Selling Out To Mass Tourism? Iceland In A New Crisis.

Selling Out To Mass Tourism? Iceland In A New Crisis.

17

JUNE, 2019

In the 1980’s barely 80,000 tourists visited the island annually & it wasn’t until the turn of the century before the numbers exceeded the islands own population of around 300,000. Between 2003 & 2010 the number of foreign visitors grew steadily at an average of 6% per year then suddenly exploding between 2010 & 2014 at a rate of 20%. In 2015 the 1 million visitor barrier had been broken. 2018 saw this record being more than doubled, 2,3 million visitors on an island with just 300,000 inhabitants, with few or no public ammenities in many areas.

Recently I travelled to Iceland for the third time since 2008 & each time I visited I have noticed a dramatic change to the country, it’s economy & environment. After the financial crash in 2010 Iceland was more or less bankrupt & saw the collapse of their government. The country had to react fast to recover massive losses & get the country’s economy back on its feet. To this end the Icelanders have built on their largest asset they possess, no, not the fish industry but their environment. The small island in the North Atlantic is a paradise for nature lovers, hikers, water sports, photographers, filmers & ornithologists. Knowing this, a massive campaign has been utilized in recent years involving the investment of again, loaned money to open up the country to the rest of the world exploiting some of the worlds most beautiful scenery. Add to that the success of the Icelandic National football team in the last World Cup tournament, the film Walther Mitty, numerous scenes filmed as backdrop for the epic series Game of Thrones, But probably the most significant event that put the country on the map was the eruption of one of the country’s largest volcanoes on the south coast, Eyjafjallajökull in April 2010 that stole the headlines not just through the eruption itself but more due to the dramatic effect it had on commercial air traffic in Europe. Due to the volcanic ash flights were cancelled for many weeks.

With so much TV coverage worldwide for a country on the brink of disaster it was inevitable that as a consequence of the extensive advertising campaign thereafter many people were interested to discover for themselves the secrets of this volatile, yet tranquil gem that lies between the European & American continents. From this moment on the buck started to roll fueling an economic comeback evolving through mass tourism, financed by oversees investors & banks all looking for new areas to produce revenue. My latest visit to the country has left me with the impressions that this economic pressure could develop into another disaster with undefinable scale, not just for Iceland but for commerce worldwide because the island is vulnerable to economic boom & bust cycles. Iceland isn’t just volatile due to volcanic activity it seems.

Before the finance crisis Iceland earnt its keep primarily from the fish & aluminium smelting industries, fishing has become difficult with fluctuations in annual productions due to over fishing & climate changes globally.

After devaluation of the local currency, the kroner by two-thirds, the Icelandic folk had enough & voted out their government, replacing it with a new party & prime minister who immediately steered the country away from further flirts with high finance & started to concentrate on building on the strengths of the country itself, its people & its land.

The rest is history, Iceland has developed at a breathtaking rate in recent years, repairing much of the financial damage done in the decade previously but for what price? In the 1980’s barely 80,000 tourists visited the island annually & it wasn’t until the turn of the century before the numbers exceeded the islands own population of around 300,000. Between 2003 & 2010 the number of foreign visitors grew steadily at an average of 6% per year then suddenly exploding between 2010 & 2014 at a rate of 20%. In 2015 the 1 million visitor barrier had been broken. 2018 saw this record being more than doubled, 2,3 million visitors on an island with just 300,000 inhabitants, with few or no public amenities in many areas. Public toilets, rubbish bins & accommodation are rarities in many areas, especially in the far eastern reaches of the island. Most tourists stay within reach of Reykjavik taking daily trips with buses to the main attraction on the Golden Circle, then returning to their comfortable hotels in the evenings. Many are stopover tourists, enjoying a welcome break between flights to & from America & Europe. They too venture not so far from the capital. Even so, if just 100,000 people venture further east, hiring cars & campers, going on hiking tours, whale watching or glacier treks the infrastructure is totally overwhelmed.

Before leaving my comfort zone back in Munich I had heard & read a number of reports concerning crowding on the island, especially in the Summer season between June & September where all main attractions were bursting at their seams due to overcrowding not only at the attractions themselves but also the parking spaces congested with large mobile campers & tour buses. Many places are only accessible over badly surfaced tracks with constant potholes along the way making driving conditions rough & very stressful for the axles of rental cars.

Most visitors would moan about driving on such tracks in the middle of nowhere with distances of 30 km or more but that is Iceland. The legendary Ring Road that meanders around the complete island has areas where the tarmacced surface suddenly gives way to a gravelled track provoking danger of gravel incurred damage to windscreens & paintwork. When you arrive at the attraction you will often find nothing but the attraction, no parking space, no toilets, no cafe, no waste disposal but above all, often no people, no plastic bottles & tin cans, no mobile phones or other distractions. That is a real reward for those seeking solitude, a priceless gift in a world that is otherwise so overcrowded, networked & fast moving. Such moments are becoming extremely difficult to find with many of the main attractions becoming over developed to cope with larger numbers of people looking for a pleasant day out with culinary & sanitary facilities to boot.

The Icelandic landscape is literally being trampled to death by the influx with many areas or paths being cordened off due to vegetational destruction. Instead of the offroad vehicles it is the masses of feet that are destroying the very fragile surface. Climbing onto lava rocks coated in centimetre thick moss or trampling through hilly areas disturbing ground breeding birds, jumping on & off of icebergs in the lagoon or clambering around on glaciers all add to that destruction that often causes irreparable damage.

Where humans are, rubbish isn’t far behind. At this point I would like to say that most people are really making great efforts not to throw their rubbish into the landscape but as we all know there is always a minority that couldn’t care less. So why is there a lack of bins throughout the country? It is quite simple, not only is waste disposal expensive but the country just hasn’t the manpower or financial means to cope with this & other infrastructural problems. Iceland has National parks with just a handful of park rangers, if they exist at all. I can’t remember ever having seen one & they are greatly needed to protect & to educate. America is a good example where I can say I have profitted on a number of occasions from interesting historical & geological information that they share with visitors. They are not just protectors of the park environment but also for the safety of the people visiting, this is non-existent in Iceland at present.

So where is Iceland heading? Good question, after talking with a number of locals on the eastern side of the island it seems that they at least are expecting the next financial crash to be around the next corner. Similar to countries like England or France, Iceland’s economy is centralized around the capital city & this is where most of the money remains unfortunately. But is there so much money available & if so by who & where is it being used? One thing is for certain, Iceland had massive financial deficits in 2008 & much has been repaired in recent years but the country is investing huge amounts once again with borrowed money from banks & investors to get the island on the tourist map. As we are all aware, tourism is not a guaranteed solution to all problems, another volcano eruption blocking air traffic or just a bad summer season could break the back of an already fragile economy. As in every situation there are winners & losers. The winners are those that live & work in town & the masses of tourists who may fly cheaply with government subsidized airlines. The losers are the rest of the island inhabitants that receive little or no support from Reykjavik but are then floaded by us tourists with whom they can hardly cope due to lack of infrastructure. The biggest loser though is the island itself. At present Iceland is being literally trampled to death, if not under foot then from off-roading & glacial tours on the ice. There is little or no control inforced other than when the destruction of something is absolute. Iceland has become too popular, too quickly in my humble opinion.

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Day Trip To Brussels

Day Trip To Brussels

18

DECEMBER, 2013

Brussels I have to admit is not as bad as I had expected. I had heard many negative stories about racial terror, pickpockets, demonstrations, ugly 70’s architecture & more besides but as I was working in Vilvoorde, north of the city I felt it my duty to have a look for myself at the weekend & I am glad I did too. Brussels is actually a very interesting city with some lovely parks. Architecturally too the city has some real highlights on offer.

We continued to the Metro & took a ride to where the European Commission is situated at Schuman & were appalled just how this modern piece of architecture in glass & steel has been set in the middle of a residential area, full of delapidated buildings. I expected vast, green areas of park landscape with modern pieces of sculpture & flowerbeds but on the contrary we were met by rubbish sacks & ongoing roadworks with small litter lined streets & alleys. The weather didn’t help either, the sky was overcast & it rained now & again adding to the gloom. We didn’t look much further & sought refuge in an Irish pub opposite & had lunch. Afterwards we made our way back down town by foot thinking that if this is how it looks where Europe is governed then in what state are our countries in as a whole?

With an overcast sky & a cold breeze, a catnap on top of the heating beats being outside.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The rest of the afternoon was spent meandering through the old part of town, through the main shopping areas & a short look at Brussels most popular statue the Manneken Pis. Again I expected something different.  The famous statue is located at the junction of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat & Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat on a very busy corner opposite a Godiva chocolatier, an unobtrusive piece of art that one could easily miss in passing by. To learn more about the history of this world renowned statue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manneken_Pis

The Euro flags adorn the front of Brussels European Commission building.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

“For a moment the wind let up & the sun was just about to disappear behind the horizon. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was to be my reward for the effort of getting up this morning.”

Having a pee in the middle of Brussels.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

The Mountains Have Called

The Mountains Have Called

18

DECEMBER, 2013

A trip to the Bavarian Alps was just what the doctor ordered. Extreme mild temperatures just before Christmas couldn’t hold me back to venture down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen once more to stand “On Top of Germany”.

As we moved to Munich eight years ago I couldn’t get enough of the fresh air & beauty of the Bavarian Alps as they were just down the road from where I live. Well, 60km is just down the road especially if you have a car. I got to see a lot of the area in those days & when I wasn’t out in the car I was often in Munich at the weekends & often even in the evenings after work & that in the middle of winter when the temperatures were well below zero. My wife said I was fanatical, I suppose she was right but after a while you realize that you start repeating yourself for lack of new challenges. These days I seldom go into town to shoot material without an idea or plan. I have lost a little bit of the spontaneity probably due to the fact that after a while you tend to think “Been there, seen it, shot it” syndrome. I do realize that every time you return there will always be something different, a small twist to the situation, be it from weather, light or time of year but it just doesn’t convince me to get up early or stay out late these days. Being a hobby I shouldn’t see it as being a duty or responsibility but the fact is, I do miss it sometimes.

The weather has been gorgeous the last couple of days & very mild too for the middle of December. I am on holiday for the next three weeks due to the forced reduction of overtime from the past year & Christmas holidays to boot. I still have lots to do with the websites & the processing of images never stops. Many reasons preventing me from writing my blog articles too I’m afraid.

I enjoy this view often as I go to work in the morning.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Anyway, I decided to take my chances with the weather & get my ass out of bed early, walk to the S-Bahn station in Unterhaching & catch the train to Munich, from there a train to Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the Bavarian/Austrian border & once there catch the funicular to the Eibsee, a beautiful lake surrounded by woodland situated direct in front of the Zugspitze, Germanys highest peak at 2,962m. From there I hoped to hop on the cable car that shoots up to the summit & shoot the sun going down before taking the last cable car back down, catch the funicular back to the railway station in Garmisch, hop on a train back to Munich, jump on the S-Bahn back to Unterhaching & then walk the last 15 minutes back home, carrying a backpack with around 6 kilos, plus a tripod.

Now as I describe all this it sounds even quite mad to me & to be honest such day trips aren’t for the faint of hearted. Getting up so early is for me the hardest part. I generally go to bed very late & don’t have to rise before 8:00am for work during the week. Once outside though, the fresh air wakes me up & I’m on my way with thoughts & expectations of the ongoing self assignment.

