Feliz Aniversário, Parabéns

XXXI Festival Internacional de Tunas Universitárias Cidade de Porto

The formal way of wishing someone a happy birthday in Portuguese is Feliz Aniversário but people usually use Parabéns which translates to "Congratulations". We experienced two very special anniversaries in Portugal that immersed us into the Portuguese culture in a way that wouldn't have been possible as a tourist.  

On Thursday, September 14, Paula's birthday, we went to a festival of music at her alma mater, the University of Porto. It was held outside on a stage in the square in front of the university.

A Tuna is a group of university students in traditional university dress who play traditional instruments and sing serenades. This originated in Spain and Portugal in the 13th century as a means of students to earn money or food. It helps them pay for all the espresso they drink! Source: Wikipedia 

The festival named in the title of this blog entry is organized by Orfeão Universitário do Porto which has two Tunas: Tuna Universitária do Porto (men) and Tuna Feminina do Orfeão Universitário do Porto (women). TUNAF was the first female Tuna in Portugal. Paula and her university cronies were the founding members of TUNAF in 1997. On this night, alumni members of TUNAF including Paula, Ana and others were invited to sing on stage with the current members.

Paula singing on stage with current and alumni members of TUNAF

  Current and Alumni members of TUNAF backstage. Photo credit: Amy 1.5

Current and Alumni members of TUNAF backstage. Photo credit: Amy 1.5

So to recap... 

  1. It's Paula's 50th Birthday
  2. It's the 31st anniversary of the international festival of university tunas held at U. Of Porto
  3. It's the 30th anniversary of the founding of TUNAF
  4. The event is held outdoors and free to the public for the first time in its history
  5. Paula is reunited with original members of TUNAF
  6. Paula sang on stage with fellow alumni and current members of TUNAF
  7. And, it's Paula's 50th birthday... 

That all being said, it was a special night for Paula and we felt honored to experience this tradition first hand. 

A party and a half... 

When Ana Paula Ferreira decides to throw a party she means business! On, Saturday, September 16, Ana and her family hosted a birthday party for Paula that was open house style. It started early and ended in the wee hours of the morning.

People from all different aspects of Paula's life in Portugal (and the Americans, Kim, Amy 1.0, Sanae and Danna) celebrated with her. To say there was food and drink is an understatement of the greatest kind. Some of my favorites were the Bacalhau, Bola de Carne, Arroz de Pato and Tremoços to name just a few. Ana's husband, Vasco created a carefully thought out bar with Portuguese wine and port wine. 

And dessert? The Portuguese people LOVE their desserts. Ana asked the guests to bring a dessert from the region where they live. Ana insisted that since people would be coming and going all day that everyone have the opportunity to sing her happy birthday (Parabéns a você). Ana's mother made three birthday cakes and Paula blew out candles three times! 

 Most people get one birthday cake....

Most people get one birthday cake....

An enorme "Obrigada" (thank you) to our wonderful hosts, the Costa family. They made us feel like their own family members and made this a trip to remember forever. 

 Clockwise from left: Marta, Duarte (doesn't he look thrilled?) Ana, Vasquinho, Amy 1.0, Kim, Amy 1.5, Vasco and Paula

Clockwise from left: Marta, Duarte (doesn't he look thrilled?) Ana, Vasquinho, Amy 1.0, Kim, Amy 1.5, Vasco and Paula

A City by the River

I mentioned in the previous blog entry that the city of Porto is alongside the Douro River. When traveling I have grown to love the element of water and the interest it adds to the experience of the place I am visiting. From the canals of Venice in Italy, the River Thames in London, the Danube River in Hungary, the Milford Sound in New Zealand to our own Big Bear Lake in California, all of these places are special to me because of their unique proximity to water. The Douro River is another body of water that adds to the beauty and romantic nature of Porto on one side and Vila Nova de Gaia on the other. 

  View of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia. The boats you see pictured here were the traditional boats used to carry Port wine from the Douro Valley where the grapes are grown, downstream to Porto. 

View of Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia. The boats you see pictured here were the traditional boats used to carry Port wine from the Douro Valley where the grapes are grown, downstream to Porto. 

  Ponté Luis 1 Bridge

Ponté Luis 1 Bridge

  Arrábida Bridge

Arrábida Bridge

I also love being able to see a place from the vantage of the water. On Thursday, we were lucky enough to take a boat ride on the river and see all six bridges of Porto from the water. My two favorites are the Ponté Luis 1 and Arrábida Bridges. The architect of the former is Gustave Eiffel, the same man who designed the Eiffel Tower. The Arrábida bridge is made of reinforced concrete and designed by Edgar Cardoso. It was inaugurated in June of 1963 and Paula said that people came from all over the world to see it collapse because they didn't believe a bridge made of concrete could stay standing. 

