Friday, May 31, 2013

Photo-A-Day Friday 31st May 2013

In the late summer of 2010, on our 2nd foray into Continental Europe (Italy the previous year), Daphne, Stephen and myself got the ferry from Dover to Dunkirk and drove North for a few days in Bruges and then Amsterdam. 

Then we drove down and toured the East side of France before making our way up the West side and back to Dunkirk for the return ferry.

This was my first time touring France and I loved every moment of it.  The roads, major and minor, were so empty of vehicles that it was a joy to drive on them......even with the toll charges.

But it was the countryside that took my breath away, and of course the beautiful, hot weather made even better.

On the return leg we were in the Dordogne area of France and spent several hours relaxing in the scenic town of Brantome. Actually scenic didn't do it justice as it was a photographer's dream with stunning views everywhere.  Majestic buildings, clean clear water and my usual criteria for a good tourist photograph, blue skies.

This photo sums up Brantome.

As we left, I glanced back to try and take it all in one last time as I never expected to be back there again.

I should've known better as we did indeed pass near Brantome last summer on the way back from Spain and it was a unanimous decision to spend a few hours there again.  We had a lovely outdoor meal at a small restaurant on one of the main streets leading to the location in the photo and when we got to the water area, it was a complete deja vu experience as everything was the same........including the clear blue sky and the bright yellow canoes.

Hopefully I'll get to France again this summer and it remains to be seen if Brantome will be on the route.  It'll be hard to pass it by !

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Photo-A-Day Thursday 30th May 2013

At the end of September 2004, I was almost half way through another 6 months staying with my friends in Michigan (they now live in Florida) and on the spur of the moment we decided to go on a cruise to Hawaii.

As you do.

I can't remember exactly how it came about but we saw a great last minute 13 day cruise deal online and we just went for it.  Things became a bit hectic after that as once we'd booked it, we only had 3 or 4 days before we were due to fly to Vancouver to catch the Carnival Spirit which would take us to Hawaii over the course of the following 5 days.

The next 8 days would see us going island hopping as we'd cruise from one to another before finally docking again at Honolulu for the flight back to Michigan.   

This was my first time leaving America whilst already on holiday there since my run in with immigration the previous year and I know my name was on their list after that fiasco. So it was that I was again questioned at length before finally being allowed to board the cruise ship and there and then I made my mind up to contact Homeland Security on my return from the cruise to complain about my treatment.

I won't go into the details here but some months later I got a letter back apologising for my treatment and was assured I'd never have trouble again.

And I haven't. 

From Vancouver we had a wonderfully relaxing cruise to the Hawaiian Islands and I was able to cross that state off my list, leaving only Alaska still to visit. The ship docked at the 4 largest islands - Hawaii, Maui, Oahu and Kauai - and we had plenty of time to explore them all.  

We'd hired cars for 'the big island' (Hawaii) and for Oahu (our favourite) and this is my photo at the Hard Rock Cafe at Lahaina, Oahu as it always reminds me of our time there.  This has to be the best HRC in the whole world if location is a factor. It's right across the road from the Pacific Ocean with stunning views from the patio where we had our meal, watching the occasional cruise ship out on the water. If you click on this link and pick the patio still on the right, you'll get a view of where we were in this photo.

On the last day, having cruised full circle back to Oahu, we used the rental car and went to Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbour and The Honolulu Hard Rock Cafe on a packed day before heading to the airport for the flight back to Detroit.

It was easily the best cruise I've ever been on and it was a great way to see the main islands which are all so different.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Photo-A-Day Wednesday 29th May 2013

Starting in 2009, and after 20 years of always touring America, I decided I'd missed out on trips to Continental Europe and so, with my friends Daphne & Stephen, I went to Italy.

We flew directly to Rome and spent 3 days there before driving off for 2 weeks of touring the stunning countryside and historic cities of Northern Italy.

On our first full day in Rome, we went to The Vatican and when we got to the end of the Via dei Cavalieri del Santo Sepolcro and turned left onto the Via della Conciliazione, that first view of St. Peter's Basilica will live long in the memory.

But even more stunning was the classic outside view from the top of the dome and that is my photo for today. Millions may have taken it before me but this is MY view and MY memory.

I'll remember it mainly because I could hardly keep the camera steady as I was so pooped from the climb up to and then around the dome. If I'd realised that being a tourist in Rome meant such exercise, I've have trained for the trip !   

It was the first of many signs that I was 'getting old.'

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Photo-A-Day Tuesday 28th May 2013

As I can't seem to find the blogging muse these days or maybe because I'm still in a sort of pre summer hibernation funk due to this cold, wet, crappy weather, I thought I'd cheat and create an easy daily theme for myself.