“For a moment the wind let up and the sun was just about to disappear behind the horizon. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was to be my reward for the effort of getting up this morning.”

I arrived at Munichs central station at around 9:00am to see my train waiting. I had 10 minutes to buy a Bayern ticket & hop on. My hopes were dashed as there was a queue at the ticket kiosk, not many but you all know that train tickets always take a while. Today was no exception & add to this a middle aged Italian couple that couldn’t speak any German then you can well imagine my frustration as my train said toodle pip & departed without me. The next train was in 35 minutes which was at short notice dropped from the schedule due to a technical defect. I could have spent this time sleeping & worse still it was robbing time from a very tight programme that I had in mind. Travelling always has it’s surprises & today was to be no exception.

It was 10:15am before we left Munich & 11:45am as we arrived in Garmisch. Luckily the Zugspitzbahn (funicular railway) is only a stones throw from the station. This is where I received my next shock, the next train was at 12:15pm. Holy shit, this is not my day I thought, another 25 minute wait, oh well, time for a coffee & a bite to eat. This was a good idea as I later realized as I had no more time to waste after this.

Cold morning air and a view for the Gods.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

A frozen Frillensee directly in front of the Zugspitze mountain range.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The ride to the Eibsee takes about 25 minutes with a couple of stops along the way. From the station at Eibsee it’s a walk of about 10 minutes to the shores of the lake where the large Eibsee Hotel is situated. The path was covered in a compacted snow making it pretty slippery going but the view more than compensated for this little annoyance. It was so tranquil, no people & no wind making for almost perfect mirrored reflections of the peaks in the water from the opposite side of the lake. The peaks aren’t particularly high with little snow capping them but just enough for a couple of nice shots.

A little further on I arrived at Frillensee, this is basically a pond separated from the Eibsee on it’s southern shore. What makes Frillensee so special is it’s vertical backdrop of the Zugspitze massive, it’s pretty awesome. The pond in summer is crystal clear but full of dead trees, in winter it’s frozen over, surrounded by a large, dense Pine forest. I got to work shooting some material taking care with a panorama of the impressive vista before heading back to the cable car station. I didn’t have to wait long before we headed on up. The gondola was empty other than one other photographer & the attendant who was controlling the ascent. He sighted some mountain goats that were just a couple of black dots on the snow covered outcrops, it took me some time before I caught a glimpse of them before the stone walls & trees obscured the view. The cable car route is breathtaking & a real feat of modern engineering, it must have been very dangerous building these massive pylons that help hold the 4 thick, heavy cables. It takes about 10 minutes to reach the summit from 1000m to 2960m. Then it was up 3 floors of restaurant & museum stairs before the doors slid open & the sun & wind hits you straight in the face. The air is noticeably thinner at this elevation but was quickly forgotten as I caught my first glimpse of that alpine panorama, a sight that never fails to give me goose pimples.

A birds eye view into the Höllental (Hells Valley).

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

A last shot before the sun sets behind the weather station and Münchenerhaus.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I didn’t have much time & so got to work, the wind was ice cold feeling like -5°C at least, my hands were feeling the pinch already after 10 minutes & holding the heavy 70-200mm zooms metal housing didn’t help matters a lot. It got unbearable & the wind didn’t let up, I had to go inside & get warmed up. After a while I was back outside, the light was changing quickly, I had to make the most out of the next hour. My hands started burning again, I could hardly feel the shutter release let alone use the zoom properly, I decided to take shelter once more. Thoughts started to race through my mind; is this really what one would call fun what I’m doing? Is this worth the pain & stress? Of course it is & went back out onto the Austrian side of the viewing platform. Bloody hell, the wind was even worse on this side & I was shooting into the sun. I had to bracket a number of shots.

Sunset over the Swiss Alps.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I noticed movement to my left & couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, on a large mast in front of the restaurant building a man was carrying out repairs to some cables hanging to the side fully exposed to the elements. Of course I had to take this opportunity & raced through the corridor separating the Austrian from the German side of the platform & was almost blown back by a strong wind boa. I could hardly hold my camera straight & had to pump the ISO value up to 400 to get a reasonably high shutter speed. After 10 shots or so I retreated back inside to warm my freezing hands. I checked the previous shots & knew again why I was going through this torture, the results looked promising.

Unbelievable array of warm tones shortly before the sun diminishes.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The sun was going down, I had to get back out, I only had another 20 minutes before the last gondola leaves at 16:40pm. For a moment the wind let up & the sun was just about to disappear behind the horizon. I couldn’t believe my luck, this was to be my reward for the effort of getting up this morning. I have been on the Zugspitze a number of times but the sunset has always eluded me because the last gondola always left before the sun set. Today was my chance and I used it shooting away like a lunatic until I was told to leave as the last gondola was to depart in the next 10 minutes. The sun was gone leaving the platform abruptly in shadow, it was getting colder and the sky changed to a muddy grey with a band of pink on the horizon, that was it I thought, grabbed my backpack and made my way downstairs to the gondola. My hands were burning from the cold, my ears too but I didn’t care, main thing was that the pictures are good.

At this point all I wanted to do was get back to Unterhaching as quickly as possible to enjoy my catch from the day in my study on my monitor, unfortunately this must wait a while. We descended to the cable car station swiftly, outside the last residues of sunset colours diminished revealing a black carpet of forest around the barely visible Eibsee below us.

The sun was overpowering and that by -5°C.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Looks like someone lost the toss of a coin today.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The last funicular took the remaining guests back to the railway station, I could hear people discussing the magnificant sunset they had witnessed, a sense of content was not to be overseen. Some were pretty exhausted, the thin air and the rampaging wind takes up a lot of energy. Some had fallen asleep, I too nodded off a couple of times before we arrived at the station. My thoughts were just on getting home, hoping that I didn’t have to wait too long for the train back to Munich. I was in luck, in 10 minutes the next train from Innsbruck was due.

 

The last embers of daylight diminish leaving the Zugspitze summit drift slowly into darkness.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

View across the Eibsee.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I‘m not a religious guy but I do believe to a certain degree in fate and on this evening as I sat myself opposite an elderly gentleman who was tampering with a laptop fate struck. The man, obviously from the area due to his accent asked me if I was a photographer, I replied that this was my way of relaxing from my work in the advertising branch. His eyes broadened and he asked whether I was familiar with Adobe Photoshop. I laughed and explained that this was probably the only software that I know well. He started to banter about being a former photographer who in the analogue days developed techniques using colour processing in the darkroom for a reprographic company working as a freelancer. Of course there was no shortage of discussion material here, we got on like a house on fire. To cut a long story short this guy is using Photoshop today producing abstract art, some examples of which he showed me on his laptop combining photo material and painting techniques. Unfortunately we had to part our ways in Murnau but if there was one thing that sticks in my mind is the fact that this man was still full of creative enthusiasm and this at the mature age of eighty.

It was well past 20:00pm as I arrived back home to the warmth of our cosy appartment and judging by the delicious aroma coming from the kitchen my wife was cooking the evening meal, I couldn’t have timed it better. I still had time to open a beer, turn on my computer and transfer the days swag to one of my hard drives still thinking of the elderly man in the train. Eighty years old and still at it I thought, unbelievable.

There is hope for me yet. :-)

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Oktoberfest Parade 2013

Oktoberfest Parade 2013

23

SEPTEMBER, 2013

Having lived in the Bavarian capital for a number of years now & experienced the yearly Oktoberfest celebrations at first hand on a number of occasions I thought it was time to dust the camera down & venture into town for the pre Oktoberfest costume parade. It was a grand day out.

I‘m not a great fan of getting up early but I was determined to visit the parade this year & as the weather prognose seemed to be looking good I awoke at 7:00am & at around 8:00am was on my way to the railway station to take the 7 stop ride to Marienplatz. I was surprised how little was going on, probably many were still feeling the effect of too much alcohol from the previous evening. I made my way to the Bavarian State Opera at the head of Maximilianstrasse & couldn’t believe my luck, there were still a number of free spaces. A head on perspective with the Bavarian State Parliaments building at the far end was my first preference.

Tradition folklore clubs come from all over the world to take part in the Oktoberfest parade.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

“Perfect weather for a parade, sunny but with the odd cloud here & there to cool the spectators & of course the partly overdressed participants, good light & a perfect place in the crowd to get those shots I wanted.”

Just before the parade started, the sun came through the light cloud cover. I was a little worried as this makes it difficult to control the exposure with black shadow areas & blown highlights but as it turned out the cloud coverage was just enough to dampen the suns strength a little.

Horst Seehofer, Bavaria’s newly reelected Minister President.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The Lord Mayor of Munich Christian Ude accompanied by his wife.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

At 10:00am the parade lead by the Police on motorcycles with flashing blue light rolled into action. The procession is lead by the Münchner Kindl (Munich Child), this year presented by Maria Newrzella. The atmosphere was good, everyone in a good mood & enjoying the first part of the procession with a drive by with BMW, Audi & Mercedes vehicles with some very pretty girls waving to the crowds as they passed. Soon after, a carriage carrying the city mayor Christian Ude and his wife passed by. Herr Ude being the Mayor was responsible for opening the Oktoberfest on the previous day. Shortly after Horst Seehofer, Bavarias newly reelected Minister president also passed by on his way to the Wies’n.

A spectacle not only reserved for human participants.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

A large tribune for paying guests in front of the National Theatre at the end of Maximilianstrasse.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After an hour shooting numerous colourful & varied costumed people playing instruments or carrying flags etc my arms started to feel the  three kilos of camera & 70-200mm f2,8 Nikon Zoom. I had decided at home not to take a mono or tripod due to crowds but could have easily got away with using the monopod at least, too late now though. Soon the sun disappeared behind the buildings to the right side of the street making for better shooting conditions with a more diffuse light.

The Bavarians are proud of their tradition & live it to the full.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The highlight for me at the Oktoberfest celebrations personally are always the brewery horses, powerfully built Shires adorned with lots of shiny braces, buckles and harnesses. They seem to enjoy showing their jewellery off to the crowds although it must be quite hard work for them having to pull their load through the town. When they arrive at the beer tents on the Oktoberfest grounds they become a lot of attention from the crowds, everyone wanting to be photographed next to them.

The Bräurosl (Brewery Rose) is as much a tradition as the Oktoberfest itself.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The parade lasted just over two & a half hours with the police coming up the rear after the last row of horses rode by. Immediately after the police came the street cleaning trucks to remove the horse muck from the road before the crowds started walking about. Typical German efficiency ;-)

A Penny Farthing, long time since one of those traversed the Maximilianstrasse I bet.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

All in all, a very interesting experience well worth repeating next year, albeit from a different position, for example at the corner of the Theatiner church leading into Briennerstrasse. Of course this does mean getting up early again but I think I may just manage that :-)

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Bonnie Scotland 2013

Bonnie Scotland 2013

07

AUGUST, 2013

My third trip to Scotland was a real holiday as this time my wife had accompanied me, meaning less photography & more relaxing in country hotels & B&B’s. It wasn’t easy as I still had a camera in the luggage, but as it turned out I managed to keep things balanced. Whilst I got some great shots in I still had enough time for my wife & some of that great Scottish hospitality.