  BFFs Paula and Ana  

BFFs Paula and Ana  

  Robalo (sea bass) with a salad and potatoes

Robalo (sea bass) with a salad and potatoes

Thursday was Paula's birthday and her dear very busy friend Ana gave her the gift of her time and spent the entire day with us. After the boat ride we went to lunch to a nice restaurant near a plaza where music was playing in the background. Again we have had amazing weather this trip. Ana's sister Susana surprised us at the restaurant with a beautiful delicious homemade chocolate cake. 

  From left: Kimmie T., Amy 1.5, Ana, Susana, Paula, Amy 1.0

From left: Kimmie T., Amy 1.5, Ana, Susana, Paula, Amy 1.0

  Felicidades!

Felicidades!

No trip to Porto would be complete without a tour of the wine cellars that are the home of Port wine. We visited Ferreira Cellars and learned how Port wine is made which of course ended with a taste of the wine.   

  Amy walking in front of a large Portuguese tiled wall

Amy walking in front of a large Portuguese tiled wall

Another really enjoyable part of this day and the next was walking the narrow streets of Porto and seeing how people live in their flats. With every turn there was a new combination of paint colors and unique Portuguese tiles adorning the buildings. Porto is also known for its unique windows and people often hang their clothes to dry from their balconies.

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Oporto - Friends, Food, Culture

It's hard to believe it's Sunday and we are making our journey home tomorrow, a day late. I will explain that later. The last five days have been jam packed with a combination of sightseeing, visiting Paula's friends, eating and shopping. So much so that I had to backtrack the days and make notes of what we did.  

On Wednesday Ana, our host, drove us to Oporto and dropped us off and we made our way to a large roundabout called Rotunda da Boavista with a 148 foot column in the middle. It commemorates the victory of the Portuguese against the French troops that invaded Portugal during the Peninsular War. 

 Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular

Monumento aos Heróis da Guerra Peninsular

 Paula and Fátima

Paula and Fátima

For lunch we met one of Paula's good friends Fátima that she has known for many years from their University days. She is a University professor who lived 10 years in Belgium and fairly recently moved back to Porto. She speaks 7 languages. I'm still wrapping my head around that one.  

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After lunch, we took a drive to see the Foz do Douro Lighthouse on the Atlantic Ocean. I have seen some very dramatic images of this lighthouse with waves crashing over it which happens in the winter time.

It was here that we were able to meet up with our other friends Sanae and Danna from the U.S. who also came to celebrate Paula's birthday. It was surreal to be taking an afternoon stroll all together along the Douro River. 

 From left: Amy 1.0, Danna, Sanae, Amy 1.5, Paula, Fátima

From left: Amy 1.0, Danna, Sanae, Amy 1.5, Paula, Fátima

 Boats overlooking the Douro River  

Boats overlooking the Douro River  

In the evening we were treated to a wonderful fish dinner with the Costa family, our hosts. The fish is caught the same day as it is served. We had a variety of dishes including Hake, Robalo and of course more Bachelhau. Our animated server Orlando filleted a whole cooked fish tableside. 

 Typical Portuguese Bachelhau dish  

Typical Portuguese Bachelhau dish  

Até à Próxima (until next time) Ponte de Lima

We have been walking the crowds of Feiras Novas in Ponte de Lima for a couple days. I asked Paula if there was a way we could get up to the nearby hills to get a view from above of this beautiful town. 

She knew the place to go and she borrowed her uncle's car and off we went for a short drive to a the site of a stone chapel.

From the top we could see the Rio Lima clearly and white clouds scattered across blue skies. The weather has been mild and beautiful. 

 The view from above Pointe de Lima

The view from above Pointe de Lima

 Team KAAP standing on the new bridge over Rio Lima

Team KAAP standing on the new bridge over Rio Lima

Today we left Tio Loreta, Tio Luis and Mauricia in Ponte de Lima. They were such gracious hosts and fed us so many traditional Portuguese home cooked meals. They don't know English so Paula translated for us and them but through hand gestures, smiles, pats on the back and saying the word "obrigada" (thank you) a LOT we found our own way to communicate with them. They made us feel like we were their own nieces and created a special memory that will stay with us forever. 

 From left: Cousin Miguel, Paula, Tia Loreta, Tio Luis

From left: Cousin Miguel, Paula, Tia Loreta, Tio Luis

Cousin Miguel drove us to our next destination to meet Ana who took us to her home in Gulpihares where we will stay with her husband Vasco and their children. This will be the site for Paula's 50th birthday party. Ana lives very close to the beach so she took us to quickly look at the ocean before arriving to her house and the ocean air was really refreshing. We undoubtedly will be taking walks there.  

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The Atlantic Ocean from Gulpihares  

Feiras Novas 2017

The last two days have been full of eating, drinking, walking, visiting and exploring the vila of Ponte de Lima. Feiras Novas (The New Fairs) is a yearly festival since 1826 that takes place the second week of September. Paula and her family have many years of memories attending this festival and still attend. There are so many elements to this festival it is hard to describe the experience. It is music, folklore, fireworks, and parades. Along with food vendors selling farturas (churro), roasted chestnuts, pastries, popcorn, candy and more.

