GREENLAND ICE FLOES: by John Branton, July 2010
Having become inveterate cruisers, my wife and I decided to see the ice floes on the west coast of Greenland and experience some of that country’s spectacular and unspoilt scenery. These waters are known as the North West Passage, a trade route to the Pacific Ocean sought by early explorers, but found impenetrable due to thick pack ice. Due to global warming however, the Passage became briefly navigable for the first time in August 2007 and again in August 2008.
After calling at Cobh in Ireland, originally Queenstown during the Irish mass emigrations in the 19th century, and the last port of call of the Titanic, we made passage across the North Atlantic to Qaqortoq. The ship anchored off-shore due to the small harbour and landing was made by ship’s pinnance. A small community of 3,300 people on the southern tip of Greenland, Qaqortq was established in 1775 although there is evidence that Norsemen settled in the area 1,000 years ago - around the time Leif Erikson made his voyage to Canada. It is the most picturesque of Greenland’s towns, benefiting from the warmer temperatures, which probably accounts for its steadily increasing population.
Situated 125 miles inside the Arctic Circle, and the closest port to Canada, Ilulissat was founded in 1741 and has a population of 4,500 inhabitants. Inuit settlements have existed in the region for over 4,000 years. Apart from coastal areas, central Greenland is covered by an ice sheet and Ilulissat has become well-known due to its proximity to the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq glacier. This is the most productive glacier in Greenland and flows at a rate of up to 35 feet each day, depositing billions of tons of ice each year into Disko Bay. It is also the source of large icebergs, typically 200,000 tons with only one eighth of their mass above water, that drift south along the East American seaboard. These icebergs can reach the latitude of New York, and one from the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier is thought responsible for sinking the Titanic.
Eternity is the popular name for Evighedsfjord, some 200 miles south of Ilulissat. This fjord runs 50 miles inland to Mount Taterat, where two glaciers enter the fjord from either side of the 4,500 feet peak from the great Sukkertoppen ice field behind. A fjord of quiet solitude and breathtaking beauty, with giant waterfalls along its length, inhabited by thousands of birds living in the cliffs along the fjord. At the base of Mount Taterat there is a nest of Arctic Eagles. The only sound is of birds and the crack of the 100 foot high glacier as the ice calves into the waters of the fjord. A magical place.
Continued south along the coast accompanied by several pods of 30-40 Minke whales to the town of Nuuk, founded in 1728, and now the nation’s capital with 16,000 inhabitants - approximately one third of the population of Greenland. The town is at the centre of Greenland’s trade, where the main industry is the catching and export of all types of fish, including shellfish and seal. Like other towns in Greenland, the economy of Nuuk is heavily dependent on funding and investment from Denmark.
Cape Farewell Passage
Approaching the southern tip of Greenland along the west coast, we turned into Cape Farewell Passage. The passage is formed by a network of fjords eminating from the west and east coasts, effectively turning the southern peninsular of Greenland into an island. After a short distance, the small Intuit settlement of Augpilagtoq appeared and the ship hove-to while traditional gifts were given to inhabitants who appeared in boats. Progressing further along the Passage, the fjord narrowed to 400 yards, where small icebergs were encountered that had to be eased out of the way. Eventually the ship reached the Prince Christian Sund, the narrow strait leading to the east coast of Greenland, the open sea and Denmark Strait
The world’s most northerly capital city, Reykjavik is the natural centre for exploring the many islands that comprise Iceland. The main island is geologically active, being on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary of two techtonic plates, with active volcanoes, geysers, and geothermal springs. The interior is mainly tundra and sparsely populated. Two-thirds of population live in Reykjavic, the major fishing and industrial port, situated in a large bay where whale watching is a popular tourist activity. During the visit, Minke whales of around 25-30 feet in length were seen surface feeding in the bay accompanied by a frenzy of hungery seagulls.
