Blog - dreamscapephotography

Thoughts and Ramblings

  • Wed, 16 Jan 2019 16:00:00 +0000

    Perspective on perspective
    Over the years, I've had people ask me if I could give some tips on how to take better photos and for me, that's always been a very hard request to fill.  There really are as many tips you could give, as there are types of photography.  Each tip you might give someone can also change from photo to photo, situation to situation because as with any art form, there is no single answer or right way to do something.  Sure there are some "rules" that many photographers try to stick to but some of those are hard to explain without having examples on hand to show someone.  I never have those handy when the question comes up because.... well, I don't carry a computer around with every photo I've ever taken, and even if I did, I surely wouldn't want to pull all those photos up and show someone how many horrible pictures I take for every decent shot I get, while I go looking for something to use as an example.

    While I was looking for some old scanned images on my computer, I ran across a few photos that actually can be used for one of those tips and figured maybe I would write about that on here, in case anyone asks me again and I can just tell them to come and look here.  Fair warning, these aren't examples of "good" photos by any stretch of the imagination, but they do show one of the principals you can keep in mind while out taking photos, and that is one of perspective and leading lines.

    Maybe you've already heard about the tip about trying to use leading lines to lead the viewer's eye into the photo and you've put that tip to good use in many of your photos, but you still feel like you're missing something in those shots.   Part of the problem with just being told to use leading lines is that many people forget to mention to also try changing your perspective and see how that affects those leading lines.  Most people tend to stand upright and shoot their images from eye level and that's all well and good, but you might be missing out on a great opportunity to really put those leading lines to much better use in your photo.  Go ahead and take that shot as you first saw it because it never hurts to have a few options to choose from when you get back home, but after you shoot that image, try getting a little lower.  Maybe just bend down a bit, or drop to a knee, or even get the camera all the way down to ground level......  see how that perspective shift changes your image and see whether it makes those leading lines work even better for you and that image.

    Here is a quick example of shooting from three different heights, using a very popular subject as leading lines in a photo.  Look at each one and just see how the photos at different heights really change how powerful those leading lines are, and how your eye travels into the image differently in each shot.  Which do you like better?  Which shot pulls in you in the most?  What is it about that shot you picked that grabs your attention more than the other two?  Everyone will have different reactions to your photos but if you keep this tip in mind, you might find you get a shot that was pretty good from eye level, to one that is compelling if you just shoot from a lower angle.  Play around with this next time you're out shooting and see if you feel it helps your photos or not.

    Standing Up
    Kneeling DownCamera just above the Ground

  • Tue, 08 Jan 2019 20:30:00 +0000

    Dreaming In Pieces - Revisited
    It has been just over two years now since I tracked down a puzzle that was released using an image of mine. When that image first sold, all I knew was that it was going to be used on a puzzle, but was given no other information about it.  It took close to 6 months for me to find that puzzle out there in the world, but by the time I'd finally found it, it was totally sold out in the only country I could find it being sold.  I remember being very disappointed at first because (for many reasons I wrote about in that previous blog), I really wanted a copy of that puzzle for myself.

    I was telling a fellow photographer and friend all about it,  and about how disappointed I was that I couldn't seem to find it in stock anywhere, when they suddenly sent me a link to another company that still had the puzzle for sale.  Well.... in the excitement that followed I wrote that long and somewhat rambling post all about the puzzle, and my photo, and the memories and emotions it drudged up in me and many of you surprised me by rushing out and buying a copy for as well.  I think that blog post was probably one of the most personal things I've really ever shared with friends much less anything I have ever posted on the Internet for strangers to stumble across and read.  I was worried at first that maybe it was too much and I should take it down, but so many of you sent me really sweet and kind messages about that story, and about how much you enjoyed it.  So even though I felt a little silly, I do have to say think you for all the kind words. I'm not really sure if I ever did that as it was all kind of this weird blur to me at the time.

    It's been almost exactly 5 years now since my dad passed, and I find myself thinking about him more than ever this time of year. Those memories always bring me back around to thinking about those times we worked on puzzles together and then I think about that post about the silly puzzle two years ago, and now for some reason, I've received at least a dozen different emails in the last month from people asking me if I have any more puzzles for sale.  I've had to tell everyone no,  as the last three submissions I made to that puzzle company weren't chosen as finalists.  Not a surprise to me since they would receive hundreds of submissions and would only purchase 5 photos each time.

    I had spent a lot of time one and off, contacting puzzle manufacturers to see if I could maybe just self- publish puzzles through them and most of them told me they would love work with me and do that, but the downside each time was that they required minimum purchases before they would sing on to do the production work. For most of them, I would need to purchase at least 1000 copies of any puzzle I wanted to sell just to get the price point low enough that I think anyone would want to buy one.  But there was no way I'd ever sell 1000 puzzles on my own and I certainly don't want to fill my garage with hundreds of unsold puzzles....  I mean even with that first puzzle which turned out to be hugely popular, I think I only know about 15 people that bought one.

    Then in the last week, I discovered a company that would allow me to create puzzles from my images, with no minimum orders needed, and then to sell those puzzles through their online market place, where they would then create and ship puzzles as they are ordered.  The biggest downside to it though... is that they aren't nearly as cheap as the ones that were mass-produced and sold around the world, BUT I can actually now offer up any photo of mine as a puzzle in any size someone might want, if they want one.

    I started off with my two favorite photos from my trip to Vermont this fall.  Offering each as 500 or 1000 piece puzzles, and then I also picked two photos I've wanted to do myself as puzzles for a very long time and created 1000 piece puzzles out of them.  I really don't expect anyone will buy them at this companies price.... unless I get lucky and a big distributor takes a chance and buys one of them in bulk, but if you happen to be interested enough to take a look, or even purchase one, you can see them at my Online Puzzle Store.  If you would like to buy a puzzle from there, I wanted to point out that if you buy 2 or more, you do get a 20% discount which takes some of the sting out of the price.  They don't have to be 2 of the same puzzle, so you could buy two different puzzles and still get the discount.

    One big advantage of a company like this though, is that if you don't like what you see there or if you happen to like another image of mine that you'd love to have as a puzzle, you can just email me and let me know what image it is, and what size you'd like the puzzle to be, and I can custom create them by requested.  If you think the 1000 piece puzzles cost too much or are bigger than you like, I can make a 500 piece version or even smaller for you if you like.  The process takes about a day for me to size the image, upload it, configure all the information they need and then have them approve everything and make it available for purchase,  and I'd be happy to do that for you.  Just shoot me an email and let me know.

    If you think the prices are crazy and you wouldn't spend that much on a puzzle, or if you just don't like building puzzles, that's totally cool too. I think I only make about $2 per sale so I will never get rich off this and I'm not doing it for the money.  I just wanted to offer it up as I do get asked about puzzles from time to time now.   If you've actually read this far... thanks for sticking it out.  I know I started to ramble again. LOL

    I am going to buy a couple of these for myself now just because ...  to be honest....  they are a few photos I've always wanted to see as a puzzle and wanted to put together myself.  Maybe I'm just weird.
  • Sat, 05 Jan 2019 21:26:00 +0000

    2019 - New Year, New Goals
    Happy New Year!  I know when the new year rolls in, many people make a long list of resolutions for the new year, and if you're like most of us, that list is usually abandoned by the end of January.  I guess that's why I quit making New Year's Resolutions years ago.  This year though, I decided in it's place, I was going to set one or two goals based around my photography and would be easier to stick to, and hopefully will also help keep me motivated this year.  Those two things are to get out and shoot a lot more often this year than I did last year, and to finally start posting a lot more often to this blog.  Earlier today I was just making a few changes to my website, and got side-tracked going back and reading through some of my old posts on here,  and realized if it wasn't for a few of those short little stories, I'd have forgotten things about trips I've taken in the past and a little light bulb went on in my head.  I really need to write more, and if for no other reason, but to leave myself a diary of sorts to help me remember things about places I've been, shots I've taken, shots I want to take, ideas for future trips or anything else that comes to mind.