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Paula's cousin Miguel's home is in the direct path of the ethnographic parade so we went to his home for lunch and got a front row seat to the action. The people in the parade dress in costumes and ride on mini floats to tell the story of what makes this region unique or special like iron works, stone works, winemaking, farming and more. It was lively and entertaining to say the least.

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Music is a big part of Feiras Novas. There are traditional multi piece bands that play in two small grandstands. Other groups specialize in drums only and the have their own procession and the literally try to "out" drum each other. Imagine the loudest drums you have heard and multiply that by 1000. At night people crowd around other small groups in the streets playing an instrument that is like a small accordion and singing traditional Portuguese songs.

Did I mention we have been eating? Just a bit. Paula's aunt and her sister have made us all home cooked meals with love. It reminds me of my childhood of eating at my grandmother's house. We had a very special dish made with Bacalhau, dried and salted cod, a staple here. The Portuguese say there are 1000 ways to prepare and eat Bacalhau. To summarize the dish, the fish was soaked in water, baked in the oven with sweet peppers on top and swimming in creamy mashed potatoes on the bottom. It was truly delicious!

 Traditional Bacalhau Dish

Traditional Bacalhau Dish

A Familiar Face in an Unfamiliar Place

Our two leg trip to Porto went off without a hitch for the most part. We had to transfer by car from London Heathrow to Stansted Airport. Never heard of Stansted? I'm not surprised. I won't waste precious blog space except to say that I read that 5 hours was the bare minimum you should have for a transfer between these airports and that is the BARE minimum. We were delayed due to rain so by the time we landed it was close to 9 pm local time which was 24 hours from when we left our house in L.A.

 Happy Team KAAP

Happy Team KAAP

We deplaned and grabbed our bags and at the end of the hallway there were two smiling very familiar faces very happy to see us and we we sorta happy to see them. Paula's friend Isabel graciously offered to pick us up and drive the 1 hour north from Porto to Ponte de Lima.

I mentioned to Paula that I might want a snack before going to bed. She said her aunt would most definitely have something for us to eat. We arrived at the home of Tio Luis and Tia Loreta, Paula's aunt and uncle and Mauricia, Tia Loreta's sister. They greeted us warmly with a double kiss on the cheek starting with the right cheek and moving to the left. This is a typical greeting in Portugal.

We were whisked off the the kitchen where a slew of plates, cups, platters of food and various drinks were offered. You could tell this very thing had been done many many times around this table. We had bread, cookies, a cheesecake like dessert, cheese, espresso, juice. My favorite was this pinwheel like savory dish with a thin slices of meat wrapped in homemade bread called Bola de carne.

My tummy was happy but by now I had been up 33 hours. So you know what comes next, head hit the pillow.

 

Oporto here we come!

It's time to dust off the old travel blog and we have a great trip to do it. We have taken several trips in the month of September and it seems to bring us good travel karma. A year ago this month we were walking the hills of Ireland and on Thursday we embark to Europe again, this time to Portugal. 

 From left: Little Lego Kimmie T, Amy 1.0, Amy 1.5, Paula

From left: Little Lego Kimmie T, Amy 1.0, Amy 1.5, Paula

We have a wonderful reason for traveling to Portugal which is to celebrate our dear friend Paula's 50th birthday. As if that wasn't special enough, Paula is from the town of Porto in northern Portugal and she will be our very personal tour guide into the sites, sounds and tastes of her country she so loves. Her family and friends will open their homes to have us as their guests and we get to experience this country through the eyes and hearts of those that know and love it. 

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Our stay is concentrated in the northern part of the country and we will stay near Porto in Ponte de Lima and Vila Nova de Gaia. 

We are looking forward to exploring this country with our friends Amy and Paula and having a weeklong celebration filled with many adventures. 

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Goodbye Dubai

The cheesy title of this post was just too hard to resist.  On Thursday Mark, Ian and I walked the streets of the Gold Souk area looking to shoot more street photography. I have always wanted to create a blurred pan image so I gave myself an assignment. Essentially the subject in the image stands apart from a blurred background. It's a skill to be honed with a lot of practice. I stood on a street corner for an hour just waiting for bicycles or motorcycles to move into my frame. I captured this scooter whizzing by and I love how he looked up toward me as he turned the corner. 

My last workshop on Friday was an off camera flash class with David Hobby. I don't even own a flash and have never used one with my camera. Mark let me borrow his and David did a great job of giving the class a foundation in using flash in photography. My favorite image is of another photographer named Amir who turned out to be a great model too. 

My goal in coming to Dubai aside from enjoying the company of other like minded photographers was to stretch my photography skills and I can say without a doubt I accomplished that. 

