“But that's the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don't want to know what people are talking about. I can't think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can't read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can't even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
― Bill Bryson
, Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe
I think Bill has it right - really
travelling means losing yourself and even your understanding of the world sometimes. Whether that means losing yourself on a beach for a week with a series of books or trying to navigate places so foreign that nothing is easily understood, there are many ways to escape the ordinary. This is probably what draws many of us to travel - the chance to forget about deadlines at work, bills that need paying and household chores that need doing. If you do it right, you can even forget the date, day of the week or, in extreme cases, the time of day. The longer your journey is and the further from home you venture, the easier it is to exist outside of the day-to-day; to really lose yourself in another time and place.
Our trip several years ago to Nuuk, Greenland was a prime example of this. Cruise ships stop here on occasion in September when the ice supposedly has melted enough to allow a close approach to shore. Once ashore we had the run of the town, which had suddenly grown in population by a factor of two with the arrival of our cruise ship. The folks were friendly and welcoming and as long as you remembered to look both ways before crossing the street (traffic signs are suggestions here), you really can't get into any trouble. And speaking of signs, many are written in Greenlandic (Kalaallisut), the language spoken by the Inuit of Western Greenland. Helpfully, most were also written in Danish, which meant that I could stand there and understand that I was completely illiterate in TWO languages while also appreciating just how exotic and exciting that was :-) Jan and I easily navigated through the town and learned there was a baby boom underway (nine months after the coldest, darkest month of the year), that raspberries where $12 for a small container, and the we could shop at the same JYSK store we had back in Saskatoon. Although we were here only a day, it felt like we were far away from our usual lives and selves. To be able to share, even for a few hours, the way other people lived in such a remarkable place was a real gift. Recently I have gotten to know a fellow traveller who I would like to introduce to you. Adam Shepard has just spent a year travelling the world and taking the time to really learn about other countries, people and himself in the process. His new e-book, "One Year Lived'" takes the reader with Adam
through seventeen countries as he lived, worked and learned along the way. His book begins with his first bungee jumping experience and proceeds on from there in easy to read and engaging prose. Adam is a traveller, not a tourist, and as he year progressed, he met incredibly interesting people and experienced each country in a new and unique way.To mark the release of Adam's book on April 18, we gave away a pdf version of his book "One Year Lived" next Wednesday, April
25 at 6:00pm CT time. And the envelope please....... congratulations to Jeff-yes-that-Jeff
for the win!
Further information about Adam and "One Year Lived
" is available here
. or read the press released via the link below.
|File Size: ||154 kb|
|File Type: || pdf|Speaking of remarkable journeys, our upcoming Alaska Cruise and Photo Seminar on September 16 will give participants a chance to escape the ordinary and practice their photo skills in one of the most spectacular places on earth. Drop by our home page and see where we will be going and what we will be doing.
Yep, 27 days at sea from Southampton, UK to Quebec City via New York! This was really two cruises in one - a seventeen day crossing to New York and then a ten day cruise along the eastern seaboard to Quebec City - all on Crown Princess and all in the same cabin. It wasn't as claustrophobic as you might expect - we had a cabin with balcony so that on the days when it was warm enough we had extra room to use.
The weather? Well, temperatures ranged from around 20C in England and Canada to 3C in Greenland. We thought we had brought a range of clothes to wear but we still wound up buying extra along the way just to stay warm!
Was the sea ever rough? In a word - yes. Ever wonder where the hurricanes that rip up the east coast of North America go when they finally say goodbye to Newfoundland? Yep, right into the North Atlantic. We missed one stop in Greenland because it was too windy, foggy and icy to make harbour. We missed another stop later in Newfoundland because of hurricane strength winds between Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia. Don't even talk to me about the weather as we left Akureyri, Iceland bound for Reykjavik via the Denmark Strait!
Was it the best cruise we have taken? It rates right up there as one of the best. While you are on a great white cruise ship with all the comforts, it is still adventure sailing on a route like this. Ports were missed, other ports we arrived at late and the weather made sailors out of all who were on board, but the stops we did make in Shetland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland were beautifully fascinating and worth the effort to get to.
Watch this space as we share more about the trip and some of our experiences along the way!