    Do I think everyone will want to read my ramblings?  No.... or course not.  But I do know there are a few of you that have told me you really enjoy reading about and following some of my adventures, so my goal this year, is to write at least a little something about any trip I take this year, big or small.  To keep me going I will probably sprinkle some of that other stuff in here too.

    I guess if finally dawned on me that I actually do enjoy writing and that it's a little bit of an outlet for me when I can't get out there shooting photos.  If I can't be shooting them, maybe I can be going back and finding some of my favorite shots from the past and writing a little about what those shots remind me of, or mean to me.    I also think I'll post at least one photo from every outing, no matter if they are good or bad, and write about what I like and don't like about them, and maybe talk about what I would change if I get a chance to go back and shoot them again.

    A lot of that will just be little notes to myself, but if you're curious to hear a little about how that little hamster on the wheel in my head works....  maybe you'll learn way more than you wanted to.  LOL

    If you're following along or want to comment on anything I post here, please do! I'd love to hear your thoughts, ideas, or anything else you'd like to share along the way.  I changed the setting on here so that comments are moderated. So if you want to comment, but don't want to share it with anyone else, you can just let me know that in your message too and I'll be sure to leave it marked as private.

    So that's it for my goals for the new year.  I have a few big trips coming up this year that I'm very excited about so hopefully I can make this entertaining, and leave myself a little diary to look back on later myself.  If you follow along, welcome.....  and here is to a very Happy New Year for all of us!
  • Tue, 27 Mar 2018 04:05:00 +0000

    What are you missing when you travel?
    Over the years, as I've traveled and visited so many iconic locations, I've often wondered how one place became so famous and popular while others are virtually unknown.

    That question came to mind once again as I traveled though the southwest of the U.S. this past year.   I planned a stop at Horseshoe Bend because I'd seen so many photos of it and just knew it was a place I had to visit at least once in my life.

    I do have to admit that it didn't disappoint... other than maybe getting there only to discover I had to work my way around a few hundred people taking selfies for my chance to take my own photo of this iconic location.  I could have stood there for hours watching the river and the clouds, waiting to see if the light would put on a great show at sunset that night, but a huge thunderstorm was moving in from the north and the more the wind kicked up, the more dangerous it got standing on the edge of a 1000 foot cliff, so I settled for the shots I'd gotten and made my way back to the car.

    It was on that walk back to the car that the question came back to mind.  How did this spot become so popular with the masses while another cool location, less than 30 minutes away, was virtually unknown. Earlier that day I had made a stop at that spot while on my way to Horseshoe Bend, but I only stopped there because I had discovered it while planning my trip using Google Earth, not because I'd ever heard of it before or even seen photos from there.

    If Horseshoe Bend became famous for the near 360 degree bend in the river and the fact that you could see that entire bend from one spot,  Goosenecks State Park should be three times more popular because from there, you can see the river make that same change in direction three times while standing in one spot.  The crazy part?  I was there for over an hour taking photos, and I was the only person there for all but maybe 10 minutes of that time.

    It was a reminder to me that no matter where you travel, don't always assume that the best locations and views are going to be found on sign posts by the side of the freeway.  All those signs do is lead the crowds to a specific viewpoint and most people are happy to just follow those signs from place to place, jump out of their cars, snap a quick photo, and dive back into their cars and on to the next designated photo opp.  If you slow down, take some time to explore, you might just discover places that are as interesting and possibly even move beautiful than the tourist stop.  Another advantage of getting off the beaten path, is that you could possibly have one of those spots all to yourself for long periods of time, and you can just relax and soak it all in, and isn't that one of the best parts about traveling the world?
  • Wed, 14 Dec 2016 21:00:00 +0000

    Dreaming in Pieces
    This post is going to be something a little more personal than I usually tend to share, but luckily I don't think more than a few people ever read my posts anyway so it's a good way to just put some thoughts and feelings down in writing for me.

    Growing up, there were many times things were tense in our house, and many where I was afraid of my dad to the point where I spent a lot of time locked away in my room to avoid any run-ins with him.  But even with that being said, my dad wasn't always a scary guy and I have some great memories of times spent with him doing things that were fun together.  One of my best and favorite memories over the years though, were those hours we would spend together around the dining room table, putting together one of the many puzzles we worked on over the years.  We didn't always talk a lot while working on them, but I really cherished those moments where we would sit there putting something fun and challenging together.  I never lost that love of working on puzzles and daydreamed so many times about taking photos for puzzle companies, hoping that I could maybe do something one day that would help bring another kid that kind of happiness in doing something with their parent(s) and / or family.  I would look at puzzles in the store and just know that I could take photos at least as good as I saw on many of the boxes.  I even went as far as writing to a number of puzzle companies about 20 years ago, trying to find out how someone would even go about submitting photos for them.   Most companies never bothered to reply, and a few that did.....  said they already had enough photos, thank you very much.   I was severely disappointed, but every year or so, would find myself searching the internet for ways to see one of my photos on a puzzle.

    It was hard to even find a company that would make a one-off puzzle that I could just have personally, for any kind of reasonable fee.  The companies that did offer something reasonable, only made puzzles of 50 or 100 pieces.  Nothing even close to what I'd hoped for.  So.... the dream kind of faded into the background but never went away.  Every time I would break out a new puzzle to work on ... I would find myself daydreaming about that again, and searching the internet again.

    Then early this year (2016), I found an ad on a stock photo site, from a company looking for photos submissions for puzzles.  There was a VERY short window of time to submit photos for consideration, maybe 48-72 hours if I remember right, and I rushed home to look through my current photo collection to see what if anything I might have that fit what they were looking for.  I submitted a couple of photos but only one really sounded like it might have a shot, and then I waited.  If I'm being honest, I never expected to hear anything back, but I was happy to just have given it a shot if nothing else.  About a month later, I received an email from that company, asking me for a higher resolution of one of those photos, and a few other questions about the details of it.  That alone was exciting for me because it meant they might actually be interested in it, but I still didn't want to get my hopes up.

    Then maybe two weeks after that email, I got notification that they had purchased the photo for publication.  I was so excited that they picked a photo and began to watch all the puzzle sites I could find to see if it actually made it out into the stores.  Months went by though, and I could never find it out there and after about 4 or 5 months, I started to think maybe it didn't make the cut after they ran it by whoever had the final say on what gets made into a puzzle.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.... and then about 10 days ago, just on a whim after a conversation with a good friend of mine about the status of the puzzle, I did another search.

    I don't know if I can even put into words the feelings that rushed through me when suddenly, at the top of the search, there it was.  My puzzle, on the market, and real.  I think I was stunned at first, and then not sure I was seeing it right.... lol.   I pulled up the photo of the box, zoomed in, and sure enough... that was my shot!  Childhood memories, daydreams, thoughts of me dad, feelings from those nights working on puzzles with him.... all came flooding back through me.  They still do when I think about it if I'm being honest.  I know it's silly, and it's just a puzzle....  but for me it was so much more, even more than I thought it would be.