Inclement weather and choppy seas prevented the scheduled visits to Torshaven in the Faroes Islands and Kirkwall in the Shetlands. A rapidly re-arranged itinerary substituted visits to Bergen and Amsterdam, which we had both visited before. Our time in Bergen was spent in the old town and traveling up the modern funicular railway to Mount Floven
Having visited Amsterdam previously by road, it felt eerily strange to travel 16 miles in a large ship along North Sea Canal canal to Amsterdam, through the lock at Ijmuiden, and berth near the centre of the city by the main railway station. However it was also pleasant to refresh one’s memory of this delightful city, before returning and dis-embarking at Dover the following day.
PELICANS : by George Sainsbury Feb 2010
A journey to Florida in February 2010 to walk the National and State Parks, avoiding Disney, hoping to see parts of Florida off the international tourist circuit. Turned out to be the coldest February in 40 years with strong winds coming down from the snow covered States to the north. Still the walking was good as long as you had 4 layers of clothing. Besides the walking my holiday needed a focus. This is where the Pelicans came in.
and more Pelicans : Action, enter stage left, or is that leave stage right
One is bound to admire the Wildlife photography of the BBC, with their ultra sophisticated lenses etc. However, in a Club meeting it was also easy to admire the hares, birds and tigers shown by some of the members. There was the pin sharp focus, the avoidance of back lighting, the patience and the knowledge of the behaviour and habits of the animals. Taking all this into consideration together with some personal baggage( having to use A/F because of an eye problem, and the lack of time ); I had to fix on an amenable subject. Hence the Pelicans, largely because of their apparent indifference to a photographer trying to get a close-up.
Planes leave vapour trails in the sky : Pelicans leave other sorts of trails
Time to get to know my subject. The American bald eagle is a regal bird, the Owl looks wise, even Flamingoes are strangely elegant. The Pelican on the other hand,when on land, is a stubby waddling Oliver Hardyesque figure with a ridiculous beak. Flying, they are speedy, elegant and superb fishers and in this mode are hard to photograph. Their eyes give them away as regards their character: almost cross-eyed and squinting they are bossy, predatory,scrounging and owners of their bit of space. Big birds with wing spans up to 10 feet, the Brown and White Pelicans can commute 100 miles to the feeding grounds to eat fish, amphibians, crustaceans and small birds.
That's the trouble with these youngsters, no stamina
Pelicans have been around for a long time. Fossils date back 40 million years. They have also gained a place in the symbolism of the Medieval period. Early observers of Pelicans thought that they were deliberately stabbing themselves in their chest to get blood to feed their young(actually they do this to empty their bills of water). As a result, the Pelican became a symbol of the Passion of Jesus and the Eucharist. The Pelican is also the symbol of Corpus Christi College in Oxford.
Psst - rumour has it that Barry Maniloe is in town :" fly me to the moon, and let me "
So with all this in mind off I went to take my photos, thoroughly enjoying myself and learning a lot about photography in the process. My thanks to the Pelicans and to Club Members for their inspiration: bring on the lions!
THE BALTIC CAPITALS : by John Branton September 2009
Having thought about visiting the Baltic for some time, my wife and I finally took a cruise around its capital cities. The cruise took two weeks and, on the second day, began with the transit through the Kiel Canal. An eery experience, seemingly gliding at 5 knots in a large ship along a narrow strip of water, through 65 miles of German countryside
Emerging into the Baltic, the first port of call was Stockholm, Baltic’s largest seaport built across 14 islands with 40 bridges. The city reflects Sweden’s prestigious past, when it was the most powerful Baltic state in the 16th century. This was reinforced by a visit to the museum housing the magnificent Vasa warship, sunk on her maiden voyage in 1628, and subsequently preserved in near pristine condition by the mud and fresh water. The vessel was recovered, her timbers treated, and then moved to the museum in 1987, where it provides a unique insight into maritime life of the period.