Serious Ian

It has been an amazing week and I'm really looking forward to sharing my experience with you all in person. A very special thanks to Amy for supporting the pursuit of my passion. 

Dune Bashing UAE Style

 Friendly herd of camels on our way to the shoot

Friendly herd of camels on our way to the shoot

On Wednesday night Mark, Ian and a local friend and photographer named Saadia and all headed out to the UAE desert. The driver was prearranged by Saadia and the plan was to get the desert night sky, but the weather spoiled that. It has been really cloudy here and zero chance of seeing stars.

But, I now can say that have walked in the Arabian desert. How cool is that? It's red! As you know back home, it is a beige color. The red really stands out against the landscape and is really impressive. 

Our experienced driver Omar took his trusty modified Toyota 4 x 4 to the desert and started to "dune bash" as Saadia called it. At times it felt like a roller coaster, but Omar knew what he was doing so we all just sat back and enjoyed the ride and laughed a lot. 

Light painted desert tree against Arabian desert backdrop

The landscape is really barren and doesn't have a lot of trees or bushes to help make a foreground. But Ian started to walk and walk and walk until he was just a spec. He said he was in sand knee deep at times. He is still pulling sand out of his shoes. It was worth it for all of us because he found a couple trees to be our subject that night. A trick that photographers have in their bag is light painting. The concept is to paint the subject with a flashlight while the camera is taking a long exposure. As long as the person keeps moving, turns the light off and walks out of the frame before the shutter closes, then the person won't be in the picture. Many thanks to Mark for painting the tree in the image above. 

 Photographer taking picture of a photographer taking a picture. Go figure.

Photographer taking picture of a photographer taking a picture. Go figure.

A Culture that gets lost in a Sea of Culture

 Zack Arias giving us the lowdown of the area

Zack Arias giving us the lowdown of the area

Yesterday was my "street photography course with Zack Arias. He is an established portrait and street photgrapher based out of Atlanta, GA. It started out in a classroom setting and Zack gave us some really practical tips for capturing street photography, especially people. So the idea is go out on the street and take pictures of complete strangers in a strange country without upsetting for offending them so you can share your story and theirs if you know it when you return home...Got it...Easy...Not.

Conceptually it actually was easy. You walk the streets and explore the smells, sounds, faces and get a feel for the area. Sometimes you act like a "magician" and sort of pretend to take the image without people realizing it. And sometimes you just smile and ask if you can take their picture. If they say no, you move on. Oh and your focus, exposure, ISO and shutter speed have to all be ready to go in an instant. Got it...Easy...Not.

Young Pakastani man taking a break from loading goods on to a Cargo ship heading for Iran

As a group we went to the Dhow Wharfage area of Dubai which is situated along Dubai Creek. The streets are bustling with small shops, alleyways, cars, and people of all different backgrounds. The creek is full of ships with men hauling textiles or food on their backs. You can tell it's grueling physical work that they do day in and day out.

I was walking with Zack and another student and I saw a young Pakastani man taking a break and saw him yawning. He saw me walk by and put his hand in front of his mouth. I guess it's universally rude to yawn with your mouth open? I smiled and kinda pointed at him as if to say I caught you yawning. He smiled back and I could tell he was friendly so I walked up to him. He didn't speak English too well, but we exchanged words and I learned the ship was being loaded with goods going to Iran and the trip would take 12 hours. But he only worked on the dock. I asked him if I could take his picture and he obliged. It was such a cool interaction and I'm thankful to have an image to remember it. 

You see many men like this one constantly shuffling goods in the area with a cart.

Dubai has so many people from all of the world, it's hard to get a sense of who is from Dubai. I learned from Mark today that you can't become a citizen of the UAE no matter how long you live here. The citizens are called Emirates and they make up only 14% of the population. In my time here I have met people from Iran, India, Pakastan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia along with expats from Great Britain, South Africa, Ireland, Australia and the list goes on and on. So Dubai is the quintessential melting pot. 

I was walking with a young woman named Zainab who works from Gulf Photo Plus. She is from Kenya and has lived in Dubai for about 5 years. She asked me how I liked Dubai. I paused and thought carefully trying to think of a way to define it. Then I said, "It is a city so full of culture that it gets lost in a sea of culture." 

My experience of shooting street photography was amazing and I know it is a genre that I will continue to pursue in my travels. 

Time to go Big and Small

It has been a busy few days in Dubai. My sense of time is still really horrible because while I'm trying to keep track of my days here, I also try to remember the day and time it is at home. It's just 12 hours. It should be easy but it plays games with your head.

As a follow up to our landscape photo shoot, we had a post processing class where we learned some good techniques for optimizing photos in Lightroom and Photoshop. I have a lot to learn in that realm, but this type of knowledge doesn't come overnight. It's a long haul sort of commitment. Still reeling from jet lag, we decided to stay in for the night. 