    I do have to admit I got a little giddy, and posted the photo of the box on Facebook in all my excitement....  and it was amazing to see how many friends congratulated me.  I don't know how many actually understood what this puzzle meant to me....  maybe most didn't, but it was still nice that they forgave my excitement about it.  Heck, I was actually shocked how many wanted to buy one.  At that point in time, I had only found it for sale in one place in Australia, and they didn't ship to the United States.

    A short while later though, another friend send me a message, excited to tell me that she'd found it for sale in England.  I ordered a few of them, some for friends asking me if I could get them one, and a couple for me. One to put together, and one to keep sealed and stored away.  

    If anyone somehow actually read this, and you are still here reading... please pretend I'm not a total goof if we ever talk about this post ....   and if by chance, you actually enjoy putting puzzles together as much as I do, and you would like to do me the huge honor of putting together a puzzle that has one of my photos on it.....  you can order one from the link below.  It's cheap, and shipping is free.  In fact, I think if you order using the link here, instead of going directly to the website, you get it for a small discount.

    Please click here if you would like to purchase the puzzle!
  • Tue, 17 Nov 2015 01:29:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 9
    The wind returned with a vengeance today.  After having such a nice mild calm day yesterday, it was kind of a surprise to wake up to winds today that blew so hard they literally pushed you around and threatened to knock you off your feet if you weren't careful.  They might have been the strongest winds I've ever been in,  but it wasn't going to stop a fun day of exploring more of this section of Iceland.

    The first stop of the day was a very cool waterfall called Hjalparfoss.  It is basically two rivers coming together as waterfalls, where they both dump into a punch bowl before the flowing out together as one river.   The area was surrounded by Basalt canyon walls and ground that seemed to be made out an old lava flow that was very giving when you walked across it.

    The road to get here felt like you were in the middle of no where, but it kind of made for a cool photo.  As you're looking at this photo, the river that becomes the left hand side of the waterfall, is just to the right of this road.  This is just to kind of give you an idea of what much of this section of the country looks like.

    Next there was a small medevil settlement called Stong which consisted of a small house and Viking long-house both with sod covered roofs.  The photos I'd seen made it look very cool so I really wanted to see it myself.  It was disappointing to learn that the building were only open from June 1 to August 31, but it was still possible to walk around them and kind of imagine how life might have been back in those days.  Here is a photo of the small home which had a semi-frozen waterfall on the cliff behind it.

    The next stop of the day was another waterfall called Faxi Falls.  Did I happen to mention that Iceland has more waterfalls than people.  I was kind of kidding when I wrote that but the more I see of this country, the more I'm thinking that statement might be truer than I first thought.  This one was bigger than many of them, but not even close to being the biggest.  It was very cool none the less though.  Certainly was worth making a quick stop here for some photos and trying to keep from being blown off the edge and into the river below.

    After leaving Faxi Falls, we headed over to Geyser which was something I had been looking forward to seeing.  From things I'd read online and photos I'd see, I had pictured it as Iceland's version of Yellowstone National Park.  It sounded like it was a huge geyser ridden area with lots of mud pots, boiling springs and a bigger and better version of Old Faithful.  Well, after seeing it with my own eyes, I have to say I was very disappointed as it didn't live up to any of those claims and in no way will it ever compete with the likes of Yellowstone.  I was actually very surprised ...  It was the first disappointment I'd had this entire trip so I really can't complain too much.  I just thought I'd mention this part to any of you thinking of visiting here.... just to let you know that you can totally skip this stop and you won't be missing a thing really.

    The last big waterfall I had my eyes on visiting on this trip was Gullfoss.  It has been compared to Niagara falls and is one of the biggest attractions in Iceland.  I've seen pictures of the falls before but really couldn't appreciate just how big they were until I got to see them for myself.  They are big for sure, but bigger than Niagara Falls can probably be debated unless someone can show me photos of both falls under a really long measuring tape.

    Anyway.... the falls were really cool to watch, well, with the small about of time you could actually look at them that is.  The powerful winds that had been blowing non-stop today really put on a show while at the falls.  The mist that was coming off the water was whipped into your face so hard it felt like you were being hit by hundreds of small needles or maybe stung by a really angry swarm of bees.  It was hard not to laugh and try to fight the urge to run away.   The only thing that might have kept us from running was the fact the wind was already doing it's best to knock us to the ground.  I was blown backward from the camera a few times where I really had to fight to take a few steps back to the tripod.  It was kind of insane, but I think I still managed to get a couple of decent shots of the falls somehow.

    As we drove away from the falls, one thought that came to mind that left of laughing by the image the rest of the day.   That thought was that if we could figure out how to bolt a few really good sails to the ground here, we could have sailed Iceland to much warmer waters.  The winds would have easily moved the entire island today.  Heck, as I'm sitting here in bed typing this up, I can still hear them howling away outside.  It's crazy to think that's a semi-normal thing here.

    We made one more quick stop before heading to dinner and that was at a very cool caldera that reminded me a lot of Crater Lake in Oregon.  This one wasn't quite as big, but you could easily walk all the way around it, right on the rim of the crater which was a very cool experience, even in the dark with all the ice and snow that was on the ground.  I was still able to capture a few good photos of the lake below even though there was very little light left in the day.

    Last stop was dinner at a cool restaurant and ice cream parlor that Rene had read about on a blog before the trip.  We figured since that person claimed this place had the best ice cream in Iceland we just had to test it out ourselves, for scientific purposes of course.  Dinner there was actually really good as was the ice cream.  As for it being the best in Iceland?  I don't know.... we might have to hit another couple of ice cream places on the last two days to do our own comparisons.  I mean, we do have to be sure right? :)
  • Mon, 16 Nov 2015 00:21:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 8
    Woke up this morning wondering what the roads were going to be like today, especially after a pretty heavy snowfall last night.  I think there was close to 1/2 inch of snow on the ground in a matter of 30  minutes last night, but the good news was that it was already melting when we loaded up the car to head on to the next town.  In fact, the main road had been plowed sometime in the middle of the night and was in great shape.

    Icebergs Inside the Lagoon With worries of bad roads out of the way, it was time to finally hit the Glacier Lagoon in good light and try to get some shots of those huge chunks of ice floating away from the main Glacier and out to sea, and then of the ice that washed back up on shore on the black sand beach across the street from there.  This was one of the areas that was tops on my lists of places I wanted to shoot photos while I was here, and it took three trips to the lagoon to finally catch it in some good light, and luckily, to catch it at a time where the water in the lagoon was very calm and still.

    Smaller Chunks of Ice Washed Up On The Black Sand BeachThe night before, the water was rushing out of there and the icebergs were slamming together and filling the air with what sounded like huge bowling balls being slammed against each other....   only heavier sounding.  It's kind of hard to even describe.   It was kind of amazing today, to try to pick up what looked like smaller chunks of ice on the beach and feel how incredibly heavy they were....  and then to look over at icebergs 100 times their size and watch them being tossed around like they were nothing by the waves.  I could have spent the entire day just hanging out there watching all of that and waiting for new chunks of ice to come floating by.  But I had at least one more stop I wanted to make on the way to Selfoss, which was going to be home for the next two nights.

    As has happened this entire trip though, I was easily distracted and sidetracked by one great sight after another and once again made a number of unscheduled stops to shoot photos.  Here is another of the seemingly endless array of waterfalls that dot the Icelandic Landscape.  This one appeared to come shooting out of a cave high up on the mountain side, and was just scenic enough to make me have to stop and take a quick photo.

