much as six months ahead. This does not become such an issue if the preference is to stay at a hotel (rather than a villa or a cottage) where you might be able to book four or five family rooms and still be able to travel as a group. It is, nonetheless, a very expensive proposition. The preference, however, is to travel together, stay together and take advantage of the convenience of the self-catering option that the cottage or a villa provide. Some of our best holidays were spent travelling together as a group - The English Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Cornwall, France and Belgium.

The next challenge was the destination. There were a few options discussed - Timisoara in Romania and Dublin in Ireland were among those discussed that meant travelling outside the United Kingdom. Not knowing the numbers that make up the final group size was a serious blocker and we were unable to take advantage of some fantastic airfares on offer. When the group size was eventually known, it was too late to consider any travel outside of Great Britain - the airfares had risen to untenable levels. We, therefore, set our sights on the famous Jurassic Coast, a world heritage site, in the South-West of England. We eventually booked our accommodation for a group size of nine people at the Isle of Portland, the southern most point in the county of Dorset. The choice of destination was a safe wager as extreme cold temperatures tend to be rare - but no one had mentioned about extreme conditions, though!

As with most of our holidays, a well-planned itinerary provides a staple configuration that is relied on by the whole group. It helps us to maintain focus on the places we wish to visit yet lending the flexibility to circumvent or skip any part of the plan arising out of unforeseen circumstances - weather, fatigue, traffic conditions.

When the day finally "arrived for departure," the anxieties ran high - the weather forecast for the duration of the trip was pretty bleak. Windy, rainy and stormy. After being initially dissuaded by the notorious M25 motorway with it's massive tail-backs, we somehow managed to break free of the gridlock and reached Portland. The drive to Portland itself was uneventful other than the constant reminder of the weather to come - we were belted by heavy rains along the way.

We arrived at our cottage well after it had gotten dark and once we had settled down, the rest of the evening was spent on idle chatter and whipping up a quick dinner before we retired to bed in anticipation of the next day.

Day 1:

After heavy breakfast we set out to explore one the most iconic landscapes of the Jurassic Coast and one that is, arguably, the most photographed. The distance of twenty miles to Durdle Door was covered in less than an hour. The weather forecast turned out to be a false alarm and we were greeted by wonderful sunshine - despite being very windy. As we parked the car and stepped out, we were nearly blown off our feet by the winds. It was quite strong that we instinctively reached out for any form of permanent support to hold on to.The car park is located on the cliff top at the Durdle Door Holiday Park. The iconic limestone arch of Durdle Door could be seen to the right within just a few minutes of walk from the car park on a descending trail towards the beach. Despite the windy conditions that dropped the temperatures to well below freezing, there were quite a few hikers, adventure seekers and people walking their dogs. As we descended further we were confronted by a fork in the pathway, the one going to the left leading to the famous Man O'War Bay and the one to the right down to the shingle beach through a series of steep steps on the hill, to Durdle Door.

The access to Man O'War bay was blocked by the authorities on the day, as there apparently were some cracks on the rocks that had been reported and therefore not deemed safe. Durdle door, however, was accessible once we negotiated the muddy, slippery and supportless steps down to the beach. The arch was formed by the pounding of relentless wave action over centuries and the fierce winds.The group unashamedly indulged in selfies with utterly no care about unkempt hair. In the meantime, I had set up my tripod and captured a series of long-exposure shots. The one below was shot using a 10 stop ND filter with a one second exposure to indicate just a hint of movement in the water.

Durdle DoorA landcape synonymous with Jurassic Coast

Once we knew that the wind-chill was too much to bear, we made a steady ascent back on the trail towards the car park. We were relieved to be back inside the car with the heating turned on high and soon we managed to get some sensation back on the limbs. We then drove for ten minutes eastward to Lulworth Cove - another popular tourist destination that can get very crowded in summers. The walk from the car park to the white pebble beach is through a gentle gradient in the road and can be reached in about five minutes.

When we arrived at the beach, it was nearly deserted - the crowd might have taken cover from the winds and the bone-chilling weather conditions. It was such a beautiful sight out towards the sea, however, we couldn't enjoy the panoramic views it offered as the wind-chill worsened. The ambient temperature was about 2°C and with the wind-chill it felt like -8°C and clearly getting progressively uncomfortable. We all agreed that we may have to revisit this site another time in the future than expose ourselves to the elements. We then returned to the car park - glad that the brisk uphill walk warmed us a bit - and ate our packed lunch inside our cars.

Lulworth Cove

We then proceeded towards Old Harry Rocks located at Handfast Point and is considered the eastern-most point of the 96 mile Jurassic Coast. Even as we started to drive towards the destination, we were a bit skeptical about being able to walk the 1.5 mile trail from the Middle Beach Car Park to Old Harry Rocks, given the hostile windy conditions. We did want to see through our plan on the off chance that the winds had either subsided or perhaps not so severe at Handfast Point.

When we arrived at the Middle Beach Car Park roughly forty minutes later, the winds had definitely eased a bit and therefore we headed out in the direction of Old Harry Rocks. Half way through our walk, we came to a little clearing with a brilliant viewpoint out to sea - so we spent some time doing group pictures and I had made some pictures of the rock stacks with varying focal lengths and different lenses - the picture below is a combination of multiple images shot in burst mode and processed in Photoshop CC 2018 to result in a single image that made the water appear smooth. Having spent about twenty minutes on the spot, some members of the group felt that it was getting colder and therefore we returned to the car park to finish the day's programme and to get back to the cottage back in Portland.

Old Harry Rocks

Day 2:

The plan for the second day was to explore in and around Portland but we were not prepared for how well the weather turned out again, there was not a drop of rain. It was a beautiful, crisp and sunny morning with barely a hint of breeze. We clearly hadn't expected this benevolence from the weather gods and decided to rather use the conditions to venture farther out than just visiting Portland. We swapped the schedule with the next day's itinerary and headed out to Lyme Regis - about 35 miles north-west of Portland.

The drive to Lyme Regis was through a scenic route and there were several lay-bys along the way at different elevations to take in the views overlooking Chesil Beach and out to the sea. We managed to get to a car park adjacent to the beach, at Lyme Regis, and soon set out to explore the beautiful coastal town. It appeared that the entire town had turned up at the beach to soak in the winter sunshine to have one big party. It is a pebble beach so there was no risk of sandy floor-mats in the car later on. We stopped every few minutes to take some pictures and kept walking the beautiful promenade.

Lyme RegisThe beautiful promenade with beach-side huts at Lyme Regis

We finally reached the end of the Marine Parade and found ourselves at The Cobb. The name is synonymous with the town of Lyme Regis. It is a stone pier structure that extends about 900 feet into the sea forming a harbour. It is believed to have been in existence since the early 14th Century. The elevated section of the structure slopes at an appreciable angle towards the sea. It is one of the most photographed landmarks at Lyme Regis.

The Cobb, Lyme RegisThe iconic man-made harbour is known as The Cobb

After spending a few minutes at The Cobb taking several long-exposure images, we decide to head back to the car park and get some lunch, to have at the beach.

All over South-West England, there have been sign posts at every beach that there is a fine for feeding the gulls. In the last few years the situation has worsened as more and more tourists arrive at the beaches and the seagulls have become the public enemy No.1 following spate of attacks as they have become keen opportunists, for scraps of food or just plain territorial when raising chicks. There have been reports of colonies of seagulls dive-bombing on unsuspecting elderly people, young kids and even small dogs at the beach. If you come across anyone mention the term "flying rats," you can be pretty sure they are referring to the Seagulls. We all kept one "beady" eye on these belligerent birds while taking a bite off our sandwiches.

Hiding in plain sightIn the last few years the gulls along the British Coast have become a nuisance to the public, but not entirely their fault

After about twenty minutes of nervous eating with a meerkat-like warning system established in the group to keep a look out for the gulls, we decided to head back to our cottage for some bit of rest and relaxation. On the return drive, we briefly stopped at Chesil Beach on the Weymouth/ Portland side to witness the sunset. Chesil Beach is a barrier beach made of shingles and pebbles and stretches approximately eighteen miles westward from Portland and protects some of the low-lying coastal villages from flooding. The beach is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site.

Sunset at Chesil Beach

When it eventually got very dark, we drove back the remaining five miles to the cottage to retire for the evening. We could afford a late wake up the next morning as the plan involved soaking in the sights in and around Portland, within a five mile radius.

Day 3:

When some of us woke up the next morning it was nearly 8am and took more than adequate time to wring out the laziness out of the system before we started having discussions about the sites we were about to see that day. Eventually at around 11am we stepped out of the cottage to visit Portland Bill Lighthouse and nearby Pulpit Rock. What we hadn't counted on was the weather. There was no semblance of the calm of the previous day and the weather forecast for the day was not ideal for sight-seeing. When we exited the cottage, we were buffeted by howling winds and soon we all jumped into the relative safety of the car. The distance to Portland Bill was only two miles i.e., a very short drive. As we came to the final stretch of the road with a slight descent, we were in awe of the enormous waves crashing in the rocks. The swells were huge, but there was a sliver of sunlight in the south-easterly direction from a break in the clouds. Looking towards the west the sky looked menacing with dark and mean clouds ready to drop tons of water at the slightest provocation. 

We were aided by strong winds on our backs when we started to walk away from the car park and the Lighthouse to the rocky rugged appendage that jutted out of the landscape into the sea. Now it was just a question of finding the right photographic composition looking towards the Lighthouse while trying to capture the waves crashing against the rocks. The image below was captured at a shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second.

There were a few other photographers with their gear and one of them frantically waved at us to get back to the safety of the car - he mentioned that we will soon be hit by a major squall accompanied by extremely high winds and it will be very unsafe to be standing on the bluff with the waves crashing. No sooner had he said and left, we were hit by a sudden force of wind that made it difficult to put even one step in front of us. We now had to negotiate a very strong headwind to get back to the car park and the distance of 150 yards felt like a mile. Some of the other visitors to the Lighthouse were caught off-guard as well and they took whatever little shelter they managed to find. Eventually we managed to reach our cars looking completely disheveled but safe. There was no more appetite for visiting Pulpit Rock which is another 100 yards from the car park and we agreed to head to Weymouth - a distance of about five miles. We indulged in a bit of retail therapy at Weymouth and bought some souvenirs of the trip to Jurassic Coast.

Portland Bill Lighthouse

We returned from Weymouth at around 3pm and we realised there was another opportunity to visit the Lighthouse for a shot of the sunset. We reached Portland Bill in the nick of time but was dismayed to find that every vantage point was taken by landscape photographers trying to get a shot similar to the one I had in mind. Eventually, I managed to find a secluded spot with some interesting rock-pools as a foreground interest to frame my composition. More importantly the position obscured other photographers from my frame. Eventhough, the winds had subsided a bit, it was still quite ferocious. We were soon on our way back to the cottage in the hope that I managed to get some usable pictures of the trip. For the next morning, it was time to check out and return home.

Portland Bill Sunset

The next day we reached home at around 2pm and suddenly it was time to plan the New Year festivities.  When the group got together later that evening, we were quite pleased at how the weather turned out the way it did - even the day at Portland and Weymouth was only splotchy for a few minutes. We knew the weather could have been a lot worse. The entire holiday could have been washed out by the rains. We had, atleast, seen through our plans to a greater or lesser extent barring a couple of sights in Portland.

The Intrepid Travellers The next holiday could be with the larger group with a thoroughly planned itinerary and to a place where the weather is more predictable. The flip side of planning British Holidays is the fickle nature of the weather. Could the next one be in Spain? or in Malta? - be sure to watch this space! 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) barier beach bill chesil beach cobb dorset durdle door durdle door holiday park east devon gull handfast point harbour isle of portland jurassic coast lighthouse lighthouse" lulworth cove lyme regis man o'war bay marine parade old harry rocks pebble beach portland portland bill promenade pulpit rock seagull south-west south-west england stone pier stormy sunset the cobb unesco weymouth windy world heritage http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2018/1/the-jurassic-coast Sun, 14 Jan 2018 22:40:07 GMT
Belgicology http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2017/7/Belgicology We were all quite normal when we woke up one Saturday morning in May'2017 apart from the usual grogginess and lethargy which are part of the Saturday folklore. There were no signs of caprice or eccentricity despite each of us possessing a strong extemporaneous vein. Everyone went about doing our chores like we would on any Saturday until someone realised, and blew the whistle, that it was a Bank Holiday weekend, with the Monday being a holiday, and it is plainly unjust to stay normal.

And an idea was hatched on a whim - a never before attempted form of a holiday by us - an impromptu pursuit of a journey across the English Channel with no specific destination in mind! And abnormality soon prevailed.

This was going to be so different from the other holidays we have done before - The English Lake District, The Italian Lake District, Cornwall, Yorkshire Dales, Copenhagen and Malmo, Switzerland or Scotland - where the planning was exhaustive. This one was to just go with the flow and be out of our comfort zones.

We decided to drive to mainland Europe through the Eurotunnel shuttle or Chunnel. In order to pull off such a hare-brained scheme, we went about checking the requirements to drive in France and Belgium and soon gathered the list of things we needed.

We soon went about procuring the following items, as prescribed on the RAC website:

  • Reflective Jackets (one for each occupant to be kept within easy reach inside the vehicle)
  • Warning Triangle 
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Breathalysers
  • Spare Headlight/ Tail-light Bulbs
  • GB sticker
  • First Aid Kit (within easy reach inside the vehicle)

There was a Holy Communion ceremony of our friend's daughter, to attend, at our estate that afternoon and we decided to be on our way as soon as the ceremony finished. By the time, we left the party, it was nearly 5pm and we started our drive towards Folkestone to take the shuttle. And we made our shuttle reservations on the way. There is no turning back now!

Our departure was at 19:50 and the latest reporting time was 19:20. We stopped by at Services just before we entered the shuttle terminal. It was then that we started to look out for potential destinations to navigate to once we arrived at Calais. The prices at most major tourist destinations were prohibitively expensive, so we settled for a motel kind of a place near Lille in France, a town called Lomme, which is close to the Belgian border. We then drove through the terminal and went past a couple of passport control checkpoints - one British and the other French, each one not taking more than 15 seconds per person - we were 5 of us in the car - we then drove through the designated ramp towards our train. As there were vacancies on an earlier  departure, we were allowed to pull in to that train and were asked to turn off the engines and engage the handbrakes, while parked in 1st gear. 

Eurotunnel ShuttleDescending the ramp to enter the train

The journey time from Folkestone to Coquelles near Calais is only 35 minutes. The ferry crossing from Dover to Calais takes 90 minutes. This drive on-drive off is very convenient as the fare payable is for the vehicle and not for the number of passengers in the vehicle. There is also no restriction on how much luggage one can carry.