And what a holiday it was! Been back 2 days now & haven’t really had time to sort through my new batch of Scotland pix or spare a thought even for reflecting on 2 weeks of great sightseeing & super weather due to being back at work. As we left Munich 2 weeks before the weather was terrible with massive flooding throughout the country due to record rain levels. A fortnight later we have African temperatures. Our climate is messed up if you ask me. I mean lets face it, who would believe you if you said that from 2 weeks holiday in Scotland it only rained for 1 day & once in the night? Exactly, nobody. It is strange, however, this did actually happen to my wife & I. No shit, this is a true story & not based on fiction.

This Highland Cow was a little cheeky as I pressed the release.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Arriving in Edinburgh we noticed a considerable difference in the temperature. As we left Munich it was raining & 15°C in Edinburgh at 23:30pm it was 17°C with a clear starry sky. Our first night was spent near the airport in a typical business hotel, without character but clean & relatively inexpensive.

“What I enjoy about travelling alone is that I can choose to do what I want when I want & not make any compromises whatsoever. What I enjoy about travelling with my wife is being able to share the experience, that too is worth a lotto me.”

The next morning I was awake at 7:30am because the sun was shining through the side of the curtains. I jumped out of bed, stuck my head between the curtains & was almost blinded. Blue sky, some white clouds here & there & most importantly, sunshine. Instantly I felt I was on holiday, my wife on the contrary wanted to sleep on but I left her no choice reminding her that breakfast was only served between 8:00am-10:00am. Of course being the typical female, she needs considerably more time in the bathroom than us men & it was indeed 9:30am before we took our places in the hotel restaurant ordering a cooked breakfast.

Rannoch Moor by early morning light. West Highlands of Scotland.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Black Rock Cottage at Buachaille Etive Mor. West Highlands of Scotland.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Amsterdam, Venice Of The North

Amsterdam, Venice Of The North

21

MAY, 2013

What looked like becoming a promising day as far as the weather was concerned turned out to be a little disappointing afterall. Despite this though I had great company touring the city with Maciek, a good colleague of mine & his wife Kasia.

I Amsterdam that’s the “In” slogan for 2013 for the city where everything liberal thinking is also “In”. On Sunday morning I drove with 2 friends from Brussels to Amsterdam, a 2 hour, 191km drive using the A27 motorway & arrived on the outskirts around midday at the Park & Ride station of Gaasperplas to the south east of the city. A day ticket for parking & using the train to & from the city center cost 8,50€ which I find to be excellent value for money, saving a lot of stress & probably more expense driving to the center of town. The trains are modern & comfortable, colourfully painted inside. The trip into the city’s Centraal Station takes about 20-25 minutes. Once outside the station I realized one thing straight away, masses of people. It seems to be a popular city where cyclists outnumber the cars. Indeed to the right side of the station is a massive bike park where up to 2500 cycles can be parked. The red brick facade of the station is pretty impressive too, built from 1882-1889 by the Frankfurt based construction company Philip Holzmann.

Bicycles, as far as the eye can see, the best way to see the main attractions.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

We decided that the best way to get our orientation in the town would be to do a tour by water & this we did with a day ticket for 20€. This enabled us to hop on & off wherever we wanted using boats that cover three routes throughout the city. This turned out to be the best way to see the city. We were thinking of hiring bikes for around 12€ but noticed how difficult it is riding through the masses of pedestrians & decided to relax on a boat instead. The weather was good to us up to 3:00pm & then the clouds covered us in white/grey making picture taking a real bore from this moment on. I got some nice shots of the houses along the canals or “Grachten” as they call them in Dutch.

After the boat tour which ended where we had started at the Centraal Station we decided to walk to the Blooemenmarkt (flower market) to the south west in Singel. To get there we had to walk through the infamous Red Light District. During the day though it is quite peaceful & other than shop fronts displaying the usual sex toys & Hash accessories etc. you would think that you are in a normal area in the city center. We were probably not in one of the main lanes so it was only the “Soft-core” variation that we experienced. Once through we came to a massive square called the “Dam” funny enough, this is the main square of Amsterdam where the Townhall is situated.

“Amsterdam has over 1250 bridges, many of which date back to the 17th Century, indeed the city boasts some pretty impressive architecture generally.”

By the way, the name Amsterdam is derived from the Amstelredamme built on the river Amstel, (a dam in the river Amstel), the only true waterway that runs through the city. Amsterdam has over 1250 bridges, many of which date back to the 17th Century, indeed the city boasts some pretty impressive architecture generally. Unfortunately only being here for the day it was a real fly past to see as much as possible. Passing over the Dam, boasting many buskers and performing artists we made our way further through the narrow lanes full of souvenir shops, cafes and of course coffee shops. The coffee shop thing doesn’t interest me but I did take a look in a shop selling every conceivable accessory for growing or smoking this stuff. This is heaven for hash smokers that’s for sure.

I am sterdam, the new motto of the Dutch capital.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

My first impression of “Venice of the North” as we arrived at the central railway station was of many tourists on foot and even worse, on bicycles.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Shortly we arrived at the Flower market only to find that it isn’t exploding in colour through thousands of blooming Tulips but rather a market selling Tulip bulbs for planting. Nevertheless an amazing assortment of different varieties. I was quite disappointed to see though that many of these bulbs originate not only from Holland but from Washington State in the USA. After a while I split with my 2 companions as they wanted to do some shopping which wasn’t in my itinerary or budget & took another boat trip using my boat pass. This time though I took the blue route where the boat went further afield that I got to see the De Gooyer windmill & the Magere Brug (“Skinny Bridge”) probably Amsterdams most famous bridge spanning the Amstel. The Drawbridge dates back to 1691 but has been replaced over the centuries with newer variations. The present bridge dates from 1934. The last major renovation was in 1969. Until 1994 the bridge was opened by hand, but is now opened automatically. The sightseeing boats are low enough that they can pass beneath the bridge without being raised.

Of course Amsterdam wouldn’t be Dutch without the traditional wooden clogs.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Cruising on a canal boal over the Prinsengracht we passed the Westerkerk, a reformed, Dutch Protestant church on the edge of Amsterdam’s Jordaan district.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Some nice houses along the many canals or “Grachten”.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After a quick Shoarma Kebap on the way back through the Red Light District passing through a very busy canal area I realized that this was more like the real Red Light District that Amsterdam is famous for. The smell of hash hangs in the air everywhere here, with many young people getting high or drunk or both, some getting rather loud & aggressive too. Not a pretty sight & it was only just after seven in the evening. Would have been interesting to see what is going down at 22-23:00pm. Of course there were streams of men passing the brothel facades with large well lit windows & scantily clad girls trying to catch new punters attention. Unfortunately photography is strictly forbidden here & the risk of being beaten up or sworn at by some girls pimp or even charged by the Police that patrol the area just isn’t worth the risk. I was supposed to be meeting my friends back at the railway station at 19:00pm ready for the drive back to Brussels & was already 20 minutes late. I would have stayed longer & maybe risked the odd iPhone shot here or there but with a “proper” camera with telephoto lens, you are just looking for trouble. I made it back to my waiting friends at the Centraal station who seemed relieved to see me again (probably as I had the car keys & had to drive ;-)) & we made our way back with the train to our car in the car park at Gaasperplas Park and ride.

Modern architecture meets traditional on the canals of Amsterdam.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Pretty canals with many interesting moored vessels. Amsterdam, Holland.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Two hours later we were back in our Hotel in Grimbergen happy that we had taken the day trip option and not the planned weekend there as this would have worked out extremely expensive and wouldn’t have been worth it due to the crappy weather. As it turned out the following day was overcast with drizzle. Would I go again? Yes, but next time with a plan and a tripod for the evenings. As this visit was spontaneous it left me no time to plan things at all. I could imagine that photography using a tripod at night could make for some pretty good pictures. I think we saw a great deal thanks to the boat trips but to have really seen Amsterdam you need 3-4 days and especially the evenings at least and if the weather is good then a week to soak in the charms of the “Venice Of The North”.

 

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Scotland, Here We Come

Scotland, Here We Come

17

MAY, 2013

I always get excited before I go on a trip even as with Scotland I know what to expect, or do I? If there is one thing I can say about this country then it is that no matter how often you go there it is different every time.

Just another couple of weeks to go & I hope to be enjoying a well earned break in the Scottish Highlands for the first time ever with my wife. I am quite excited to be able to show her some of the gorgeous places that I have experienced on my last 2 photographic expeditions there. This will be our first holiday together for over 3 years as I have always been on the go as a photographer. My wife isn’t very adventurous when it comes to flying long distances & when I am spending most of my time taking pictures she gets bored.

Dramatic evening sky over the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye. Eigol, West Highlands, Scotland.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

“Waking up at 5:00am in a cold car, condensated windows with backache isn’t everybodys idea of holiday but that’s just it, what I do when I travel alone isn’t a relaxation holiday, it is if you like a working holiday. Hard work with little luxury but some very rewarding photographic experiences. There are exceptions though, on this trip for instance my wife is accompanying me so I shall see another side of Scotland, country hotels, B&B’s, a museum or botanical garden here and there plus a regulated diet. Sounds like holiday to me”

So, what does this tell me? Well it means this time will be spent taking less pictures & spending more time with her, after all WE are on holiday. BUT, the camera won’t be staying at home either. Yes, I’m addicted, I know. The thought of missing something unforgettable is a feeling that I don’t like, especially in a place that I can’t revisit so easily or so often. My wife understands this too because she gets to hear how pissed off I am when this happens & doesn’t want to be the reason for me missing such moments. Generally speaking though she is always impressed with the pictures afterwards. I can’t wait to hear what she thinks of Scotland, for me it is one if not the most beautiful & interesting place I have been to at all.

A lot of people say to me, “yeah, I would love to see Scotland, if it wasn’t for the weather” & to be honest you do need a little luck, but you need this in Germany too or in Belgium from where I’m writing this at the moment. Of course if you come from Arizona or Cape Town you are used to different weather but probably because we Europeans know what crap weather is we tend to try and get to warmer, dryer climates & don’t want to sit in a hotel room all day or in the car when your out. I don’t like this either as I see it as a wasted day but sometimes it does enable me to get some really dramatic looking pictures, it just depends on the location & what exactly the weather is doing. I’m pretty confident though that she will like it there because she loves England too.

One of many pretty waterfalls along the West Highland route.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Cape Wrath lighthouse, the most north-westerly point on the British mainland was built in 1828 by Robert Stevenson and manned until 1998.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Sligachan on the Isle of Skye is a popular point to climb the Cuillin hills.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

In Romantic Bruges

In Romantic Bruges

13

MAY, 2013

In contrast to Venice or Amsterdam Bruges is an underestimated gem. The Medieval city has some beautiful architecture & a visually stunning canal system that meanders throughout the ancient city. The streets weren’t so overcrowded making a tour through the cobbled streets along the tree lined canals a relaxed affair.

No trip to Belgium is complete so I have been told without visiting the town of Bruges. Along with Amsterdam Bruges is also a city that bears the name as “Venice of the North”. Then of course there is the film starring Colin Farrell, at this point it should become apparent that Belgium has more to offer  than chocolate, waffles & beer. Indeed this is the Belgium that I hoped to see & enjoy. Beautiful, clean, cobbled streets adorned with very well kept old houses. Romantic looking side streets with cafes & restaurants, plus a market square that leaves one breathless with admiration. It is of no surprise that the city is a World UNESCO Heritage site since 2000 & has a very important economic position in Belgium due to its port.