    Another stop along the way was at the base of another arm of the Vatnajökull Glacier.  We've been trying to find a route to actually get all the way to one of the Glaciers so we could at least climb up onto it or something but as close as they all seem, it's nearly impossible to actually find a road that will get you all the way up next to them.  Today was the closest we got so far, and the view from the hillside next to the Glacier was amazing.  It's hard to really tell the size of these things from this photos, but these chunks of ice floating out there where huge, most were bigger around than the footprint of a huge home, and with the height of them above and below the water line, I'd bet the smallest were about the size of 3 story buildings.  They were just massive.  Evey now and then the chunk of ice closest to the bottom of the photo would give off a loud cracking noise and I kept hoping to see it split in half or something, but I guess it would take more than a few huge cracks in that thing to break it up.

    Daylight was ending fast and I still hadn't made it to what was going to be my second stop of the day.  I was determined to get there before it was fully dark out,  so it was a non-stop drive the rest of the way back to the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall where I didn't get the shot I wanted on the first stop there.  The sky didn't cooperate again tonight and there was no pretty sunset, but I went ahead and shot photos again, this time having to walk over some very frozen areas.  The spray coming off here was freezing on everything it touched and in some places the ice looked to be 2 inches thick.  The scariest part was that most of that ice was so clear you didn't even realize it was there until you went skating over some rocks and grabbing on to the ropes around here to keep your feet under you.  It was kind of an adventure all around. LOL

  • Sat, 14 Nov 2015 23:24:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 7
    Today started with a change of plans.  I'd heard that the ice caves were a little too unstable due to the weather still being  a little too warm to make the caves safe, and that people were only being able to go about 3 feet into the caves.   The tour was a little too expensive to not actually be able to go all the way in to a cave, so we decided to bag the Ice Cave tour for the day and just set out to explore as far east as we could go before starting the trip back west tomorrow.

    It was a lot warmer today than it has been the last two days and after the huge winds of yesterday, it was nice to not have to deal with any wind at all today.  In fact, it was almost too warm for jackets today.  My hoody and a light pair of gloves really seemed to do the trick for most of the afternoon.  It was fun to continue driving east and to see that we still hadn't made it past the huge Vatnajökull Glacier even after a couple of hours of driving.  We really wanted to try to find a way over to the glacier and found back road that we thought might get us there, but it stopped short....  so we bailed out of the car and thought we might try to hike the rest of the way to the glacier.  That hike include crossing a number of streams though... and wandering up and down the streams looking for decent places to cross was fun for a while....  until we were about two streams away from the far bank and we saw just how wide and deep those last two "streams" were.  That water was a little too cold to want to wade across so we decided to end that adventure and hiked back to the car to see if we could find another route.  We never did though.

    Instead we hiked up a small hill that overlooked the valley and gave some amazing views of the mountains, the glacier and the ocean behind us.....   then with a little more exploring we came across a small Viking Village that was nestled in a valley.  It was surrounded by huge mountains on one side and the ocean on the other.  After wandering through the Village though, Rene discovered that the huge rock the jail was located under, was actually paper mache.  We started noticing other things were weird about the place and started to wonder if it was just a re-creation of an old Viking Village.  Turns out, it was really a movie set for a movie that was never made back 2010.  That explained a lot, but it was still a very fun place to wander around and seemed real enough to make me think that's probably how real Viking Villages were laid out back in the day.

    After leaving the village, we ran into the closest town to look around, and hit the grocery store to buy a few things for lunch.  It is always fun to see what kind of foods other countries stock in their stores and sometimes can be kind of surprising. After that, I wanted to make a run to the Glacier Lagoon and shoot some photos before it got too dark.  It was a race against the quickly fading light, and unfortunately the darkness won.  I still shot a few photos but decided we'd just come back in the morning just before sunrise for much better shooting conditions.

    Now I'm wondering how that might work out though because after dinner we walked out so huge snowflakes and snow already accumulating on the ground.  It's still snowing outside right now, 2 hours later... so tomorrow may be a lot of fun in the snow. :)

    Oh, one thing I forgot to mention is just how dark dark can be in a country that has very few towns, and no street lights.  It's crazy to be out there in the dark and not being able to see anything at all ... even with the high beams on in the car, you can barely see a few feet off to the side of the road.  It's also quieter here than anywhere I have ever been.  If you ever feel like you want to get away from it all....  this is certainly a place that can help you do that.
  • Sat, 14 Nov 2015 18:00:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 6
    Today we came to the realization that there are more waterfalls in Iceland than people.  Every turn in the road seemed to bring an endless array of waterfalls, so many that I totally lost count of just how many we'd seen in the last two days.  I realized there was going to be no way to ever stop and take photos of every waterfalls you see while you're here.  in fact, you quickly become a waterfalls snob, almost ignoring some because they just aren't quite spectacular enough, most of which would put any waterfall to shame in the Pacific Northwest.  It's almost unreal.

    Today was also the first day I got to experience the huge wind gusts I'd heard about as being a big part of the weather here.  They weren't really "gusts" as much as they were gail force winds that threatened to rip the car door off its hings if you made the mistake of trying to open the door and not hold on with all your might.  I can't tell you the number of times I had to fight just to open the door and get back into the car before I turned into a Popsicle.  lol

    So needless to say, today was an adventure in trying to stay on your feet and take photos where your camera wasn't rocking so bad the photos were all blurry.  It was also a day of learning about the exciting world of driving in Iceland... where you can drive 16 miles down a really rough road, only to get to the place you to turn and find the road has been closed because it's "impassible".  ugh.... really?  You couldn't have put up a sign 30 miles back warning of road closures ahead?  It was actually still fun thought because I saw some sights that most probably don't see.  It was certainly roads rarely traveled.

    Another fun lesson today was that not all Icelandic Horses enjoy dried apples.  We stopped to pet 4 horses that were standing near the road, and as much as they seemed to enjoy the attention, they also seemed to be sniffing our pockets and my camera trying to figure out if there was some kind of food hidden away on my body.  Rene had some dried apples with her so we thought we'd feed  a few to the horses and it was kind of comical  to watch their reactions.  The horse that seemed the most forward of the 4 quickly took one of the apple slices, but after he chewed on it for a second, decided he wasn't interested at all, neither were two of the others, but one horse did step forward and decided he wanted to give it a try, and he loved them.  He kept pushing forward for more.  At one point though, I think one got stuck to the roof of his mouth as he was licking at it pretty funny for a minute.  We decided we should get going again and had to say goodbye.  I think only one of them was truly sad to see us go.  lol

    With the huge winds and super cold temps, today was mostly spent inside the car enjoying some amazing scenery as we worked our way east, along the south coast.  There is a huge glacier here that we started to drive past on our way to the next hotel, and about an hour after we first got up next to it, I realized we were still driving along side of it, and we were no where near the middle of the Glacier.  It looks big on a map, but seeing it up close like this and realizing just how big it really is, was just amazing.

    I actually did get out of the car a lot today and took photos, but will have to wait to look through them and post any that might be good it's getting really late..... and  I'm planning on getting up early tomorrow and going to the glacier lagoon and capturing some photos at sunrise so this is going to be short and sweet.  Hard to believe the adventure is half over now.
  • Sat, 14 Nov 2015 02:07:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 5
    Day 5 was going to be all about waterfalls, with plans to visit two of the best known and biggest waterfalls on the South Coast of Iceland, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. The day started off with the first traffic I’ve seen during my stay here, when there was a car accident on the freeway leading out of Reykjavik to the ring road heading south. It was really strange to see any kind of traffic at all much less an actual backup of any kind.