We arrived at Calais at around 9pm local time and soon started to drive towards  our hotel on the outskirts of Lille. It helps to have a navigator next to you to keep reminding you to drive on the wrong side of the road as it is the right side in France! As we travelled eastwards from Calais, we were able to witness a glorious sunset on our rear-view and side view mirrors. We eventually reached our hotel, Premiere Classe Lille Ouest - Lomme, at around 10pm and I even surprised myself with the fluency with which I spoke French at the reception desk - despite having lost touch with the language for many many years.

Sunset at CalaisDriving away into the darkness

We got  our keys to two very cramped rooms - the price of not planning well in advance - and set out to grab something to eat. The hotel was surrounded by plenty of eateries and we had no problems with the food.

The next morning we woke up with a sore back but ready to head out as the weather was outstanding. We managed to tuck into some croissants and liquid refreshments, for breakfast, right at the parking at our hotel and looked into Google Maps for a potential destination. We didn't have to look hard - as soon as we looked slightly north from where we were staying, we were confronted with Bruges. And that's where we headed out to!

On arrival at Bruges, we parked by one of the side-streets near the town centre and walked the cobblestoned streets. There simply aren't other towns that I have visited thus far, that had more of a fairy-tale feel than Bruges. The picturesque canals with it's own quaint looking restaurants adjoining them are a sight to behold. We were excited to see a garden completely decorated with old clocks and hats, and understood it is part of Restaurant de Bottelier that is on the 1st floor of the building above a wine shop. 

Restaurant de BottelierPicturesque canals and towering churches are the highlights of Bruges

The obvious attraction is the Belfry Tower that one shall not miss when visiting Bruges. And it is an imposing structure and can easily be seen from quite a distance away. Here below, is the tower as seen from one of the side streets leading to the square.

Belfry of BrugesBikes and cobblestoned streets at Bruges in Belgium

The entire centre of Bruges is placed on the list of World Heritage Sites and it is not difficult to understand why. There are these historic buildings and towering architectural marvels and quaint eateries that truly make up for a stunning melting pot of the old, the present and the future - as you have Segway Tours, and Virtual Reality Tours for the technologically inclined. As we exited one of the lanes leading to the city square - Place de Bruges - we were momentarily taken aback by the sheer expanse of the place and the various sights to soak in.

Place de BrugesA World Heritage Town Square

There were horse-drawn carriages ferrying tourists to and fro and the sound of the hooves over the cobblestone streets added a beautiful rhythm to the goings-on. It indeed was a spectacle. 

Mixing the old with the newA popular tourist attraction in the Bruges town centre

And as we wondered if we had been transported to another time and space, there was this row of shining Harley Davidson motor-bikes staking claim to contemporariness. It was a beautiful juxtaposition of the past and the present. One thing was for certain, the Harleys were not totally out of place as their engine power is measured in terms of horsepower!

Harley ParadeThey were spotlessly clean and absolutely stunning

As we circled around Place de Bruges, we felt a bit peckish and stopped by Friterie 1900 to get a bite. And ordered chips or French Fries or fries as they are called in different parts of the world. The portions were generous and the taste was heavenly. We ordered some more and a few transgressions later we decided it was time to move on and see more of the place.

GastronomieA fantastic discovery to taste the authentic pommes-frites. The debate is still ongoing between the French and Belgians as to who were the original inventors of French Fries

As we were walking back to our car, we stopped at Fred's Belgian waffles and ice-cream parlour to atone our earlier sins. As we cleansed ourselves from the influence of the frites, we committed a new glacial offence with each one of us going for a double or triple scoop. We had clearly crossed our limits and nothing but a visit to a place of worship would emancipate us.

We drove our car out to the famous Beguinage which dates back to the 13th century. The Beguines were lay pious women who do not take any binding vows and are free to live outside a convent or a monastery. There are no more beguines living in these Beguinages spread across Belgium and Holland, but the place is now inhabited by a community of Benedictine nuns.  Once you enter the courtyard, you are greeted by the sound of silence. The place is absolutely quiet and it is a complete contrast to the noisy tourists who prowl the city outside of it's walls. We entered a church that was even quieter, if it is ever possible to be quieter. After spending a few minutes in the church and repenting our epicurean indulgences, we slipped out back on to square and went around the Minnewater Park.

Minnewater LakeThe Beguinage is to the left of the trees adjacent to the buildings straight ahead. The distant spire is the Church of Our Lady Bruges

It was a very hot and sultry day and hence no one objected to the suggestion of a beach town as the next port of call. And thus, we boarded our cars and started our drive towards Ostend. It is a city in West Flanders region on the North Sea and has over 5 miles of sandy beaches and a long promenade ideal for leisurely walks. It is also renowned as a mecca for shopaholics. 

Streets of OstendOne of the streets that leads to the promenade and the beach at Ostend

When we  eventually ambled onto the beach we were a bit stunned, as clearly, we hadn't prepared ourselves for the sheer number of people on the promenade and by the beach. There were all kinds of people - those with roller-skates, with skate boards and those engaging in family activity on funny contraptions that are six seater or eight-seater go-kart bikes, hand-cycles and there was a steady babble of voices. And the place was awash with people and restaurants and bars and ice-cream vendors.

Promenade in OstendPlenty of locals and tourists We walked for about a mile on the promenade and thought that it was too hot to walk anymore and decided to take shelter in the comforts of a good restaurant/ bar for lunch. We had our lunch at Jilles Ostend and despite a large crowd, we comfortably found our seats besides finding the seats comfortable! 

We lazily watched the world go by as we were having lunch - the ambient temperature was steamy but a little while later a mild sea breeze picked up and eased our discomforts a bit. We then paid the l'addition and went further afield for a bit more of a walk. We had more ice-creams and eventually concurred to retrace our steps back to the car, to return to the hotel in Lomme.

Behind the hotel where we were staying was an open public park with a lake in it. We decided to get in there and try some sunset photography using the lake as the foreground. It was then we learnt a bit about the park. Parc de Lomme or Lillom apparently was a theme park which did not turn up sufficient profits in the coffers to keep it running, so a big portion of the park was taken over by the LGV-Nord - Ligne a Grande Vitesse (high-speed line) that connects Paris and London. The reddish looking roof is the Ecole de Cirque (Circus School). We spent a few minutes before the park security came around and alerted us to depart as the park was closing for the day. 

Parc de LommeShot using a 10 Stop ND filter

We left the park and walked over to one of the many eateries around where we  stayed, this time preferring a Mexican fare at El Rancho. It was a fantastic place with plenty of room and the service was Top Class. I surprised myself yet again with the fluency with which I was able to converse in  French. After some mouth-watering dishes, we paid our bill and retired for the night.

The next morning to our utter dismay, we realised that we had overslept while our friends had tried knocking our room door for quite a while and calls to our phones went unanswered. We looked absolutely silly and we promised our friends that we would be ready in a snappy little time. Within an hour, we were all ready and we checked out of the hotel and loaded the car with our bags. And picked another city of interest to visit - Ghent!

At this juncture, I took a couple of days off from writing any more on this blog, primarily because I was at a loss for words for describing what Ghent meant to me. Ghent is a city of paradoxes - I had gotten into a debate with a friend when I first described it as a town. It does appear to be a sprawling city, but gives you the feel of a town. That was my initial dilemma and hesitation, to find a suitable way to verbalise the place. And then, the city's medieval architecture and historical buildings lends a feeling of time-travel until you are rudely jolted to reality when it was time to side-step a passing tram or a council van. Lastly, the town is filled with youngsters and the fact that it is a university town is a clear give-away, but you cannot ignore the business attire on the roads, at ease, amidst the sprawl of the historical buildings. 

We parked our car near Sint-Michielskerk and walked towards the town centre,  crossing the Sint-Michielsbrug on River Leie. We stopped briefly at the Korenmarkt for breakfast - eventhough it was nearly noon.

Sint-MichielsbrugSint-Niklaaskerk as seen from Sint-Michielsbrug

We strolled around the town centre for a while and then picked up a few souvenirs of the visit. We looked at other places to visit that is not too far to walk from where we were and picked up the Gravensteen Castle as an ideal candidate. Along the way, we stopped by for a few photo opportunities, and the one below is of River Leie with the Vleeshuistragel embankment on the left.

River LeieBeautiful weather adding to the grandeur of the medieval buildings along River Leie

Gravensteen, in Dutch, means the Castle of the Counts. It has an interesting history from it's  beginnings as a residence of the counts, to the time it was used as a torture chamber to eventually falling in disrepair with a view to be demolished. When the interest waned, a project was set up to restore the castle in the late 19th century. There are two museums inside - Museum of Judicial Objects - an euphemistic way of saying torture chamber and the Arms Museum. In the earlier days when the castle used to also serve as a prison, torture was freely employed to extract confessions from the accused. There are plenty of implements on display - and the few families that we had seen who were also at the castle at the same time as us - the adults were in a sombre mood but the kids were inquisitive and wanted to know a lot more, much to the dismay of their parents! After going in and out through the various chambers, we reached the top of the castle  from where we got a good panoramic view of the city. 

Gravensteen CastleView from the top of the castle

We walked back to where our car was parked as we were on our home stretch. Our return shuttle to England was at 19:36 from Calais and we decided to visit Dunkirk on the way to Calais.

Dunkirk means the "Church of the Dunes" in Flemish and is supposedly the world's northern-most Francophone city. But the reason for our visit is not to pursue this trivia, but to visit the site of the famous Dunkirk evacuation, code-named Operation Dynamo, during the WWII. We visited the memorial and read our history for recollection to appreciate the enormity of what had happened to ward off the German attack. The beach was deserted with a few people walking their dogs and we took a few pictures and soon we were on our way to Calais to get the shuttle back to England.

Dunkirk MemorialIn memory of the soldiers, marines and pilots of the French Army and the Allied Forces who sacrificed their lives in the Battle of Dunkirk - May - June 1940 The return journey from Calais to Folkestone was uneventful except for a 30 minute delay to our departure. And to orient ourselves back to driving on the left side of the road on reaching the British soil. We had literally pulled off something that was way beyond our comfort zones by veering away from our dependency on a  well-planned itinerary. This could be the first of many many more to come.

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Beach Beguinage Beguines Belfry Belgium Bruges Channel Tunnel Chunnel Coquelles Dunkirk Dunkirk Evacuation English Channel Ferry Flanders Folkestone France French Fries Friterie Ghent Gravensteen Korenmarkt Leie Lille Lomme Memorial Ostend Parc de Lomme Place de Bruges Promenade River Leie Shuttle Sint-Michielsbrug Sint-Michielskerk Torture Chamber Waffles West Flanders http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2017/7/Belgicology Fri, 07 Jul 2017 13:28:04 GMT
The English Lake District http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2017/4/The-English-Lake-District f8, 30 Secs, ISO 800, 10 Stop Hoya ND FilterSilloth-on-SolwayA beautiful Victorian Seaside town in North-West England, close to the Scottish Borders

From one month to the next, from one destination to another, from one iconic Lake district to the more scenic  - the choices were remarkably similar yet the experiences were totally different.

Hot on the heels of the holiday to Lake Como, in the Italian Lake District, sprouted the seeds of ideas for the next holiday, to the English Lake District. Actually, the destination was supposed to be the Peak District in the English Midlands but turned out to be the Lake District, eventually. This was due to various factors - none of them interesting enough to be mentioned in this article.

While the holiday to the Lombardy region, in Italy,  was meant to be one of  a "rest & relaxation", the one to Cumbria in the North-West England was packed with lots of activities. The only factor that could have changed anything was the weather. It almost did! The old saying that you can book your holiday but you cannot book the weather, is mostly relevant to the British Isles than anywhere else. And the Cumbrian weather is as unpredictable as a vegetarian shark. 

The other interesting thing about this holiday was that we kept up our tradition of travelling as a group, atleast, once every year. We had done a few together now - Yorkshire Dales, Cornwall and the Isle of Wight - besides the various day-trips that are not necessarily planned. 

The Easter holidays in the UK have been traditionally a long weekend spanning four days, from Good Friday to Easter Monday, and most people take off on their little journeys on the preceding Thursday evening after work, but the vast majority of the population venture out on the Friday morning. Invariably, distances in miles, lose their meaning as the entire population are usually stuck behind on long tail-backs on most major motorways. A four hour journey as per Google Maps, under normal conditions, will end up being seven hours during the Easter break. This is not to mention the strata of the population that wish to escape it all, only to cram all the airports and ferry terminals, in their eternal quest for warmer climes. Easter is a time for family get-togethers and plenty of road rage.

We all agreed to depart at around 6:30 am on the Good Friday morning - and considering that we had a little detour in Birmingham on the way, the total distance was about 350 miles - about 6 1/2 hours driving under ideal conditions. However, we were caught in long traffic queues along the way and with a few pit stops for stretching the legs and for refreshments, the journey took us nearly 10 hours. We eventually reached our holiday cottages in the beautiful victorian seaside town of Silloth-on-Solway. There had been some rain before we arrived but it had stopped but the winds had picked up. We soon dropped our bags in the cottage and went out to the seafront for a bit of a walk. The tide was just coming in but the winds had reached a howling point. Anyone that cared for how well coiffed they looked, were looking like rag-dolls. With a severely receding hairline, mostly from work related stress rather than from genetics, I had little to worry about. For the camera though, thankfully, I had both my reliable (and heavy) Manfrotto tripod and a 10 stop ND filter to create long exposures. This made it possible to smoothen the water, in the below picture, despite the wind factor. There are many brands available in the market when it comes to ND filters - they are meant to be absolutely neutral gray, to not allow any colour cast in your images - but they are NOT. The Hoya ND filter is fairly neutral and I am extremely pleased with the results.

Long-exposure shotSilloth-on-SolwayLong-exposure shot of the high tide coming in at f10, 25 secs and ISO 100

The image below was captured on an iPhone 7 and processed using Adobe Camera Raw and Adobe Photoshop CC 2017.

Silloth-on-SolwayOminous Clouds threatening to pour the load. Captured in iPhone 7

After a brief walk by the seaside - you can see that it's not a beach - we returned to the lodge, had some lovely dinner and we all found ourselves fast asleep, not too long after.

The next morning after a hearty breakfast, and upbeat about the ensuing adventures, we set out towards our next stop - Buttermere . We had planned for a quick photo shoot on arrival and then a trek up the mountains to a tarn (a mountain lake) - Bleaberry Tarn. On arrival at Buttermere, we struggled for about 20 minutes to find a parking and eventually parked near an entrance to a farm. The weather became variable with periods of sunshine and clouds - but the constant factor was the winds. After a brief walk down the hillside, from where we had parked, we headed towards the lake. The sudden burst of light for a fleeting moment only to be covered the next moment with an overcast sky made setting an accurate White Balance nearly impossible - despite the gray card. before long, I shot my first image with the Fleetwith Pike in the background.

