Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ten Things I Never Knew About Norway

Ten Things I Never Knew About Norway (before going there)

  1. The very best, tastiest, and sweetest strawberries anywhere on the planet are grown in Norway. It’s not just something they boast about. It’s true. So if you are looking for one and only one reason to make a trip to Norway, let it be: strawberries.
  2. Trolls have tails. Somehow, this detail evaded my childhood education regarding trolls, I just thought they were small scary looking things with big eyes and long noses, who turn to stone in the sun. Apparently, they also have tails. Now, I really well and truly have no desire to cross paths with a troll, not in Norway, not under the Freemont Bridge in Seattle, not at a gift shop, not anywhere.
  3. It never really gets completely dark in the summertime – this leads some to suffer from “darkness deprivation”. The sun has been setting around 11:30pm and rising around 3:30am, and the sky stays light in between. But they tell me that in the winter, they still get 4-6 hours of daylight and never experience 24 hours of darkness.
  4. It rains more in Bergen than any other city in Europe. What’s crazy about this factoid is that Bergen has also burned down in more fires than just about anywhere else. How, exactly, the wettest city in Europe manages to catch fire at all, ever, is beyond my comprehension.
  5. There are a gazillion tunnels in Norway, and the Norwegians are master tunnel builders. Not only do they tunnel to get through the steep mountains, but they also build tunnels to cross deep ocean fjords…underwater. Those who suffer from the aforementioned “darkness deprivation” should live in one of these tunnels.
  6. It is possible to spend 10 days in Norway without ever encountering a Viking dude wearing a horned helmet, or a Viking maiden with long blonde braids.
  7. There’s supposedly a Norwegian youtube celebrity by the name of Kolbjorn who videos himself jumping rope in different places around the world. He also rides bikes backwards, on the handlebars, both downhill and uphill. He was on our cruise and introduced us to many Norwegian chocolates. But now I can't find anything to substantiate his existence online. Anyone?
  8. Norway wasn’t always the most expensive country in Europe. In fact, it was one of the poorest before oil was discovered and exported in the 1970’s.
  9. Parental Leave in Norway allows a generous 47 weeks with 100% pay, with fathers specifically getting over 3 months of that. Parental responsibilities are equalized. Norwegian dads make baby-wearing and diaper-changing look as manly as chopping wood.
  10. Apparently, Disney’s movie “Frozen” has made Norway a popular family destination this year. Our trip was planned long before the movie came out, and we weren’t sponsored by Disney or anyone else for that matter. The Norwegians weren’t jumping on the Disney bandwagon themselves; no Disney princesses lining the gift shop shelves. They remain true to their culture and heritage with abundant souvenirs of Viking ships, trolls, and ski wear, none of which appealed to me. I happily redirected my souvenir budget on fresh Norwegian strawberries.
I didn’t photograph any strawberries, trolls, tunnels, Vikings, fires, Disney princesses, oil rigs, baby-toting dads, or even Kolbjorn. I did manage to photograph the lack of darkness.

For images, see “10 Things I Never Knew I’d Photograph in Norway”.
(coming soon)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Selfies with Strangers: Cuba (Part II of Series)

Recently I debuted a new blog series "Selfies with Strangers" featuring Morocco and, yes, myself. But wait, it's not all about me. In fact, it's not about me at all, it's about travel and photography, and sharing the perfect tool for enriching your experience of travel, and for taking better pictures when you do.

The travel experience is about more than beautiful landscapes, iconic architecture, luxurious hotels, and good food. It's about people - discovering the other humans who share our planet and observing their culture, customs, and way of life. My recent travels to Cuba provided the ideal circumstances and opportunity to learn more about the people, face to face.

How could I resist a selfie with with Cuba Bling Dude?

If I've taken a picture of someone, I share it with them. That's easy for anyone to do, after the fact.

But try sharing the camera before taking the picture. It's never any easier than with kids. Taking selfies with kids is especially rewarding, as they love to see themselves and often want to push the button.

Selfie with two boys before I photographed them

Two boys at Muraleando Projeto, Cuba
These demonstrate that having engaged and shared with the kids first made for a more relaxed and genuine photo when I shot them candidly. You can also see that the boys have a relationship with the photographer, and are comfortable just being themselves in front of the camera.

Although I am a photographer, I don't hide behind my camera - too busy perfecting settings or looking through the viewfinder to take in the life happening around me. I know, shyness is a big barrier for many photographers. I understand. I used to be a "shy person", and in some circumstances, like meeting Frans Lanting or Jan Morris, I still am. But when traveling, I find the experience more fun being engaging than being shy. Then the picture has a story, and tells a story, too.

Engaging with a local banana vendor in Remedios

The Banana Man first sees himself on the phone...
Now he's ready to take the selfie!
Here are more examples of my "selfies with strangers" in Cuba. 

A proud moment with my Afro-Cuban Dance instructor in Trinidad

My "Uncle" Enrique who welcomes me as family every time I return to Cuba

Selfie with the man who rolled my first Cuban cigar at Finca Robaina

Clearly, I'm not shy when it comes to connecting with people of other cultures. But let's get back to the kids, and you can see for yourself just how effortless it is to engage with others and take "selfies with strangers" for more story and depth to your photos.