    Once we were on the road I saw the real first snow and ice of the trip. The roads were actually in really good shape even though they looked like they might be really slippery for a while there. We stopped at the first waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, and were treated to answer of the big question… “where do Dippin’ Dots come from” The answer… from the skies in Iceland. What dumped down on us wasn’t snow or hail, but Dippin’ Dots, and they covered everything.

     I didn’t realize it while making plans for this waterfall, but the cliff it comes down off of actually has 4 waterfalls very close together. The others just aren’t as photogenic and so largely get ignored by the masses I guess. The waterfall furthest away from the main attraction was actually really cool… as it dropped down from the top of the cliff into a cave. The only problem is that creates a ton of spray and made it nearly impossible to get a good shot of it. The water just covered the lens faster than you could dry it off and take a photo.
    Then it was off to the biggest waterfall, and the biggest crowd I’d seen at any tourist spot on so far. Getting a photo with no one in the way was going to take some time and patience but luckily there was a huge staircase to climb for a view from the top to take up some time while waiting for the tour buses to load up and take away most of the tourists there. The view from the top of the falls was actually worth the effort.

    After the big waterfalls, I really wanted to visit the site of an old US Navy airplane wreck that was out on one of the black beaches. It was really wild to get all the way out there and see the carcass of the plane just sitting there. I was surprised how popular the plane was as it wasn’t really easy to drive your car out there and it wasn’t a site that was marked from the main road.

    It was starting to get dark pretty quick and we still were a long way from the hotel we were staying at for the night so we hit the road trying to get there before it got too late. Of course, with there being so much to see around every corner it seems, it still look a while. I had to stop at this cool lookout over another section of the black beaches, and try to get a black and white shot of some sea stacks I’d been wanting to try to shoot on this trip as well. It was too late to try to work my way down to the beach so I had to settle for a shot from up on the cliff. I think it turned out okay but I might have to re-edit it at home on my bigger monitor as I don’t think it looks as good as it can with this quick edit.

    The waves were huge and crashing up against some big basalt rocks about 100 feet over and I thought I’d try my hand at catching them crashing over a few of the rocks. It was harder to get a good shoot of that than I thought it would be, especially since it was so dark now and freezing cold out.

    Next it was on to the hotel and to a nice dinner at the restaurant there. It was my first real diner since getting here, and turned out to be a great if not slightly expensive grilled chicken dinner. $40 for a chicken seemed pretty spending but after taking my first bite, I decided it was more than worth it. It might have been the best grilled chicken I’d ever eaten.

    Another day was in the books.
  • Thu, 12 Nov 2015 00:10:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 4
    Woke up this morning to overcast skies and rain so I decided not to rush out the door and went downstairs for breakfast. Looks like the standard hotel breakfasts consist of breads, meats, cheese, jelly, cereal and some weird fish looking stuff that looks really raw to me. It was almost exactly the same breakfast spread that I had yesterday, so I stuck to my usual of bread and meats as well. Turns out breakfast was a good idea because it stopped raining by the time I packed my bags and loaded the car for another day.

    I made another run over to Kirkjufell to see if I could manage a better shot there than I got on my first day. I got lucky this time and was left all alone to shoot a few more photos here. In fact I didn’t see my first person until I was walking back to the car and I ended up passing a nice guy that was from Atlanta. We talked for a bit and shared stories of our travels so far…. He’d already been to a few places that are on my list still so I got some pointers about them and said our good byes.

    There were a number of waterfalls on the list for today but it was already looking dark outside because of the cloud cover and it was only noon. I was hoping the clouds would break again and I would get the same kind of light I had all day yesterday but I wasn’t going to get lucky two days in a row I guess. I got rained on pretty good at the first waterfall. I did get luckier at the second and the rain stopped shortly before I got there, the only problem was that the drive was a lot longer than I expected and I spent a lot more time there shooting photos because these falls were just amazing looking. The water was actually flowing out from under a lava field and was spread out along about a 100 yard long stretch of rock. It was the most unique waterfall I’ve ever seen and I couldn’t stop just standing there and taking it all in.

    I knew these falls were a little out of the way which is why I ended up skipping them on my first day but now I’m really happy I added them to my list for today. They might be the coolest falls I’ve ever seen and now I am just hoping my photos will do them justice. Turns out it was way too dark to hit the other 4 falls I had planned for the day but I’m not disappointed as I’m sure they wouldn’t have compared to these. That and I have even more waterfalls to visit over the next 6 days so I’m sure I’ll make up for it.

    I headed back into Reykjavik to be closer to the airport and now just need to find a way to kill some time. I still have 10 hours until having to pick up at the airport. Maybe I can find a good spot to park myself for a while and look through today’s photos to add to this when I post it later.

  • Wed, 11 Nov 2015 11:27:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 3
    I woke up early, before sunrise which turns out to be easy to do when the sun doesn't rise until 9;35... and walked over to the office for breakfast before hitting the road.  The hotel was really nice and on a lake that I really couldn't see when I drove in last night since it was pitch black outside.  I didn't realize there were two huge craters on each side of the little resort area which was very cool to see in the daytime.  One thing I've been surprised at the most here, is the number of craters like this all over the Island.  They just popped up randomly and the people here just built around them over the years I guess.

    As I ate breakfast I went over my plan for the next couple of days and decided that I really should move things around on my list and head back south today instead of tomorrow.  There were a number of waterfalls I was going to pass up due to time restraints, but decided that instead of skipping them on this trip, I would skip a couple of things on the north coast instead.  The roads looked icy and I did't want to risk them closing the roads back south if a big snow storm hit over night, especially since I have to be back at the airport Thursday morning early, to pick up another Berlin Brat that is going to travel with me the next 6 days.

    On trips like this you can really only lay out a basic plan and then just go with the flow... one thing I really wanted to do was to catch the Aurora over Kirkjufell while I was in Iceland, but since there are no guarantees in life, I didn't want to spend my first full day hanging out at the mountain and then not seeing the Aurora at all... much less getting photos of it over the mountain. I had too many things to see.  Since I spent all night driving that first night instead, I was able to see the 3 waterfalls in the north that I really wanted to see, a full day earlier than I thought, so I drove all the way back south again on Day 3....  seeing everything I missed during the night on the drive north.  The scenery was amazing and so different than I was picturing in my head the night before.  I'm glad I got to see that entire stretch in the daylight.

    To top things off on what turned out to be an amazing day....  the rain over Kirkjufell broke just as I was about to give up for the night, and the skies started to clear.  I packed up my camera gear and rushed over to the mountain which is 5 minutes from where I'm staying for the night..... and in the small 10 minute window I ended up catching, the aurora came to life over the top of Kirkjufell, and I managed to snap about 12 quick shots.  Here is one of them.

    Turns out I made the right decision for the day and got lucky and it paid off.

    Now I'm hoping my decision for these waterfalls today pays off as well.  It's raining out right now, but overcast skies make some of the best light for waterfalls.  Here's to hoping for another great day!
  • Tue, 10 Nov 2015 16:00:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 2
    Day 2 really felt like a continuation of day 1, and I guess in many ways it was.  My first day in Iceland was ending and I'd shot the photo I most wanted to get that first day, so I headed into the nearest town to find some dinner and see if I could get lucky and find a hotel room since I hadn't made reservations for the first few days of my trip, wanting to not be tied into a tight schedule in case weather created some problems for me those first few days.