Back Street in Gamla Stan
Many first time cruisers are as afraid of the shore excursions as they are of getting seasick. They believe that they will be trapped on a bus full of octogenarians slowly moving from tourist trap to tourist trap, pausing only for the occasional photo stop or pee break. You can avoid this scenario with just a little preplanning that will let you chart your own course and go your own way. Here we have outlined some alternatives that you might want to consider to keep you from seeing everything through the window of a tour bus:
1. Wait until you step off the ship to book your tour:
this doesn't work in all ports of call, but in some, local tour companies set up kiosks to hawk their services. If you like to be flexible and take things as they come, you can find some good deals on interesting excursions right on the dock. A number of ports also have hop-on-hop-off buses stopping close to the pier. These buses will give you an entire tour of the city and allow you to get off and explore whenever you want.
2. Book ahead of time via the Internet:
typing the name of the port followed by "city guide" into any search engine will get you a number of leads to local tours and guides. This doesn't help determine the reliability of a guide halfway around the world though. We use sites like cruisemates.com and cruisecritic.com to look for recommendations from other cruise passengers who have visited in the ports we are interested in. Booking a local guide is best in cities where there is little English spoken or where the tourist infrastructure doesn't cater to foreigners. We have booked our own car and driver in St. Petersburg on a couple of occasions and were able to visit a number of places where only the locals go.
3. Cruise ship walking tours:
while you will still be with a group of fellow passengers, walking tours will usually take you to the center of town or to places where tour buses simply can't go. You will still probably hit regular tourist attractions, but you will be able to experience the port at street level and at a more relaxed pace.
4. Your own walking tour:
if you arm yourself with a little bit of local information, you can often go exploring on your own and then find your way back to the ship the same way you left. Cruise ships will provide maps that will help you navigate most ports of call. Using the Internet to research a port ahead of time is a good strategy as is asking your crew
about the interesting things to do in port. There are a number of iPhone apps that will help you explore as well. Take a look at Real Southeast Alaska app
that will provide information about major ports and as well as less visited ones. Cruising Alaska: A Guide to the Ports of Call
is an entire book (and costs as much) that you can carry around on your iPhone. City Listen
provides MP3 sound files that let you take your own walking tour of some cities including New York and Paris. Continuing in the vein of "there's an app for that", the iPhone apps store has guidebooks and maps for most major ports of call, giving you the ability to carry a great deal of information around in your pocket.
5. VIP Cruise Tours:
more expensive than regular shore excursions, these tours have fewer guests and go to more exotic places. These are great for passengers who want a little more excitement but don't want to make independent plans. As an example, in Juneau, a VIP gold mine tour takes guests into an abandoned gold mine.
6.Tours with local photographers:
it used to be you had to book these kind of tours on your own, often at considerable expense. Now, passengers can find cruise tours lead by local photographers who will know the places to go at the proper time to catch the best light. There is a great photo expedition you can book on some cruises that takes you whale watching and hiking with a local photographer in Juneau. Princess also has several photo expeditions you can book on the Canada/New England run.
If you are interested in finding the path less travelled, there are a number of options available to the resourceful cruise ship passenger. If you have your own ideas about getting off the tourist trail, please share them with us here.
Celebrity Millennium in Port
Updated May 2013
Cruising places you in parts of the world where the spectacular scenery seems to go on forever and challenges the photographer to create an image that maintains some of the "depth" of the scene in two dimensions. There are many ways to achieve this depth, one of which is to literally focus on the foreground to give a sense of proximity for the viewer. Sometimes this is best achieved with a wide angle lens as outlined below.
Wide angle photographs can be quite dramatic with the perspective they offer but they can take in so much that there is no impact whatsoever. Personally, I love how much of an image you can render sharply with a wide angle lens and a small aperture.
The image to the left is the classic shot of a cruise ship in port. As these things are huge, you have to get back a ways if you ever hope to get a recognizable amount of the ship into a photo. While on shore looking for a "beauty shot" of our ship, I was walking towards the bow where I could see that it was tied to massive yellow cleats that were mounted right on the pier. Selecting 24mm on my zoom lens and f/13 on my camera, I was able to take a picture with considerable depth of field from the cleat to the bow off the ship. The bold yellow adds interest to the foreground and the nylon lines draw the viewer's eye up to the ship.
Placing leading lines in an image helps balance things in the foreground and background. They also help to guide the viewer from one portion of the photo to another. Leading lines may move up into a picture or across it, but an image is often stronger when connections are made between various picture elements.
