Posted in Culture, Travel

Big Bend NP – Texas

In a short lull in the Covid19 Pandemic, we decided to go to Big Bend National Park.

We had actually booked the Chisos Mountain Lodge, in the middle of the park, for the first week in June six months earlier as this was a trip we really wanted to do.  However, the lodge was still closed.  We read that the Park would reopen on June 1, 2020 for day-use only so we made preparations and decided to drive there with a short stop in San Antonio on the way.

We rented a house in the Terlingua Ranch district so that we would have cooking facilities and be more independent; we also brought essentially all of own food and drinks as we read that not much was available locally.  We arrived to a wonderful house on Jun 1 around 4PM and settled in.

On 2 June, we drove into the park early in the morning – we quickly found out that this was a good strategy: (1) there was no one to collect our money at the entrance gate and (2) we were ahead of whatever crowd would come in.

One warning – if you do not like photos of wide-open panoramas, you might as well stop right here!  Big Bend is nothing if not wide open country with many different types of views, but always expansive.

As we drove into the park heading for the Santa Elena Canyon I could not resist this shot, just to prove the point above…

I did not drive very fast, we we were able to stop for the odd wild-life on the side of the road – this one was difficult to miss…

As I was photographing, he decided to fly away.

This last one is probably the best … we were so close, I hardly needed to crop this photo to make it look better.

Even early morning (about 9:30) it was already hot as we prepared to explore the Santa Elena Canyon.

Here is the view as we approached the canyon.  The Rio Grande makes the border between Texas (USA) and Mexico.  The left side of the canyon is in Mexico.

Continue reading “Big Bend NP – Texas”

Posted in Culture, Travel

Iowa in August

Yes, we went to Iowa in August 2019.  There was a very good reason for that: Bee had to drive a large farm tractor.

We also went to the Iowa State Fair and visited Madison County.  We had a really nice trip.

The tractor deal was a promise made by a friend many years before that and she did come through – her brother provided the tractor and the instructions.

Bee was concentrating hard for the maneuver to take the tractor out of the hangar.  It would not ave been good to crash right away.

It was not a very long ride, just enough to get a feel of the “beast” and say “I did it!”  We were fascinated by the switch with a hare and a tortoise – allowed to select between high and low speed.

While we were there, I drove it too.  It was by far the largest tractor I ever drove.  The oldest one must have been the Porsche I drove in the 70’s in Belgium – it was over 30 years old at the time.

The State Fair was quite an occasion.  Neither of us ad ever been to one and so it was an opportunity to see a side of American Culture that few visitors see; even a lot of Americans who live in cities have never been to a state fair.  We saw lots of farm animals, a wagon driving competition, explored some very large tractors, had chicken on a stick and tasted the six wines who had won the “Best” awards that year.  At the end of the day, we saw a concert by “Foreigner” (great – but I did not care at all for the opening act!)

This was a new experience for me: the first time I did not finish the glasses that were offered in a wine tasting.  Actually I finished one out of the six that was drinkable – the other five were way, way too sweet for my taste.  Later on during this trip, we went to one of the wineries in Madison County (The Covered Bridge Winery) and found very nice wine.  We started talking with the Winemaker and he reminded me that in judging wine, one has to differentiate between wine that one likes, and wine that is well made.  The wines that win the competition are very well made, but maybe not in a way that I like; that is a good point that I had not thought about before.  From that point on, I am now saying “I do not like that wine” rather than “that is not a good wine”.  Apparently people in Iowa prefer sweeter wines and most winemakers will make a sweeter wine to please the local palate – surprisingly enough, they do not make wine to please just me and I have to accept that.

After two days in the Des Moines area, we decided to move to Winterset, in the middle of Madison County where we had booked at the beautiful Heavenly Habitat Bed and Breakfast.  More on that at the bottom of this post.  On the way, we stopped at the Living History Farms – a large park where life in Iowa 100-150 years ago has been recreated with some original buildings.  We had a very interesting visit starting with the farms which are only reachable by taking local transport – a cart pulled by a tractor.

We went for a walk in the fields and saw this fence overgrown with wild flowers – very simple way to separate fields if you do not need barbed wire to keep animals in or out.

Not far from the fence we saw this beautiful bird who did not seem to mind our being there – or maybe he was waiting for us to leave so he could eat the bug in peace.  He is very discreet, keeping an eye on the bug, but looking distracted while doing so.

Continue reading “Iowa in August”

Posted in Culture

Christmas Eve – Bonfires on the Levees

In 2004, while I was living in Baton Rouge, I decided to stay home for Christmas.  My parents were coming and spending New Year with me, but I was free on Christmas Eve.

Somebody told me about Bonfires on the Mississippi levees around Lutcher and Gramercy so I decided to check it out.  At the time, I was still using film, but the company I used to develop the film had a special offer to put photos on CD and I took advantage of it.  I therefore had saved digital versions of the photos from this first visit – not necessarily the best quality, but good memories.