Continuing, via Helsinki, to the city of St Petersburg, one cannot but admire the restoration of the city after the ravages of World War 2. Situated on the River Neva with many bridges, and sometimes known as the Venice of the North, this relatively young city is perhaps the most European of all Russian cities. The great wealth of the Tsarist period, with palaces and historic treasures, are evident everywhere. As the cradle of the 1917 Russian revolution, epitomised by the cruiser ‘Aurora’ that fired the signal gun to start the uprising, the city retains much of its Soviet era architecture and attitudes.
Tallinn in Estonia, was a great surprise. This city is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a beautifully preserved medieval Old Town that offers a truly magical experience. The Upper Town is characterised by watchtowers, walls and winding cobbled streets, the Lower Town offers red roofs and soaring towers. It is easy to imagine what life was like there 600 years ago. The golden era of the city was the 15th century, when the city attained power and influence in the Baltic region through membership of the Hanseatic League
After visiting Riga in Latvia, the next port of call was Warnemünde. Situated at the mouth of the River Warner in Germany, this fishing village is the seaport for its neighbour, Rostock, and reflects a gentler way of life. With large beaches, golden sands, quays and fishing boats, the village has an attractive, open appeal to the visitor that makes it a popular holiday destination.
The penultimate visit was to Copenhagen, the largest city in Scandinavia, which has somehow managed to retain its low-level skyline. Cruising the city’s many waterways, the historic influence of this 11th century city at the entrance to the Baltic can easily be imagined. Today, the city is a pleasing mix of modern architectural styles and the older ‘Hans Anderson’ buildings that are the city’s unique heritage. Then, after continuing with a short visit to the small seaport of Kristensand in Norway, our Baltic cruise came to a memorable end.
KADOOMENT DAY IN BRIDGETOWN, by George Sainsbury
Kadooment day is the culmination of the Crop-Over festival. This cultural Festival is traced back to the 1780'ies, and is one of the oldest festivals in the world. Masquerading and dressing up is an African tradition and is intended to bring good luck and remove evil spirits.
In Barbados, Crop -Over takes place after the sugar cane harvest and the final processing to produce sugar in a useable form. Interestingly enough, in the 1700's useable sugar took the form of 2 foot high pyramids. These were exported to Britain where users scaped of what they needed with a knife. Huge profits were made by the plantation owners, never by the slaves!
On Kadooment Day,
"bands" parade in the National Stadium to be judged. A "band" of revelers are expected to be exotically dressed, show happiness, enjoyment and uninhibited release- all the while dancing to music. Once the winning "band" is identified all the "bands" dance through the streets. This is when it really becomes relaxed, uninhibited and frequently erotic. (Couldn't put those pictures on the blog). A jolly good time is had by all, including the spectators. Everyone follows behind large flat bed lorries packed with electronic equipment and 6 foot high loudspeakers with a manic DJ trying to increase the sale of hearing aids by playing Ring Bang Music.(For the uninitiated Ring Bang Music, has its origins in Steel Band Calypsos, but the addition of driving rhythms and shouted lyrics makes it more like Calypso Punk. Never the- less it is very popular and very danceable if you like shaking your hips.)
What did I learn as a new digital photographer?
Freedom to take photographs that reflect the mood of Kadooment day. Previously taking slides was inhibiting, if only because of the cost. Shoot, shoot and shoot!- when editing you realize that you can never take enough shots. Photographs that appear ripe for deleting, can be manipulated to produce something that may be exciting. This always assumes they are in sharp focus and you can use Photoshop. (Still learning!). Attend Club Meetings. At a recent one I listened to a talk on AV production and presentation based on your digital photographs. Very interesting: but have you noticed that Club Evenings highlight software or expensive equipment you do not have but wish you did. However I have enough photographs and a personalized Ring bang CD mixed for me by the DJ who won the most votes of the festival goers to encourage me. Smile, look happy and everyone enjoys having their photograph. Street photography is not as easy as it seems and does require some planning. Never shoot upwards to take the stilt walkers: Over exposure! Will have to look for advice from Club members.