Kids dressed as honeybees in Caibarien

Young dancers/performers in Santa Clara

Finally, I think this sums it up as well as anything - I didn't realize I had the iphone set to video when I went to take a selfie with the kids....and look what happens!

This post is shared for #IGTravelThursday. Search the hashtag on instagram and also discover Instagram Travel-related blog features every week!

More on Cuba:

Cuba Cubed - instagrams of Cuba
Cuba From the Heart: Mourning and Music
Cuba Image gallery

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Roadtrip for Cameras: California's Pacific Coast Highway - the Central Coast

California's Pacific Coast Highway 1

Summer is fast approaching when Memorial Day Weekend comes around. It's the time of year when folks load up their cars and drive - some like to get away for the long weekend, some prefer to go across the country for a month. As for me, I like to load up my camera gear, extra memory cards, and take the slow, scenic route.

Rock Formations along 17-Mile Drive, Monterey

Based in San Diego, I’m pretty much already at the end of the road for most road trip routes, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have options. I live in Cardiff by the Sea, just a few blocks from the section of Pacific Coast Highway that runs through San Diego’s north county. I love everything about the PCH, I grew up taking family road trips along this coastal highway, and have vivid memories of watching the ocean and scenery from the backseat. I have a few faded photographs too, but those stay in the family scrapbook. I decided it was time to do this road trip all over again – this time, for my camera.

My Starting Point: Carmel by the Sea

My Ending Point: Cardiff by the Sea

First, it's an absolute must to spend more than a day in Carmel by the Sea. I based my stay in two different but equally awesome hotels: the Vendange Inn, a classic motel thoughtfully re-designed for wine-lovers, and the Hofsa House, an ideal family and pet-friendly hotel with spacious rooms and great views.

View from the Hofsa House Hotel in Carmel by the Sea

From here, it is a short drive to Monterey via the infamous 17-Mile Drive. Photo opportunities abound, and I found that an early morning made for the best chance of viewing wildlife and avoiding crowds at significant stops along the coast.

17-Mile Drive, California - Images by Kymri Wilt

Monterey and Carmel both have a great variety of restaurants to choose from, depending on your mood. Some of my local favorites are: The Beach House at Lover's Point, Pacific Thai Cuisine, both in Pacific Grove; and in Carmel, Mundaka Spanish style Tapas Bar, Village Corner for breakfast, and Basil Seasonal Dining for dinner.

While in Monterey, be sure to check out Pacific Grove sights such as the lighthouse, and Monarch Grove Butterfly Sanctuary. If you are here between October and February, look for Monarch Butterflies, who gather here in the Eucalyptus Trees to mate, before continuing their migration.

My camera was certainly having a great time exploring the Monterey Peninsula, and we hadn't even left Carmel yet! Before I headed south, I went east to explore the Carmel Valley - a popular region for wine growing with many tasting rooms and ranches to visit. I checked out Holman Ranch, a fabulous setting for weddings, retreats, and special events. There I found lots of great eye candy for the camera, and was particularly captivated by the property's Coast Live Oak Trees.

Heading south on Pacific Coast Highway 1 from Carmel, a must stop is Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, a great spot for whale-watching as well as viewing other marine mammals, like adorable Harbor Seals.

I set out early, and found the sandy beaches of Carmel and the foggy coast of Big Sur to be particularly photogenic in the morning light.

Oh, there is so much to see and do! I lost count of how many times I pulled over to take pictures. One of my favorite stops, which is also one of my favorite campgrounds, is just south of the Redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur, called Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. I love it because it's quieter, less visited, and has an pretty fantastic waterfall that spills into the ocean. While better to photograph in the afternoon light, it is impressive nonetheless.

Continuing down the coast provides plenty of scenic vistas and countless opportunities to pull over, which you'll want to do often, as the Pacific Coast Highway winds it's way clinging to cliffs with steep drops to the ocean below. The speed limits are lower and require driving more slowly and carefully. Road closures for repairs due to landslides are not uncommon any time of the year.

It finally begins to level out, and takes on a different character through San Luis Obispo County. Here my favorite roadside attraction is the Elephant Seal Colony at Point Piedras Blancas, just north of the Hearst-San Simeon State Park region.

Finally, just before the Highway turns inland for a long stretch, there is perhaps the most breathtaking of all natural land formations along the California Coast, and one of my favorite stretches of beach, at Morro Bay.

From here the road leaves the coast, and becomes a whole new story, for another day, another blog. While California's central coast road trip on Pacific Coast Highway can be done in a day, you really don't want to rush it. There are numerous State Parks and historic sights to see, as well as lodging options ranging from campgrounds to 5-star hotels. Take your time, and take your camera.

On instagram, check out my stream and hashtag #electrictrek.

For more photos, see the Mira Terra Gallery of California images.

Disclosure: All or part of this trip was provided free or at reduced cost for review purposes. Chevrolet provided me with a Chevy Volt for my road trip - see my honest review on SheBuysCars.com.