Another cool night shot of Dubai

Monday night we all had tickets to go to the observation deck of the Burj Khalifa. We took the metro to the Dubai Mall which has an entry to the "At the Top" Experience at the Burj. Just like "magic", the mall is designed to keep you in and not let you out. You were hard pressed to find an exit in that place. So in one fell swoop, we experienced the largest mall (with an aquarium), the tallest building and the fastest elevator in the WORLD. We spent about about an hour on the 124th and 125th floors.

Posers... 

The weather, due to cloud cover...sadly made the entire city look like a big blob of drab beige so there were very little picture opportunities...except for Little Lego Kimmie T., Lego Dude Mark and introducing Lego Dude Ian who is making his debut on this trip.

Mark on Top of the Burj

For scale and fun, when we were standing on the 125th floor, we took a picture through the glass of Mark standing on the 124th floor. He is in the blue plaid shirt and baseball cap, clearly trying to look inconspicuous. ;-)

Today, Tuesday, we did an outing with Zack Arias to do "street photography". Most of you know that I primarily like landscape or night photography but part of the reason I came to Gulf Photo Plus was to get out of my comfort zone and try new things and street photography was a way to do that. It was a really special experience and I will tell you all more about that tomorrow for me, but later today for you...See? Time warp.

Time to shoot!

Time really feels totally warped here and that is probably because I'm averaging 3 hours sleep a night and I'm running on fumes. The jet lag is real but the passion for discovering a new city coupled with photography helps me endure it. I had to wake up a 4:30 a.m. this morning for our sunrise shoot with Elia Locardi but that was no problem since I was up at 3:30 a.m.! Ian and I took a taxi to the Four Points Sheraton where Gulf Photo Plus arranged for our shoot to be at an outdoor terrace on the 43rd floor.

We had a view of several prominent buildings along with the main highway called Sheikh Zayed running through it. The shoot was challenging because the railing was very tall and at one point I had to stand on a table to operate my camera. It was dark when we arrived, the Blue Hour came and then the sun rose and it went by with the blink of an eye. This was one of my favorite shots from this morning. The other challenge for this shoot was the building pictured in the far left of the frame, called the Al Attar Tower is incredibly tall and the only way to get it into the image from this vantage was to shoot as portrait orientation.

After the sun rose, Ian and I had some fun playing with our iPhone cameras. I'm not sure if people realize just how much I shoot with my phone too. It has a ton of great features like the portrait feature on the 7 plus and apparently it makes people make goofy faces too...

 Ian showing off the Portrait mode in the iPhone 7 Plus

Ian showing off the Portrait mode in the iPhone 7 Plus

After the sunrise, we had time to kill until 3:30 p.m. when we convened for the sunset shoot. The Mall of the Emirates is nearby so we went there for lunch. Everyone knows what a mall is so I won't go into much detail. But imagine the the most expensive store that you can't afford and then picture hundreds of them lined up one after another and that is pretty much the Mall of Emirates.

Our next shoot was on the roof of a residence tower on the 34th floor. It had almost a 360 degree view so we got some really interesting shots of the Dubai Marina area. I left my camera in the same spot so that I could experience the changing light from bright sun, to sunset to the Blue Hour. I guess clouds are relatively rare in Dubai, usually you just see a haze in the sky with little definition. I think we  got lucky as we had some clouds and the suns rays were bouncing off them at the sunset. 

Sunset near the Dubai Marina

Little Lego Kimmie T. wanted to get in on the action so she started to shoot too. And she heard some laughter behind her and when she turned around, she discovered a new friend named Little Lego Hamda from Switzerland who is here in Dubai for photography too. What a small Little Lego world... 

 Little Lego Kimmie T and Little Lego Hamda

Little Lego Kimmie T and Little Lego Hamda

Hit the ground running

I am happy to say my very long 16 hour flight was really pleasant and felt faster than I thought it would. It helped that the plane was almost empty and Mark, Ian and I each got our own row of seats. Score! We had an easy exit from the airport and ride to the hotel.  

Needless to say we were all tired and off to bed we went. I experienced jet lag, no surprise, and just ended up taking a series of naps. We all met the next morning for breakfast and made our way to thr venue where Gulf Photo Plus is being held. 

 "Photo Friday" is a chance for the attendees to attend short 1 hour sessions with various professional photographer to discuss a variety of topics. I really enjoyed the speeches of two photographers from very different genres. One is a documentary photographer, Maggie Steber and the other is a fine art photographer, Sara Lando. It was really food for thought about the creative process. 

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The event is truly global with attendees from all over the world. Today alone I heard the attendees describe themselves from the Italy, Ecuador, Great Britain, South Africa, India and Saudi Arabia. I met a young woman, Alex just out of University who is originally from the Ukraine but has lived in Dubai for 20 years. She and I are pictured in this selfie. 

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Tomorrow, Ian and I will be doing a sunrise and sunshine shoot with landscape photographer Elia Locardi. Really excited about finally getting out to shoot. 