Butter mere looking towards Fleetwith PikeWith so much of lighting variation at the scene, establishing the correct white balance was extremely tricky. Here is a shot of the lake at f 14/ 4 sec exposure at ISO 100. In the background is Fleetwith Pike

We soon set out on our trail towards Bleaberry Tarn - after 10 minutes into the walk, with no mobile signals, we completely lost our trail to the mountain lake and quickly abandoned any thoughts of walking up the fells and, instead, decided to do a circular walk around Buttermere. 

Liquid JewelsSun light glinting on the waters of Buttermere. Shot with an iPhone 7

The terrain is rough but the walk was almost on an even ground with the highest ascent of not more than 67m. It is roughly 5 miles and towards the last leg of the journey, the group split and the group of five went down towards the lake while the group of three walked along the road B5289 - the Honister Pass

Along the way we stopped at a few places for some photo opportunities and some 360° pictures. Here below is another view of Buttermere.

ButtermereThis was another shot to create a softer feel to the water by using the 10 stop ND filter. F 8/ 8 secs at ISO 100

There were plenty of farm animals and the entire Lake District region is famous for the Herdwick Sheep. However, the zen cows - Sheila and Shirley, below - were quite obliging for a pose as long as they were not interrupted during their incessant cud-chewing routine. 

Zen CowsLocals in Buttermere are camera friendly, but do need a visit to the hair-dressers

A few minutes later we were near the half way point on our trek - at Peggy's Bridge - where the Warnscale Beck empties into Buttermere.

Warnscale BeckImage captured from Peggy's Bridge looking towards Buttermere

At this point we split into 2 groups and one group took the route along the lake while the other took the Honister Pass to arrive back at the cars within a few minutes of each other. We soon had picnic lunch at the farm where we had parked the cars and decided to head out to the next stop. When we departed Buttermere, it was past 3pm, and our next destination is the Whinlatter Forest near Keswick. But we were also conscious that the next day was Easter Sunday and all the shops would be closed.Hence we decided to drive to Keswick to pick up some groceries for the next day - and were caught in a traffic jam for about 45 minutes - thus making any chance of recovering any lost time, almost impossible. As we were driving back to our lodge, we briefly stopped by on the western shores of Bassenthwaite Lake to relish the ice-cream that we had bought earlier at Keswick. It was then that I took the below panoramic shot using my iPhone 7 Plus.

Bassenthwaite LakeiPhone 7 Plus Pano and finished using Adobe Lightroom for Mobile

We returned to the lodge and after a quick freshening up, we all assembled for dinner and drifted off to sleep in the hope that the weather stays the same the next day as well.

For the next day we had 2 different plans and depending on the weather we were going to choose one over the other. If it rained, Plan A was to go to Elterwater-Skelwith bridge circular trail in the Great Langdale valley, where the trail goes along the River Brathay to Skelwith Force and then on to Skelwith Bridge before navigating the way back along the other side of the river via Colwith Force and back to Elterwater. If the weather turned out to be fine, Plan B was to drive to a remote lake on the Western Lakes called Wastwater - in 2008, Wastwater's magnificent view was voted as Britain's favourite view by ITV voters and this view is the logo for the Lake District National Park Authority. The plan was to visit Ritson's Force - a short walk from the car park at Wasdale Head and then a mountain trek to Styhead Tarn - a 6 mile return trek from Ritson's Force. In Cumbria, it is prudent to plan for adverse weather as Plan A!

The weather Gods had taken the day off for Easter and it rained - and rained. So, we decided to go through with Plan A and thus we  started our drive towards Elterwater. We arrived Elterwater at around 11:30 am and spent a further 15 minutes trying to get a parking. When we couldn't get one in the village, we drove about a couple of hundred meters away to a freshly grazed pasture and parked the cars and headed out towards the trail.

As we set out into the village to the start of the trail, we were completely awestruck by the breath-taking image of the village. The image below was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus as part of a movie clip and one of the frames was used to extract the picture. It was further corrected for the right aspect-ratio of 3:2 for a still image.

Elterwater VillageA view of the beautiful village of Elterwater. Shot on iPhone 7 Plus as part of a movie clip and a frame was used to extract the still image and sized for the right aspect-ratio

We had a steady start to our trek - the rains were a constant but that did not deflate the spirits of our resolute group. With so much chatter and yackety-yakking going on, we kept eating the distance of 5 miles. After a few minutes into our walk, we reached a little clearing where it offered us a chance to capture River Brathay rushing towards Skelwith Force.

River Brathay near Skelwith ForceWalking alongside the banks of River Breathy towards Skelwith Force. Captured using iPhone 7 Plus

In about 45 minutes time from the start, we had reached Skelwith Force. As it had just rained, the river was in full spate and the result was stunning.

Skelwith ForceDue to recent rains the river was in spate - result was absolutely stunning. Captured using iPhone 7

We kept plodding along and we soon crossed Skelwith Bridge to walk a couple of hundred metres on the road before picking back our tracks towards Colwith Force. Along the way, a few of us felt that it would be absolutely fantastic to have a cup of coffee and to escape the weather, albeit momentarily. It was such a shocking surprise that the trail actually goes through Elterwater Park Guest House and they have a café called Muddy Boots Barn. We had a warm welcome into the café and soon Hazel took our orders and came back with a tray full of steaming coffees and hot chocolates. It was such a relief after being soaked in incessant rains. After spending about 30 minutes at the café, we gleefully rang the bell outside to express our pleasure at being taken care of so very well. 

Expression of ApprovalRang the bell at Muddy Boots Barn to show how much we appreciated the service and personal touch. Captured using an iPhone 7

In the picture below, Hazel and Lesley were obliging enough to stop by for a moment for a picture with me - Gus, the resident labrador retriever, was not as patient as them.

Hazel and LesleyMuddy Boots Barn - What a wonderful place and hospitality. Gus the resident retriever just went off the frame. There were a few friendly chickens that allowed one to pet them as well! The coffee and hot chocolate were heavenly.

After we left Muddy Boots Barn behind we kept walking towards our trail where the landscape turned dramatic. We went past some squelchy trails and then there was the descent before we reached a fence named "Lambs Oot." We went through the fence and came up to another road leading to Low Colwith. At this juncture, we lost a bit of our way, as we were told that there is a clear signage for Colwith Force, but not finding it. After straying a bit, we were re-directed by a friendly local and after 200 metres of walk - we actually heard the waterfall first before we eventually saw it. The sight was simply breath-taking. The image below was captured using iPhone 7 Plus using Adobe Lightroom for Mobile in DNG format.

Colwith ForceAfter wandering a little off track, we managed to realign ourselves to this stunning sight. Captured with iPhone 7 Plus

At the time of our arrival at Colwith Force, we had walked for a little over 4 hours. When it was time to leave, we decided to walk without any further stops towards Elterwater to get back to our cars - at nearly 4pm, we had not had our lunch yet and the entire group was ravenously hungry. We walked for a further hour to eventually reach Elterwater and had our packed lunches right by the road side.

Elterwater from Britannia innA rather moody looking village due to the overcast conditions. Captured using iPhone 7 Plus in Adobe Lightroom for Mobile in DNG format

We left Elterwater in the knowledge that we had probably taken a little too long to finish the circular trail perhaps not helped by the weather, but quite keen to visit the next place on the list. The journey through Ambleside and Kirkstone Pass was magical. Kirkstone Pass is the highest pass in Lake District that is motorable. It has very steep gradients and it requires good driving skills to be able to navigate the pass. It connects the Rothay Valley and Ullswater Valley. At the beginning of the descent, one is able to have glimpses of Brothers Water in the Hartsop valley. When we arrived at the iconic Cow Bridge Car Park at Brothers Water, the rains had let off a bit, so we parked our cars and walked towards the lake - it was getting pretty dark well. Just a couple of hundred yards into the walk, the rains started all over again and we all turned around to get back to the safety of our cars. It was then, I crouched a bit low to take the below shot on my iPhone 7 Plus. 

Brothers WaterPerhaps the picture of the entire trip. Shot on iPhone 7 Plus with Adobe Lightroom for Mobile in DNG format

As you may have noticed, the pictures on the second day were all shot either on an iPhone 7 or an iPhone 7 Plus - the weather just did not allow for the Canon to be pulled out of the bag - even though I was carrying the entire kit bag on my back right through the whole day. We soon left Brothers Water to get back to the lodge in Silloth to have an early sleep, so we could check out the following morning to return home. An interesting piece of trivia, is that except Bassenthwaite Lake all the other Lake District lakes are either called "Tarn" or "Water" or "Mere" - as in Windermere or Buttermere!

The AdventurersA group shot in very windy conditions

I had woken up quite early in the morning and I was thinking of taking the dog out for a walk, but then realised that I did not have a dog, so there was no need for going for a walk. We all had a heavy breakfast, checked out, and hit the road for the return journey - and told ourselves that we need a slightly longer holiday the next time with lesser driving time.

Plans are already afoot for the next one, be sure to watch out this space.

 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) 10 Stop ND Filter Ambleside Bassenthwaite Lake Bleaberry Tarn Brothers Water Buttermere Circular Walk Colwith Force Elterwater Elterwater Park Guest House Fells Fleetwith Pike Great Langdale Haystacks Herdwick Sheep Honister Pass Keswick Kirkstone Pass Lake Lake District Lakes Muddy Boots Barn ND Filter River Brathay Sheep Silloth Silloth-on-Solway Skelwith Bridge Skelwith Force Trail Walk Walking Walking Trail Warnscale Beck Whinlatter Forest http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2017/4/The-English-Lake-District Sun, 30 Apr 2017 21:52:19 GMT
The Italian Lake District http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2017/3/The-Italian-Lake-District Duomo di ComoFine Art Style Black and White

It had been nearly six months since the last  vacation - the holiday to Copenhagen and Malmo was already just a speck of imagination, if we agreed to discount a couple of nights spent in Great Yarmouth, in October. Since that holiday, trees had shed their leaves and the cold snap had gripped the country in it's throes, for a lengthy period of time. The weather turned adverse far more often than one cared to count and a few storms battered the British Coast - Storm Angus, Storm Barbara, Storm Conor, Storm Doris - at eerily regular intervals. The security signage outside the house succumbed to the wrath of Storm Doris and had decided to take the route to freedom. Tracking back the path of the storm, the signage might well have ended up in East Anglia or it could have done the full circle - guessing is not going to bring it back.The heating bills swelled, car maintenance took a back seat and the work had gotten more intense and the pressures kept on piling until it was almost unbearable. An immediate getaway was needed as the perfect antidote and to help regain some semblance of sanity. It was time for a quick holiday.

There was not much of a preparation for this trip, as we had just allowed ourselves to be transported with the time, to the Italian Lake District. The Lombardy region in Italy is famous for it's magnificent lakes - directly to the north of Milan, and very close to the Swiss border, are the 3 famous lakes of Lago Maggiore, Lago di Lugano and, perhaps, the most famous of them all - Lago di Como. To the north-east of Milan are the 2 other lakes - Lago d'Iseo and Lago di Garda. In fact Lago di Garda is more closer to Verona than it is to Milan and the largest of all the lakes.

Our destination on this occasion was the Lago di Como or Lake Como. Our choice of holiday destination for this vacation was dictated by a need for relaxation and for slowing down the pace of life. Lake Como promised to offer just that. We told ourselves, that this will not end up as  another "chase the light" photography intensive holiday, eventhough the destination is, perhaps, the most photogenic in Europe.

Lake Como is the 3rd largest lake in Italy after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore but one of the deepest lakes in Europe. The lake is shaped like an inverted "Y" and on the South-West end, lies the town of Como  - from where the lake takes it's name. We flew into Milan Malpensa airport from where we took the train to Milano Porta Garibaldi station where we had 15 minutes to change trains to Como. The penultimate stop on this line is the town of Como and the final stop - a few minutes away - is Chiasso, which is a border town in Switzerland. The overall journey time from the airport to Como San Giovanni, including the transit time, is about 1h50m.

Day 1:

On arrival at Como San Giovanni station, we walked for a little less than 10 minutes to reach our hotel - Albergo Firenze - and after checking in - we dropped our luggage in the room and freshened up and headed out to the lake front. Unlike my usual vacation travels, I did not burden myself with a heavy bag full of photographic gear or lenses, so this time, I had just slung my camera over the shoulder and carried a spare telephoto lens in my jacket pocket. 

The lake shore and the promenade was less than 5 minutes walk from the hotel and we soon found ourselves in front of a Boat Tours Office that does hourly trips around the lake from Como. It costs 5 Euros (as at Feb 2017) and we soon jumped in to soak in the sights and sounds and smells of the lake and the surroundings. The weather was quite beautiful with the maximum temperature of around 10°C and quite sunny. 

Panorama of Lake ComoA 12 shot Panorama of Lake Como, stitched in photoshop and downsized

On our return from the tour, we headed in a westerly direction along the shore and soon realised that we hadn't eaten the whole day. We found a kiosk/ van at an intersection and had a couple of paninis before continuing our walk along the shore.

We soon found ourselves by the Life Electric sculpture at the end of the Diga Foranea pier which can be reached from the Tempio Voltiano, a museum by the lakeside dedicated to Alessandro Volta, the inventor of electrical battery. The other construction dedicated to Alessandro Volta is the Faro Voltiano, a lighthouse on Brunate - a neighbouring town of Como - reachable by winding roads and also by the famous Como to Brunate funicular.

Life Electric SculptureDaniel Libeskind's sculpture dedicated to Alessandro Volta

Life Electric is a stainless steel structure and during the day, reflects the city of Como, depending on where you stand in relation to the sculpture. In the below image I have tried to take advantage of this reflection while also attempting to capture the scene in front of the camera - both on the same shot. The difficulty was to keep the shorelines on both the perspectives aligned, as much as possible, besides keeping the shoreline straight and horizontal on the reflection, due to the curvature of the sculpture

Life Electric SculptureBack to Front

After spending nearly an hour at the pier, we walked back to our hotel and before long we were fast asleep.

Day 2:

After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel and fully armed with the information on ferry timings, we left again for the lake side to take the fast ferry to Bellagio. Having booked the tickets we realised we had another 45 minutes before the departure and so we decided to head into town to see the famous Duomo di Como or the Como Cathedral. The cathedral is most notably known for it's majestic cupola and one of the best known structures in the area. The picture below is the west face of the Como Cathedral, Cathedrale di Santa Maria Assunta.

