Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Chalk

Being a Terry Pratchett fan, my travels around England have borne asurprising resemblance to the Disc World. A big clue is Ankh-Morpork,a boiling hotpot of races and species that are totally independent of their homeland, yet retain their prejudices as a badge of belonging.
The City Watch (akin to the City of London which has a separate police force to the rest of London), The Patrician (just like the Mayor of the City of London - acting independently of any monarchy), the Guilds, the river is brown sludge (pick any city really) and it is every man for themselves (again, any big city).

Today, taking advantage of a long weekend, I found myself in The Chalk. Following the advice of a random blog, I caught the train to Eastbourne to walk along the coastline. I had to laugh at the station's byline: Eastbourne station - the sunshine coast - as the only place that was in sun was the clouds above. Just like our trip to Brighton, the day light was not so much sunshine as cloud and glare.
On a tight schedule I powered through the town, along the beach and onto the path. One of the best things as a traveller in England is the number of public access areas through farms. This particular path had white cliffs that dropped straight down to the water below. In places it looked like bites had been taken off the edge, where the ground just disappeared. I passed a couple of lighthouses (one that featured in a Harry Potter movie), Beachy Head (the highest chalk sea cliff in the UK), and over the seven sisters (a section of seven hills on the cliff edge).

Features in common with Terry Pratchett's The Chalk were the sheep, the shepherds hut, the mounds (as I imagine them) where the Kelda and Wee Free men abide and, quite literally, the chalk - I picked up a piece to prove it. Obvious exclusions in this Chalk were the Wee Free men - which based on accent, booze drinking and propensity for fighting made me think it was in Scotland. So maybe I'm completely wrong about it being The Chalk.

The whole area was commonly used for smuggling to and from the continent since the 17th century when import/export charges were introduced.  Originally it was for the export of wool direct from the area, but later became a base for the import of various contraband by smuggling gangs.
I was lucky in that it didn't rain on me, although it misted its hardest, and the sun even came out for a couple of minutes to give me my best shot of the day.
I finished my walk at Exceat amongst a bunch of families exploring the beach, caught the bus back to Eastbourne, and the train back to Clapham Junction in time for tea.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Wonderful Copenhagen

"Don't be cheeky about being cheeky" - mother overheard in Copenhagen airport (..which I suspect is vivid preview of my future)

The excitement of going to a new place can never be quelled and is usually very contagious - and so it was that I arrived in Copenhagen.

Copenhagen reminded me of the Netherlands - the abundance of bicycles, the clean streets and, as all European cities, the well-dressed women. I arrived as the golden sun was setting, and explored with my excitement and the warm (it's all relative!) temperature making it
feel like a summer festival.

The streets were wide and (as already mentioned) clean. The buildings were pretty much all 3 stories high and very blocky (square) but in a way that made them impressive rather than boring. There was an exhibition of photos from all over the country in one of the main squares, which together with the golden sun had me cursing myself for choosing not to bring a camera (based on my recent posts I'm sure you're questioning this too).
A local arts guide I picked up in the airport had a picture of Aussie Queen Mary dressed in her finery, so I was on the lookout for anything palace-like. I think I attributed the parliament house as somewhere that might be suitable.

I didn't see too much more of the city, as my primary purpose for being there was to play frisbee - the Wonderful Copenhagen tournament (insert exasperated sigh from my mother here). It was our first tournament of the season and the team started to gel together and improve with each game. It's one of the best tournaments I've been to over here as the food was supplied and deliciously catered. Similar to our regular training pitches, the fields were rock- hard, but a win in the final made all the soreness worthwhile.

It was a great chance to get to know my team mates a bit better and to see a little of Wonderful Copenhagen.