I haven't seen enough of the city yet to comment on my impressions of it but I hope to be able to do more of that in my next entry. We did however get to ride the metro which was super clean.  

My travel companions and metro dudes are pictured here.  

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A New Adventure...Dubai Bound

A year ago, my good friend Mark and I were talking about photography, something we frequently do since it is a passion we share. And he casually said, "You should come to Dubai with me to attend Gulf Photo Plus." I pondered, considered and discussed with Amy and decided to take the plunge and do it. It's hard to believe today is the day of my departure on the 4th longest commercial flight in the world from Los Angeles to Dubai, non stop.

Flight Pattern LAX to DXB

For the next week, as an attendee of Gulf Photo Plus 2017, I will be doing a LOT of photography. The goal is to do the type of photography I love like landscape and night photography in a city with incredible architecture, but to also get out of the comfort zone and try some new things. 

I will be attending with my very good and long time friend Mark Weisenberger and my new friend Ian Siso, both amazing photographers.

Aside from all the photography, I'm looking forward to learning about the culture, eating wonderful food and letting the adventure take its course.

 Some of you who followed my blog in the past know that I like publishing stats. So here we go...

  • Emirates Airlines Flight 215: 4th longest commercial flight in the world - 13,420 miles
  • Flight Time: 16h
  • Plane: Airbus A380-800 - Double Deck, Wide Body, 5920 feet of usable floor space
  • Cost of a first class ticket that comes equipped with your own suite - $50,000
  • Number of passengers: practically empty
  • Local currency: Dirham - Current Exchange rate: $1 = 3.67
  • Cameras: Two
  • Lenses: Five
  • Camera Accessories: Too many to count
  • Attitude: Excited!
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Little Lego Kimmie T and Lego Dude Mark

Thank You Ireland, We Hope to See You Again

Knowing today was a short walk, Amy and I did not feel too rushed to leave this morning. We left our guesthouse at about 10 am and the weather was amazing. It is the warmest day we have had yet. And the sky was blue filled with white clouds. When the weather is good here it seriously can't be beat.

 River running through the farmland

River running through the farmland

Our walk took us along a tarmac road out of Castlegregory and then it met up with the beach again. For us, walking as many miles as we have on the beach with so few people has been a highlight of our trip. The beaches here are clean and feel remote. They are often flanked by high sand dunes with tall green grasses.

 Photo credit: Amy Maruska

Photo credit: Amy Maruska

We stopped a lot to take pictures today, naturally. The path led us off the beach onto another tarmac road and as we approached the Sea View House B&B we took our final steps off The Dingle Way.

We walked 93 miles, took 225,945 steps and climbed 481 floors. WOW!

Walking through Ireland has afforded us an experience the ordinary tourist can't get by driving through each town. We have traversed farmlands, mountains, beaches and villages and seen views you can only get on foot.

We have spoken to the kindest of locals genuinely interested in our experience of the walk and of their country. We have been fed some wonderful food made with love.

But above all, the best part is going through this experience with the amazing partner I have in Amy. I feel so fortunate that we have created this memory together for a lifetime.

 Last trail marker. Finished! 

Last trail marker. Finished! 

Sand as Far as the Eye Can Sea

Amy and I started off this morning with a good Irish breakfast. Given that breakfast is my favorite meal I have been loving starting my mornings with good eats. Our goal today was to walk from Cloghane to Castlegregory. We were particularly excited because this portion of the walk almost entirely is on the beach.

 Barefoot today

Barefoot today

 Today's path

Today's path

There was heavy wind and light rain most of last night but thankfully by the time we started to walk it began to clear. This stretch of beach is the longest in Ireland and spans 7 miles. About a mile into the walk we had to cross a river that flows into the sea. We evaluated the best place to cross and there was no way to avoid getting our shoes wet. We decided to take our shoes off and wade through the water barefoot. The cold water was so refreshing on our feet we kept our shoes off for the remaining 6 miles. Amy and I were grinning the whole way because we had views of the ocean and blue skies to our left, sand dunes to our right and mountains behind us. It was so picturesque we just wanted to take it all in and savor it.

 Amy kicking back

Amy kicking back

At the end of the beach we arrived to the town of Fahamore which is at the tip of a finger of the peninsula. We walked through the town about a mile to get to the other side. We arrived to a huge bay where the water was so calm.

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At the end of this stretch of beach we will have walked 15 miles today. We made a right turn off the beach up a road. I was ready to find our B&B for the night. We passed by a futbol club with some kids playing and then an Irish language school. We looked at each other and wondered how far we would have to walk. We turned our heads and there was the sign for the Castle House B&B.

After a much needed hot shower we were seriously in need of some grub. We asked our host for a recommendation and she suggested Ned's pub. I haven't said a lot about the food here in Ireland but it has surpassed our expectations. We have had chicken curry, steak, Thai seafood stir fry, fish and the desserts! Berry crumble, warm apple tart, brownie a la mode and cheesecake.