Many personal sites and blogs post a photo a day taken on that day but I've many thousands of photos taken over the decades that have rarely, if ever, been illuminated by the light of the internet and so I thought my theme could be to post a random photo a day and try and say a few words about it.

The downside to this idea is that with my bad memory and the lack of any data from the photos themselves (being pre digital or the data being lost due to being copied and edited many times), I may often post photos I can say little about - apart from where they were taken.

My digital experience started with a 1mp Kodak camera back in 1899 or sometime (ok 1999) and so the quality of some photos may appear a bit iffy on modern computer screens.

Anyway to not be egotistical in any way, the idea is simply to post a photo a day and if any are interesting to anyone, then that will be a bonus.  

And it'll get me blogging again !  Ok maybe that's a downside too !

So first up, a scanned copy of a pre digital photo from about 1991 when my annual summer tour that year took me through Texas.  Once in Dallas I just had to drive a few miles north to visit the location of the hugely popular hit TV series of the same name.

Despite the show having ended a few months earlier, it was still uppermost in many people's minds and as I'd been a fan and watched every episode, it was very cool to go there.  The house and the land around it was private property and in any case, the interiors were filmed back in the studio in California so I didn't need to see inside.

There was a gift shop run by the owners to the right of the house and when I was there, the mother was serving behind the counter.  Of course she herself wasn't famous but I still asked her for a photograph and she was happy to oblige.  Sadly that one has gone AWOL over the years.

The photo....not the woman.  Although maybe she has too !

I also managed to get a photo of myself in front of the main gates but it's in a frame and I've never bothered to scan it.  It was also to the left of the gate in this photo and led straight to the front of the house and it didn't have the ranch name over it like this one does.

I've always said that was the warmest day I've ever experienced anywhere and I was sweating so much, I could hardly see to take photos. Lugging around a full size VHS camcorder didn't help either.  How the actors did their thing in suits etc is beyond me.  No wonder they were always drinking !

So there you have it....random photo No.1

Until tomorrow.............

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Brimham Rocks

Last Thursday the sun rose early, stretched and decided to hang around for the day.  And so it was that I decided to go for a drive as it was the first day of decently warm weather we'd had so far this year.

As I'm planning on exploring the UK this summer, I'd been thinking about becoming a member of a couple of the organisations that would allow me free access to stately homes, historic houses, beautiful gardens and scenic locations up and down the country.  

Fancying a spot of exercise as well as a drive, I decided to revisit Brimham Rocks as they were only 50 minutes away and if I joined the National Trust, I could park for free and thus 'save' on the £4 charge.  I became a member online, paid the £41.50 fee, got a temporary access card via an email which I printed off and I was set to go. 

First up, I needed lunch so I went to the Crown Carvery pub, The Wellington, on Wetherby Road and ate outside in the glorious sunshine.  A good start.

Putting Brimham Rocks into my GPS, I headed off NW to Harrogate Road and once through the town, went west on the B6165 towards Pateley Bridge.  

I'm glad I had the GPS as signs for Brimham Rocks were as rare as squirrel eggs as far as I could see. I knew I was eventually turning right onto Brimham Rocks Road (the clue is in the name) but a sign at the start of the B6165 at Ripley would've been both informative and helpful. 

Anyway there was a good clear National Trust sign at the turnoff onto Brimham Rocks Road so better late than never I guess.

This road was delightful with open Dales fields on both sides and on a sunny early spring day like last Thursday, it was a joy to have it to myself. Any Americans bringing their RVs over to explore this area.....beware.  This road is NOT for you. Actually it would be a tight fit for a good old British caravan but like I said, I had it to myself and my little Clio purred along with its recently replaced timing belt showing no signs of wear !

Finally I arrived at the car park and despite the presence of 3 others cars and a school van,  I found a spot and parked up.  Ok one little niggle right away.  In an effort to be all ecological and green, they've used wooden 'beams' to mark out the parking bays on this otherwise gravel parking lot but have used metal nuts and bolts to secure them into the ground. I dread to think what this could do to your tyres if you go over them and, say, turn the wheels a few times to get properly into the bay.

After placing my newly printed temporary NT membership pass on my dashboard, I noticed a man going to the pay and display machine and then looking a bit confused as he wandered back to his car where his wife and 2 young kids were waiting. As I got out of my car he came up to me and in slightly broken English, asked if there was a charge for only staying an hour as that's all the time they had for their visit.

I knew already that the minimum charge was £4 for 3 hours and I'd remembered thinking that was a bit unfair for anyone wanting less time for less money. The man opened his hand and showed me 3 pound coins and before I'd thought about it, I fished a pound coin out of my pocket and gave it to him. It was only later that I doubted that he only had £3 on him but maybe that was all the change he had. Anyway, it was my good deed for the day and hopefully they enjoyed their hour there !