Cartagena Tug Boat
Here I was trying to capture the huge expanse of white skyscrapers in Cartagena, Colombia but I was struggling with the usual property of a wide angle lens as it turns mountains into bumps and skyscrapers into bungalows. Cruise ships pass quite close to Bocagrande on their run into the port which provides up-close images of some of the city's buildings. Unfortunately, by the time the full width of the Cartagena skyline is visible, you are so far away that you have to decide: wide angle for the entire cityscape or telephoto for a much narrower, but more detailed image.
I also had the option of trying a fast and dirty panorama shot with a telephoto lens, but the ship was moving and the speed of my Canon 5D Mk II in taking multiple images is best measured with a calendar. So, as I stared at the scene deciding what do, a tug boat slipped around the stern of our ship and pulled up alongside to shepherd us to the pier just in case the captain had some kind of seizure in the last 1/4 mile of our journey. While this made me significantly more at ease, it also placed a colorful picture element smack dab in the foreground. Now with the tugboat to draw the viewer's attention, I thought I could use the wide angle to capture this image.
No sight lines in this image, but a bright picture element to balance and fill the foreground.
From May 23 until May 30, we will be holding a giveaway for one of David Duchemin's wonderful ebook "A Deeper Frame". This is a very engaging look at how to bring depth and presence to your photos in simple and effective ways. Live a comment here (you need to leave an email address for us to contact you if you win but is is hidden and we don't use or sell your email addresses) and hit the retweet button on this page and you are in. Winner announced her on May 30.
Dawn in St. Petersburg Harbor
Landscape photographers tend to be a sad lot. They are in bed once there is no longer any usable light so they can be up prowling around before dawn to catch the first light of day. One of the things I love about cruise ships is they often arrive in port early in the morning and, given the height of the decks, the ship makes an excellent shooting platform providing a perspective that is often not possible to catch from ground level. I love how silently such a large vessel glides slowly into port as if it was floating on air rather than plying its way through water. Every chance we get we are out on deck or our balcony to be part of the majestic arrival of our ship. There is no other means of transportation that is as slow and silent as the arrival of a ship in port and this is one of the reasons we love the experience so much - there is a slow motion dignity to this means of transport that is missing in our usual frenetic transit from place to place.
Landscape photographers work hard to avoid shooting into the sun on a regular basis as it can, without filters and careful consideration, wash out colors and make the correct capture of highlights and shadows almost impossible. If you are willing to shoot at dawn or dusk when the sky is often saturated with color, shooting into the sun can create dramatic images.
The silhouetted industrial cranes to the left were shot about 5:30am as we arrived in the harbor at St. Petersburg, Russia. The shot was directly into the sun and I knew that by exposing for the sky I would get the orange light of morning and the shadows would block up giving only the outlines of the cranes. This also served to hide most of the industrial detritus scattered around this working port.
Silhouettes work for the same reason that black and white images do - they strip away most of the color and let the viewer focus on the shapes and forms in the image. The cranes stand out against the orange sky as there is very little additional detail in the image. If this had been shot in the cold light of day, the cranes would just be part of the industrial machinery on display in port.
Kids at the Aquarium
While you can't see the sun directly in this image, the light blue behind the aquarium glass is the result of sunlight on the water's surface. Once again, by exposing for the lightest part of the image, the darker parts become silhouetted and there is a distinct loss of details in the children. This draws the viewer's attention to the Beluga Whale in the background and the children's arms pointed towards the whale.
This silhouette technique is relatively easy to achieve with most cameras as you simply let the camera go about its usual work when you point it at something bright - it will properly expose the brightest part of the image and throw the rest into shadow. Sometimes you may have to brace you camera against something solid because the light, even in the brightest part of the image, can be quite dim. Avoid the "shakes" by bumping up your ISO or finding something solid to steady the camera on.
Creek Street, Ketchikan
Sitka was founded because of the sea otter fur trade. Skagway started because of the Klondike Gold Rush. Ketchikan
came into existence because of salmon. In 1883, a man by the name of Snow set up a salmon saltery near present day downtown Ketchikan. Soon after, a cannery was set up on the Ketchikan River and was followed by the stores and homes needed to support the developing town.
Ketchikan is located on the western shore of Revillagigedo Island at the southern extreme of the Alaskan panhandle. The Tongass Narrows is the channel cruise ships take into and out of Ketchikan and separates the town from its international airport on Gravina Island
. Why isn't there a bridge joining Ketchikan to its airport? Well, funding was
set aside for a bridge until someone called it the "Bridge to Nowhere
" and now there won't be any bridge at all.