Duomo di ComoWest Face of the Como Cathedral  

The journey to Bellagio took approximately 45 minutes with 2 to 3 stops en route of about 2 minute duration each. The ticket cost €14.80 per person one way. The fares are pretty reasonable and tend to be a lot cheaper if it is a regular ferry and not the fast service. Bellagio is perhaps the most famous of the towns, the pearl of  Lake Como, as it is uniquely situated to access all the 3 legs of the lake. The South-East end of the Lake from Bellagio will lead to the town of Lecco, to the South-West end, the town of Como and to the north, Colico and the Alps. Bellagio is most famous for it's beautiful villas overlooking the waters of the lake. 

As the ferry approached the pier, we were momentarily stunned by the sheer beauty of the waterfront and heightened sense of suspense of not knowing what lies behind the walls of the storefronts and the hotels lining the water front. One of the first sights we encountered is actually a French sounding name of a hotel called Hotel du Lac. As we got off the ferry, we were presented with various stairway paths that lead into the town beyond. We just happened to take the Salita Monastero because there were far fewer tourists on this path, but it was no less quaint.

Salita MonasteroLooking down the cobble-stoned stairway towards the Lake

On reaching the top, we found ourselves at the Piazza della Chiesa, where there is a Basilica of San Giacomo. After catching our breath climbing all those steps, it was time to lose our breath again, this time by the sheer elegance of the town itself. 

Basilica of San GiacomoThe sculpture of the horse at the church parking provided an unusual angle from which to take this shot. The horse appeared oblivious and seemed to be taking a bite off the roof of a building

We soon ambled away from the church and walked on towards the town's main street, via Giuseppe Garibaldi. The narrow street is studded with cafés, restaurants, art shops, silk shops, souvenir shops and plenty of other interesting sights. Como is also the city of silk. The techniques in manufacturing dates back to olden times. There is an abundance of silk boutiques studded across the various towns along Lake Como - Bellagio has a few of them as well.

Silk ShopsComo silk is pretty renowned

Perhaps the most famous and the most photographed passageway in the whole of the region is the Salita Serbelloni - with it's own fashionable boutiques, restaurants, gelaterias - and presenting a beautiful view of the lake and the town itself. 

Salita SerbelloniA charming passageway in Bellagio

We walked further along and by the Villa Serbelloni, that is currently owned by The Rockefeller Foundation, we took a series of ascending steps and after a turn in the passageway, descended a series of steps to the Lecco arm of the Lake. The beach was a lot less crowded and the few people that were there, were fully immersed in a book or were listening to music when soaking in such beautiful settings. 

BellagioThe Secco arm of Lake Como from Bellagio

After spending a few minutes trying different photographic compositions, we decided to head back to the ferry terminal to take the next ferry to Varenna - a picturesque village on the Eastern shore of Lake Como. The ferry ride from Bellagio takes about 15 minutes and costs €9.20 for a return trip. As the ferry approached the pier, we were captivated by the colourful buildings and the Church of San Georgio, identifiable from quite a distance, even from the opposite shore, by the majestic bell tower rising high above the rest of the buildings.

VarennaShot with an iPhone 6.

On arrival, we decided to have an overdue lunch and stopped by one of the many waterfront restaurants. The food was delectable and the service was fantastic. We highly recommend the Restaurant Olivedo. There was a good choice of vegetarian food on the menu.

Varenna is not known for it's fast paced life, and the tourists flock here in huge numbers primarily for rest and relaxation. The fishing village has a small harbour, a lovely narrow promenade along the water's edge and the old town has no streets, just lanes of steps. Perhaps the most famous attraction at Varenna is the Villa Cipressi with it's tiered gardens - even though we did not get a chance to visit, it has been meticulously added to our list for future purposes. 

Varenna waterfrontColourful buildings along Varenna's waterfront

And then it was time to get the ferry back to Bellagio, to connect the Bellagio-Como fast ferry. On reaching the pier, we found that we had not understood the timetable well enough, and hence mis-judged the departure time from Varenna. This resulted in missed connection at Bellagio (being the last one for the day, as it was Sunday), necessitating some alacrity in thinking. We found that there was a bus to Como departing about 20 minutes after our arrival from Varenna, and we quickly found the bus stop and obtained our tickets for the return journey of a little over an hour. The ticket cost only €3.70 per person, a lot cheaper than the fare we paid for the fast ferry from Como to Bellagio. On arrival at Como, we ordered a pizza for dinner and soon we were fast asleep.

Day 3:

As you may have already observed that Day 2 was quite heavy, and the original objective of the vacation was rest and relaxation, we abandoned any thoughts of heading out to Lugano in Switzerland, which is only 35 minutes from Como. Instead, we decided to walk up to the Como to Brunate funicular and took the ascending contraption to the top of the mountain. This is not as dramatic as the one we had been to in Interlaken in Switzerland, but good enough to keep the excitement flowing through. The return fare is just €5.50 per person and the journey takes about 7 minutes to reach the top.

On arrival at the top, we decided to walk northward towards the many designated trails. Along the way, there were some magnificent villas and holiday homes for the rich and famous overlooking the city of Como and the lake. After about a mile, we arrived at a breath-taking viewpoint, where we decided to spend the next 1 hour soaking in the scene and to make some pictures.

Seaplane on Lake ComoThere are regular tourist departures on the seaplane from Como, for an aerial adventure over the lake

When in Como, tourists have an option of taking to the skies on a seaplane, that cost about €100.00 per person for a 30 minute flight to Bellagio and back. This provides a different perspective of the lake and the various villas that adorn it's shores. The scene in front of us was a little dull due to the atmospheric haze, but it was still worth it. On a clear day, one could look all the way into Switzerland from the vantage point. 

Lake Como from BrunateThe Breggia river empties into Lake Como

In the picture above, the town to the right of the river Breggia is Cernobbio and the immediate forefront adjacent to the river is the Villa Erba, which was used as location for the film Ocean's Twelve. To the left of the river is the town of Tavernola, which is next to Como.

Having taken in all that peace and quiet, we headed back to Como to wander it's cobble-stoned streets to have some lunch in one of the many al fresco dining places and to cool ourselves with some gelato ice-cream. Every turn we took, every street we entered, there was always something interesting - be it the people, the shops, the architecture or simply a combination of all of these .

Old Town, ComoInteresting and eye-catching designs and structures

We had lunch at one of the eating-houses in the neighbourhood and treated ourselves to a triple-scoop ice-cream. We then spent some time sitting by the lake, before a steady and gentle breeze started to turn nippy and cold and we headed back to the hotel for early retirement.

Day 4:

We checked out of the hotel after breakfast and headed out to Como San Giovanni station for the return trip with a full day stopover in Milan. The weather had turned fickle and it was raining and very windy. We arrived about 20 minutes earlier than the scheduled departure time and were waiting when another train arrived at the platform bound for a different destination. The passengers that were waiting at the station must have thought that I had lost my marbles when I ran ahead of the train as it was approaching the platform, so I could get a picture of it.

Como San Giovanni StationShot with an iPhone 6 We soon got our train and arrived Milano Centrale, a massive train station that connects Turin to the west and to Verona and Venice in the East, to Bologna, Rome and Naples to the south and to Bern and Zurich in Switzerland to the North. Having once stayed in Milan, at a close proximity to the station, for nearly a month about 10 years ago, I was quite familiar with the place and it's Metro system. We dropped our luggage at the cloak room and decide to explore the city. We were keen on getting the two most important sights covered before attempting anything else. The Duomo di Milano or the Milan Cathedral is the largest church in Italy. It is an imposing structure that took about six centuries for the construction to complete. The best part about the place is the easy accessibility right in the centre of the city and surrounded by Metro exits. On arrival at the spot, we realised there was a massive queue to buy tickets to gain entry to the church but the weather was getting worse and it was rainy and windy and quite cold, so we just took a walk around the church.

Duomi di MilanoMilan Cathedral, shot with an iPhone 6

We then headed out to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade that is on the same square as the Duomo. It is the world's oldest shopping mall and is an imposing structure with delicate artwork and high-end shops and restaurants. 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II ArcadeWorld's oldest shopping mall, shot with an iPhone 6

Having spent a long time taking cover inside the shopping arcade, we finally decided to indulge in a bit of retail-therapy - but not at the arcade but at another place that I had been to over 10 years ago. We took the Metro and reached the outskirts of the city, to Abbiategrasso. We then changed to a tram and reached Fiordaliso shopping centre near Rozzano. We spent the next couple of hours at the shopping centre and had lunch before deciding to head back into Milan town centre.

We then met up with an old Italian business friend and well-wisher whose office happens to be very close to the Milano Centrale station and it was a meeting after 10 years. We had some lovely coffee and biscuits and exchanged a lot of news and views, before we bid adieu to each other and promised to be in touch.

Finally, it was the moment to depart, we went back to the station, collected our luggage from the cloak room, took the shuttle to Malpensa Airport and soon we were flying back to London. 

Thinking back on the trip, we can say that we are proud of not going berserk with a lot of itinerary planning and not visiting a lot of places crammed into the 4 days that we spent, but did keep a relaxed pace about seeing the places and the things we wanted to.

There are other places within Italy that beckons us - the Tuscany region, Cinque Terre or the Italian Riviera, the Amalfi Coast down south, Venice, Florence and Rome and may be even Sicily. Be sure to watch out this space.

Ciao !!!

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Albergo Firenze Alessandro Volta Basilica of San Giacomo Bellagio Brunate Cernobbio Como Como Cathedral Como San Giovanni Duomo di Como Duomo di Milano Faro Voltiano Ferry Funicular Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II Lake Como Lake Garda Lake Iseo Lake Lugano Lake Maggiore Life Electric Milano Centrale Seaplane Tempio Voltiano Varenna Villa Cipressi Villa Erba http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2017/3/The-Italian-Lake-District Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:43:15 GMT
Memories of Cornwall http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/12/Cornwall

When we decided on our next holiday, 9 of us friends and family, in the last week of 2015, we expected to visit a place with Wild Seas, Salty Lips, Sandy Toes, White Surf, Sea Spray, Hidden Coves - for the cure for anything is Salt Water - Sweat, Tears or the Sea. The preference was unanimous. Cornwall.

When you look at Cornwall on the map, it would appear that there is a bit of arrogance and non-conformity to norms. The South-West corner of the British Isles is like a foot that wants to go off in a different direction. For the Cornish Riviera is unlike any other part of England which is known for it's lush green countrysides and gentle rolling landscapes. Here is  a peninsula with rugged landscapes and towering cliffs. On the north and west, it overlooks the Celtic Sea and to the South, the English Channel. The influence of the Atlantic Ocean on the Celtic Sea does bring about the wild and fickle nature of the weather to the northern and the western parts of the county. Supposed to have the mildest temperatures in the entire United Kingdom due to it's southerly latitude, it is no wonder that Cornwall is a retirees haven. It is said that extreme temperatures are rare, but extreme weather is common.

This holiday was intended, from the very beginning, to be a short but relaxing one to bring a hectic year to a gentle closure. It was also meant to prove to ourselves that a group holiday is a lot more fun and to me, personally, it meant that we have plenty of hands to carry the tripod around! However, as with the holiday to Yorkshire Dales, it was not without a plan! We had made a list of places  to visit, planned the route well in advance and also added a flexibility factor of abandoning anything that cannot be done without feeling guilty about it. That last bit came in particularly handy eventually, as we had to abandon quite a few places from our plans due to bad weather.

In order to minimise the travel times to and from various places and attractions, we booked ourselves a couple of cottages smack in the centre of the county - an area known as Bodmin Moors that is dominated by dramatic granite moorland and a landscape that is full of ruins of disused tin and copper mines. While the holiday cottages were part of large chain of holiday rentals, we did have a bit of a horrid time with lack of water and lack of attention to issues faced by the guests and we had to assert ourselves a bit forcibly to get our issues resolved. If you can help it, please avoid Hengar Manor Country Park.

With 9 people cramped in 2 cars from 2 opposing corners of London, travelling together was always going to be a bit of a challenge. While the group of 4 departing Dartford took the M25, M3, M5 and A30 as the principal routes, the group departing Ruislip opted for M4, M5 and A30 routes. The 2 groups had timed the departure precisely that we both arrived at Exeter Services on Junction 30 on M5 within 15 minutes of each other to join hands. The weather played it's part with steady rain en route thus necessitating more stops along the way.

On reaching the holiday rentals, it was well  past 4 pm and it  was getting really dark. So, the evening was  spent indoors with some fun and games and "home-cooked"  dinner. The boys were meant to step out in the night to try and photograph the night skies and, if lucky, the Milky Way, however, the rains continued to lash out throughout the night thus forcing everyone indoors.  

The next morning, when we woke up, there was a bit of a break in the weather and soon we were ready and on our way to our first attraction.  

Trebah Gardens is a sub-tropical Garden with miles and miles of foot-path leading to a secluded beach. It is a great place for a day out with family and kids and there are plenty of flora to take in as one traverses the length and breadth of the estate. As a group, we were quite keen on taking advantage of the weather on offer as the forecast for the day was expected to be pretty abysmal - windy and rainy. We took a few pictures along the way and soon descended to the secluded beach, Polgwidden Cove, for some fun time. ​​​​​​After about 3 hours spent at Trebah Gardens it was time to head out to the next port of call.

Polgwidden CoveThe private beach at Trebah Gardens

And we set off to Land's End, a coastal landscape that is notoriously wild with steep cliffs and massive waves, coming off the Atlantic, that continuously churn the waters below into a maelstrom of froth and frenzy. In an unexpected twist to the proceedings the winds picked up and soon we were driving in gale force conditions. Under ideal conditions, the 38 mile journey from Trebah Gardens to Land's End would take roughly 75 minutes. We took nearly 2 hours to reach Penzance which is 10 miles short of Land's End. It was a good time to get away from the winds and the rains if only to grab hold of some late lunch - it was already nearing 4pm and the light levels had dropped significantly in the preceding 30 minutes and now bordered on darkness. After about 30 minutes, when we thought, rather than felt, that the winds have dropped down a notch, we decided to continue towards Land's End - darkness or not. The 20 minute journey from Penzance now took about 45 minutes and we were the only 2 cars headed towards Land's End when all the other vehicles were returning!