    I found what appeared to be the only hotel in town, right after a tour bus dropped off a huge load of passengers.  The lobby was really crowded and it looked like there was no way they would have any spare rooms... so the hotel was out and not really finding a restaurant that looked good I decided to just grab some snacks and the one and only open store and maybe hit the road and get an early start on my day 2 plans, especially since it was still only 7:30.  With the short daylight hours this time of year, it made more sense to get in a few hours of driving before I got some sleep, instead of burning half of my daylight hours just getting to the next destination in the northern part of Iceland.  Turns out this decision was the best one I have made in a very long time and it allowed me to cross off one of the longest standing items off my bucket list, and that was to see the Aurora with my own two eyes one day.   As I stopped to top off the gas tank on the car (getting gas in Iceland is another story all on its own... maybe I'll write about it after my trip is over...), I looked up at the sky to see if the clouds had cleared up any.  All I could really see were clouds still, but something about them didn't seem right. They seemed just a little too bright for clouds at night, when there isn't a moon in the sky.  Out of curiosity, I grabbed my camera out of the car and pointed it at the clouds to take a picture.... and imagine my surprise when this is what I saw....   Yes, behind the clouds was the Aurora!

    Needless to say, I was So excited and then so bummed at the same time as I could tell the Aurora was up there, but couldn't see it with my eyes because of the cloud cover.  I got back in the car and began to head north again, watching the sky every 15 minutes or so to see what the clouds were doing.  The further north I got, the less cloud cover there was, but it appeared to still be fairly cloudy.   I took another break and shot another photo around 8:30 and to my surprise, those weren't clouds up there at all anymore but was actually just the Aurora faintly dancing across the sky.  To make a long story short, as the night went on, and I got further and further north, and the Aurora would come to life and dance across the sky super bright for 15 - 20 minutes before fading again, over and over again until around midnight it put on the best show of the night.  That show lasted at least 30 minutes and I can't even begin to describe how amazing it was to watch.  There were ribbons of light that looked like they were falling to the ground, while other sections of the sky just flickered and danced around and a few times there were what appeared to be huge thunderclouds of color that would suddenly roll across the sky ... back and forth.  I shouldn't admit this, but I sat out there in the freezing night air, giggling like a little kid ... giddy beyond belief.

    Oh, that went on a little too long... so let me just say I did manage to catch a 2 hour nap around 6:00 am ... when I just couldn't stay awake any longer and most of the show had died down.  After waking from my nap, I made the hour long drive to my next stops, which were two of the coolest looking waterfalls in Iceland and the only reason I made the extra long trek all the way north.  It was an amazing night, followed by a fun day of chasing waterfalls with my camera.    I haven't really had time to look at the waterfall photos from today and I probably need to do a little work on them to do them justice, but know I'll be sharing them later once I'm home and like how they look.

    I called it a night a little early tonight as I am dead tired.  I found a room with a great view across a lake, and as I'm typing this, the Aurora is doing another dance outside my window and I can look over the top of the laptop and watch it go.  It's a little unreal and so much warmer than the show last night.  :)
  • Tue, 10 Nov 2015 00:16:00 +0000

    Iceland - Day 1
    Okay so I'm actually writing this at the end of my 2nd full day in Iceland, but while the memories are still fresh in my head, I figured I'd start this blog about my Iceland adventure ... where the real adventure started.   Climbing out of the airplane, it fells like you stepped back in time for a few minutes.... you actually climb off the airplane with stair onto the tarmac and then walk into the terminal.  I haven't done that at a "major" airport in a very long time so it was kind of a fun start to the trip.  I had a rental car all lined up and they picked me up just outside of customs and within 30 minutes I was in my car and on the road.  Never having been to Iceland I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it was really easy getting around since I brought my GPS with me, and unlike in the States... there was absolutely no traffic on the road even though it was close to 7:30am on a Sunday.   I had preloaded my GPS with all the sites I wanted to hit on this trip, and broke it down by each day so I just started with Day 1 and hit "Go!".

    I had one major site to see on day 1... and it was a little out of the way off everything else on my list, but I was able to find a couple of other cool stops to make along the way.  These two Lighthouses were the first on that extra lis.  It was still dark and raining when I got there, and super cold.... so it was my first chance to try out my new coat and gloves that I purchased just for this trip.  It was nice to find out right away that they were going to work pretty well.

    After the light houses, there was a very cool looking Black Church I wanted to stop and and take photos of... it was on the south side of the next Penninsula over and next on my list.  It was a long drive and I quickly realized this was going to be a country I could never stop and take photos of every waterfall I saw, as there were waterfalls everywhere!   Not just puny little things either.  Some looked pretty hard to get to and on the other sides of private property, but then there were some like this one that was right in the middle of a small down, behind a church and apartment building.  It was kind of wild to see these everywhere.

    I'd also heard so much about the Icelandic horses and had seen so many photos of them that I wanted to stop and see them for myself during my trip.  Turns out I didn't have to wait long as horses are everywhere here.  I finally passed a field that had a nice pull out next to it, and no sooner did I get out of my car than these two came running over to the fence to say hi.  Turns out that the horses here are all very friendly and seem almost as interested in visitors and visitors are in them.  They usually have these great flowing manes that are really pretty.... but with all the rain these two were mostly just looking and feeling pretty wet.

    I made another stop a little later in the day after the rain had stopped for a few hours and saw some drier horses where you can see just how long their manes are ...  on a bad hair day maybe.  Once again though... they came right up to the fence the minute I got out of the car and wanted to be petted.  It was pretty cool.

    There are churches like this one all over the Iceland countryside so I thought I'd stop and shoot at least one of them to remember what they looked like.  They all seem to sit off on a hill so they can be seen from far and wide, and they each have these small cemeteries besides them.  It almost gave the appearance that the church and cemetery was just for the people of that small town.  No idea if that is really the case or not.

    And then I finally made it to my final destination for the day.  This isn't the actual shot I was going for, but it is the location where I wanted to take it.  I'm saving that shot for after I get home and have a chance to edit it and make it look really good.  These shots here are all just straight out of the camera and not too exciting.. other than to serve as reminders about the first day of my trip in Iceland :)
  • Sun, 25 Oct 2015 21:00:00 +0000

    Fall in the Northwest
    The Pacific Northwest isn't known for it's beautiful fall colors like the north east of the United States, but if you look hard enough, you can find some nice colors here this time of year.  Went out yesterday with another photographer I shoot with often, trying to find some of those elusive colors and visited a spot I seem to hit a few times a year hoping to catch it with great colors.  They weren't there yet, but we still spent a little time shooting and then headed down to Oregon to a tree farm there that was supposed to look really nice right now.

    At first things didn't look too when we got there, as it looked like we might have been about a week too late, but with a little exploring and some experimenting with different shots, I think we were both able to come out with something we liked.  I had a hard time deciding between these two shots, both had something

    I like but I think I really like this second composition a little better. It's tighter and draws the eye towards the glow deep in the trees.
  • Wed, 31 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000

    Berlin - Day 3 - Celebration Day
    This is probably the hardest day of my trip to write about which is why it's taken so long to get to it.   I keep thinking about this day, and what all it means to the city of Berlin, to the country of Germany, and to those of us that spent any time at all growing up there during those years that the wall was up.   When I first realized I was going to be in Berlin for the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall Celebration, I was so excited by the idea of going back and just being there to enjoy the celebration, to be a part of history that would take place that night, and to share that experience  with friends that I went to high school with, was just an exciting idea.   For two days prior to this day, we'd spent time traveling around the city, reliving lots of great memories, catching up on stories of our experiences and what living there meant to us... and the more we talked about it, the the more we looked at the balloons lining the path the Berlin Wall had taken, the more I felt myself being impacted again by what that Wall really did to this great city and it's people.  I had flashbacks to the many times I just went down to the Wall and  sat and stared across it, watching people on the east side of the city going about their daily lives, and those emotions I felt back then about how horrible it must have been to live trapped like that.  I mean, in a way were were just as trapped as they were at the time, only we had the option of getting out of the city any time we really wanted.