Ketchikan is rich in totem poles. Visits to Totem Bight State Park
, Saxman Village
, Potlatch Totem Park
, the Totem Heritage Center
, or even Whale Park
in downtown Ketchikan will give you plenty of opportunities to view and photograph totem poles up close.
Given the origins of the town, it is small wonder that fishing charters are quite popular here and that many cruise passengers use this port to try their luck catching a salmon or two.
If you would rather stay on shore, there is shopping galore in the compact downtown core. A short distance beyond downtown - and well worth the walk - is Creek Street
, where today small shops ply their business where bars and brothels like Dolly's House
used to stand.
Ketchikan has a great hardware/souvenir shop/grocery store right at the pier where savvy cruise passengers pick up water, soda and snacks to haul back on board ship. Try to make the Tongass Trading Company
on the pier one of your last stops.
This port is a great introduction to Alaska if it is your first port of call and an even better place to do the things you still haven't done if it is your last stop. Be prepared for the rain that falls very regularly in Ketchikan, but get out and enjoy yourself in this wonderful port of call.
Warnemunde Lighthouse and Teepot Restaurant
is a quiet, little port
in the north eastern coastal region of Germany. Its attractions are an incredibly long beach, hand arbeit lace and the train that will take cruise passengers to Berlin. Most cruise guests see about 500 feet of Warnemünde as they walk from the pier to the train waiting at the neighbouring station that whisks them into Berlin for the day. The train ride is 3+ hours each way, making for a long day. Jan and I chose instead to stay in the local area and we took a tour of Rostock, the larger city close to Warnemünde.
looks like many other Hanseatic League cities - in other words, quite Dutch. In spite of the fact that the city was bombed to oblivion in 1942 and 1945, buildings have been rebuilt and reproduced with astonishing detail to the original look. Walking through the historic main shopping district and past several open air markets is a great way to spend some time.
There are a number of interesting churches you can visit as well. St. Peter's Church
, built in the middle of the 14th Century, has a tall polygonal spire with a viewing platform partway up giving excellent views of Rostock and the Baltic Sea. The residential district surrounding the church is wonderful and quiet to walk through.
In Warnemünde itself the town lends itself to exploratory walks and the discovery of small shops and little restaurants to pass the time in. Running parallel to the train tracks but on the other side from the pier, the Alter Strom (Old Canal) is lined with restaurants and picture perfect houses. Jan and I simply walked the streets, peering into shop windows and admiring several interesting churches. Our explorations eventually brought us to the very long (3 km) beach which stretches along the Baltic Sea. At one end is a working lighthouse built in 1897 and the Teepot Restaurant
in a building that looks quite pretty for East German architecture.
We put in a full day exploring in and around Warnemünde and would recommend this pretty town to anyone who wants to get up and personal with the sights, sounds and people in this part of Germany. A wonderful thing happened during sail away just at sunset. As the ship manoeuvred away from the pier, the loudspeakers began playing "Time to Say Goodbye" by Andrea Bocelli - a nice touch. The ship slowly made its way down the channel between Warnemünde and the Baltic, and a flotilla of local tour boats lined up on both sides of the ship and moved with us. They were filled with German tourists out for sunset cruises. As we made our way along, the small boats accompanied us, blowing their horns with passengers waving, singing and toasting us as we left a surprisingly wonderful port.
Everyone who cruises has their favourite ports of call and Jan and I are no different. While every place we visit is interesting and has its own charms, there are some places we really look for ways to return to. Sitka
, Alaska is one of those places. Located on the west side of Baranof Island
, this community of 9,000 is located in an area where the Tlingit people have lived for tens of thousands of years. Russians settled in Sitka (then known as New Archangel) in 1799 to pursue the lucrative sea otter fur trade and Sitka became the capital of Russian America in 1808. When Alaska was purchased in 1867, Sitka was the capital of the new American territory and remained so until the capital was moved to Juneau in 1906.
Sitka displays its Russian heritage in many ways, the most predominant of which is Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral
at the intersection of Lincoln and Matsoutoff Streets; and by intersection, I don't mean on one of the corners, but right in the middle of the street. As you drive by, remember to make that right-hand turn at the proper time or you will in inside the church! The church was built in 1848 and rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1966.
The Sitka National Historical Park
, located to the east of the marina and within walking distance of the pier, contains an old growth rain forest with Tlingit totem poles
placed throughout the park. Walking through the park and continuing further east you will find the Alaska Raptor Center
which rehabilitates raptors from around North America.
