Guess where we’re going this summer?

We are sitting here beyond thrilled and had to share. As most of my readers know we have booked, been cancelled and rebooked on a cruise tour in the Galapagos Islands on Celebrity’s Flora. When we rescheduled last year on our cancelled August cruise we decided to rebook for this summer (thinking we would have no problems—duh!). We really considered May, June or July but the route we wanted around the islands was only offered every other week so we finally settled on July 4 of this year. Sounds pretty independent, right 😜?

And since then we have been hopeful about going but each month since last summer we have changed what we thought our odds of going were. At first when we booked it we thought we had about an 80% chance of not being cancelled again. But then as we got into the winter months we revised that to thinking we would probably have to reschedule. Last month Celebrity cancelled all the Galapagos cruises through…June 30 but leaving all of July intact so we thought…maybe…please…please…please.

Since they cancelled through June we have been keeping a close eye on the Celebrity website and last week we saw that they were again selling our cruise, that Ecuador was open to travelers and the Galapagos Islands were 98% vaccinated. Today we were on a travel agent webinar and they officially announced…we are going!!!

Of course there are some caveats. We have to be vaccinated. CHECK! We have to pass a PCR (stick in the nose) test 96 hours before we go. We can do that but since we are going to go down to the LA area pre-cruise we will have to get it down there…so glad to have Kaiser. When we get on board we will be given an antigen test (spit) and again when we get off. We can do all that so I guess we are good to go. Now we have to get busy planning, pre-packing and so much more. Here’s exactly where we will be going once we get to the islands from Quito.

We also found out some great news about the cruise itself. First, it will be operating at about 50% guest capacity and 100% crew capacity which means incredible service and more food for me 😜. The ship we are on is the Celebrity Flora which is really just a great big yacht. By Ecuadorian law, the largest ships that can sail in the Galapagos can only carry 100 passengers so that means there will only be about 50 guests onboard. Here’s some pics of what the ship looks like inside and out.

Of course even though we are looking forward to the cruise itself, we are really looking forward to all the flora and fauna we will see. Both Kathleen and I are having having some trepidation about snorkeling in open water. Neither of us are the best of swimmers but the chance to be able to swim with giant tortoises, sea lions and other marine life is just too good to pass up. We had hoped to try it out off the beach last February in Cozumel but the weather did not cooperate so we didn’t get the chance. Kathleen did by me a GoPro more than a year ago to be able to film underwater so you will hopefully get to see some video when we return…or as we go along. Not sure how great the WiFi will be onboard. No matter when you see them, this is a chance for me to really take some amazing photos.

I love traveling and seeing new things, learning the histories of different cultures. But I’ve always wanted to go to the Galapagos to see the giant turtles.

Mikaela Shiffrin

Family, Home and Wine

Yesterday I sort of detailed the first two days of our SoCal trip to see my brother Steve, my sis-in-law Jamie and their awesome family. Here’s the balance of the week. As I am writing this I am sitting at the gate for our flight home to Everett at John Wayne International. I won’t post it until tomorrow because I have never done two posts in one day and I don’t want to start now 😜.

Day 3–Family Day

Jamie has a BIG family. Beside their daughter and son, her Mom Pat lives with them. And then she has two brothers and a sister and all are married and have lots of grown kids. We have traveled with her sister and her family and will again in 2022. I have booked travel for her brother and his wife and they were supposed to join us on our river cruise that was cancelled last year. Saturday Jamie invited all these folks to dinner. Mind you, her brother who lives in Fresno and his family didn’t come down but her sister and her family from Huntington Beach and her brother and his wife from Poway were there as well as another of the cousins and our niece Cassie’s boyfriend Omar.

Food was outstanding as Steve grilled chicken and steaks and Jamie did her usual awesome job of making every side known to man. Her mom Pat (who I mentioned yesterday) put together one of her world famous cheese platters and others brought dessert and lots of wine. We all ate and drank and had an awesome time. I can say that I truly enjoyed myself, even helping Jamie’s sis-in-law Jill wash dishes. I think everyone had an absolutely wonderful time—I know we did!