Where the Koningstraat crosses with the Spiegelrei I spotted this oldtimer on the bridge with a nice backdrop of the Jan van Eyck Square.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Most of the medieval architecture has remained intact at the center of town making it a joy to search for interesting angles from which to photograph. The city is steeped in history that I unfortunately don’t have much time for only being present for a short duration but for those interested in this exceptional city then read here further:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruges

“A walk through Bruges in the evening shouldn’t be missed, the old world charm, the medieval architecture and the up market nightlife all add to a thoroughly enjoyable down to earth experience.”

As the evening draws in and the shadows get longer, the streets start to empty Bruges is at its best.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Romantic canals lined with opulent architecture & crossed by numerous stone bridges is a dream.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Just before the sun disappears it sheds its golden light on many of the old houses leaving others in dark shadow.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

A Week In Dubai, Day 1

A Week In Dubai, Day 1

06

FEB, 2013

What a city! The weather is great, the city is a new born, clean, glossy baby catering for the next generations of sun craving, shopping queens or wealthy expats looking for a summer house in the sun. Dubai has everything to suit just about every pocket. Real estate, fast cars, yachts, you name it the Emirates have it in excess. For budget touries like myself there are also more than enough possibilities to enjoy your stay here on the Arabian Gulf.

It has been a couple of weeks now since returning from the United Arab Emirates, time enough to process some imagery and reflect upon an amazing fun packed week. Many of my friends & colleagues were surprised to hear that I as a nature loving landscape photographer was flying off to warmer climates in winter in search of a hyper modern city. A town with state of the art architecture, artificial islands & the worlds biggest shopping paradise. I too was wondering if I had done the right thing but as I landed in Dubai’s international airport at midnight I was pretty sure that this was going to be one hell of a week.

A Hotel with a view. I wonder how long before the next one obscures it.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

As I emerged from the main flight terminal after a 45 minute wait to get through customs & immigration it was way past 01:00 am and as the sliding doors slid open I stepped out into a very warm, very busy taxi & pick up area. There were literally hundreds of people with name shields waiting behind barriers to pick up passengers, it was almost like being at a cattle market & I was one of the victims being bid for. It took some time before my transit driver & I made eye contact & the relief was noticeable on both sides. After a friendly shake of hands the man who spoke impeccable English pressed an envelope containing general info for the hotel & sightseeing possibilities in & around Dubai into my hand & showed me to a mini bus with trailer where I was helped by the driver with my luggage. The bus was full & within minutes we were speeding on our way through the city to be dropped off at our hotels. After 20 minutes I started to wonder whether our driver had missed my hotel. I started to realize just how big & spread out Dubai actually is.

“I didn’t sleep more than 2 hours before being woken by the sun peering over the neighbouring house and shining directly into my room.”

The viewing platform of the Burj Khalifa on the 124th floor at 9:00am.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After approximately 35 minutes we arrived at my base for the next six nights, the Grand Excelsior Hotel just behind the massive shopping arcade, The Mall Of Emirates, best known for it’s indoor ski slope. The reception staff were very polite & my luggage was carried by one of the many porters up to my room on the 7th floor. After tipping the porter I closed my door & marvelled at the size & luxury of my new home from home: I hadn’t had a room like this since staying at the MGM in Las Vegas last year & never thought that after such a short while that I would again have such luck. For a package deal for just over 900€ I was expecting a lot less to be honest.  The first thing I had to do was turn off the air-conditioning as the room was quite cool but it soon warmed up as outside it was still 19°C. I didn’t have much of a view, just a couple of other high rise buildings, apartment blocks & the like. To the right I could make out the skyline of Dubai Marina in the distance, lit up like a Christmas tree. The street below was still a hive of activity although being around two in the morning. I was tired after getting up at 5:00am the day before to catch my flight from Munich to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris waiting 4 hours before flying a further 7 hours on to Dubai. But here I was & so excited that I didn’t sleep more than 2 hours before being woken by the sun peering over the neighbouring house & shining directly into my room. I noticed how orange & blue mixed into a fine haze over the roofs adjacent & jumped out of bed, grabbed my camera & shot my first image out of the window of the still sleepy Marina skyline.

Now I know why they call this DOWNtown Dubai :-). View from the Burj Khalifa.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Almost A Month After Returning From The US.

Almost A Month After Returning From The US.

08

APRIL, 2012

Now that I have been home for a while I have had time to reflect on my venture to the US & must admit I would love to pack my stuff again & fly back for a few months more at least. I felt really welcome & relaxed travelling alone enjoying a great sense of freedom. I met some very nice folk along the way too & as for the scenery, awesome, absolutely awesome.

 It has been a while since my last post I know but time just flies & after returning home from the States I have been busily trying to get my way through tons of footage that I shot there. All in all I drove over 3000 miles doing the classic route from Las Vegas, over to Grand Canyon, Canyon De Chelly, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce & Zion, then back to Vegas in 2 weeks.

An additional week was spent in the Death Valley area & up to Mono Lake in California. As a bonus instead of flying to Chicago from Vegas I was Diverted to San Francisco where I had an 8 hour delay presenting me with the chance to take in the Golden Gate Bridge before leaving.

Not planned, a diverted flight, but what a bonus!

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

This was definitely my best trip to date. Everything went according to plan, I saw almost everything I wanted to see, plus some things that weren’t planned. A couple of things had to be left out but with such a tight itinerary I’ll have to live with that. There is just so much of interest, it is impossible to see everything. A good reason to return.

Highlights of the trip were definitely the weather, 19 days of bliss. The people I met, always friendly & willing to have a chat. But best of all was naturally a variety of landscape that I had never seen up to this point.

Low points were few but the worst was definitely nutrition. Sugar & too much salt, very little fruit & lots of preservatives & artificial flavourings. Waiting in Airports isn’t much fun either. The long flights in very conditions was short of torture but for a 600€ ticket you can’t really complain.

Driving in America is relaxing, wide roads, automatic gears, only the speed limit is a pain :-). Accommodation is on a par with Europe with clean rooms, good beds, WiFi everywhere but seldom including breakfast.

“As a bonus instead of flying to Chicago from Vegas I was Diverted to San Francisco where I had an 8 hour delay presenting me with the chance to take in the Golden Gate Bridge before leaving.”

The Grand Canyon is even more beautiful than I imagined although during the day totally overrun by tourists like myself.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

In the oncoming weeks I will try to post my diary that I wrote during my tour through Nevada, Arizona, Utah & California with some images from along the way. For those of you that can’t wait here is a link to the USA Galleries.

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

American South West, Day 7: In & Around The Grand Canyon

American South West, Day 7: In & Around The Grand Canyon

13

MARCH, 2012

I always wanted to see the Grand Canyon but it has always been one of those things where I have thought it can’t be that special because almost everybody has seen it. I was so wrong. I realized that although many people have enjoyed this view it is however for each & every one of us something special, personal. You just feel soooo small & humble standing on the edge of this natural phenomena Grand Canyon.

I had no plan where the best place would be to catch the rising sun, just that the sun goes up in the east, but where it shone onto which canyon effectively was something I didn’t know & this was a problem. I thought it would be better to find a different location to Mather Point as I want as much variation in locations as possible whilst here. I parked at the Grand Canyon NP HQ on the east side of Grand Canyon Village & proceeded by foot along the Rim Trail next to the building through a wooded area & within minutes I was at the rim. The sun was going to appear at 6:34am & it was now 6:29 am, shit & I was still looking for that perfect spot with panorama view. I walked further & eventually landed at the village itself without finding one single spot for my first shots. Why? Basically because all vistas had trees or bushes in the way. To cut a long story short I did manage to get some lovely single shots near the KolbStudio but the 180° pano just didn’t happen, oh well shit happens as they say.

During the day the heat was almost unbearable with no cloud coverage making photography hard work indeed.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I decided to take a shuttle bus westwards & after 20 minutes wait the bus was taking me to a number of stops along the way to Hermits Rest. The bus driver got very talkative as I was the only passenger so early in the morning on board. Apparently she lived 10 years in Bremen & was with a cruise ship in Southampton. She gave me lots of tips to each stop,  telling me which ones that weren’t so interesting. She said that the English are good walkers & that Americans are good car sitters (lazy). Well I must say that I’m quite shocked at the amount of obesity here but when I see what folk eat or buy at the supermarket it doesn’t surprise me one little bit I’m afraid. Sugar, salt & additives in everything. They are trying to reduce fats in their foods but fast food & sweet stuff is everywhere & in everything. Sugar in bread, yuk! The bread is so bad, just like English white toasting bread but at least we English know how to make a crispy loaf or a French Baguette without it tasting sweet.

 

“As I arrived at Hermits Rest it was 10:45am and I had to check out at 12:00am, shit I’ll never make it I thought.”

Canyons as far as the eye can see.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

In the evening the colours are particularly vibrant with the warm sun caressing the orange sandstone rock.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Anyway, I got to see more than I had expected but now time was getting quite tight. As I arrived at Hermits Rest it was 10:45am & I had to check out at 12:00am, shit I’ll never make it I thought. I took the next bus back but had to change twice before arriving back at my car. Then it was a mad dash back to Tusayan to pack my stuff, wash my hair and check out. The only problem was that I had 600 pictures to transfer to my hard drives. I asked at reception whether it would be okay to do this in the lobby, “no problem” was the answer & so I spent the next hour copying files to the 2 hard drives before saying a hearty thank before I left.

From Tusayan my travels took me east along the Desert View part of Grand Canyon NP to various lookout areas. Some were quite desolate, some were overflowing with tourists. My last port of call was the Desert View Watchtower at Navajo Point shortly before leaving the south east rim of the park. The Watchtower was built as the last in a series of visitor structures from the American Architect Mary Colter before she renovated Angel lodge in 1935. The tower was designed to resemble an ancient Pueblo peoples watchtower but is actually much bigger than any existing structure of this nature. The tower rises as an open shaft lined by circular balconies overlooking the central space. Access from balcony to balcony is provided by small stairways. Today the ground floor is a gift shop.

 

The Desert Watchtower is the first stop to be had if you enter from the east. The tower replicates a Anasazi watchtower & was designed by Mary Jane Colter & erected in 1932.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I remained here until after sunset as I thought this to be my last view of this overwhelming natural sight. The tower makes for good pictures too as I later experienced as the sun sank below the horizon. The day had ended as it started, almost cloudless but the bad start had been compensated for by this evenings events.

After the sun had diminished I raced back to the car as it was getting pretty nippy. During the whole day it had been very windy & this wind causes exhaustion & the need for warmth. I got back on the main road to Cameron where I turned left & headed north in the direction of Page to Horseshoe Bend. I think I drove the best part of three hours before arriving there. Along the way I kept my eyes peeled for a parking/sleeping space but must here also note that the Americans make it very difficult to just find a cozy corner in the landscape. There are very few spaces for lorries or cars to stop anywhere. Being Desert too, there are few trees or other objects where you can hide a car behind to get a quiet nights sleep getting nicked by a Highway Patrol officer or Park Ranger.

 

A view from a helicopter of the North Rim.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Sporadically spaced trees line the canyon rim with amazing formed dried out bark.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

All the more surprising was the car park at Horseshoe, a real gem that is hidden away from the main road and so pretty secluded.So much so that I drove back and forth twice before finding it. It is now midnight as I write this and up to now not one single car has driven in. Touch wood, hopefully it will stay that way.