    So yeah.... waking up that morning was different than any other day on my 3 week trip.  I could feel those thoughts and memories bouncing around inside my head most of the day, as a group of us went back to visit old houses and parks from our childhood.  And then we went to  dinner at a place that was high up on the list of my favorite places to eat back then....  even though it was a different restaurant now... still fueled those memories....

    After dinner it was time to head down and find a spot somewhere where we could enjoy the festivities, without being crushed by the amazing number of people lining the streets to view the ceremony.   It was amazing to see the number of people there, that had traveled from all over the world, just to witness this in person.
    You could feel the excitement as they waited to watch the balloons being released,  and as it got closer to the time... the crowd became  so thick you really didn't have much room to move anymore.  Our group did manage to stay together somehow and we just waited along with everyone else for the show to start.

    When the time finally rolled around, you could feel the excitement and anticipation building in the crowd as everyone strained to see Brandenburg gate from where we were standing... just a few hundred yards away.
    People were climbing up on bus shelters, lamp posts, street signs.... there were people on top of buildings and looking out of office windows where you could tell they had been having parties throughout the day....

    Finally off in the distance you could hear the crowd roar as the first balloons took to the sky.    I have never seen so many cameras and cell phones being held up at once ...  I think every single person standing there was filming or shooting photos ...  think about that... 2 million cameras all going at once.  It was almost mind boggling.
     The crowd around us got really quiet... and you could see balloons being released one-by-one, working their way towards us.... and as each balloon drifted up into the night sky, the cheer of the crowd standing in front of them moved towards us well.... it seemed to be taking forever for them to get to us and then suddenly it was almost like watching a train go by, the balloons being released one after another, rolling past us like a freight train rolling down the tracks.... the crowd roared  right along with them which only added to the effect, but even more unexpected for me at least, was the waves of emotion that washed over me at that same time.

    It was almost like watching the wall come down again.... or at least that's the best way I can describe how I felt as I watched the balloons being released and as I watched them disappear into the darkness above.  It was amazing to be there and witness that....  and maybe as crazy as it sounds... feel a lot of old baggage let go for me as well.   I can't even being to explain it....   but Berlin meant so much to me during my life, and always will.   I think I needed to be there to witness that for so many personal reasons.

    Okay, so that got to be a bit much.... sorry.  It's the best way I can attempt to describe that night though... and what it felt like to be there.

    We knew getting back to the hotel by U-Bahn was going to be next to impossible for at least a few hours so we made our way through the sea of humanity over to the Christmas Market going on at Potsdamer Platz, got some food, some drinks and hung out for a few hours....  it was a great rest of the night for sure. :)
  • Sat, 20 Dec 2014 22:00:00 +0000

    Berlin - Round 1 - Day 2
    Day two in Berlin was mostly left open for us to do our own thing, as we weren't scheduled to do any reunion stuff until early evening.   There were a couple of early morning tours scheduled,  one being the underground tour I'd signed up for.... but being as I'm old and I'd signed up for things so far in advance, I'd totally forgotten I'd paid to go on that tour.   Instead, I did a little walking around town while the others went on the underground tour.... and just waited for them to get back and see what the plan for the rest of the day would be.

    Since we had time to get in some more sight-seeing,  the three of us from the night before, along with our reunion photographer decided to head downtown and take one of the city bus tours, which would allow us to see as much as we could in the shortest period of time.... knowing we had to be back to the hotel in time for the social ...

    The bus took us around the city, stopping at a number of spots and letting you jump off the bus to take photos if you wanted. or to do some shopping and other things before jumping on the next bus that came along.

    Since we were on a limited time schedule we just decided to stick with this bus and only jump off when the bus was going to sit for 10-15 minutes here and there.  Here are a few of the shots I got during the tour.

    It was a very fun time on the bus ... we did a lot of talking and laughing during the tour, saw a lot of sights and got some history lessons along the way.

    Once the tour was over, we decided to head back to the hotel and get ready for the get together that night....  the rest of the night was just spent catching up with old friends, having drinks, meeting new people and telling stories from our time in Berlin ... as kids... since many of us were there during different years.  It's always great hanging out with other Berlin Brats and always feels more like a family reunion than a school reunion to me.

    Tomorrow is the big day... the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  For most of us that lived there when the Wall was up, it was hard to imagine it would ever come down.....  now it's hard to believe it's already been gone 25 years.
  • Sat, 20 Dec 2014 02:00:00 +0000

    Berlin - Round 1 - Day 1
    It's been a few weeks since returning from  Europe and I've been meaning to get around to writing about the first part of my trip,  to finish this story in true Pulp Fiction Style as I'd promised in the first post.   Climbing into the way back machine and hoping my memory is working well enough to even remember a lot of what happened those first few days in Berlin.. I'll try to fill in that blank spot in the story.

    The trip to Berlin started off with a very long first flight, from Seattle to Frankfurt, non-stop.  I don't think I've ever made the trip to Germany from here without a stop somewhere along the way (Usually at JFK) so I was wondering how long this flight was going to feel... especially since I don't tend to sleep at all on flights. I've found that for me, the trick to flying to Europe is to get as little sleep the night before the trip as possible....  and then not sleep on the flight. That tends to work out well for me as when I finally get there I'm already feeling really tired but then  I force myself to stay awake until 11:00 - 12:00 pm that first night, until I'm just exhausted so I sleep through the night that first night and get my body on the right sleep schedule right away.

    Anyway, enough about my trick to beat Jet Lag when flying east.  :)  The first flight was very smooth and went by fast now that most international flights give you a lot of options of movies to watch.   Once I landed in Frankfurt, they unloaded us onto buses, which then drove us to the far side of the airport, dumped us off at a part of the airport that seemed totally deserted, and then we had to go through customs... which in this case was just a customs agent looking at my passport for a minute, stamping it and sending me on my way.   Now I had to hike back to the terminal where my flight originally dropped me off to catch the short hop to Berlin....  but luckily Frankfurt airport is super easy to get around and I made it back in plenty of time to board my flight.  If you have ever flown through Paris, you don't want to attempt this with less than a 3 hour layover.

    Once the second flight landed in Berlin, that feeling of being home washed over me, and I walked out of the airport, bought a bus ticket and jumped on the bus to get across town as if I'd done it 3 weeks ago instead of 8 years ago now.   It always catches my by surprise at how familiar everything is even after all this time.  I made the 30 minute trip to the hotel and got all checked in, said hello to a couple of people in the lobby that I knew and put my stuff in my room.

    Since I knew today was going to be a check-in day for most people, I went back down and hung out in the lobby for a while, watching for friends to show up and catch up with others that were hanging around downstairs at the time.  It's always kind of exciting to just see these people again after a few years ...  even though most of us are in touch on Facebook almost daily.