When we arrived at Land's End it was nearly dark, but as soon as we stepped out of the car, the winds were howling and we could hear the waters of the Atlantic crash on the cliffs. We soon took up the coastal path walk, in near darkness, and the 15 minute walk to the edge of the cliffs was pretty eventful - walking into a 40 - 50 mile headwind was extremely awkward. And what we witnessed was one that cannot be erased from our memories for a very long time. The huge waves were rolling in from the Atlantic and crashing into the rocks below, but the sea-spray reached all the way up to where we stood - about 60 metres above the sea level. We were hardly able to hear each other in the tempestuous weather, so we signalled to each other that it was time to head back in the direction we came. The image of Land's End you would see on the video clip below was from an earlier visit when things were a lot calmer.

We soon left Land's End behind and headed back to our cottage upcountry and after a quick freshening up, we had another evening of fun and games. 

The next morning, we were pleasantly surprised that despite the weather wreaking havoc the previous evening, it was sunny, but we were told that it wouldn't last the entire day as more weather-front was approaching. 

It was time to head to Perranporth - a small seaside town famous for it's big Atlantic swells and miles of spectacular beaches. The place is very popular with water-sport enthusiasts and the busy village has plenty of small eateries. There is also a natural open air pool that fills with salt water in low tide. However, we were fascinated by the stunning coastal walk that ascends over the cliffs, from the beach, and looking out into the Atlantic. After some good time hiking and walking up the cliffs, we decided to take a break and use the good weather, albeit temporary, to capture some pictures - as until that time, we were only carrying the gear with us without ever actually getting an opportunity to photograph - mainly due to the weather. Soon, the winds started to pick up and we all decided to head back to our cars before getting pounded by more stormy weather. After some cornish ice-creams at one of the eateries in the village, we headed back to the cottage - as we clearly knew that visiting another place was not worth the risk in such weather conditions.

On arrival at the cottage, some of us decided to make use of the heated indoor swimming pool and soon the light faded out and the day drifted off into another uneventful night.  

The next morning, it was time to check out of our Holiday Cottages and head back to London and all along the way, it rained continuously until we reached home. It was the second time that my own visit to Cornwall was jinxed by bad weather. The group was keen to have another go at Cornwall but this may have to wait a while as we were on the eve of the New Year ushering in 2016.

At the end of the day, you can book a holiday but you can't book the weather and this is rather more pertinent with holidays in the British Isles.

CornwallMemories of Cornwall - Dec'2015

 

 

 

 

 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Bodmin Bodmin Moors Coastal Walk Cornwall Holiday Land's End Penzance Perranporth Polgwidden Cove Trebah Gardens Trekking Weather stormy weather http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/12/Cornwall Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:10:18 GMT
Yorkshire Dales http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/11/Dales

It usually takes a bit of courage and a lot of mental challenge to recall what one did nearly 20 months ago. And as I started to delve into my memory cells, the visions of our holiday in Yorkshire Dales, in May 2015, flashed vividly - for it was unlike any other holiday that I have had until then, and certainly one that set the tone for the future holidays to come. We had a PLAN when going on a holiday rather than just land up at the place and figure out. You may be interested in reading my other blogs on holidays in ScotlandSwitzerland and Denmark.

It was the first time we had a group holiday - family and friends - 7 people in all. This meant that we had to plan the trip and the logistics well enough and in good time, so as to let everyone have loads of fun while maintaining economy. There were a few destinations thrown in the mix to consider - but we eventually settled on Yorkshire Dales. So, we got together one Saturday evening at one of the friends' house in April' 2015 and decided on a plan.

The  plan was pretty simple, find ourselves a big cottage that would accommodate all of us -  primary considerations being, it had to be near enough to the Dales but not within the Dales  - as this would augment the cost factor, the property should atleast have 2 bathrooms,  so as to not create a bottleneck on the mornings of the excursions and should provide ample parking for atleast 2 cars. With these filters on hand, we soon discovered the ideal property - not far from the Dales and offering everything that we were looking for in a property and more. I thoroughly recommend the Mallard Cottage, in Bolton-by-Bowland - a tad North-east of Clitheroe and within a few minutes drive into the Dales.

We soon set about making an itinerary for our visit and tried to include as many places as we could after some lengthy research on the internet. Our aim was to be able to visit places that make a great visual story-telling impact.  We told ourselves that it would be improbable, if not impossible, to visit all of the places identified but it was better to have something to refer to than not having a plan at all.  A good plan has since become an integral part of our holidays. It helps to chart out the route, estimate travel times, identify other logistical considerations along the route - like fuel, food etc, and keep the various attractions accessible depending on the opening/ closing hours, if any.  

We were warned, well in advance, that the SatNav co-ordinates to the cottage, we would be staying in, is not entirely accurate and that we were to follow other signs to get through. With about an estimated 4 - 5 hrs drive from London, and the fact that we were finishing our day's work and then starting out on the holiday meant that we reached our destination pretty late at night. We were slowed down, severely, by a couple of massive tailbacks on M40 and then on M6, but we still made good time to reach there a little past midnight. And with the SatNav unreliable, the last 30-40 minutes were spent trying to identify the "other signs"  we were asked to look out for -  but in the middle of the night and in near total  darkness, it proved a bit of a challenge but we eventually reached our cottage to be welcomed by a team of horses, as it is a working farm!

The video below is a racy tour of the entire holiday, be sure to turn the volume up and get a good pair of earphones - but a more leisurely pursuit is in the article below:

The DalesA short video capturing the beautiful holiday spent with family and friends in Yorkshire Dales Day 1:

Despite our late arrival the previous night (or early this morning) and less than desired sleep, all of us were up and about, pretty early and were  keen to explore the Dales. A quick peep outside the cottage suggested that the weather-god was playing spoilsport - there was a steady drizzle - enough to soak us to our skins but not sufficient to dampen our spirits. We soon set out to put our plans into action. 

Skipton Castle 

Our first stop during this holiday was at Skipton Castle - a medieval castle in Skipton - a small market town. We reached there just in time before the heavens opened up and drenched the surrounding landscape. We soon found ourselves negotiating a maze of corridors through the medieval kitchen, banqueting hall, the "withdrawing" room - an archaic term for drawing room, the Lord's bedchamber, a  storage room or a muniment room. We also went down into the dungeons navigating through very narrow, low-ceilinged passages with steep steps. After about an hour inside, we decided that we had absorbed enough of medieval lifestyle. We soon stepped outside and got a few pictures and headed into town for some coffee and refreshments.

Skipton CastleRain slick rocks and the cherry blossom tree by the castle shop

Bolton Abbey

We soon left Skipton behind and headed out towards Bolton Abbey, a mere 7 miles - about 10-15 mins drive. Bolton Abbey is situated on River Wharfe. As you enter the estate, you are momentarily stunned by the immaculate and vast sprawling landscape. The estate is famous for walkers of all abilities as it provides miles  and miles of all-weather walking trails. The Priory Church and the ruins of  the Augustinian monastery is an imposing sight in the mighty landscape.

Bolton AbbeyThe pathway to the estate and beyond. Miles of walking trails But, arguably, the most famous attraction at the estate are the Stepping Stones. There are about 60 stepping stones across the river and on the other side is a large beach ideal for picnic and to build sand-castles. 

Stepping Stones at Bolton AbbeyKids having fun

We spent about 3 to 4 hrs at Bolton Abbey and then headed out to Pateley Bridge, a charming village, for a pub lunch. The Royal Oak pub was highly recommended and we were soon eating shamelessly and downing a few beverages at the same time. When we finished about an hour later, we decided to head out to Fountains Abbey. Because of the time spent at other places, we reached just a few minutes after the gates closed  - so we headed back to our cottage to retire for the day.

Day 2:

Having well  rested and after a heavy breakfast, it was time to set out to explore another part of the Dales. We were soon on our way in pouring rain, but we kept our resolve to not be discouraged by the dismal weather.

Ingleton Falls

Ingleton Falls trail is a circular walking trail starting and ending at the  car park at the village of Ingleton. It is about 5 miles long and has some steep ascents. It is called a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) due to it's rich flora and fauna and unique geological features. The first section of the walk follows River Twiss through Swilla Glen. After passing the Manor Bridge you will soon arrive at Pecca Falls.

Manor BridgeSwilla Glen, Ingleton Falls

We soon picked up pace and went past Pecca Falls, a steep climb to Hollybush Spout, the spectacular Thornton Force where we took some rest to munch on to some goodies we carried along with us, the old Roman Road Twistelton Lane and then onto Beezley Farm down the River Doe to Beezley Falls, Baxengyhll Gorge, Snow Falls and back to Ingleton Village. In all it took us a good 4 to 5 hrs to finish the trail. We then had some picnic lunch at the village and headed on  to the next place on the plan.

Ribblehead Viaduct

As we left Ingleton village to Ribblehead Viaduct, the fog rolled in and within a couple of miles, we were left with extreme low visibility. With just about 15-20 feet of visibility, we were entirely reliant on the SatNav to guide us to right spot, as we lost all kinds of references or road-markings in the fog.

The distance was only about 7 miles from Ingleton and under ideal conditions the journey should take no more than 15 minutes. But with the fog cover, we were, naturally, slow and took about 20 minutes - only to realise that the SatNav might have been incorrect. Assuming that Ribblehead Viaduct is further ahead, we drove for another 3 or 4 miles before suspicion crept. So, we parked the cars at a lay-by and waited a few minutes for the visibility to improve and then turned around and headed back in the direction we came from.

And to our utter surprise, Ribblehead Viaduct loomed right in front of us - at the original spot that the SatNav initially guided us to. We had missed it completely, the first time around, as were many others like us, in the fog. 

Ribblehead Viaduct is an imposing structure on the Settle-Carlisle Railway and has 24 massive stone arches and at about 100 ft above the moors. The railway workers in those days were called navvies and many lost their lives during the construction of the line from a combination of smallpox, fights and accidents and apparently the Railway paid for the expansion of the local graveyard.

By the time we alighted from our cars, the wind had picked up and the temperature suddenly dropped by around 8 degrees within 5 minutes. We had a bit of a difficulty as we were clearly inadequately dressed for the weather. Since this holiday, whenever anyone checks with me about holidays in summer in Britain and what they should pack, I tell them to travel light and just carry a brolly and a winter coat

Ribblehead ViaductThe fog all but lifted by the time we retraced our path

After spending a few minutes in utter discomfort and managing a few pictures, we were keen to get some hot coffee and then head back to the cottage to relax for the rest of the evening. The trek at Ingleton Falls had clearly sapped all the energy from us. 

Day 3:

As with most vacations and more pertinently in the British isles, the last day of the holidays, invariably, brings out the best weather on offer. We had a beautiful sunny morning with a few fluffy cotton clouds. We checked out of our cottage and loaded the cars and as we we decided to leave  - the team of horses came around as if to say goodbye. It is always a pleasure to have good "neigh"bours and these were very friendly indeed. We were soon on the road and headed in the direction of Fountains Abbey, the one we missed on the Day 1.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey is a world heritage site offering a great day out with the family. It is the largest monastic ruins in the country.It is right next to River Skell in the beautiful North Yorkshire landscape. Wikipedia says "Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England" - raising the question that if it was that well preserved, it wouldn't have been in ruins in the first place - what an Oxymoron! Fountains AbbeyBeautiful day when plenty of picnic baskets were carried around After a brief walk we settled down at the massive lawn in front of the ruins, the group dispersed in different directions to explore the place, while I had set up my camera for the ideal time-lapse shot  of the ruins with people milling about. For the next hour or so, I was all by myself lying down on the grass with a watch over the camera and absorbing the English sunshine and having a lonesome party. When everyone started to trickle back in, we took a group shot to end a memorable holiday.

Fountains Abbey TimelapseA busy day out with the family

It was then a race back to London, just in time to disperse and to start planning the next holiday!

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Baxengyhll Gorge Beezley Farm Bolton Abbey Bolton Priory Bolton-by-Bowland Clitheroe Dales England Farmers Market Fountains Abbey Hollybush Spout Ingleton Ingleton Falls Ingleton Village Manor Bridge Monastery Pecca Falls Railway Ribblehead Ribblehead Viaduct River Twiss River Wharfe Skipton Skipton Castle Snow Falls Stepping Stones Swilla Glen Thornton Force Twistleton Lane Wharfe Yorkshire Yorkshire Dales http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/11/Dales Tue, 15 Nov 2016 17:34:44 GMT
Copenhagen - In the blink of an eye! http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/9/Copenhagen If ever there was enormous guilt resulting in severe withdrawal symptoms, it was after the most recent holiday that we spent in Switzerland. The beautiful visions of  the alpine landscapes kept lingering in our minds well after we returned from the holiday, thus making it  difficult to focus on our day jobs. So we decided to head out on another short holiday to recover from Swiss induced coma. Copenhagen - Capital of Denmark with a twist in the end - literally.

My son had made it amply clear at the start of the holiday that after lots of energy expended during the recent Swiss Holiday, he preferred a rather quiet time with an easy schedule. A holiday preferably with lots of rest  and relaxation. To me, however, it translated to limited photographic opportunities!

We arrived Copenhagen a little past noon. Before we took the train from Copenhagen airport to the city, we picked ourselves a Copenhagen Card valid for 48 hrs.  They are available as 24 hr, 48 hr, 72 hr or 120 hr card. We recommend this for anyone travelling to Copenhagen as they tend to be very economical with loads of free attractions or discounted price on attractions, restaurants and entertainment. This allows unlimited free travel on bus, metro and train for the validity of the card. By the time we arrived at our airbnb accommodation quarters it was a little over two in the afternoon. Our host was waiting patiently for us to hand over the keys to the apartment. We soon dropped our bags and freshened up and headed out into the city.

Initial impressions of Copenhagen - bikes, bikes and more bikes - everyone in the city prefers bicycles - there is a separate lane for bicycles throughout the city. It is part of the city's design. Using a bike is an easy way to commute and see the city. There are bike rentals everywhere in the city - at the hotels and almost at every intersection or a street corner. When you board and alight a bus, pay very careful attention to bikes as you have to cross the bike lane to get on the bus or on the pedestrian side. 

Street corner - CopenhagenThe city is full of bikes

We took bus Route 1A to reach Kongens Nytorv. We walked a further 400m to arrive at the iconic waterfront that Copenhagen is most renowned for - Nyhavn. It is a brightly coloured row of 17th and 18th century townhouses, Cafés and bistrots. We were a bit taken aback on arrival due to the sheer volume of tourists. But the place was buzzing with energy and whichever direction you turned, people were either taking pictures or taking selfies. 

NyhavnThe iconic waterfront with brightly coloured townhouses from the 17th and 18th centuries

We queued up for one of the canal boat departures only to be told that with the Copenhagen Card, the departure is from Gammel Strand and not from Nyhavn. So we walked for a little over half a mile to reach Gammel Strand and we were lucky to have made it on time. The tour takes approximately 1 hour, which meant that we were able to see the city from an entirely different perspective. We were soon going through some idyllic canals and waterfronts. We soon reached Nyhavn, 10 mins later, and the place looked even more beautiful from the water. 