 

One of the many outstanding viewpoints along the Rim Trail on the southern edge of the canyon.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Tonight is a starry sky that you hardly ever get to see in many places these days due to air pollution or too many areas of lit sky from large populated towns and cities, here in Arizona, in the desert there is space enough to be a greater distance from civilization that you can practically see the milky way with the naked eye. I’m in the process of taking some long exposures of the stars movement.

 

 

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

American South West, Day 6: Flight Over The Grand Canyon.

American South West, Day 6: Flight Over The Grand Canyon.

12

MARCH, 2012

I was so excited as I made my way on foot to the Tusayan Heliport, I had never flown in a helicopter before. But this was to be no ordinary copter flight, I was to fly over the edge of the Grand Canyon, into the canyon abyss to enjoy one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, simply awesome.

Today is “The” day! At 6:30am it is time to get my butt out of that lovely warm bed. Outside it was getting light. My flight over the Grand Canyon is scheduled for 9:00 am but by confirming my booking yesterday I was advised to get there at 8:00 am to secure my front seat. It was a case of first come first served. I was early & decided to walk the short distance to the airport, it’s a stones throw from the hotel. I actually arrived 15 minutes too early at 7:45 am. This gave me enough time to examine the choppers from a distance, their rotors were covered in plastic sleeves to protect them from the night frost. It gets pretty chilly out here even in the summer months.

The waiting room at the Tusayan Grand Canyon Park Airport from where I would be taking my first flight in a helicopter.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I Checked in, paid the $50 supplement for the co-pilots seat and sat happily waiting for 9:00 am to arrive. The snack bar opened at 8:00 am so I indulged in a coffee & a croissant. I got into a chat with the guy serving the coffee behind the counter, a middle aged man who, because of my blessed accent was curious where I came from. We made small talk about flying in a helicopter but were abruptly interrupted by flight personel who prompted me & the other now present passengers to attend a safety briefing with instructional Video. The video basically showed what to do in the case of an emergency & where the fire extinguisher is to be found. What they forgot to advise was how to pray because if a helicopter gets out of control over the Grand Canyon there is no chance of a soft landing anywhere. The Video ran a good 15 minutes & almost directly after we were called up to be kitted out with a safety harness & inflatable life jacket. Minutes later we were making our way to our machine, a Bell E430. The pilot was a young woman named Dale, very pleasant & a very competent flyer as I was soon to find out.

 

“Then we were off, floating on a magic carpet away from Tusayan in a northerly direction over the Kaibab National Forest. After 10 minutes of flying low over the dense woodland I caught my first glimpse of the rim.”

My flight was to be with this EcoStar EC130 helicopter, specially designed for tourist flights.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After takeoff it was off northwestwards over the Kaibab National Forest towards the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

An early morning flight is the best time of day to fly over the Grand Canyon, the view was spectacular to say the least.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Then we were off, floating on a magic carpet away from Tusayan in a northerly direction over the Kaibab National Forest. After 10 minutes of flying low over the dense woodland I caught my first glimpse of the rim, second by second we were getting nearer, the turbulence increased & for a moment I had to think of the guy at the coffee bar who told me that it could happen that we through turbulence start flying sideways laughing at my worried expression, exactly that was happening at the moment, a strange feeling I can tell you.

I got the Gopro ready, unfortunately it isn’t allowed to stick anything on the machine with the suction pad but afterwards I was glad as I could pan shots & film in short bursts. I was continuously swapping between filming video & shooting stills.

All of a sudden, in the bat of an eyelid we flew over the edge into the abyss. WOW! All of a sudden the whole expanse of this world wonder slapped me full in the face with an impact that I must admit to shedding a tear through sheer joy, it was overwhelming to put it mildly. All the waiting & saving for this moment was more than worth it. An hour long orgasm, beat that anyone ;-) I had a headset for the in-flight commentary, unfortunately I wasn’t alone on this trip, behind me sat a Japanese & a French couple. First 10 minutes of Japanese, then 10 minutes of French before they got around to the English commentary. It seems that we had first flown to the east around the Grand Canyon over woodland & actually flew over the North Rim because I noticed later that only the south rim had snow. I was quite chuffed to see the canyon snow albeit just a rest from a shower a couple of days earlier. The Colorado was now below us slivering snake like through the deep narrow gorge.

We spent most of the flight on the eastern part of the park where some very dry & dramatic canyons are to be witnessed like this one near Sixty Mile Creek.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

As we arrived back & our pilot had thanked us for flying with her wishing us a nice day I was still floating on that magic carpet with a grin from ear to ear believe me. In the afternoon I ventured down to Mather Point with the car to get my first glimpse of the canyon from the ground & hopefully experience a Grand finale at sunset. Mather Point is very popular for good reason. It lies near to Grand Canyon Village where many have rooms in the lodges there & especially due to the spectacular views. I arrived at around 14:00 pm met by a vista that was just out of this world. My poor camera had to sweat a little until the sun went down at around 18:34 pm. The sunset was normal by Grand Canyon standards, unfortunately no Cumulus Nimbus but nonetheless grandiose. A picture can never capture the full beauty & scale of a location, this has to be said of the Grand Canyon especially. It is like viewing a fantasy world in a dream but the cool evening breeze holds you in reality, the sun had departed for today, leaving the canyon with some nice colours from orange to purple before everything ducked into a  shadow of desaturated blue/grey.

One of the side canyons in the north east part of the park near the Salt Trail Canyon Trailhead.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Shortly after sundown I made my way back to the car, it certainly gets pretty nippy in the evenings here I thought. A breeze makes it even colder, I was glad that I had my three layers on. I learnt quickly that in the sun it’s warm but in the shade there is quite a difference in temperature, sometimes quite extreme. Add to this an altitude of 6000 ft/2000 m making walking quite tedious due to the thinner air & a very dry air too with very fine sand particles being blown around. I think it can be conceivable just how tiring a day here in the open can be.

Further north-east Grand Canyon flattens out a little with the Colorado slivering through Tanner Canyon near Comanche Point.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Back at the hotel the rest of my evening was spent transferring files to the hard drives before falling into my bed at around 23:45pm. I was knackered but very happy.

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

American South West, Day 5: On Route 66 & Over To Meteor Crater.

American South West, Day 5: On Route 66 & Over To Meteor Crater.

11

MARCH, 2012

On my way from Hoover Dam to the Grand Canyon I took two diversions, one at Kingman onto a piece of the old Route 66 & thereafter a larger detour to Meteor Crater. It was like travelling back in time with a lot of nostalgia on Route 66. The ride was short but sweet before driving further to Meteor Crater. As its name suggests Meteor Crater is a massive hole in the ground due to a meteor impacting the earth in the middle of nowhere, well Arizona near Winslow to be precise.

Leaving Seligman Route 66 joins  Interstate 40 heading east to Flagstaff. I had to fill up with gas & at the next gas station stuck the pump into the car but nothing happened. I went into the shop & a rather pretty young blond laughed as I explained my situation. In America, first you say how much gas you want to fill up with & then after leaving your credit card as security the pump is free to use, but not in my case. I had to confront the young lady once more about turning the pump on.

The Roadrunner is the rehabilitated Olsen’s Chevrolet dealership & garage building originally built in 1936. Today it serves as a a gift shop, cafe & pub.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

This time she came out & explained that you have to pull a lever up on the pump & then it works. The reason for this razzmatazz is simply due to people driving off after filling up without paying. The young lady found me amusing, especially my accent. As I explained that I am English she wondered what the hell I was doing in a place like this. I answered that I was just passing through. I decided to buy some chocolate & peanuts and must again notice that peanuts cost 3-4 times as much here as they do back home although they are probably imported from the US.

“NASA used the crater for training astronauts & geological research for the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960’s.”

Romantic scene in front of the Rusty Bolt in Seligman, Arizona.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Interstate 40 bypasses Flagstaff & rewards you with a nice view of the San Francisco peaks that are still covered in snow. It is early afternoon & instead of turning off for Tusayan to the north I continued westwards to Winslow to visit Meteor Crater.

A side road lead through arid desert with wild grass in a light yellow tone, this set against a deep blue sky is so perfect from color combination that I just had to get out & shoot some material. After seven miles I reached a high backed hill with a building clung to its side, this was the “Visitor Center”.

The Meteor Crater Interactive Discovery Center contains many displays & exhibits. This is the largest existing fragment of the 50 m/150 ft wide Holsinger meteorite.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I didn’t expect this to be honest but just as everywhere if there’s a chance of earning money then it will be done. $16 admission, I thought that to be expensive to look at a hole in the ground but this included a guided tour along the crater edge which was very interesting indeed, not to mention entertaining. The tour guide was an ex-professional basketball player who sustained a knee injury & had to retire. He comes from the Winslow area & after his return he turned his hand to tour guide.

The world’s best preserved meteorite impact site on Earth. Located just minutes from Interstate 40 and the old Route 66 in Northern Arizona near Winslow.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The crater is massive as is everything I have experienced up to now here in the States. NASA used the crater for training astronauts & geological research for the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960’s. The visit was no disappointment, on the contrary it was well worth the admission fee. I met a nice couple from Wisconsin who were interested in my photographic approach. We chatted a while before they headed off home & I wandered further around the craters periphery taking in the massive dimensions of this hole in the earth shooting a picture here and there.

50,000 years ago a giant meteor weighing several hundred thousand tons dropped to Earth causing this 1,3 km wide crater.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I spent almost 3 hours at Meteor Crater before heading back to Interstate 40 westwards again & shortly before Flagstaff took a junction heading north towards Page. My main reason for choosing this road was another crater, this time though from a volcanic kind. It was beautiful, a vista of volcanic lava fields with some very rugged looking trees. Everywhere fine black sand, revealing lava rocks & dead wood.

After around 2 hours I was back on the road again. A very open prairie like landscape, the late afternoon sky was of great interest to me & my camera with some interesting cloud formations. Of course I had to shoot some more material, this was to cost me dearly. I missed my turn off at Cameron & before I realized that no signs were forthcoming for Grand Canyon I consulted my map to find that I had overshot by 14 miles, shit, I would have to turn back.

As I reached Cameron & set off in the direction of Grand Canyon Village, the sun had diminished & darkness was setting in very quickly. The drive took longer than I had anticipated, it was actually 20:20 pm as I checked into the Red Feather Lodge in Tusayan. Again, I must say that the American hotels are pretty damned good in quality and price. A spacious Room with king-size beds.

I am so tired I just want to go to bed & sleep, it was a long day. No such thing though, as always the days catch had to be copied before I can shut eye. I did actually fall asleep in the process & woke up at around 22:45 pm to the sounds of gunshots coming from the TV. Bruce Willis was doing us all the favour of yet again saving the world. Good ol’ Bruce. Main thing for me was that the Grand Canyon stays intact until I have flown over it & my material is all in the bag ;-)

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

American South West, Day 4: Hoover Dam & Route 66

American South West, Day 4: Hoover Dam & Route 66

10

MARCH, 2012

Last night I spent some time out with the camera & tripod down at the wall of Hoover Dam only to be sent back by patrolling security guards. I made my way back to the car park at the top of Kingman Wash Access Road & bedded down for the night but was suddenly awakened by the Highway Patrol who asked me to move on. I was given an unofficial tip of a place where I could park without being disturbed & after a good nights sleep I awoke to a beautiful sunset over Lake Mead. Later I saw the same police officer & thanked her for her helpful advice. That’s American hospitality.