    Someone from my class ('83 Rules!) showed up with her cousin and I got to listen in to a couple of very funny conversation at the front desk, between her and another friend that was standing down there complaining a little about his room.  Lots of laughs were had and teasing ensued.... and then the three of us made plans to head down to Brandenburg Gate to see what was going on and do a little sight-seeing.

    We headed for the Potsdamer Platz U-Bahn station and came out to see that they had already begun to line the old path of the Berlin Wall with the balloons being used in the celebration Sunday night.

    I was surprised by how much had already been set up. I couldn't believe I'd actually made it back to Berlin to witness this and was suddenly so happy to be here.  Even though this trip had been in the works for 3 years, it still almost felt surreal.

    The number of people that were already flooding into the city for this was amazing and to see so many of them out here that same night, wandering around taking photos, soaking up the atmosphere, was really cool to see.  From here the three of us wandered down to Brandenburg Gate where the speeches were going to be given, along with all the musical performances ...  we thought it would be great to see what that area would look like and we weren't the only ones that wanted to see.

    The stage area looked very cool and seeing them test out all the light for the show added to the excitement of being here.  We knew it was going to be a fun weekend for sure!
  • Sat, 29 Nov 2014 14:00:00 +0000

    Berlin - Round 2 - Day 2
    I had made plans with my friends from the night before to meet up near the biggest shopping area in Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, and they said they would help me get my gift buying done, especially help with picking out something for Kayleigh as I find it harder and harder to know what would make a nice gift for her now that she's no longer into all the things she was as a young girl.  It was so interesting to walk into the new shopping malls that exist in what was East Berlin, because they are just like the big malls in America. That didn't really exist back when the wall was up.  Back then there was really only one big shopping store and that was visited by pretty much every girl in school on a weekly basis.  That was one of the biggest changes I noticed the first time I'd gone back to Berlin after the wall came down and it still catches me a little off guard to see it now.  Berlin used to be nothing but little Boutiques and Mom and Pop type stores all over town where you had to do your shopping.  I don't know if the malls make it better, but as a guy, it's sure easier to only have to go one place to find everything you need. I'm not exactly a fan of shopping.

    It turned out that having their help made the whole experience of shopping a lot more fun though and we went from store to store looking for things people had asked me to buy for them while I was there.  We took a break for lunch and went to this cool pizza and pasta place that isn't like anything we have back home.  You are giving a smart card and then you stand in lines depending on what you want and it's kind of the Benihana version of Italian food. You tell a chef what you want and then make it right there in front of you using nothing but fresh ingredients.  Including picking spices right off the plant to toss into the mix as they cook your lunch.  After your place your order, you get the item added to your smart card, so you can pick and choose lunch, drinks, soup, dessert, etc until you are done and then you check out and pay on the way out the door.  I thought it was a cool concept and people seemed to really love it.

    After lunch it was back on the hunt for gifts including a trip to the Riter Sport chocolate store there.  It's like M&M world in Las Vegas... with every kind of chocolate you can imagine, including flavors and chocolate bars I have never seen in the States.  One really cool thing you can do there is you can also custom make your own chocolate bar.  It's set up kind of like Cold Stone Creamery.... you have items you can pick from and you choose if you want Milk or Dark Chocolate, and then pick three ingredients to add to the bar and they create it for you while you wait.  It was pretty cool so of course I had to make two of them to take home.

    Now with all of that done, we just walked around looking for things I could take pictures of and talked. Christmas season is in full bloom right now and we decided to wander over to what most people say is the best Christmas Market in Berlin (Weihnachtsmarkt).  It really was a little more posh than a few of the other ones I'd seen set up already and they sold so much cool stuff in there.  It's really too bad I don't live in Berlin as I would have stocked up on so much great Christmas Stuff.  I can see why everyone loves going every year and adding to their Christmas Decorations, while grabbing food and drinks and listening to live music.

    I'd been trying to meet up with two other friends before I left Berlin but hadn't had any luck in getting in touch with either, but luckily while we were sitting having a drink, my friend Bobby saw a photo on Facebook and happened to be nearby with a car and since he knew the two friends I was with, he called one of their cell phones to get in touch with me. Finally!  He happened to have a car with him and said he would come pick me up from the Christmas Market so we could hang out for the rest of the evening and go to a club across town that he thought I'd enjoy.  Along the way he called one of my oldest Friends that still lives in Berlin and we caught him at home and got him to come meet us at the club.  It was a GREAT way to end the trip and I'd have been so bummed to leave Berlin without having gotten to see either of them.

    So even though the trip was coming to an end so much faster than I wanted, I couldn't have asked for a better last two days in the city hanging out with friends and sharing lots of laughs and conversation. There were two bands that played that night and they were both pretty good..... when they finished up, I had to say my goodbyes to Roy and then Bobby gave me a ride back to the hotel.  It's still the greatest city I've ever lived in and I'm so lucky to have friends that still live there that make the visits that much better. Until next time Berlin!

    Time to re-pack my bags and squeeze in everything somehow, then it's up early for a VERY long trip back home.  Good thing I get to enjoy a 33 hour day tomorrow. It's going to take most of it to get back home.
  • Fri, 28 Nov 2014 22:50:00 +0000

    Berlin - Round 2 - Day 1
    Well today was another travel day but this time not nearly as long a trip as I took leaving town.  Total travel time today was just under 6 hours between 3 trains.  The timing was pretty good so that I didn't have to wait more than 20 minutes between any two trains and then taking the ICE trains the the biggest part of the trip, the countryside flew by.  There were large portions of the trip where I looked up and saw we were doing close to 250 km/h which if I'm still doing my math right, it close to 60 mph.  ;-)

    It's a beautiful day here today... high clouds and lots of sunshine, but a little on the cold side.  I really can't complain about how lucky I've been with the weather on this trip. It's hard to believe that coming to Europe in November would get me almost perfect fall weather, with the one day of rain and maybe two nights that were a little on the cold side.

    The plan tonight when I got to Berlin was to get to my hotel and get checked in as quickly as I could, and then grab my camera gear and head across town to meet a couple of friends for dinner.  I figured after dinner I could take my time working my way back to the hotel and stop and take photos of some of the bigger tourist spots at night, which hopefully a lot fewer people in them that there were back at the beginning of my trip.  We decided to meet in the East part of Berlin and have dinner at a really nice quiet Restaurant.  They started off telling me that we were going to speak German most of the night since I understand most everything W being said... and then I could just answer in English when I couldn't think of the words I needed (which turned out to be a big portion of the time).  It was cool to sit and have them spend most of the night sharing stories in German though and only once in a while having to stop to explain something they said.  The most interesting part of the night came when the subject of the Wall came up.  For some reason I never realized that they were both born and raised in East Berlin during the days of the wall, and their story of what that was like was fascinating to me.  We talked politics, health care, jobs, pretty much a whole range of things that kept the conversation super interesting... just hearing their views of America and Americans was very cool to me.

    The conversation was so interesting that We ended up closing the restaurant down, and as we walked tot he train to head our separate ways, found we'd just missed the last train which caused a bit of a dilemma on how I was going to get back to the hotel.  Just about the time we were trying to figure it out, a couple came walking up and needed to head my way ....  we decided to share a cab as they lived about half way back to my hotel... and the guy told me to jump in with them, he'd pay for his part of the trip and then I could pay the taxi the rest of the way.  It was another reminder at just how nice people can really be.  The taxi ride was interesting as he was from Spain and she was from New York which made for interesting stories on the drive.   Once again, it was a great day with an adventure within my adventure.

    Tomorrow is my last day in Berlin and it's going to be bittersweet.
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