I arrived a few hours before the fires were lit, and was amazed at some of the constructions.  This is a log cabin that was fully equipped inside, with tables, chairs and dummies.

The ghost that you see in front of the photo is the result of a technique I used with my film camera when I was faced with a crowd.  I would put the camera on the tripod and take several super-imposed shots without winding the film.  Since people move, only the fixed objects that I am trying to photograph are clearly visible.  Here, I probably only took 3-4 shots.

At 7 PM, the fires are lit, and there are fireworks, by individuals.  Some of the fireworks are quite nice – I have no ideas how much money people put into these.

There were quite a few people, but it was not crowded.  Even the River Road was not totally jammed.

The majority of bonfires are pyramids that tend to burn quite well.

I like the movement of the embers in this photo.

Even the log cabin went up in smoke Continue reading “Christmas Eve – Bonfires on the Levees”

Posted in Culture, Travel

Costa Rica – Part 2: Monteverde

Following our successful stay in San Jose, we joined our Wilderness Adventure Group and headed off to Monteverde.  We had a very good driver and arrived there in good time.  Early enough for lunch and a first exploration of the lower tropical forest nearby.

Costa Rica is known for its very rich fauna and so we went immediately in search of  interesting creatures.  We all had a list of the “must see” on the trip.

This was not one of mine, still quite a nice centipede, I think…

Our guide was excellent at spotting small birds; I am not good at remembering names.

This was a stroke of luck, actually spotting a butterfly as it is coming out of its cocoon.

The feeders afforded a unique opportunity to see hummingbirds.  They are still not easy to catch, particularly to catch them in flight.

This one appeared to be posing for me – or was it just waiting for its turn at the feeders.  Not sure what the protocol is among the hummingbirds. Continue reading “Costa Rica – Part 2: Monteverde”

Posted in Culture, Travel

Costa Rica – San Jose

Every year, Bee and I try to go somewhere new for New Year. This time, we had decided rather early that it would be Costa Rica, but given that we moved to Houston and were distracted by many other things, we only booked our trip very late. Most of the time was spent with Wilderness Travel on a fantastic tour of some of the best National Parks and wildlife reserves in the country.

However, before and after this adventure, we spent a few days in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

On our first day there, we took a walking tour of the city. We started at the Post Office a superb pre-Art Deco building (completed in 1917) with a secret inside (which we discovered the next day on our second walking tour). Still today, most people do not receive mail at home. The use of street name and addresses is rather new in the country and people still use landmarks rather than street names to give directions. Families own post office boxes and there are thousands of them in this building.

San Jose is also full of street art. These are just some of the better statues that we saw on our walks

My favorite is this tribute to the ordinary working men and women, placed right in front of the Central Bank. Members of our tour group decided to pair up with the statue they liked best.

This is a metallic building from the late 1800’s.  It was made in Belgium and shipped here in parts then re-assembled.  There is also a metallic school, all pink that was also made in Belgium.  It seems Belgium was very famous at the end of the 19th century for its metallic constructions and exported them all over the world. Continue reading “Costa Rica – San Jose”

Posted in Culture, Travel

Greece – Santorini

I am very late, but I want to continue the Greek Odyssey before I start other trips.
From Amorgos, we headed to Santorini, the place I probably anticipated the most of the whole trip. There is indeed room for disappointment here.

As we left Mykonos, we passed the fast ferry probably coming from Santorini.

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We approached the Caldera from the South and this is our first glimpse of Fira, the main ‘urban’ center in Santorini

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This is Oia, the city right at the entrance to the caldera.  We will explore this on foot our last day.

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Another view of Oia – the main sites are all right at the top of the caldera, and there are wide open spaces in between these.

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Fira – You can see the path that descends from town to the old port, now only used for local tours.

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Posted in Culture, Travel

Greece – Naxos and Amorgos

After a few days, it was time to leave Tynos and we moved to Naxos, a large island to the South.

We took another ferry to get there and had interesting views along the way.  Travelling by ferry, at this time of year, is very relaxing.  The ferries are not very crowded and therefore we just lounged around on the top deck, looking at the islands float by.

On the way we met this very interesting cruise ship which was making a stop at Mykonos – there are more and more sailing cruise ships and I think it would be a nice experience to try it, one of these days.  However, I suspect that these are fully automated and therefore there is not much “sailing” involved.

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We ended up spending only one night in Naxos as the weather was getting worse and our guide feared that ferries may not be able to sail on our planned departure date.  He gave us the choice of one extra day in Naxos, or one extra day in Amorgos and the group chose Amorgos (and I think we made the right choice).