It’s 5:25 in the morning, after sleeping a whole 4 hours in the car I awoke to the call of nature. The Lakeside Overlook as its called provided me with the necessary peace & quiet without being disturbed from other campers or indeed again from the Police.

Minute by minute the colours got more intense as the sun hit the horizon like an explosion at Lake Mead Lake View.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After relieving myself I see the oncoming sunrise is colouring the horizon with an orange to cyan tint, it won’t take long before Lake Mead below me explodes into a technicolor dream. Have to get my camera stuff ready. See you later.

“After relieving myself I see the oncoming sunrise is colouring the horizon with an orange to cyan tint, it won’t take long before Lake Mead below me explodes into a technicolor dream.”

On the way to the Mike O’Callaghan–Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge at Hoover.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After leaving the overlook I returned to Hoover Dam, it was around 6:30am meaning that I had it almost for me alone, awesome when I think how it looked at around 10:00am, Additionally the Nevada Girl Scouts had their 100 year jubilee which they celebrated with a march over the dam, you can imagine the frustration of some that couldn’t drive across as the police set up a road block for over an hour. A guided tour of the interior workings of the dam would have been nice but what with the Scouts & the rest of the world at Hoover I decided to stay outside in the fresh air & sunshine, plus the saving of 30$ entry fee, I find that a bit steep, almost as steep as the dam itself.

Near the Lake Mead Overlook is this mass of electric pylons sending power to some town or even Vegas.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Later, I set off back over the dam on the Nevada side up to a memorial to the building of the new Bypass bridge. Here you read a history of the bridge construction & then go over a walkway which gives in my opinion the best view of the dam, direct frontal & from above. this saves the extra money for the helicopter tours that fly out from Vegas. This view on the contrary was free of charge, that’s sweet when you’re on a strict budget.

You won’t get a much better view than this unless you hire a helicopter of course.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

What can I say? No words can describe what the guys built here in the 1920s. The location is heaven sent. The bridge is also a wonder in itself but with a lot less casualties than that of the dam of course, nonetheless some did become victims during the construction. I saw some very cute squirrels in the area around the dam, tame as hell, one even wanted to have a sniff of my cheesy feet.

After seeing the dam from the bridge, the thought of how good that would look at night started to nag at me a little but as I am a day behind schedule already I decided to drive further south, first to Kingman where I then changed to the infamous Route 66. Parallel to the road is a railroad & I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never seen locomotives pulling so many freight wagons that take 5 minutes or longer before they have passed & at intervals of 2 an hour, amazing.

I need to get files off my chips & a shower & beer wouldn’t be a bad thing either. The towns along Route 66 are exactly as you have seen them on TV, time really has stood still here. I’ve landed in the town of Seligman & found a Motel as you see in many American films about back country America, chalet kind of lodging with the pickup directly in front of your door. First I advanced to the reception, opened the outer door & then the inner & found myself in a small room not big enough to swing a cat in. An old lady of at least 80 years of age stood behind the counter proudly showing another guest all the famous country stars & other famous personalities that had stayed here in the past.

I paid for the one night & made my way to my humble abode. A far cry from Vegas that’s for sure, pretty basic but clean. The bed is comfortable at least & coffee making facilities are included as is a flat screen TV. As I started to get comfortable another freight train rattled through, the track is just across the road behind the small post office. I just hope that I’m so tired that I don’t notice the noise of the rolling stock as they rattle over the tracks through the town.

No trip on Route 66 would be worth a damn without a Motel visit with some neon signs.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

After a few beers & transferring the days catch to the 2 mobile hard discs I fell asleep in front of the iPad. At 5:30am I was awakened by my alarm, it was still dark outside & I was tempted just to sleep on but I wanted shots of the Motels neon sign set against the morning sky, something not to be missed. The pictures are awesome. I tried to get some shots of the next freight train as it passed through but unfortunately without success as it was still too dark, got a couple of nice bird shots though. It was pretty damned cold at this hour outside but worth the discomfort.

I got back into bed to get warmed up again. Later it’s off in the direction of Flagstaff.

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

American South West, Day 3: Las Vegas To Hoover Dam

American South West, Day 3: Las Vegas To Hoover Dam

09

MARCH, 2012

I must say that I was positively surprised by Las Vegas. It is a city like no other in many respects. Built in the middle of the Mojave desert Vegas is as artificial as is possible. Sin City as it is also known has everything that the heart desires in all aspects of adult  entertainment. During the day the city is relatively quiet, the streets uncrowded due to the unbearable heat but in the evenings when the neon lights appear so do the people & traffic. I enjoyed my stay but was excited to move on with the next stop being Hoover Dam.

Today I am leaving Vegas and must admit, though not being much of a city guy I really did enjoy my short stay here & would have loved to have seen more. I was up early & decided to take my last shots of the town before heading off to Hoover Dam. The sky was cloudless, the air quite fresh still as I crossed the boulevard using one of the many crossovers for pedestrians to the New York, New York Hotel with its replica of the Statue of Liberty. From here I walked across another bridge to the Excalibur Hotel, another theme resort from the Middle Ages depicting a fairy tale fortress with rather colourful looking towers similar to the Disney castle. The interior is well done especially of interest for families with children. Strolling through the casino you come to a walkway that takes you directly to the  Luxor Hotel with its Egyptian flair.

The interior of the Luxor is impressive but also quite dull due to artificial lighting.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The building itself is formed like a pyramid built using black glass with a sphinx at the main entrance. The interior is quite an eye-catcher albeit a touch too dark, not really that what I had expected. The hotel is surrounded by the rooms meaning that standing centrally below there is no natural light from outside to be seen in the lobby or shopping & casino areas. At night the Luxor sends a very powerful beam of light into the sky that can be seen from everywhere in the city. My feet were still feeling the pinch from yesterday & time was running out, time to return, pack my stuff & check-out.

“The MGM Grand Las Vegas is massive with over 6852 rooms making it the third biggest hotel worldwide after the Venetian & Palazzo also to be found in Vegas. Just getting from the room to the car involves a 15 minute walk at the MGM.”

The Luxor Hotel has a distinctive style of its own and is home to 4400 rooms.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The MGM Grand Las Vegas is massive with over 6852 rooms making it the third biggest hotel worldwide after the Venetian & Palazzo also to be found in Vegas. Just getting from the room to the car involves a 15 minute walk at the MGM. Thank God for suitcases with wheels. Parking is free almost everywhere on the Strip, driving in general is a pleasurable experience I found. With an automatic transmission you can concentrate on driving and enjoy the view. In Vegas the Americans seem to be very tolerant in comparison to here in Europe.

The MGM Grand is the worlds third largest hotel with 6582 rooms.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I headed back down south through the Vegas Boulevard for the final time in the afternoon sun making my way past McCarran International Airport with its rows of private jets lining the outer perimeter & turned east onto the 515 towards Henderson and Boulder City. Henderson, being on the southern outskirts of Vegas is a popular residential area for the rich and famous. Tony Curtis, Gladys Knight, Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Smokey Robinson & Mike Tyson all have/had villas here. Shortly after Henderson I was driving through Boulder City which just happens to be one of only 2 towns in Nevada that prohibit gambling. Existing since 1931, Boulder was planned to house workers building the Hoover Dam.

After breakfast I was off up north a couple of blocks to a Walmart that had everything & I mean everything. I spent almost 2 hours there & bought enough food & water to survive anything that the landscape could throw at me for the next 3 weeks. At the check-out the cashier packs the articles in plastic bags hanging on a carousel next to him. I found the idea quite novel if it wasn’t for the fact that the bags were plastic & only filled with 2-3 items. Add to that the fact that these bags aren’t environmentally friendly & often to be seen flying through the national parks, hanging in bushes or from trees then the I would rather pack my stuff myself using only half as many.

The floodlit penstock towers behind Hoover Dam with the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge to the left.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

On the Arizona side it goes uphill on the same access road but with the name of Kingman Wash Road to a viewpoint overlooking the rear side of the dam wall where the water from Lake Mead flows into the penstock tower funnels sending millions of gallons of water thrashing down at a speed of around 140 km/h to the turbines. The worlds first Hydroelectricity plant produces a maximum of 2080 megawatts providing the state of California with 56% of its total electricity needs, 15% of which for Los Angeles alone. Nevada receives 24% & Arizona the remaining 19%. A very interesting article about the dams construction, history & tech spec can be found at Wikipedia under: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoover_Dam

I reached Hoover in the dark & was surprised how well lit it is. As I approached on the Hoover Dam Access Road 172 I was confronted with a checkpoint. The security guy stared at me warily shining his torch into the car & in my face. After checking the contents of the boot he warned me not to stop on the dam itself for security reasons & that photography was only allowed before & directly after leaving the dam wall. This said I left the control point & proceeded another 5km mainly downhill until I was at last on the dam itself. I was disappointed, the walls on either side are so high that you can’t see anything of interest. Not being able to stop & take a proper look meant that basically it was as unspectacular as driving on the highway at night. The only difference being that I was crossing the border between Nevada & Arizona experiencing a timezone difference of 1 hour.

I did try to take a couple of shots down at the edge of the dam but was at once spotted by the Hoover Dam Police. I had my tripod set up directly next to the warning sign prohibiting access to pedestrians on the dam wall after dark & as I pointed out the security guard became unfriendly saying he didn’t “give a f**k”. Not wanting to push my luck I packed my stuff & returned up the road to the viewpoint where I had left my car. Later on after taking some shots I retired to the rear seat of my Ford Escape to catch up on my diary. I had just written half a paragraph as a car neared to my left half blinding me with its full beam. I started to get nervous, placed the iPad on the seat next to me & was about to open the door as I heard the siren from a visiting police officer. At first I thought it was the Dam Police again but this time it was a young lady from the Highway Patrol doing her evening round. She wanted to know if I was okay & asked if I intended to spend the night in the parking lot. I thought it better to tell the truth & admitted that I had played with the idea. This was not to be though as she reminded me that I was still on state property. She recommended a hotel just 5-6 miles away but being past midnight probably too late to acquire a room. I told her that I actually wanted to save my cash being on a tight budget. She gave me a tip to drive just up the road, turn off left onto the temple road to Bonnell Bay where an overlook to Lake Mead with parking was allocated. I was surprised that she wanted to help me & accepted the offer gratefully, wishing her a nice peaceful evening. The place she had directed me to was perfect & I spent a much needed rest until sunrise at 5:30am.

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

American South West, Day 2: In & Around Las Vegas

American South West, Day 2: In & Around Las Vegas

08

MARCH, 2012

Las Vegas was not on my agenda as being an important part of my trip & I certainly hadn’t intended on stay longer than the first night after arriving but as it turned out I was so jaded from the long flight & very short snooze that I decided to stay a second night & use the time to explore what Sin City is all about. It turned out to be a very interesting experience.