NORWEGIAN FJORDES by John Branton
Having visited the Norwegian Fjords on a cruise two years ago, and witnessed the fantastic and unique scenery of this region, I had promised myself a return visit which was eventually arranged for 23 to 28 May 2009. Once again, the visit was by cruise ship and although this constrains the itinerary by virtue of the ports of call that are selected, there is probably no finer way to enjoy the majesty of mountains dropping vertically into water than by seeing them from the deck of a ship as it travels slowly up the Fjords. Roads are virtually non-existent, except in the vicinity of the towns and certain hamlets.
Having spent a day crossing the North Sea, the first port of call was Stavanger which was once a prosperous fishing port and the sardine capital of the world. The port's symbol is actually the key of a sardine can. However, the port is now a city and the centre of the Norwegian oil industry, which has both transformed the national economy and made the city a cosmopolitan centre of the industry. Foreigners constitute a tenth of the population. However, the charm of the old port still remains in the old quarter with its cobblestone streets, paned windows and terracotta tiles.
The second port of call was the hamlet of Flam, that lies in a tributary towards the end of Sognefjord and which, being 130 miles long, is the longest and most beautiful of all of Norway's Fjords. Flam is noted because it is the terminus of a 12-mile electric railway that winds up through the mountains and ravines to the main Oslo-Bergen line at Myrdal. Apart from some spectacular scenery, the railway is noted for its sharp gradients and engineering which, not being funicular, requires two engines to haul eight carriages with allegedly five independent braking systems.
The village of Olden stands at the end of the shorter Nordfjord, and represents a quieter aspect of Norwegian life with quaint wooden houses, forests and a simpler way of life. The remains of nearby stone age houses indicate the region was inhabited 10,000 years ago. Also close by is the massive Jostedal glacier which has 24 arms stretching out into the valleys and lakes, which feed the fjords in this region.
Bergen was the last port of call and, with its sheltered harbour, is the oldest port on Norway's west coast having being founded in AD 1070. By the 13th century, it was the most important town in Norway and the nation's capital until Oslo took precedence. A trading centre and part of the Hanseatic League, Bergen still retains the medieval wharf-front buildings, warehouses and narrow alleyways that have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Away from the old town, Bergen is a bustling city that lies at the bottom of seven mountains slopes, and noted for its exuberant fish market and providing a temporary home to numerous cruise ships.
SURPRISES IN VIETNAM AND CAMBODIA by George Sainsbury
Having done the research for my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I felt well prepared. However there were three aspects of life in these two countries that the guide books did not cover. Before describing these I should point out that I have taken up digital photography in the last year and a half. I have a Nikon D200 with a 28-200mm lens. Photoshop Elements 6 is still full of mysteries and amazement. I joined the AD&D Photographic Club hoping to learn. The welcome, help and advice has been marvellous; the monthly assignments and Club exhibitions challenging and stimulating. I wish I had started earlier. Still, on with my suprises.
Vietnam has a population of approx 86 million. The density of traffic in any major town leads you to the conclusion that virtually every one of the 86 million Vietnamese has a motor bike. They are used for everything, carrying live pigs (two at a time), crates of ducks, ten foot tall saplings, families (4 people on a 250cc bike), two sideboards and a wardrobe. Shopping and haggling in the night market is conducted from the pillion seat as the baby sits astride the petrol tank, with the engine running, to lull them to sleep. Crossing the road to get to an ATM where you can become a dong millionaire for about £40, you need to have been given good advice. “Step off the pavement, look straight ahead do not stop continue walking. What ever you do, do not look at the riders, they will become confused”. Needless to say, trying to cross two carriage- ways for the first time in Hanoi was faced with some trepidation, but it worked!