So I walked the very short distance to the rocks and sure enough, they'd not changed much since my last visit, several years earlier !  Actually I'd been several times before as I've always been a bit of a climber and the rocks were perfect for my level of fitness.

Sadly I soon discovered that those days are gone and at 60, I looked at some high ledges and spaces between the rocks and thought......hmmmm, I could do myself a mischief here or even....hmmmmmm not a chance in hell !  Then again, I was wearing jeans so didn't have much in the way of "freedom of movement" so that'll be my main excuse.

With so few people around, it was great to be able to take photos without anyone (else) clambering over the rocks. I didn't mind the occasional visitor as they'd help to give scale.

At the top of one particular rock I found two half drunk bottles of pop, probably dumped by two of the kids who were now gathered around the school van in the parking lot ready to leave. As it wasn't far, I picked up the bottles and walked down to the car park intending to put them into a bin.

Well I would've done if there HAD been a bin.  Not one.  Two car parks and not one bin !
With the British attitude concerning litter (even if there is a bin nearby I'll just drop my litter on the ground as someone is paid to pick it up anyway), it might be reasoned that bins are pretty useless but at least have them for those of us who do like our scenery unspoiled by litter. Without them, there is no option. The NT told me they have daily collections by volunteers but come on, surely that's playing into the hands of the litter louts AND does nothing for the views between those daily collections. 

End of rant.

I left the bottles behind the pay and display unit so at least they were hidden from most views.

Backup up at the rocks, there were a few 'proper' climbers doing their thing and despite the rocks not being that high, many had sheer sides which were a decent challenge and good for training purposes for future harder climbs.

 It was while at the top of one of the taller rock formations that I had an epiphany.  Always happens to me when nowhere near a restroom !

To be serious, it came as I glanced across to my right, away from the usual views over the Dales.  It came about as there were no leaves on most of the trees so I could see much more than on any previous visit.  I saw more rocks !

Holy crap on a stick !!  There were dozens more formations spreading as far as the eye could see.....and last Thursday, on top of that rock, with no leaves in the way, I could see quite a distance. 

All those times I'd been to the rocks, I'd thought the small group near the car park were the only ones.  What an idiot.  I should've known.  I'd never seen any of the ones on the website and as for the visitor's centre and gift shop etc........nope, I'd never seen them either !

So I went exploring and what a to the right of me, rocks to the left of me and so on. In fact you couldn't move more than a few feet without coming across another formation. And again, with so few people around, I felt I had them all to myself.

I found the balanced rock, similar to the one in Arches Natl Park in Utah and one with strange eroded notches in its side which made it look like the portholes of a ship.

As you can tell from these photos, and the ones to come, there was a sort of main path that would take you past many of the rock formations; to see them all, you had to get off this path and go on ones created by the feet of the thousands of visitors who had explored the location over the years.  Some were grassy and easy to walk along but others you had to make yourself by walking over smaller rocks and navigating around trees, rocks and other natural obstacles. It was great. I loved it.

Finally I came upon the visitor's centre which I knew wasn't open during the week at this early part of the season. It all made sense now. I finally understood why you'd need to spend several hours there. The rocks covered a vast area. By now i'd been there just under 3 hours and there was still so much to see but I needed to get back home.

I'll include one short video clip as most were too long for Blogger to deal with here. There is no commentary from me except for occasional heavy breathing as I'd climbed over pretty much every rock between the car park and the visitor's centre and, technically speaking, I was knackered. 

Sad to say, uploading it to Blogger has reduced the original HD quality so much that you really should leave it at this small size. If you click to make it full screen, you'll get something like from a BBC documentary from 1947.

Four final shots. 

First up, my initial view of the visitor's centre off to the left in the distance, taken from the top of a rock. Then on the way back, a black & white view of a tree growing out of another formation. The penultimate photo shows a formation looking like an Egyptian Sphinx (and later I learned it was called....the Sphinx !) and finally I came upon a pair having a read/nap in the late afternoon sunshine. 


Back in the car, I really didn't fancy the drive back through Harrogate at rush hour and the A61 to Leeds at that time would've been pretty awful too.

Well it was as if my GPS knew that, as it took me back a different way which totally avoided Harrogate and instead, took me along delightful Dales roads, one as straight as an arrow for miles so clearly 'made' by those Yorkshire Romans !  

It also took me along the B6451 past Menwith Hill, the joint UK/US 'listening station' with it's 30 distinctive golf ball shaped radomes. I'd never been that close to them before but resisted the temptation to stop for photographs as somehow I knew doing so would add about 2 hours to my home time !  Or maybe 2 years !!

I wanted my supper.

So that was it.  A grand day out as Wallace would've said...if he'd been a real person and with me. The sun shone, the rocks were brill and I got a lot of much needed exercise.  

I slept like the proverbial log that night. And I'll be going back for sure.

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