I had to pinch myself as I awoke from my short nap & saw the city set against the surrounding desert skyline. The light was changing by the minute, from a dramatic gradient from light blue down to a magenta tinted horizon with most of the town still in shadow but as the minutes passed & the sun started to rise the town started to come to life. At street level the rush had begun. Strangely though Vegas is just not Vegas during the day, rather sober almost. Not that it isn’t less interesting but just less razzmatazz. The party-goers are sleeping off the alcohol consume from the night before, the sidewalks are empty, only the roads are jam packed with pickups & buses transporting the locals to & from their jobs. I was pretty tired but having just today & tomorrow here I didn’t want to waste my time with trivialities like sleep. Unfortunately I had to check out again at 11:00am as this evening I had a room booked at the MGM Grand. I packed my camera & made my way back down to the lobby. It is no mean feat to find your way out of  these hotels as there are very few orientation points on the ground floor as the whole area is one large gambling area. There are no windows & no clocks as the guests shouldn’t be distracted from throwing their cash into the slot machines or on the tables. Roulette, Craps & Black Jack tables amidst a sea of slot machines. Hoards of people milling around from one machine to another looking for that elusive Jackpot.

Early morning on the “Strip” shot from my room in Treasure Island on the 32nd floor.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

No expense has been spared at Caesars Palace to pull the punters into their casino.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

For hotel guests checking in or out it is a nightmare, especially in the evening as you are towing your luggage through this area trying to find the reception area. After a while I saw the corridor leading to the main entrance & was struck by the sunlight like a bolt of lightning. It is 8:30am & still relatively cool outside but the blue sky, sunshine & a light breeze was a good combination to get me awake, not to mention the many interesting photo possibilities. My first port of call was vis a vis, the Venetian Hotel, one of the more stylish & exclusive hotels on the Strip with its own shopping mall with all the exclusive fashion labels & more adorning a miniature replica of the Canale Grande in Venice. Another impressive feature is a life-like replica tower of St. Marks Campanile. The Resort Hotel has over 4,049 suites, 4,049 hotel rooms  a 11,000m casino. Add to this the adjoining Expo Conference Center & The Palazzo Hotel/Casino Resort all owned by the same company, then you have the largest hotel & resort complex worldwide at the moment. The resort was built at a cost $1,5 billion & was opened in 1999.

La dolce vita, Vegas style. Canale Grande with the Treasure Island in the background.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I must admit, it is very large & very impressive, obviously not as atmospheric as the real thing but when you think that you are standing in the middle of the Mojave desert as a Gondolier glides past singing O Sole Mio then it is definitely a pretty cool experience. I spent quite a bit of time here, enjoying the sun clad exterior & the cool extravagant interior. The lobby is very impressive & the casino is massive. I asked if I may take pictures in the casino “Yeah sure” said a security employee. My question was answered in a way that made me wonder why I had asked. I had researched Vegas beforehand online & read many an article where photographers had been literally thrown out of casinos by security staff. Some casinos allow photography but only out of the hand & with no close-ups of gambling guests. I find this fair enough & wasn’t asked once to leave any casino. Probably later in the summer months when the casinos are jam packed with tourists & hotel guests then it gets to be too obtrusive.

Every conceivable possibility to try your luck is available at the Treasure Island casino.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

There are rows and rows of slot machines, literally thousands of them, some with massive jackpots, anything from $10,000 to a $1 million. If you are gambling then beverages are on the house & brought by scantily clad girls that live from the tips they receive for serving.
Eating & drinking in Las Vegas is relatively cheap in comparison to other US cities and sometimes even free, it pays to research such things from the outset.

The rest of the day was spent drifting from one side of the Boulevard to the other discovering the many interesting architectural details from the Mirage, Bellagio, Paris and Caesars Palace hotels. Caesars is spectacular to say the least.

“I asked if I may take pictures in the casino “Yeah sure” said a security employee. My question was answered in a way that made me wonder why I had asked. I had researched Vegas beforehand online & read many an article where photographers had been literally thrown out of casinos by security staff.”

East Harmon Avenue intersecting the South of Las Vegas Boulevard late in the evening.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

By evening I was knackered to put it bluntly but walking all day on pavements is very tiring especially with 6-7 kg of photographic equipment on your back. But as the saying goes; “No pain, no gain”.

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

American South West, Day 1: Flying Over The Pond

American South West, Day 1: Flying Over The Pond

07

MARCH, 2012

My first visit to the US was of course to start with the flight which in itself was a challenge being 10 hours long, 5 hours longer than I had ever sat in an aeroplane up til now. I was flying to Sin City, better known as Las Vegas to pick up my rental car before setting off on an amazing 3 week road-trip on the American South West circuit.

Well, here we are flying at an altitude of 37,000 ft (11,700 m) & moving at an estimated speed of around 811 kmh, the outside temperature is approximately -41°C. It’s a beautiful day to fly on holiday. It was warm & sunny as I left Munich’s Franz Josef Strauss International Airport at 11:40 am this morning. It is 15:16 pm & after 2560 km we are passing south of Iceland heading for our first stop in Washington, a further 4464 km.

I was up at 6:30am this morning after an uneasy night due to the excitement of 3 weeks freedom with just my rental car & camera equipment. Getting out of my cozy, warm bed where my wife was still lying in deep sleep was by no means easy. The thought of leaving all home comforts, her company & of course her cooking for an uncomfortable back seat with tinned food & cold mornings didn’t fill me with great enthusiasm I must admit but as I started to imagine getting up for those sunrises & not having to turn up for work I pulled myself together & headed for the bathroom.

As I said farewell to my wife & left the flat with my 12,5Kg Photo Rucksack pulling my 18Kg suitcase behind me I did wonder for a moment whether I was really doing the right thing. I’m not the greatest fan of travelling, I find it rather tiresome waiting for trains or planes & the thought of lugging luggage from one side of the world to the other with the formalities of immigration additionally I sometimes wish I could beam myself straight there in a flash to bypass all of this. Being careful with tickets & passports & not losing anything on the way is a nightmare but as soon as I’m on board all apprehension disappears  & I know “This is it”.

Checking in passed without incident but after Passport control the stress starts with checking the hand luggage & removing all metallic objects & removing shoes and jackets. I actually managed to walk through the scanner this time without it peeping. After this little victory I was asked to remove my cameras, turn them on & remove the lens caps from all lenses. They smeared an invisible liquid over all items of value so that I am unable to smuggle new equipment in or out of the States. I proceeded to gate H44, suddenly I was aware of a new queue with a new set of x-ray equipment, suddenly 2 uniformed personnel to my right asked me & a fellow passenger to come over to them, my first thought was “Is my Photo rucksack too large?” They checked our boarding cards & passports, handed them back to us and let us proceed without having to go through the x-ray procedure a second time wishing us a pleasant flight, I was totally bewildered. The other passenger commented “I think they liked your sympathetic smile” I had to laugh at that. After 20 minutes in the boarding lounge flight UA 903 was ready to board & I was making my way to the plane.

-55°C flying over southern Greenland.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

The seating arrangement of our aircraft was cramped to say the least & I was wondering how I would survive so many hours remaining seated with so little legroom in the Economy class of this Boeing 777. After 3,5 hours we had our first bite to eat, nothing spectacular but it filled the rather large hole in my stomach after leaving home without breakfast.
After 5 hours & some 3837 km we reached the southern tip of Greenland with an outside temperature of -55°C, unbelievable. 2,5 hours later we were flying over Montreal, just another 1,5 hours & we will be landing in Washington. In the meantime the temperature had dropped further to
-68°C, holy crap, that’s cold.

It was time to fill out the obligatory US customs form before we land but of course I didn’t carry such a thing as a pen with me and upon asking a steward if she could lend me one was told that she could lose her job in doing so, security policy. But passengers are allowed to carry such a weapon. Funnily enough 2-3 minutes later one of the other stewardesses brought me one, strange procedure I thought. After 6532 km we are now passing New York, ready to approach Washington 513 km to the south.

Man, was I glad to stretch my legs, picking up my suitcase & proceeding to customs for the immigration control. This involved having my photo taken, an electronic fingerprinting, plus the usual passport check with visa stamp & a number of questions to my purpose of coming to America as if it was a sin to do so. Then there was the body scanner, standing in a cylinder with outstretched arms until this rotated around my person, like being grilled in a microwave.

In Denver I had to check-in anew as this wasn’t a transfer but another flight altogether. This entailed picking up my luggage again and proceeding to a new check-in desk where a rather elderly woman had problems finding me on the passenger list of my connecting flight. This was due to an update to their system software the night before apparently, OMG. It was my lucky day I thought. After 20 minutes struggle I eventually held a freshly printed boarding card for the next leg of my journey to Denver, Colorado. Good thing that I had brought 2 hours time with me between flights.

“A walk through Bruges in the evening shouldn’t be missed, the old world charm, the medieval architecture and the up market nightlife all add to a thoroughly enjoyable down to earth experience.”

My first shot of Vegas as I arrived in my hotel room at Treasure Island on the 32nd floor.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

All is well that ends well & it did. I landed in Las Vegas, Nevada punctually at 23:50pm & proceeded to the Dollar car rental desk in the main terminal. I was directed to a shuttle bus stand outside where a queue of at least 200-300 people were waiting to be brought to their  awaiting vehicles on the outskirts of Carran international Airport. I was perplexed, so many people picking up rental cars at midnight, unbelievable. It was around 1:00am as I was shown to my new four wheeled friend, a Ford Escape in silver. I must admit, I was both excited & worried as I have never driven an automatic before and that in a foreign country at night through the middle of a city where there is more activity on the streets at night than during the day. After the first couple of attempts to use the clutch & almost flying through the windscreen I soon got to grips with my new baby & actually enjoyed driving the 12Km up the Las Vegas Boulevard to my hotel Treasure Island. As I joined “The Strip” on the corner of the MGM Grand Hotel I was awe struck. It was so bright I thought the sun had come out with so many neon signs aligning the roadside. I don’t think I closed my mouth before I checked in to the hotel at the reception. A valet parked my car for me for a dollar & another carried my luggage to the reception desk. I felt a bit awkward, I must say, but I could get used to this quite quickly. The lobby was massive, with at least 6 check-in desks. Being early morning though only 2 were in service. I was given an electronic credit card as key for the door & a map how to get to my room. I needed it too as I had to tow my suitcase through the middle of the casino to the elevator which is no easy feat believe me. My room was on the top floor, 32 stories above the street. I couldn’t wait to see the view and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

The first sunrise in Las Vegas after one hour sleep.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

An almost perfect view of the Strip, fantastic. I jumped onto the bed & enjoyed watching the hussle & bussle down below. Of course I didn’t want to sleep, I was so exhausted but so excited that sleep was the last thing I wanted to do, packed my camera & tripod out & set about taking my first shots of the skyline. After 2 hours I decided to call it a night, it was around 4:30am as I dozed off but an hour later I was awakened by sunlight, my first Vegas/American sunrise.

I realized as I caught my first glimpse of the surrounding hills behind the skyscraper hotels that this was going to be one hell of a holiday, a dream had just started.

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Post Oktoberfest

Post Oktoberfest

19

OCTOBER, 2011

In contrast to Venice or Amsterdam Bruges is an underestimated gem. The Medieval city has some beautiful architecture and a visually stunning canal system that meanders throughout the ancient city. The streets weren’t so overcrowded making a tour through the cobbled streets along the tree lined canals a relaxed affair.

I don’t go every year but I have been often in the past, mainly to shoot pictures but now & again I leave the camera at home & indulge in a little bit of the festivities at the worlds largest beer & folk festival. It has to be seen to be believed as it is huge with work starting to build the tents and rides early in the year. People come from all over the world to pay the over expensive 10 Euros per glass beer.