(Photos taken on my phone)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Photography in Wales

This weekend was my eagerly awaited birthday present - a photography course in the Brecon Beacons, in South Wales, conducted by a professional photographer.  
The course started with a quick run down of theory using images on the computer to illustrate and then we head outside.  Each with a camera and a borrowed tripod in hand, the first stop for Lee and I was the local reservoir for a lesson in composition, perspective and moving elements of the landscape by moving our feet.  Next up was a waterfall where we practiced taking pictures of moving water, a hillside where we took multiple shots for merging, followed by a quick break for lunch and some processing.  Heading out again we visited a local castle where we took multiple interior shots for HDR and practiced perspective with the tower, followed by a session in a wood to try to create a starburst with the sun and finishing with shots of the patchwork fields in the valley.

It was difficult to keep up with the fast-paced direction while learning to use the camera, but I learnt several very useful lessons:
1) How to use full Manual
2) How to use the histogram
3) How much can be recovered when shooting in RAW
4) When to take shots of moving water to get the 'silky' look (not in sun)
5) Take multiple portrait shots to build landscape images
6) The range of shots to build HDR images

We ended up with some printed images from the day, some promising shots from the next day and a long wish-list of products to buy.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Belgium - Bruges

"Bruges is so picturesque it's sickening" - Michael Baker
After this recommendation and an awesome time in Brussels, I was really looking forward to visiting the 'Venice of the North'.
I had just come from Venice, so I can pretty easily say, they're notall that similar. Bruges does have a few canals, but not nearly as many as Venice or even Amsterdam. Plus the architecture in Venice was on a whole other scale. Living in Venice appears to be quite physical - if the only way to get produce in is via boat, there are no cars and you need to get your shopping home by walking over a hundred bridges, I imagine you'd have to be physically fit, just from all the walking and lifting. Bruges, on the other hand, has cars and bikes. While the label "Venice of the North" is poorly coined, it is a pretty city in its own way.

I will let you make the call on just how picturesque it is.

Now we're heading back to London, work and my birthday tomorrow with a bag full of smelly washing and the hope that the UK border agency will let us into the country.
(Don't worry Mum - the fact that this is posted means we're at home) 

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Italian impressions

I've just left the most enjoyable company of Alex and Melissa. We've had a fast-paced tour of the north of Italy, taking in Cinque Terra, Pisa, Florence, Venice, and Lake Como. My favourite part was our day
of walking along the trail at Cinque Terra. At every place we visited, I really enjoyed exploring and experimenting with photos with Alex. We were lucky that Lee and Melissa are such patient travel companions.

Some strange animals we came across included deadly sky deer (deer that are able to be on the road even though there is only sheer cliffs on either side) and the Giggling Mountain Goat (a sure-footed animal that will collapse in giggles in the presence of something funny). Another strange occurrence was a 5 minute hail shower with sunshine on either side.

My impressions of our main stops in brief:

Cinque Terra - simply stunning. I could have stayed longer. Learn how good photos can be at night with a tripod.

Pisa - surprisingly impressive
Florence - much better fun this time around. All you can eat and a cocktail for €8 - love meeting a local student for dinner. I realise that I really want a tripod.

Venice - FULL of tourists and expensive, but quite an interesting lifestyle. Gorgeous masks and jewellery. Best time to take photos is midnight (with a tripod) - once most of the tourists are back on the mainland.

Lake Como - houses jammed into small horizontal spaces - like Cinque Terra - but mountains on a much bigger scale.

In food, drink, life, it appears that Italians have distilled it down to the most important part.
Exhibit A: Espresso coffee
The coffee shot is a fine example of the most important part distilled down - concentrating flavour and caffeine. At the same time, there is no takeaway. Instead there are bars where you stand with your coffee, enjoy your refueling pit stop, then head back into the world.
Exhibit B: Pizza and Pasta
Commonly outside Italy, the best pizzas are the ones with the most ingredients and flavours. In Italy, a few quality ingredients combine to complement each other in a tasty and tasteful dish. Wood-fired pizza in particular are simple and tasty, with the fire adding its own contribution.
Exhibit C: Gruppa
Quite literally distilled down into its alcoholic core.
Exhibit D: Lifestyle
Siestas. I rest my case.
Exhibit E: Fashion
.. Ah, maybe not.

Simply - the best.