One of the attractions is the Temple of Apollo with the “Portara” which is an almost intact door frame.  It sits on a peninsula just outside of the main town.

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We saw ferries come in and out while we were walking around.  There was a very strong side wind at the docks and we watched with interest as the “Cosmote” high speed ferry took 5-6 attempts to get its landing right.  It made for good lunch time entertainment.

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I had to take a picture of the town viewed through the Portara.

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A better view of the town, with the castle up at the top and the docks on the right.

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As I said, we did not spend much time on Naxos and took our next ferry to Amorgos.  This took several hours and was due to make three stops along the way.  We were relaxing on the top deck and I just happened to be looking around when I saw this strange sight.  Looks like a dozen high speed boats heading straight for us.  The first thing that came my mind was: “I did not know they had pirates here in Greece! What do we do now?”

Why else would a formation of high speed boats come towards us like this?

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As they approached. I noticed they were actually going past us, and I started to feel better, then they slowly, still in formation, started to turn around and come after us again.  There were 3-6 people on each boat but they did not look too menacing.

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Posted in Culture, Travel

Greece – Athens, Tinos and Delos – Part 1

In May 2016, Bee and I spent three weeks in Greece, mostly visiting the Cyclades Islands on another Wilderness Travel adventure.

Before we joined the group, we had a couple of days in Athens on our own.

We explored the small streets of Plaka before ending in Monastiraki, which I remembered well from my first visit in 2009.

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The is the daylight view.  I had taken this night time view of people in front of the church back in 2009 – I was publishing  smaller photos at the time.

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Another church is this one, the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea, situated in the middle of the main street from Monastiraki to Syntagma Square.  We were able to see it inside – by pure luck as we saw someone getting out and managed to convince the cleaning lady to let us in as well, for just a few minutes.

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As if often the case in Athens, the church is a lot older then the neighborhood around it.  It is thought to have been built in the 11th century, probably around 1050 (according to Wikipedia).  It may have been part of a convent at some time.

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We spent the first night at the Hilton, and our view of the Parthenon and Acropolis was blocked by a construction crane.  When we joined the tour group, we moved to a different hotel, much closer to the Acropolis and we had this great view f the Parthenon from our room.

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Continue reading “Greece – Athens, Tinos and Delos – Part 1”

Posted in Culture, Travel

Peru Episode 6 – Arequipa

Our last stop in Peru was in its second largest city – Arequipa.

We traveled there from Puno by bus, not a very pleasant experience for me.  We had bought VIP Seats, since they were not a lot more expensive than the regular seats on the tourist bus.  Unfortunately, the seats were at the lower level of the double-decker bus, with very limited view outside the bus, and none towards the front.  I can get car sick if I cannot see outside.  What was worse, most of the drive was at night, going up and down mountain passes, and there was not much to see anyway!  The road turned a lot too.  So I just traveled with my eyes closed most of the trip.

We arrived at Arequipa very late and went to bed immediately after a quick dinner – we did not see much of the city on the first evening but discovered that we had found a really nice hotel, not far from the Plaza de Armas, or the main square of the city.

The following day, we woke up to a gorgeous day with sunshine and not too hot.  Arequipa is much lower than where we had been so far, only 2400 m above sea level, but it is surrounded by 5000+m mountains covered in snow.

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We were amazed by the very intricate decoration of the front door of this church compared to the rest of the wall.  We had not seen that before in Peru for such a simple neighborhood church.  This is the Church de la Compania – right next to the Plaza de Armas, the main square of the city.

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We visited the Convent of Santa Catalina.  This is a very large convent, or a small city within the city.  There are streets with ‘private’ apartments for people who wanted to get away from the every day life, but did not necessarily want to fully embrace the life of a nun.

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The central square of the Monasterio is very colorful!

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We had an excellent guide who walked us though the convent for several hours.  We walked down several small alleys like this one.

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Continue reading “Peru Episode 6 – Arequipa”

Posted in Culture, Travel

Peru Episode 5 – Sillustani and Colca Canyon

Welcome to another installment of our (not so) recent trip to Peru.  Things keep getting i the way of my finishing this, but I am getting there.

I am now several other trips behind, but will catch up eventually, I guess.

We left you on a small island in Lake Titicaca and this episode actually starts still on the island, the morning after the glorious sunset which closed the last episode.  Before the boat brought us back to Puno, we had a chance to walk around the island some more and see more animals.

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The Alpacas are still there, still as cute as the day before and not afraid of us at all.

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There is bird life as well – I am not sure what this is, but I thought it had a very colorful head.

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This one had just collected a seed and was probably wondering if I was about to steal it.

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Rabbits too…

As we were waiting for the ferry to take us back to Puno, I noticed water birds that had a very strange behavior.  Every so often, one or more of them would start splashing around like crazy.  At first I was not quite sure what was going on, so I started to take pictures.

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