Where the Koningstraat crosses with the Spiegelrei I spotted this oldtimer on the bridge with a nice backdrop of the Jan van Eyck Square.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

“Oktoberfest 2011 on the Theresienwiese in Munich was as spectacular as ever with almost 7 million visitors this year spread over the 17 days.”

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

Yippppeee! Just 6 More Weeks

Yippppeee! Just 6 More Weeks

24

MARCH, 2011

The natural beauty of Scotland is indisputable but what puts many off is the inconsistency of the weather but it is due to having so much “damp” weather that the UK as a whole is so green. If it was sunny all the time Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland now would it? Fresh air & lots of green grass, that’s what makes the difference.

There are a great number of places that I would like to visit but Scotland is one of those few that will draw me back time and time again. This year looks like being a bit tight what the finances are concerned but nonetheless I need to get out and about to test new equipment and see something other than the office or the four walls of the flat. I must admit, the excursions in and around Munich where I live are getting a bit thin and rather dull, this isn’t because of a lack of things to see but more the monotony of every day life. It’s almost April and Spring is knocking on the door. The Crocuses are sprouting up everywhere and spring is in the air, you notice when the sun shines after so much cold, winter weather that you are also coming back to life. Enthusiasm, ideas, getting out there and documenting everything of interest are making it harder to concentrate in the office. Beer garden weather, long walks, getting ones ass off the sofa and onto that bike for the first ride of the year, filling the lungs with revitalizing fresh air and feeling the sun on your skin, God I love Spring.

A clear star covered sky with moonshine lighting the snowy peaks of the Three Sisters in Glen Coe.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

Scotland is the perfect destination in May. Spring generally comes a little later up in the highlands so I could be lucky and experience the season twice this year (if the weather Gods are kind to me). Scotland is afterall very unpredictable as far as the weather is concerned. This is what makes Scotland so fascinating. Scotland is a landscape togs paradise to put it mildly. One minute sunny and warm, the next pouring with rain, but it wouldn’t be half as interesting if it was nice weather all the time now would it?

 

Light fades behind Eilean Donan castle & the hills on the Isle of Skye.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I know that I’m biased being English but I have heard from others and read it often enough how people find this country so beautiful. I was in Iceland three years ago, fantastic scenery but what lacked unfortunately was a sense of variety. History, architecture, trees, a town here and there offering old world charm and a good old traditional pub with warm beer are things that I missed. Okay, Scotland has no volcanoes or glaciers with icebergs but all those other things and more. For instance, in one day you can visit a castle steeped in history, take a boat ride on a loch, enjoy a pint at the local pub or a guided tour around a whiskey distillery or even watch deer and other wildlife typical to the area.

I wanted to go to Africa this year, a mate of mine at work offered me the chance to join him on a safari to Kruger National Park for two weeks, initially I was raring to going having never been to Africa. A good chance missed unfortunately but as I stated earlier, finances dictate the reality. On the other hand, sacrificing the big game safari with lions and elephants for the hills, lochs and rugged coastline of Scotland is not exactly a second best choice albeit a cheaper alternative. I am first and foremost a landscape tog, not that wildlife doesn’t interest me, on the contrary, my problem is (if it’s a problem at all) I need to move about, experience natures elements and of course as Bill Lockhart says, “experience the light that dances”, and Scotland is just the ticket.

Neil, just to put the record straight, I hope that I will get to join you next year or at some point in the near future on one of those safaris, just keep bugging me ;-). If I could just get one decent shot of an Osprey catching a fish on Loch Garten I would be happy to make him jealous ;-) but probably I am lacking such luck, expertise or the patience that he posesses, not to mention a 500mm F4 in my lens arsenal.

 

“Route planning, places of interest, where does the sunrise and set, where can I get a decent view, places to stay, to load my batteries and transfer files, where’s the next distillery or pub? :-)), can’t wait to get home in the evenings to do this research.”

Another evening shot, this time of the Sligachan bridge & the Cuillin Hills on the Isle of Skye.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I‘ve been to Scotland only once before, two years ago, I was thrilled to bits with the beautiful landscape. It almost brings me to tears when I think of Glencoe or Rannoch Moor at midnight. Not a soul in sight, just me, my trusty D300, the rented Ford Focus and my thoughts. I froze my b***s off being March with snow still on the ground but I think I learnt a little more about myself, things that I hadn’t noticed before, a genuine love of the great outdoors, pushing myself to the limits, walking long distances lugging my stuff through the countryside at all hours with sore feet and not knowing where I would end up or whether I would get a decent shot for all the effort. Not giving up, remaining enthusiastic, even enjoying the solitude, (even if it did mean swearing occasionally to myself), all these things and more, even if it does sound romantic but hell this is living.

Even so, I must admit, I couldn’t do this for a living, why not? It’s bloody hard work, taking the photos is enjoyment pure but selling your work afterwards takes the fun out of it unfortunately.

Another six weeks, God, how am I going to survive this period of time? Research, research and more research. Thank God for Internet. Google earth, Google Maps etc, etc. Route planning, places of interest, where does the sunrise and set, where can I get a decent view, places to stay, to load my batteries and transfer files, where’s the next distillery or pub? :-)), can’t wait to get home in the evenings to do this research.

 

 

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.

On Top Of Germany

On Top Of Germany

18

FEBRUARY, 2011

In contrast to Venice or Amsterdam Bruges is an underestimated gem. The Medieval city has some beautiful architecture and a visually stunning canal system that meanders throughout the ancient city. The streets weren’t so overcrowded making a tour through the cobbled streets along the tree lined canals a relaxed affair.

Living 6-7 miles south of Munichs city center, I have only a 3/4 hour drive down to the Bavarian Alps at the weekend. Week before last I scoured the Internet weather service looking to see how the weather in Garmisch-Partenkirchen would be like. I had luck, Saturday and Sunday were to be sunny with Sunday having the upper hand with 7.5 hours of sunshine. Quickly I moved to the Zugspitzbahn Website to see how the visibility at the summit would be. The Zugspitze is Germany’s highest peak at 2964m and the Zugspitzbahn is the company that supply the cable-car and funicular railway to the “Top of Germany”. The visibility was to be a massive 160 Kilometers (100 miles). Perfect weather at the beginning of February, even the temperature of -4°C was ideal.

Where the Koningstraat crosses with the Spiegelrei I spotted this oldtimer on the bridge with a nice backdrop of the Jan van Eyck Square.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

     The alarm brought me to life at six on Sunday morning and as I sat up in bed my wife said something like, “you’re mad”, at that moment I must admit it would have been so easy to lie down again and nod off but no, today is “my” day and off I went to the bathroom. As I went out to the car it was still dark, but warm for this time of year and on the way through the country villages towards the Garmisch Autobahn I pondered about how many others were up, packing their lunches, skis and rucksacks preparing for fresh slopes and hiking trails accompanied by a fresh morning breeze and sunshine. The sun started to show first signs of awakening as I drove through one of the small villages called Baiersbrunn, this was obviously my chance to take that first picture of the day.

 

Where the Koningstraat crosses with the Spiegelrei I spotted this oldtimer on the bridge with a nice backdrop of the Jan van Eyck Square.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

“A walk through Bruges in the evening shouldn’t be missed, the old world charm, the medieval architecture and the up market nightlife all add to a thoroughly enjoyable down to earth experience.”

After an hour or so I left Walchensee and headed further south through the sleepy villages of Wallgau und Krun to get back on the main road to Garmisch. My target wasn’t Garmisch itself but a little further to another lake directly in front of the Zugspitze range called Eibsee. As I arrived, the car park was empty other than the few early risers with their ski equipment ready to take the cable car up to the glacial ski slopes of the Zugspitzplatt. The return trip costs 37€ which isn’t cheap by any means but with such weather conditions worth every cent. The cable-car was crammed full with skiers and one English photographer. I could hardly move and so shots from the cable-car on the way up were out of the question. After about 15 minutes we had arrived at the visitors platform and the door slid open to a crispy, thin air, the sun was blinding, neccessitating the wearing of sunglasses. I made my way through the hall with many others to the stairs that would take me outside, full of excitement, like a childs first visit to the circus. As The door opened, the view just hits you straight in the face, the cold wind, warm sun, thinner air and a breathtaking Panorama. Absolutely amazing. I’ve been here a number of times but each time is a new experience. Today there was very little cloud allowing an undisturbed view to the horizon over rows upon rows of snow covered mountains.

 

Where the Koningstraat crosses with the Spiegelrei I spotted this oldtimer on the bridge with a nice backdrop of the Jan van Eyck Square.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

My trusty D700 was out of the rucksack in no time and the Tripod was set up in a jiffy. Off I went looking for shots like a hunter searching for prey. I shot every angle of interest and took quite a few Panorama shots too. The Zugspitze is directly on the borders of Germany and Austria and so the viewing platform is also split having a German side and an Austrian side. You literally walk over the border to the Austrian Alps. The German side is in my opinion the more interesting view and a lot less windy and cold too. Today it was warm enough to sit outside and enjoy the sun with a Latte Macchiato but around the corner on the Austrian side of the platform it was bloody freezing with a penetrating wind. I tried to take a panorama but gave up as the tripod just wasn’t steady enough and I could hardly feel my fingers after a couple of shots. The official summit is on the German side at a height of 2964m with a beautiful gold coloured cross topping it.

 

Where the Koningstraat crosses with the Spiegelrei I spotted this oldtimer on the bridge with a nice backdrop of the Jan van Eyck Square.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

I must have spent around five hours up there and after going through at least 6-700 shots decided to return to earth and maybes get a couple of shots as the sun goes down over the lake.

Down at the car-park it was much warmer and no wind at all, ideal for multiple exposures for possible Tonemap shots. This is a mehod I am using quite a lot these days as it brings so much more out of shots with extremities of light. I bracket generally in 1 stop intervals with 3 shots, one under exposure, one normal and one over exposed. If I shoot into the sun then I make an extra two stop under and two stop over exposure.

The walk to the lake takes about 10 minutes passing behind the Eibsee Hotel and on over a bridge that separates the main lake from the “Untersee” a smaller side tributary. The view was truly amazing and I had timed it perfectly. The sun was painting the peaks with a firey orange tone, a dream for every landscape photographer, and it was all mine, there was nobody else there, just me, my camera, my thoughts and nature pure. I had to work quickly as the sun doesn’t wait long before heading off to another part of the earth. I wanted a Panorama too before leaving ;-). I just had enough time for two Panos and some wide-angle shots as the sun disappeared. I felt a great sense of satisfaction, a perfect days work. On the way back to the car I start turning over in my head what I had seen and experienced today, maybes disappointed at a couple of missed opportunities too and of course the excitement of viewing the days catch once at home.

 

Just before the sun disappears it sheds its golden light on many of the old houses leaving others in dark shadow.

Photograph by Douglas Stevens Photoviewz

But first I had to get home, which unfortunately involved a 30 minute traffic jam at the beginning of the drive on the Garmisch/Munich motorway near Farchant, a bit of bad luck but this only made the excitement of my homecoming even more unbearable.

Around eight in the evening I eventually arrived at my destination, greeted my wife with a kiss and the question “What’s for dinner?” before scooting off to my digital darkroom. My only negative thought for the day was “Shit, tomorrow it’s back to the work again”.

 

Portfolio Index

Complete overview to all categories of my portfolio.

Journal

A chronicle of places I have visited & documented with word & picture in recent years.

About

Me, my gear, inspiration & answers to frequent questions.

Blog

Putting pictures into words.