Tomorrow is our last day of walking. A short five miles to Camp and we might even have time to get a ride to Dingle to do a little souvenir shopping and visit the distillery.

Stats

  1. Miles: 15
  2. Floors climbed: 1
  3. Steps taken: 36,000
  4. Hikers: 2
  5. Sheep - handful
  6. Horses - 10

Going the Pilgrim's Way or No Way

Yesterday we had to determine whether or not to hike over Mount Brandon. The good news is it seemed like the rain would hold off but the wind was expected to be terrible. We learned from our hosts that there was a different route we could take that cuts through the mountain at a lower elevation. It's part of the path called The Pilgrim's Route which dates back to medieval times. It's also called the Southern route since you climb the southern or backside of the mountain.

 View of Mount Brandon

View of Mount Brandon

We opted for the Southern route. Our host dropped us at the base of the mountain along with two other hikers. The rain did hold off but the forecast was right about the wind. This route is relatively short but does require a pretty steep climb.

The wind would make a high pitched howl like Mother Nature was talking to us directly. The gusts (40-50 mph) were so strong at times it literally would push us into a slow jog forward or 3 steps to the right.

We completed the steep climb and on the other side there were two farms to walk through that were nestled up against 3 small lakes. The wind was so strong that it would pick up over the lake and create waves and a white mist that would start small and climb several several feet into the air.

 Waterfall in the farm we crossed  

Waterfall in the farm we crossed  

At this point we were no longer sheltered by the mountain so the gusts of wind felt even stronger. So strong we were thrown so far we had no choice but to kneel down in the "thinker" position and wait it out. There were moments Amy and I just looked at each other and laughed nervously because we couldn't believe we were experiencing this.

We came out to a tarmac road and walked the rest of the way into Cloghane to our B&B for the night O'Connor's Pub. We got there relatively early in the afternoon and then it became social hour all afternoon and evening.

The owner of the pub made himself present off and on during the night. He is part businessman, bartender and story teller. The pub it turns out has been here since 1860 in the same family.

He asked us where we were from and we told him Los Angeles. A couple of hikers came in the front door in the middle of the conversation and overheard us saying we worked downtown and the female hiker said she worked downtown also. I looked up and my face super recognizing skills went into action and I knew she worked for my company The Capital Group. She confirmed this. Mind blown! Her name is Ingrid and she is doing with walk with her uncle Henrick. It gives new meaning to "what a small world". We spent the rest of the evening sharing stories of travels and even played cards while sipping my favorite beer "Tom Crean's" lager.

 Ingrid and Kim - Colleagues at The Capital Group

Ingrid and Kim - Colleagues at The Capital Group

Stats:

  1. Miles: 7.5
  2. Steps: 17,445
  3. Floors climbed: 122
  4. Hikers seen: 2
  5. Sheep: handful

Have Fun Storming the Castle!

Today was our day of rest so what did we do? We....went for a walk. The locals here in Ballydavid all think the weather will be bad enough tomorrow that we won't be able to make the ascent over Mount Brandon. This is disappointing since our walk yesterday was cut short. There is an alternate route we can take along the side of the mountain even in bad weather. So we will make a decision in the morning. 

We were talking to our hosts Philamena and Mike this morning and they suggested a cliff side walk that leads to the ruins of an old castle. The weather was amazing today and we knew we had to take advantage of it especially if we can't climb Mount Brandon. Mike was kind enough to give us a lift to the start of the path and then the plan was to walk the entire way back into town. 

 Today's walk

Today's walk

The cliff side part of the walk marked in red was an easy grassy path with sheer cliff drop offs  to our left. Then the path turns right with a steep climb up the ridge. At the top there were the remnants of a castle in the form of stone walls. The steep climb was well worth the effort for the 360 view at the top. 

 Cliff drop offs with view of Three Sisters in the distance

Cliff drop offs with view of Three Sisters in the distance

 View from the top

View from the top

 Descending from the castle

Descending from the castle

We didn't stay too long because we had already stopped several times to take pictures and we had to get back to Ballydavid for a 3 pm massage appointment. We followed the yellow path back to our hotel. We got off the ridge and I looked at my watch and it was 1:45 pm and we had to walk 5 miles. Yikes. We picked up the pace and made that 5 miles in just less than an hour. And then I really needed that massage. 

We had a mellow dinner at TP's pub again and then back to the B&B to get ready for tomorrow. Given we had two days of amazing weather and a sunset to remember I think our time in Ballydavid will be a highlight of our trip.  

Stats

  1. Miles: 8
  2. Floors climbed: 69
  3. Steps: 19,500
  4. Hikers seen: 8
  5. Castles: 1

The Storm will Blow Over

We woke up to a very stormy and incredibly windy day so we decided to forego the walk we would have done today and get a lift to our next lodging. But before leaving Dunquin we walked to the Blasket Island Centre. We read about the history of the islands and its peoples.