Cao Dai Temple
The Cao Dai Temple in Cambodia is a riot of colour; it would be a good photographers dream. This religion is the result of a civil servant in 1919 combining elements of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity and Islam to promote peace. Several millions of Vietnamese at home and abroad follow the teachings. The adherents taking part in the service certainly impressed with their commitment and sincerity.
Houses and water
Land taxes are not low in Vietnam (this is why properties are very narrow but high), and if your house is built over a river, is on the sea, or a lake there is no charge.
As a consequence complete communities are to be found, living, working, sleeping, praying, going to school or the local bar all while floating on water. Probably the two most incongruous sights I saw in one floating village was a basketball court in full action, and a pig sty with two apparently happy pigs. They were sleeping!
It was a good trip, wish I was a better photographer, but I am getting better
BRUGES TRIP by philip a rigby LRPS
Day One - means here l am at the crack of dawn in the Eurostar terminal at St Pancras waiting for the train. Few interesting faces floating by, and this has given me the opportunity of trying out the Leica D4 in a " Street " environment. Don't know yet whether l am going to settle with this camera, but hey, that is the whole point of bringing this camera, and only this camera, with me to Bruges. To see what it can do for me. Prior to the trip, l had been impressed with it's sharpness close up at the wide angle end of the lens and with the Dynamic B&W setting. But there's something l can't quite put my finger on at the moment, which hopefully will be resolved by the end of this short trip.
This morning we enjoyed a guided tour on foot and discovered the remarkable history and secret nooks and crannies of the city. This was the perfect way to get your bearings in Bruges, the city having many museums and art galleries, where you can admire work by Flemish painters. In the Church of our Lady you can view one of Michelangelo's works of art. Photographically, not the best day, in that we have been blessed with slate grey skies all day long.
Ghent and Ypres. After a short journey south to Ghent, we toured the historic centre, famed for its great cathedral and remarkable altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck, one of the most beautiful works produced by the Flemish Great Masters. After lunch we continued to Ypres and visited some of the monuments that record the events of the Great War, including the Menin Gate and the nearby 'In Flanders Field' Museum. The Menin Gate l found more than a little emotional especially when taken into account with the Menin Road - you could almost imagine thousands and thousands of troops marching up the Menin Road and through the Gate on their way to the front line.
The In Flanders Field museum with it's stretch of original trench was a little bit surreal, simply because of the horde of Belgium / French school children running amock amongst the trenches laughing and joking and generally messing around. It seemed somewhat disrespectful to the events of the Great War. The Museum has collections of old war material such as shells, rolls of barbed wire, the odd artillery piece and items of personal clothing that have somehow survived.
The canals of Bruges. Today was all about discovering the alleged " Venice of the North " by way of a private canal trip, a relaxing way to see the beautiful heart of Bruges. We also visited an artisan chocolate-maker and toured the evocative brewery museum - a perfect introduction to two of the great flavours of Flanders!
One last wander around Bruges, before catching the mid day train back to St Pancras, via Brussels. So what are my thoughts on the Leica D4 : I'm still undecided. Whilst it's small and compact size is very useful indeed, being able to carry it around all day long in your pocket without noticing it's presence, the range of the zoom is without doubt a little bit of a handicap for someone like me who enjoys " Street " photography. Where it does work in " Street" is inside buildings such as restaurants, where being able to just place the camera upright on a table and slowly rotate the camera to whichever angle you wish before pressing the shutter (silent mode) means secrecy, if that is what you are after. The other advantage in a " Street " situation is if you are spotted, generally speaking people tend to ignore you, as you are just another tourist with a pocket camera, and therefore no perceived threat to them. Take the camera inside a building such as a Church / Cathedral and it really comes into it's own, being almost invisible. The automatic ISO adjustment works really well, enabling you to take photographs with ease without flash, and the wide angle Leica lens is a joy to use down at f2.0. The more l think about this camera, the more l am seeing it as a companion to the Leica Digilux 2, rather than a replacement. Together they make the perfect combination, complementing each other rather well.