For those who would prefer to explore for marine wildlife, Allen Marine
operates cruise and independent excursions that go out into the Sitka archipelago to look for seals, sea lions, whales and huge rafts of sea otters just floating about in the water. Of all the ports in Alaska, if you want to see sea otters in any numbers, this is one of the best places to do that.
This is a port that is quite easy to explore on your own and the relatively compact size of Sitka makes most of the things you want to see within walking distance of the pier. If you would rather not walk the entire way, consider taking a bus tour to the raptor center and then walking back to downtown via the National Historic Park.
As a side note, Sitka does not have berthing facilities for cruise ships so all passengers are tendered in to shore. The harbor is well protected so there is little chance of heavy seas preventing or interfering with the tendering process but those passengers with mobility issues should be aware of this.
Christmas Day, Oranjestaad
I didn't realize that Aruba
was only thirty miles from the sun. It's hot there. Shake you by the collar there. Get my shorts and t-shirt there. Let's have margaritas for breakfast there. Can I take my air conditioning with me there.
We sailed in on Coral Princess
and docked next to downtown Oranjestad
(Orange Town) just before dawn on Christmas day. This was our first port of call and we were still thawing out after leaving the deeply frozen north for this warmer climate. Stepping out on deck and into 100F and 100% humidity, my camera lens immediately fogged up - even my eyes developed a light haze. While I waited for the fog to lift we decided to make a run to shore before the sun came up and it became any hotter.
While there are wonderful opportunities to go diving, fishing and exploring the natural beauty of Aruba, we chose to take the more relaxing option of walking around Oranjestad instead. The downtown streets facing the harbor are lined with pastel coloured buildings housing every kind of tourist shop where you can spend from a few dollars on ice cream to thousands of dollars on a Rolex. Christmas was blissfully quiet as no stores were open and few of our fellow passengers ventured to shore so early. The accompanying photo is of the main street near the harbour - L.G. Smith Boulevard on probably the one day of the year when there is little traffic and fewer tourists about.
The motto on car license plates in Aruba is "One Happy Island" and the few locals we did meet were relaxed and friendly. The downtown is easy to walk through and there is quite a bit within a few block of the pier to keep the interest of photographers. Like many of the ports in Alaska, there are hawkers at the pier entrance who will drive you to a beach
or take you on tours of the island.
Aruba is a beautiful island and Oranjestad is a fascinating town just to walk around and enjoy. Next time I am going to prepare myself better from the change in temperature though by sleeping in my oven for a week or two ahead of time.
, the capital of Alaska and until the mid twentieth century the largest city in Alaska, is a playground of activities for the million cruise passengers who visit each year. Located at the north end of the Gastineau Channel, this town of 30,000 has been known at various times in its past as Rockwell and Harrisburg.
Within the town limits (which are actually quite large), visitors will find the Mendenhall Glacier
about 12 miles from downtown. The glacier has been retreating for over 500 years with Mendenhall Lake forming in front of the glacier in 1958.
Mount Roberts towers above the southern portion of Juneau where the tramway
to the top will eliminate the need to slog your way to the summit under your own power. On a clear day the view from the top of the tram is spectacular and the good folks of Juneau has provided quite a nice souvenier shop, restaurant and interpretive center at the top. Providing the trails are not closed due to bear sightings, the walk down from the top, while it takes a little while, is a beautiful way to enjoy the scenery and perhaps a glimpse of wildlife along the way.
Cruise ships dock at the south end of Juneau where you can step off the ship and start shopping or join a tour without walking very far. Ship tours around town are quite popular as are whale tours out of Auke Bay Harbor
. Float planes take off and land near the cruise ship dock taking guests out to view (and land) on glaciers. Juneau is also a great place to go out on a fishing trip should you be so inclined.
Many independent tour operators set up booths on the dock to entice passengers to join a huge variety of local tours. Juneau also has several "hidden" attractions if you care to head out on your own or with a taxi tour. The Last Chance Mining Museum
, above the town and off of Perseverance Trail will reward you with a look at an historic mine without all the tourist embellishments. If you care to drive a bit further, there is the wonderful Shrine of St. Therese
at mile 23 on the Glacier Highway. The grounds of this peaceful retreat are beautiful to walk around (and photograph). There is also a sea side, outdoor labyrinth that can be walked and contemplated.
This is a great port with a great deal to keep you busy regardless of your interests!