 It will blow over... 

It will blow over... 

After the Blasket Centre we walked to a local pottery store where we saw locals making plates, piggy banks and lamps. It was a beautiful shop with high quality products so we did a bit of souvenir shopping. For the record, the storm was really heavy during this period and two cars with locals stopped and offered us a ride. If locals offered us a ride that should tell you how bad the storm was.

Our ride came and brought us to Ballydavid which will be our home for the next two nights. We prescheduled a mid trip day of rest here. Straight to TP's pub we went for and Irish coffee and a Dingle Gin and tonic and some lunch.

Our lodging in Ballydavid is called "Imeall na Mara" owned by Philomena and Sean. The former's parents lived on this property and after they passed they tore down the house and built a B&B. The location is very picturesque. Imagine the lodging being on the right side of a lopsided U and the ocean fills the hollow of the U.

You had to see it to believe it but the storm actually blew over by about 4 pm much to my excitement because it looked like I might finally get to use the big camera.

It is much colder here than it has been so we bundled up and at the beginning of soft light, around 6:30 pm we took a short walk to the sea. Finally Kimmie T in her element! It felt so good to be shooting again.

 Photo credit: Amy Maruska

Photo credit: Amy Maruska

Some middle school kids walking on the beach asked us what we were doing. We told them photography and they heard our "accents" and immediately they said "are you from around here? We told them we were from Hollywood to see how they would react. They smiled wide eyed and we exchanged names.

  • Me - "What is your name?"
  • Boy - "Sean, what is your name?"
  • Me - "Kim"
  • Boy - "Like Kim Kardashian!"
  • Me - "But my butt isn't as big as hers."

Amy and I ran around for the next 2 hours like kids trying to find the best vantage for the sunset. We ended up on a grassy path with sheer cliff drop offs overlooking the sea. Experiencing the sea in this element feels authentic and raw. It honestly was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

 Photo credit: Amy Maruska  

Photo credit: Amy Maruska  

Close to 9 pm now we closed the night with another drink at TP's and had a spirited conversation with some locals.

#iloveireland

Stats

  1. Miles: 5
  2. Steps: 12,000
  3. Floors climbed: 34
  4. Raindrops: Bazillion
  5. Number of hikers we saw: 0
  6. Number of sheep and cattle:  handful
  7. Irish school kids: 5

Taking the High Road to Dunquin

The Emlagh House served up a wonderful breakfast for us this morning complete with ham and cheese omelettes, yogurt and granola, and pancakes which were more like small crepes served with Nutella. 

Today's element is water because we started our walk on the beach. What a welcome change from the mud and cow dung. We determined it is when we walk on the tarmac roads that it is hardest on our feet so walking on firm sand gave us a much needed break. 

After the strand of beach we made our way to a grassy path with some tall hedge groves. In parts the grove is so narrow it barely fits one person. All over our walk many of the groves have wild blackberries growing. So every time I see a large one that I think will be sweet I pick it and eat it.

The path eventually came out to a tarmac road. It was here that our walking notes said we could go one of two ways. We could go to higher ground via a grassy path or take the main road down below. In option one, there is a river to cross and if the river was overflowing due to rain it might be difficult to get over and the only choice would be to go back to the road. So (here it comes) we decided to take the high road. 

The "high road" was a track cut into the side of Mount Eagle (Sliabh an Iolair). Dunquin, our destination, lies on the western slope of this mountain range adjacent to the sea. The southern slope of Mount Eagle falls steeply away to the sea to form Slea Head. 

Then the rain came. We walked for about 2-3 hours in the rain and at times it was a downpour. There was no one in site except Amy and I with a LOT of sheep. Our main guidance was a four foot stone wall that we followed the entire way. I learned the origin of the word sheepish. We would walk within 3 or 4 feet of the sheep and they would run away hurriedly.

 Don't be sheepish with me  

Don't be sheepish with me  

The track, on a clear day is "supposed" to afford incredible views of Slea Head and the Blasket Islands. We saw none of that from the track. As we started to descend we got little glimpses of the bottom half of the islands in the distance. We couldn't see Slea Head at all. We figured we wouldn't see it and chalked it up to Irish weather. We took an image anyway to document it. 

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And then something spectacular happened. The rainy skies, clouds and fog fully cleared and we had a full view of The Blasket Islands and Slea Head with blue skies. We felt incredibly lucky and thankful. 

 Blasket Islands in the distance and Slea Head on the right.  

Blasket Islands in the distance and Slea Head on the right.  

Stats

  1. Miles: 11.5
  2. Steps: 26,000
  3. Floors climbed: 55
  4. Number of hikers we saw: 4
  5. Stiles: 3
  6. Sheep: Too many to count
  7. Blue skies: Just enough just in time!