Copenhagen Canal TourNyhavn from the water

Once the boat filled up with more tourists at Nyhavn, the canal tour started. We were soon passing by The Copenhagen Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, Black Diamond - The Royal Library , Christiansborg Palace (which houses the Danish Royalty, Folketinget - Danish Parliament, Supreme Court and the Ministry of State all under one roof). There was a bit of a flutter and excitement as we approached the famous Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid statue. We had a fantastic time overall and yet at a relaxed pace which made it even better. We soon found our way back to the city centre, where, we did a dinner take-away and headed back to our apartment.

Good neighbourhoodOne of the intersecting roads from where we were staying

The next morning, we decided to head out of Copenhagen to see a bit of the country-side while still trying to make the Copenhagen Card pay. We decided to go to Frederiksbørg Castle which is situated about 25 miles north-west of Copenhagen at Hillerød. It is a palatial complex built as a royal residence for King Christian IV in the 17th century. 

The Moat at Frederiksbørg CastleThe town of Hillerød seen in the background

As you entered the massive complex, you are greeted by the Neptune Fountain that attracted hordes of selfie-seekers. You then pass through an exhaustive courtyard into the Museum of National History with a considerable collection of artefacts like paintings and furnishings. 

At the CourtyardIntricate workmanship There is also a chapel inside the museum consecrated in 1617. This part of the castle escaped the great fire of 1850. As with any chapel, it was quite dark inside and I had to rely on exposure bracketing to make the below image. It is a composite of 3 handheld images each shot at 3 stops of exposure apart, at ISO 1600 and blended together using HDR Efex Pro 2 and Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.5

Inside the ChapelFrederiksbørg Castle - Museum of National History

After going through numerous maze of corridors and halls and generally looking lost, we stumbled upon the exit. As is customary during our travels, we stopped by to pick up some fridge magnets at the shop before we left the complex and entered into the gargantuan castle park. We were told of the Frederiksbørg ferry that sails Denmark's most beautiful nautical mile on the castle lake. We found the pier and managed to catch the ferry in the nick of time. 

Frederiksbørg Castle LakeView from Hillerød Torv We alighted at Hillerød Torv and walked back to the train station. Along the way, we indulged in a bit of window-shopping (no we did not buy any windows). The charming town was irresistible, so I had managed to get some shots there - one of them below.

Shopping at HillerødBeautiful cobblestoned streets

We returned an hour later back at Copenhagen and entered the famous Tivoli Gardens. This is a famous amusement park in the heart of Copenhagen and the second oldest operating amusement park in the world. We wandered a bit, sat down a lot and had ice creams and had a relaxing time before deciding to head back to the apartment. On a couple of occasions, earlier, when leaving the apartment, we had noticed a pizza place within two minute walk from the apartment, so we decided to try out the place for dinner. The place was run by Turkish migrants and the pizza was absolutely brilliant. When in Copenhagen next, do try out Bari Pizza at Dybbølsgade. You will not be disappointed.

Bari PizzaDo try them out

The next day, after breakfast, we decided to head out across the Øresund Bridge into Malmö, Sweden. This is a 2 part journey - one from Copenhagen Central Station to Copenhagen Airport and from there a change of train to go to Malmö. There was a brief document check at the train station at the airport. The journey to Malmö is about 25 minutes from the airport by train and roughly 20 miles. And just like that we were in Sweden!

Malmö was so very different to Copenhagen. While Copenhagen had hordes of tourists and bikers, Malmö had far fewer tourists and one did not feel like getting run over by bikers. It is a city that reinvented itself from a post-industrialised town to a thriving educational and cultural hub. Apparently Malmö is made up of 150 nationalities making it by far the most cosmopolitan of the Swedish cities. As one of the fastest growing Metropolitan centres in Sweden, the city is dotted with beautiful artwork and futuristic looking buildings. The below image is of  Kvarter Niagara - high-rise buildings are fast becoming part of the cityscape, this one is part of the Malmö Högskola University.

Kvarter NiagaraA futuristic building that is part of Malmö Hogskola University

We soon found ourselves in Gamla Staden (Old Town) which is encircled by a canal. We walked around one of the three principal squares - Lilla Torg. The place is full of boutique shops, al fresco dining and a babble of many different tongues. The Hedmanska Gården, below, is perhaps the oldest in Lilla Torg constructed in 16th century. Other structures were added to it in the 17th and 18th centuries. It has a spectacular courtyard and now houses the Form/ Design centre showcasing innovative architectural designs.

Hedmanska GårdenOldest construction in Lilla Torg

We managed to grab some lunch along and headed out towards the canals to do a tour of Malmö. A very pleasant one hour canal cruise where the captain of the boat who doubled up as a tour guide, regaled us with trivia about the city. We soon passed by the most popular sight in Malmö - the Turning Torso or the twisted torso, some locals call it the "giant toothpick." It is the tallest structure in Scandinavia with 54 storeys and a 90° twist. 

Turning TorsoSweden's tallest building at 190m

​At the end of the canal tour we returned to the train station and headed back towards Copenhagen. On arrival at Copenhagen, we had a quiet dinner and retired for the day. We had to wake up very early the next morning to take the return flight to London.

On our return, we reflected how the two port cities from two different countries separated by the Øresund Strait are very different from one another yet the people are able to co-exist peacefully. We found the people to be very warm and friendly - given the fact that it is pretty cold seven to eight months of the year. Above all, there was not a moment that we felt constrained by the language - for everyone seemed to converse in fluent English, may be even better than some native English speakers!

We promised ourselves to return to another part of Denmark - Aarhus or Billund and may be to Gothenburg or Stockholm in Sweden. The northern lights tour is long overdue - it could well be Iceland, Norway or Sweden - only time will tell.

If you get a moment, please visit me on Facebook.

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Amalienborg Palace Amusement Amusement Park Black Diamond Boat Tour CPH Card CPHCard Canal Tour Castle Lake Christiania Copenhagen Copenhagen Card Copenhagen Opera House Danish Parliament Denmark Frederiksbørg Castle Frederiksbørg Slot Gammel Strand Hans Christian Andersen Hedmanska Garden Hillerød Kongens Nytorv Kvarter Niagara Library Lilla Torg Little Mermaid Malmo Museum Museum of National History Neptune Fountain Nyhavn Opera House Oresund Bridge Parliament Sweden The Royal Library Tivoli Gardens Travel Turning Torso http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/9/Copenhagen Tue, 20 Sep 2016 14:29:07 GMT
Swiss Holiday Journal http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/8/swiss-holiday-journal At first there was excitement, it then turned into anticipation and towards the end it ended up into restlessness!

There are any number of holiday destinations that evoke a deep longing of wanderlust but Switzerland, surely, will rank in the Top 3 most desired places to visit in most people's books.

This journal is a documentation of the holiday that I spent with my family - it is not a guide to Switzerland or, more importantly, the Bernese Oberland region, where we spent the majority of the time on this holiday, but rather a "recall" of the places we saw, the things we did, the food we ate - and to some extent a visual portrayal of all of the above. I might drop a line or two, here and there, as to how I shot a particular picture, but this article is not intended to be a photography tutorial

Day 1 : Basel

Unlike other major European airports that are located a fair distance away from the city centre, Basel airport is just a 20 minute ride away on a bus. In fact, the buses are so frequent that you seldom wait for too long for the next one to arrive. We took the Bus 50 from outside the terminal building and we were soon outside Basel SBB, the main train station, at the city centre. Here, we made the switch to tram Route 10 and travelled a further 2 stops away to reach our hotel - about 6 minutes away. Once we checked in at the hotel, we soon got rid of our bags in the room and headed back the same direction - towards the city centre.

Basel welcomes youGraffiti in Basel

We had planned this trip with a bit of precision, in terms of, arrivals and departures, check-in/ check-out times at hotels and to visiting places of interest that coincided with the public transportation timings etc., that we knew before-hand that we might not need an entire day for sight-seeing in Basel. We had simply considered Basel to be the port of entry and exit, to and from Switzerland. And we went about treating the city in that fashion - a whirlwind 2 hour bus tour that took us around the various sights in the city viz., Novartis Campus, St. Johann, the Basel Tattoo, Messe Basel and Tinguely Museum to name a few. There were also a couple of stops near the Rhine, for those keen on taking the river cruise to the opposite bank, and near the Papiermuhle or the Paper Mill. This tour is an ideal introduction to Basel for those who are hard pressed for time and also to those that might want to visit specific points of interest at a later point in time. What we did not realise in our planning was we could have done all of these aforesaid places on foot or by public transport, free of cost, as one is entitled to free public transportation pass if happening to be staying in a city hotel. After the tour, we did exactly that! We got in and out of a few trams and eventually covered most of the places that were covered by the City Sight-seeing bus. Towards the late evening, we reached the city centre and took up on a friend's recommendation for a good meal at Mister Wong's

Mister Wong's BaselFantastic food within a minute walk from the Basel SBB, Train Station

On our return to the hotel I had set up my tripod inside the room, facing the window, in the hope of doing a time-lapse video. I had set the intervalometer at 3 second interval and shot about 350 images and, occasionally, ramping the exposure as the light started to diminish. I had also taken care to switch off all the lights inside the hotel room to avoid unnecessary reflections on the window. 

Basel Time LapseShot from the window of the hotel

Day 2 : Basel - Interlaken Ost - Grindelwald

The previous evening, we had packed a few yoghurt pots and some fruits to carry with us to the hotel, for our breakfast. After  breakfast and ensuring that the phones and camera battery are fully charged, we checked out of the hotel and went to the train station to get the Intercity train to Interlaken Ost, that took roughly 2 hours. We had purchased a Bernese Oberland Train pass with 4 days validity. This included a transfer to and from the Bernese region and hence our travel from Basel was already included as part of the package. 

On arrival at Interlaken Ost, we deposited our luggage at the lockers at a cost of 7 CHF and went about exploring the area on foot. Within a couple of minutes of casual amble, we were by the banks of the Aare river that connects the 2 lakes - Lake Thun and Lake Brienz. We took on a westerly heading and soon crossed a bridge and a railway line and headed to the the funicular railway to get to Harder Kulm. The tiny red funicular takes approximately 8-10 minutes to get to the top of Harder Kulm, a little shy of 4500ft. On arrival, there is a walk of about 5 minutes to what looks like a Buddhist  monastery or a castle but it is indeed a panoramic restaurant  - Bergrestaurant Harder Kulm. Breath-taking views of Interlaken, Lake Thun and Lake Brienz and the entire Jungfrau region could be observed from here. The skyline was dotted with innumerable paragliders who must have been relishing the feeling of anti-gravity. But what took our breath away were the various snow-covered alpine peaks glistening in the sun and causing a bit of a squint if you were not wearing your sunglasses. The far side, across the valley, was quite hazy with some low hanging clouds, but the near side was as crisp as a crisp. There is an observation deck here which is called the The Two lakes Bridge. The structure extends out of the mountain slope from the restaurant and is supported by a steel structure. In the center of the deck, on the floor, is a glass surface through which one is able to see right down below.  The image below was shot with 3 bracketed exposures - as metered, -3 EV and +3 EV and stitched together using Nik's HDR Efex Pro 2 and finished in Photoshop CC. This was shot from the observation deck or The Two Lakes Bridge. It was here, at Harder Kulm, that I had accidentally cracked the LCD screen of my beloved DSLR. It cost me about £100 to get it repaired after I returned to London. 

Lake Brienz - InterlakenView from Harder Kulm

We soon took the Harderbahn back to Interlaken and collected our luggage to take the train to Grindelwald. The train journey from Interlaken Ost to Grindelwald takes about 35 mins and is extremely scenic. The service is operated by BOB or the Berner Oberland Bahn. You could read about it, watch videos on youtube or listen to tales from those that have already been there, but none of those prepares you to the experience of being there yourself - as this scene captured with iPhone 6s.

Burglauenen station Inerlaken Ost to Grindelwald

It appeared that the mountains were close enough to reach out and touch. From the balcony of the chalet where we stayed, we had an imposing view of the the mighty Eiger mountain and I was lucky to have gotten the alpenglow of the sunrise below during our stay. The below image was shot with an iPhone 6s and processed using Lightroom Mobile.

Alpenglow - EigerA dramatic sunrise from our chalet

As it was a self-contained chalet, we decided to cut back a bit on our expenses and ended up buying a few groceries from the super market and made our own breakfast and packed lunches for the rest of our stay in Grindelwald. 

Day 3 - Grindelwald Grund - Kleine Scheidegg - Jungfraujoch - Kleine Scheidegg - Grindelwald Grund

After breakfast on Day 3, we had a toss up between visiting Grindelwald First or the Jungfraujoch (aka Top of Europe). Everything depended on whether or not there was any space available to reserve our ticket to Jungfraujoch on the Jungfraubahn that starts and finishes at Kleine Scheidegg. Luckily, we had places available for the 1430hrs departure, so we went ahead with our seat reservations. We then took the scenic Wengernalp railway from Grindelwald Grund to Kleine Scheidegg. 

Kleine Scheidegg StationThe train to Jungfraujoch - Cogwheel train

Kleine Scheidegg is the starting point for the trip to Jungfraujoch and is an alpine mountain pass between 2 valleys. It is from here that the climbers attempt to scale the famous north wall of the Eiger mountain. As we arrived Kleine Scheidegg in excess of 3 hours to spare, we decided to take the Jungfrau Eiger trail to Fallbodensee and back. This is an artificial lake serving as a reservoir to create artificial snow for the surrounding ski pistes in early winter. The trail was like what one might have imagined a Swiss landscape to be. And more! Absolutely stunning alpine pastures and gentle sloping greens with wild flowers of various hues. The distinct jingling of the cow-bells all along the path, giving an impression that you are never alone. And the reassuring company of the Jungfraubahn train ferrying truckloads of tourists up and down the mountain.

JungfraubahnKleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch

Fallbodensee, Kleine ScheideggJungfrau Eiger trail

It was soon time to queue up for the Jungfraubahn to go up to the summit of Jungfraujoch. The journey from Kleine Scheidegg to Jungfraujoch takes approximately 45 minutes. The train enters a tunnel within a few minutes of it's departure from Kleine Scheidegg. A few minutes before the arrival at Jungfraujoch station - the highest railway station in Europe, at around 11,332 ft, the train stops for about 5 minutes at Eismeer - the penultimate station from where the passengers are able to alight and soak in the views through the vast expansive panoramic windows and are able to appreciate the sheer expanse of the Grindelwald-Fischer Glacier

Aletsch Glacier, JungfraujochA rare day when the visibility was absolutely perfect

The first thing one might notice, rather feel, on arrival at Jungfraujoch is that the sudden altitude differential might make you a little giddy and one might develop a mild throbbing headache. This altitude sickness would soon vanish the moment you take the lift up to the Sphinx Observatory from where you are able to have 360° views - you have an option of being inside the warmth of the building or being out on the terrace. There is an Ice Palace inside with Ice sculptures, but we were not able to enjoy this very well as the floor was extremely slippery - even the floor was ice! There are multiple restaurants here including an Indian restaurant that seats up to 120 people - The Restaurant Bollywood - it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it is extremely expensive. You are allowed to step out on to the snow on the Aletsch glacier or even a hike to the Monchsjochhut. There is also a Lindt chocolate shop up here in the mountains!   Top of EuropeKleine Scheidegg as seen from Jungfraujoch

A view of Kleine Scheidegg from Jungfraujoch is seen on the picture above. Just below the rocks and under the clouds, a little off centre to the right, there is the glimpse of Fallbodensee partially visible. The route traversing to the left from Kleine Scheidegg on the picture is the Wengernalpbahn route to Lauterbrunnen. 

Day 4 - Grindelwald - Grindelwald-First - Grindelwald

After the exhausting excursion the previous day to Jungfarujoch, we decided to take it a little easy and decided to visit the Grindelwald-First - a minor summit on the slopes of Schwarzhorn. It can be reached by a cable car from the Grindelwald Cable car station from the upper village centre. The ride takes about 25 mins to reach First. There are 2 stops en route - Bort and Schreckfeld - where you may choose to disembark and board later.

On arrival at First, we decided to take the trail to Bachalpsee - an alpine lake very famous for stunning reflections of Schreckhorn - also called the mirror lake. It was not very difficult to find the Bachalpsee trail. We were energised when we saw that it takes only 45 mins to get there. We soon started our hike and was taken in by the beautiful panorama that confronted us. We had plenty of cows and mountain goats, for company, along the way. After about 20 mins of walk, we realised it was time for a sit down and munch on some snacks that we carried along. There are plenty of benches with stunning views along the way and we decided to pick on one just vacated by a bunch of oriental tourists who flouted the "selfie safety" rules. The image below had them crossing the protective barrier for that all important shot!

Ideal picnic spotScenic views of the mountains and the valley below

.....And we kept on walking and resting and walking, until we almost gave up and decide to return. They must have sent a marathon runner to cover the distance to Bachalpsee to decide it took 45 mins to get there. After an arduous 75 mins, we decided to ask an oncoming trekker for how long it might take to reach the lake, he said another 15 mins. Reassured with this knowledge, we walked further for another 20 mins to reach this magnificent setting - crystal clear blue-green waters of the lake, snow-covered peaks providing the perfect backdrop and absolute serenity about the place. What did disappoint me was the number of people that had jumped in to the lake and had caused a lot of ripples - so it was no longer a mirror lake. However, I had a 10 stop ND filter in my arsenal, so I had set up a 30 second exposure to capture the below image. 

Schreckhorn and BachalpseeFantastic views of Schreckhorn

After picnic-lunch by Lake Bachalp, we returned to the cable car station. Just before we reached, we decided to take the First Cliff Walk by Tissot - if you are not afraid of heights, this is a must-see attraction. It is a one-rope long suspension bridge with bird's eye views of the surrounding mountainside. It is precipitous and in windy conditions could sway a bit. At the end of what appeared to be a crawling walk, due to people in front of you freezing from the sway of the suspension bridge,  you reach an observation platform with it's narrow end sticking out of the side of the mountain. It is, when you get closer, you realise that the last few feet, the floor is made of glass - I have seen the expression on the faces of people change from an uncomfortable smile to downright horror. Strangely, I felt nothing as my focus was to take a picture of the sheer slopes of Eiger. The below image was shot using an iPhone 6S.

First Cliff Walk by TissotNot for those with vertigo

Day 5 - Grindelwald - Bern

After some fantastic alpine experiences, we were ready to start our journey in the return direction. The next stop was Bern - the capital of Switzerland. Besides the attractions of the Altstadt (old town), we were keen to understand what makes Bern one of the Top 10 cities in the world for the best quality of life. We decided to drop our luggage at the  hotel which was about 8 stops by tram from the Bern Hauptbahnhof (central station) and started to explore the city on foot. We don't know if it was this prior knowledge that we were already aware of the "status" the city enjoys, and hence, we found the people to be quite content and happy. Whatever be the reason, we found Bern to be absolutely charming with it's quaint cobblestoned streets with a bit of disorder - tram lines criss-crossing the bus routes and pedestrians and cyclists jostling for space. Yet, there was no road rage, everyone had a smile and wished each other and made way for each other. Despite the seeming chaos, everything went about like clock-work - a quality that Switzerland is renowned for. You could set your watch with the arrival and departure of the train. Picture below is the famous Kornhaus Bridge that spans over the River Aare.

Kornhaus BridgeOld town - Bern

The picture below was taken with a bracketed exposure of 3 shots - as metered, -3 EV and +3 EV. They were exposure blended in Photoshop CC for the final output. This was captured from Kornhaus Bridge looking towards the Lorraine Bridge and the Railway Bridge on River Aare.

Aare River, BernView from the Kornhaus Bridge across Lorraine Bridge and the Railway Bridge

The historic Aldstadt or the Old Town is largely medieval and recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.  

Music College, BernExperimenting with street photography

The city is full of Al Fresco dining opportunities and another indication and proof of the quality of life.

Al Fresco dining, BernThe city is full of such places by the lanes off the main roads

Perhaps the most famous sight of them all - Zytglogge - the Time Bell. It is the spire, on the image below, that is seen behind the building in the foreground, that houses the Zytglogge - an elaborate clock tower with moving puppets. The old town boasts of the longest covered shopping promenades in Europe. Having looked at the scene, I knew even before I looked through the viewfinder that this would be a Black & White image!

We finished our holiday in Switzerland with a fantastic choice of pizza from Da Vinci Pizzeria and Pasteria, not too far from the place from where I shot this picture. 

Zytglogge TowerOne B&W for the old-fashioned

Day 6 - Bern - Basel - London

It was soon time to get back to reality. Our time to depart was upon us and we told ourselves that we will travel again to a different part of Switzerland the next time - perhaps Matterhorn, may be Geneva, perhaps do a couple of Panoramic train journeys, travel into Italy - the options are endless, whereas the resources are finite.

Until next time, Auf Wiedersehen, Au revoir, Ciao!

 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) aare bachalpsee basel basel lapse basel sbb basel tattoo bern eiger eigerwand eismeer fallbodensee funicular grindelwald grindelwald-first grindelwald-grund harder kulm interlaken interlaken ost jungfrau jungfraujoch kleine scheidegg kornhaus bridge lake brienze lake thun lauterbrunnen messe basel mister wong's mönch novartis campus river aare river rhine schreckhorn shopping timelapse tinguely museum tram wetterhorn zytglogge http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2016/8/swiss-holiday-journal Wed, 24 Aug 2016 18:23:52 GMT
How did I do it? http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/11/tutorial

I had shot this image a while ago as part of the Black and White challenge on Facebook and I had mentioned that I would soon be posting a tutorial on how I managed to get this shot. 

 

I used the following photographic/ non-photographic equipment in the making of this shot:

a) Tripod - Manfrotto 055XPROB with a ball-head

b) DSLR - Canon 60D

c)Macro Lens - Canon 100mm f/2.8

d) Flash light/ String

e) a Black Box

f) A polo mint (you will see why)

g) An egg 

Set Up:

a) Splay the tripod legs very wide to enable the camera to be positioned very low

b) Mount your Camera with the Macro lens on the tripod

c) Place the Black Box in front of the camera

d) Try and find a spot on the box to tie the flashlight with a string with the beam pointing downwards in the box

e) Place the egg on a Polo mint (to prevent from rolling over) inside the box under where the light from the flash light is pointing down

f) Switch off all the other lights in the room to cut out the ambient light

g) Ensure that the camera is able to acquire sharp focus 

h) Take the shot

Image Processing:

a) Once the image is transferred to your computer and saved in your directory, change the orientation by Rotating 180º and open the Image in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom's Develop Module

b) I used the following settings for getting in some global adjustments, your workflow might be different to mine!

c) Open the image in Photoshop

d) We will now need to create a reflection. Select the image using the Rectangular Marquee tool and hit Cmd+J (Mac) or Ctrl+J (PC) to create a duplicate layer with the selected portion of the image. Ensure the selection is restricted just to the image and not to the black areas below the image. The layer palette would look like this

e) Now on the duplicate layer, invert the image by going to Edit-Transform-Flip Vertical

f) Use the Move Tool to drag the image down to create an impression of the reflection of the egg

g) Lower the Layer Opacity to 60% or thereabouts to make the reflection subdued.

h) Convert the image to Black and White using your favourite method and

Voila! you have created a portrait of an egg with it's own reflection.

 

 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) ACR Adobe Camera Raw, Egg Flashlight Macro Photoshop Polo Mint, Tripod http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/11/tutorial Sun, 23 Nov 2014 15:55:41 GMT
Composition Tips http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/9/composition In the previous couple of blogs I touched upon some bits of non-artsy aspects of photography, they are not technical though, like geotagging or how we are driven by the urge to keep accumulating more gear. Hence, I decide to devote this article to the aesthetics and emotional aspects of photography - Composition.

The internet is flooded with countless number of articles on the topic and a vast majority of them are extremely good and useful. I, myself, have become a better photographer, in my own eyes, from poring over these articles and watching countless hours of "how-to" videos on Youtube.

At some point in this article, I will try to recollect and mention some of the defining learning moments (videos) in my short photographic venture, so you are able to take advantage of these vast treasures of information and benefit from them, just as I have. You will be able to pick both on the artistic side as well as on the technical side of photography from these videos. 

Disclaimer: The videos, mentioned at the end of this article, are from youtube and they may have been taken away or deleted or even blocked. 

There is also plenty of printed material available on the subject and so this article is a bit of a cliché  but one that, I hope, would still benefit my circle of friends and followers, who have taken a liking to my pictures and have supported me with their own views on them, and are also wondering on how they can improve their own photography - aesthetically.

 

How do I get from snapshot to a great shot?

A vast majority of my photographic life, I have been documenting my visits to various places - through my photographs - as, I have been, with capturing private moments with family and friends. While these images still continue to serve as nostalgic moments through the time capsule to me, they would be an absolute bore to someone else looking at them, as these images would not evoke any sort of an emotion or feeling with them. Fortunately, I realised that something had to be done about the way I am making my pictures (I am not saying I am taking pictures, but making them - they are not there, in the world, to be taken, photographers work very hard to MAKE pictures) and decided to drip feed my grey cells with steady stream of information with bite sized chunks, on how to embrace change with our image making skills.

I will try and include an example on each of the points that you would read in the upcoming passages, so that you are visually in tune with the explanation provided.

01. Get your subject off-centre - The most common mistake that all of us make is to put the subject smack in the centre of the frame. This is fine when your subject is the only thing on the photograph but imagine that you are also composing other aspects in the frame along with your subject. It would make sense to provide some room for other things in your image besides your subject. 

02. Rule of thirds - Everyone has heard of the terms "Greek Mean" or the "rule of thirds" and these are nowhere more pertinent than in your photographic composition. The standard film or sensor is rectangular in shape. If you were to draw a grid across the frame like a Tic Tac Toe board, you have 4 intersecting points. These are the power points of your image and if you placed your subject on one of these intersecting points or along the line where the intersection happens, your image is likely to be more powerful than if you were to place your subject in the centre of the frame. For example if you placed your horizon line, right in the centre of the frame, you are emphasising that both the land and the sky are of equal importance in your image and this makes it difficult to convey the scene that you visualised, to the viewer. Instead, if you want to lay emphasis on the foreground, you put the sky at the top 3rd of the frame or if the sky is more dramatic, you put the foreground at the bottom 3rd. 

Mayfield Lavender FarmLavender DreamsMayfield Lavender Farm, Banstead

In the picture above, I wished to place the emphasis on the sky, so I had pushed the foreground to the bottom 3rd, while the tree is placed off-centre to the left, thereby achieving a pleasing effect. However, rules are meant to be broken! You could place the horizon in the centre if you are capturing reflections off the water, like in the image below.

"Loch Ard", Reflection, "Ben View", Aberfoyle, Inversnaid, "Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park", "Loch Ard Forest", KinlochardReflections on Loch ArdWhen the weather turned better, we were greeted by this magical world of Lochs and reflections and Bens and Munros

03. Fill the Frame - I have seen plenty of pictures where the photographer tries to bring attention to a subject but the subject is so indistinct in the frame that it becomes difficult to understand what was being conveyed, amidst the clutter. To avoid this, please get closer to your subject and fill the frame or if you are shooting from a distance, zoom in tight and close. This ensures that you have the entire subject in the frame and the viewer is then able to make out what is the message.

In the above image, I went in tight with the zoom lens besides being as close to the subject as possible to fill the subject in the frame.

04. Repetitions - We have all seen images of sea-shells at the beach or rocks or pebbles by the lake and these images have always evoked a sense of calmness in us. This is because our mind easily recognises the pattern and puts us in a "comfort zone" where we feel calm. But have you also noticed that in each of these images, if you introduced one element that breaks the pattern, then that becomes the subject! 

London EyeHiding in plain sightThe London Eye

Are your eyes drawn to the red capsule? Also notice that this is placed on one of the power points where the horizontal 3rd at the top is intersecting with the vertical 3rd on the right - more or less.

05. Leading Lines - Geometrical shapes have always been used to convey a powerful story in an image and one could never go wrong with leading lines. They help to transport the viewer through the frame to the subject without too much of an effort on the photographer's part. Or they could convey a sense of mystery as to what might there be at the end of it - like railroad lines or a long road, as in the image below

Road too farRoad too farLower Laithe Reservoir near Haworth, Bronte Country - Yorkshire

Are you intrigued, as I am, as to where this road could lead us to? 

06. Less is more - The fundamental difference between painting and photography is that painting is an additive process, where the painter keeps adding on more and more to the canvas to paint a scene, and photography is an eliminating process, where you try to remove unwanted elements in your picture. Your objective is to remove the clutter in your scene in a way that you isolate just the salient features to convey the mood. So next time you are out shooting, pay attention to those pesky telephone wires or the trash cans in the background and eliminate them off your frame. The mantra is "Keep it Simple."

Aberfoyle, "Loch Ard", "Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park", Serene, Tranquil, Aberfoyle, KinlochardThe Lone SentinelWhen the decision to include an overcast sky in the frame turned out alright!

Isolating this one tree from a bunch of others, a few feet to the left of it, has enabled me to convey a sense of tranquility to the scene which, otherwise, would have looked visually very busy and not helped me deliver the objective of the message.

07. Change your POV/ orientation - By default we all use our cameras in the horizontal position or the landscape orientation because that is the most easiest thing to do. Every time you finish shooting a picture, ask yourself, if there is a possibility to shoot the same scene in portrait orientation - if the answer is Yes, then go ahead and shoot the scene vertically. Some common mistakes people make is to take a full-length picture  of a person in landscape mode when they can be more impactful if taken vertically. Also, we take our pictures at our eye level all the time - and these pictures tend to be boring, because that's the way we see our world - instead change your point of view, go high or low depending on the scene and you are likely to have a more impactful picture as we are not used to seeing things from that perspective.

St.Ives PromenadeSeen better daysSt. Ives promenade

Had I chosen to shoot this picture from the eye-level, it wouldn't have been as impactful as it is now, I went flat on the ground much to the amusement of the kids in the vicinity, besides scattering a couple of pensioners off their perch at a bench behind me.

08. Create a foreground interest - One of the other important things to create an impactful image is to separate the frame into 3 distinct areas - a foreground, a middle ground and a background. This would help convey depth to your image. 

"Loch Ard", "10 Stop ND filter", Serene, Tranquil, Aberfoyle, "Loch Ard", "Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park", "Scenic Route", Scotland, KinlochardWhere is the kindle10 Stop exposure on Loch Ard

The rocks in the foreground serve as an anchor to this image from where the viewer could wander around the photograph and come back and rest before setting off again. Besides they also serve to create a sense of depth and distance, in the picture.

When you try and follow the aforesaid simple techniques, I am sure your images would be much more dynamic and impactful. There are plenty of other things that would add to an image's overall impact, but these are a good place to start.

As I mentioned before, I learnt a lot of my photographic skills from the Internet. There are plethora of videos on Youtube but I would like to draw your attention to a select few, given below as a starting point. 

01. Bryan Peterson - The Perfect Picture - a one hour video, where, besides the points I had mentioned above, there are lots and lots of other tips.

02. Bryan Peterson - You Keep Shooting - plenty of quick 5 to 8 minute videos

03. Scott Kelby - Crush the Composition - a one hour video, where he touches upon some basic rules in the first 5 - 8 minutes but lays emphasis on a completely different paradigm, on composition

04. Mark Wallace - Digital Photography One on One - plenty of videos on, both, the artistic side as well as the technical side of photography

05. Gavin Hoey - Take and Make Great Picture - plenty of videos with a lots of emphasis on post-processing your images

These should keep you pretty well occupied for a long time and I learnt a lot, myself, and practised using these techniques. 

And do visit my Facebook page. Click Here 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

      

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Composition Composition tips Geometry Leading Lines background fill the frame foreground foreground interest form horizon pattern repetition rule of thirds shape texture http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/9/composition Mon, 08 Sep 2014 11:59:04 GMT
Insatiable appetite for more gear http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/gear SunriseFirst rays of the sunGlorious sunrise at St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall

Situation:

You were going on a holiday and planned your photographic assignment very thoughtfully. And seriously.

You made sure that you had scoured every scrap of information available about the place, very diligently. You looked at various sites, for photos taken at the place, the time of the day, time of the year, and begun forming an idea in your head. You thought about how different you would like your images to be, from the ones you had seen online, and what adjustment were needed, in your own techniques, to make them possible. 

You then started to think about the gear you already have in your arsenal, and made assessments on whether your plan is workable, and considered their adequacy for the task at hand - camera, lens, filters, speed lights, tripod, bags, hoods, , grey card, loupes - and the list goes on!

And you came with an absolute straight-faced honest opinion, in a heartbeat, that your gear is inadequate to meet with the demands of your photographic plans. 

Invariably, you made one of two choices

01. You started to make up a list of things to buy and went ahead and bought them - sometimes buying them online - and often paying a premium shipping charge for faster delivery. 

OR

02. You adjusted your plans, in line with the gear already in possession and started rewriting a more realistic goal to achieve given the strengths and limitations of the gear at hand.

End of Situation:

Does this sound familiar? Many of us, over the years, have made a healthy mix of aforesaid choices and will continue to make these choices in the future too. We have looked at various travel magazines, National Geographic and such and told ourselves, if only we had access to the gear the photographer in the magazine was using.

It was always about the gear and never once about ourselves. 

We have all had a fairly "shaky" start in our photographic endeavours - the pun was not intended - when as a child, we all were taught to put the subject right in the centre of the frame - within the circle and mash the shutter button. We would then take the completed film roll to the nearest photo studio and ensured that they developed all the 36 prints in the roll - never minding the cost associated with it, in the hope that all 36 turned out to be "keepers." It would then have been our inner resolve to accept that only four or five from the lot looked presentable and the rest were used as an excuse to have a good laugh - when, in truth, the four or five good ones were meant to be achieving that purpose.

Then we carried on with our bad habits into digital photography with even less of a balance, as we now started putting the camera about a feet away and looked through the screen and shot, instead of the viewfinder. The results were instantaneous and so was the disappointment. We did better than our film days not because we got better at making mistakes but because the cameras had gotten better and better. 

Photography is an interesting pursuit in that it is both an art and a craft. In order to excel in the art form, you have to be fairly proficient in the craft which includes, but not limited to, exposure, metering, White Balance, Colour Management, controls on your camera,  post-processing etc. But being completely proficient in the craft would mean you are a technician and not an artist unless you also have a strong sense of composition, simplicity in your approach, balance in your framing, ability to view the scene from various perspectives, in short, aesthetics. 

The bitter truth about photography is, people remember you by your images and not by the gear you used. Up to this point of this blog being published, on this website, all my images were shot with either a Point and Shoot - a Nikon Coolpix or with a Canon Kit Lens 18-55mm f/3.5 - 5.6. Click here for an interesting article on your kit lens. The famous painter, Bob Ross, who taught the world about wet-on-wet oil painting technique through his series The Joy of Painting, kept saying throughout his series, that talent is a pursued interest. If you are willing to practice, you then become good at it. 

 There will be a set of loyal customers who have taken to your style of photography and are even willing to pay for your work. Or, there are corporate houses who are willing to pay you a licensing fee in exchange for usage of your images on their commercials or their corporate presentations or style-guides. And they will do that only because your images evoked an emotional response rather than the choice of gear you used. 

Stripping away all technological advancements in the field, photography in it's simplest forms has not changed in over a century. It is about light and shadows, contrast, colour, tone, form, shape, texture, pattern. So, the next time you plan to go on that holiday, start to plan your photographic quests around the gear you already have and put them to their best use and let your emotion/ impulse guide you to that "keeper" shot.

Picture: St. Michael's Mount at Sunrise

                   

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Kit Lens Myth Photographic gear Practice Practise Reality http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/gear Wed, 27 Aug 2014 21:30:19 GMT
Super Telephoto from Tamron http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/super-telephoto-from-tamron

The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens has just won an EISA Award in the DSLR Telephoto Zoom lens category! We currently have a very limited number in stock in the Canon fit. For full details and to place an order, visit www.parkcameras.com/26813/Tamron-150-600mm.html.

You can get our views on this lens at http://blog.parkcameras.com/2014/07/the-tamron-sp-150-600mm-f5-63-di-vc-usd.html.

The Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens has just won an EISA Award in the DSLR Telephoto Zoom lens category! We currently have a very limited number in stock in the Canon fit. For full details and to place an order, visit www.parkcameras.com/26813/Tamron-150-600mm.html. 

You can get our views on this lens at http://blog.parkcameras.com/2014/07/the-tamron-sp-150-600mm-f5-63-di-vc-usd.html.

 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Canon Fit Image Stabilisation Sports Photography Super telephoto Tamron 150-600mm Telephoto Vibration Compensation Wildlife photography bird photography lens zoom http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/super-telephoto-from-tamron Wed, 27 Aug 2014 11:39:26 GMT
Joys of Geotagging http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/geotagging Dear friends,

After my recent holiday to Scotland, I ended up having a few hundred images taken over a span of 6 to 7 days and had the onerous task of having to catalogue them. Once the images were organised in a date-wise folder, it was up to managing and mapping the names of places to the images from a separate piece of planner or itinerary.

This works well at a higher level to document the places one has visited, but certainly does not help if one chooses to return to the exact same spot at a future date or even share the knowledge with a friend, where the image was made, like it happened in my case.  Many a times during my holiday, I had pulled to the side of the road and shot a certain picture and these were generally tagged as the nearest name of a village or a place. 

After extensive search online, I had figured that the easiest way to Geotag one's images is to have an App on one's phone and synchronise the date/ time on the App and the Camera and then start shooting images after launching the App on the phone when ready to start a "trip." Once the trip is finished, the data from the App and the images from the camera have to be synchronised to arrive at a "geotagged" image. And there are many Apps one could find on the App Store that would do this.

 

However, I came across a wonderful App called gps4cam pro and downloaded the same from the App Store for £2.49. What is wonderful about this App is that one does not need to synchronise the date/ time on the App and the Camera - it is quite easy to forget this fact when one is travelling to a different timezone. Instead, one starts the trip on the App when setting out and go about shooting pictures as normal. When finished, one just need to generate a QR code from the App for the trip. A QR code is a type of matrix barcode or a two-dimensional barcode, a kind of optical label that is machine-readable. One would then take a photo of this QR code from the App with the same camera with which the pictures were shot. 

There is a simple 4 step process:

  1. Launch gps4cam on your smartphone by pressing "Start a new trip"
  2. When you are done, end your trip and generate a QR code
  3. Photograph the QR code with your camera
  4. Upload your picture and use the free gps4cam desktop software to geotag your photos

Below is one of the images I had taken today to test the App

Kayak, Canoe, Geotag, "Dinton Pastures", Hurst, Wokingham, Bracknell, Reading, BerkshireKayaks at Dinton Pastures

When viewed on the map, I was able to appreciate the accuracy of the app and now I am convinced that images coming on to my new galleries will be more accurate in terms of location. Below is the location on the map where the above image was made (within the square area, the other Pins denote the other sets of images from my trip)

GeoTagged, "Dinton Pastures", Berkshire, Bracknell, Hurst, Wokingham, ReadingGeoTaggedPlace where the image of the Kayaks were shot, within the square

I would be happy to hear your own experiences with Geotagging. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) App Application Geotag Google Earth Google Maps gps4cam gps4cam pro http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/geotagging Sat, 23 Aug 2014 22:27:31 GMT
Scottish Holiday http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/Loch-Lomond Balmaha PanoBalmaha Pano

After having spent nearly 7 years in the UK, I felt ashamed to not to have ever travelled to Scotland even once during that period. This feeling of guilt necessitated a week long holiday with the family to one of the most breath-taking regions of Scotland - Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

There are a few things that one could never take for granted in this part of the world - weather being one of them. With the eager enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store, I was excited to put my new 10 stop filter, new Cokin P Graduated filters and Neutral Density filters to the test, but the weather gods had a different plan. For the first couple of days it rained like Scotland is in the middle of a drought - that made even getting the camera out of the bag a difficult decision. 

Then our luck began to change and the weather got better- but you could never rule out the chance of occasional rain- and conditions vastly improved. The next 5 days were spent driving from one Loch to the other - throw in the mix the only lake in Scotland - Lake of Menteith. It is quite impossible to describe the beauty and serenity of the place despite the rough exterior. The place is nowhere near as crowded as the Lake District in Cumbria - yet, it attracts a wide-range of people with varying interests - mountain climbers, water-sports enthusiasts, trekkers, bikers, walkers, photographers, paddlers to name a few. 

There were plenty of highlights of the holiday, and to name a few standout ones

a) the drive on B829 from Aberfoyle to Inversnaid being mesmerised en route by Loch Ard, Loch Chon and Loch Arklet, before we arrived at the picture perfect village of Inversnaid, overlooking the majestic Loch Lomond

b) the scenic drive from Callander to Glencoe and Fort William - driving past Loch Lubnaig, Falls of Dochart, Loch Lubhair, Loch Dochart, Loch Leven to name a few. The vista of the landscape and the majesty of the Glencoe left us breathless. We were extremely lucky to have met with Ms. Emma Skeldon who does the shuttle ferry service from Port of Menteith to Inchmahome and back when not indulging in her own artistic pursuits. She was extremely helpful and suggested a few scenic routes for us to try out including this route. Do drop by on to Emma's website here : www.skeldonart.com

c) the visit to Falkirk to see the Kelpies was an awesome experience and we were lucky to arrive there just a few minutes before the sunset, that got me excited

d) the hike up the Duncryne Hill on a wet/ rainy day lugging the heavy Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod with it's ball-head, besides the camera gear was - at the time annoying - worth the effort for the panoramic views it offered. 

With the holiday coming to an end, we all silently made a resolution to revisit Loch Lomond at the first available opportunity. Besides guaranteeing a great family holiday, the place satisfies every photographer's appetite irrespective of the level. Simply put, you could never take bad pictures in Scotland!

             

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Aberfoyle Auchentroig Balloch Balmaha Buchlyvie Callander Duke's Pass Falkirk Falls of Dochart Fort William Glencoe Glengoyne Distillery Inchmahome Priory Inversnaid Inversnaid Falls Kelpies Lake Menteith Loch Achray Loch Ard Loch Arklet Loch Chon Loch Drunkie Loch Katrine Loch Leven Loch Lomond Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Loch Lubnaig Loch Venachar Luss Queen Elizabeth Forest Park River Teith Stirling The Three Lochs Drive http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/Loch-Lomond Sat, 23 Aug 2014 12:40:16 GMT
Shoot Like a Pro http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/shoot-like-a-pro Scott Kelby's Shoot Like A Pro seminar is coming to London. 

Date : 10th October at Conference Centre, Westminster. Tickets are priced at £99.00.

More details can be found at the below link

http://kelbyone.com/live/uk/

                                                          

 

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it London Scott Kelby Shoot like a pro Westminster seminar http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/shoot-like-a-pro Fri, 22 Aug 2014 21:55:26 GMT
Summer Offer http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/summer-offer Celebrating Summer!

15% off on all products on a minimum order of £25.

Offer valid until 7th September 2014.

Use coupon code SUMMER14 at check-out to avail this excellent offer

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vats@giantamoeba.co.uk (Giant Amoeba) Coupon discount offer summer offer http://www.giantamoeba.co.uk/blog/2014/8/summer-offer Thu, 21 Aug 2014 20:11:40 GMT