Day 4–The ’55 to Laguna and back

Sunday was listed as a day of lounging around the house on our itinerary but since one of the places I really wanted to go was Crazy Shirts in downtown Laguna Beach (just up the coast) Steve rolled out their 1955 Ford Fairlane Sunliner and we set off on a drive from San Juan Capistrano, through Dana Point, Laguna Beach and almost up to Newport Beach. It was a great drive, the sun was shining and when you are in a car like this you get a lot of looks from those on the sidewalks. I do have to say though that sitting in the back of a 1955 convertible at highway speeds is an experience in wind velocity I am not quick to repeat 😀.

Day 5–Home and Wine

My sister-in-law Jamie was our travel agent/tour guide on this cruise 😀. She had texted us about a week before we were to come down with a complete itinerary with all kinds of things for us to do and see. Today was road trip day. First we were heading to my brother’s and my hometown, Palm Springs. We had two goals: to see the house we grew up in (which has been REALLY changed by the present owner since we sold it to them after our Dad passed a few years ago) and to have lunch at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, The Blue Coyote.

The house looked fine but quite a bit different. Lots of new growth around the front yard. We had a kind of funny experience with the house. When we got to the house we parked in front to take a look and the current owner drove out of the garage and as he drove by us he gave us a real good and long look. Like this bunch of almost senior citizens was going to burglarize his house. After he left we drove up to the other end of the block and turned around to back past the house again.

In the meantime he had driven up the street but came back and drove into the driveway of the people across the street to tell the neighbor to keep an eye on us (criminals that we are 😜). We (Steve and I) got out of the car and went back to talk to him and the neighbor who is someone who has lived in the house since 1961 and had been our neighbor since then. He told the current owner he had nothing to fear as we had grown up in the house and had a valid reason for stopping. We hoped he would then invite us in but he had an appointment and hurried off after he knew his house was safe.

Then it was off to lunch at Blue Coyote where the food was great, the service superb and the margaritas…AWESOME! We have been there more than 10 times over the years and I think this was the best yet but that just might be the margaritas talking. A very nice couple from University Place (about half way between our place and our grandkids in Olympia, WA) took our photo for us.

After lunch and a quick turn around the town we were off to our final destination for the day—South Coast Winery in Temecula. It was much more than we expected. A really nice place where Jamie had arranged a really nice one-bedroom villa for both of us set amongst the grape vines. The place was very reminiscent of Tuscany and we arrived just in time to catch the last wine tasting of the day. We did five different wines including a port and to be honest, I wouldn’t buy any of them again. Pretty run of the mill. Nothing even close to what we had in Walla Walla when we went with our neighbors Jayesh and Lisa two summers ago. When we did that trip we ended up joining three wine clubs but I don’t think I would join one at South Coast.

But their rooms and the restaurant where we had both dinner and breakfast were excellent. After a quick dinner we both retired to our respective rooms, watched a movie and basically passed out after this VERY busy day.

I was up early the next day for my usual pre-dawn photowalk and WOW, was I rewarded. Not only did I get some really nice sunrise pics from the vineyard, just as I was about to head back to the room to shower and change for breakfast I saw ten hot air balloons launch from near downtown so I had to wait to see what they would do. What they did was to come right at us. Within 20 minutes I was literally surrounded by hot air balloons as you will see in my photos below.

After this excellent photo experience we were off to breakfast where they had some of the best chilaquiles I have had since New Mexico. Truly delicious. One of my favorite breakfasts. After breakfast it was back in the truck for a quick tour of downtown Temecula. It’s a historic city from the 1800s and we spent about an hour walking around. Saw a pretty awesome old Chevy too.

From there we headed south and then west so we could stop in northern San Diego County to see the blooming ranunculus. Now I had never seen ranunculus before but these (from somewhat far away) were nice. Nothing like the tulips in Skagit County (north of Seattle) but still nice. Then it was home to S&Js place so we could fly home on Wednesday (yesterday).

Since we had a 6:25 pm flight we got to spend the day with S&J before we headed north to the airport and a late lunch/early dinner or as we like to call it, dunch. And because we had LOVED the food at Houston’s on the day we flew in, we decided to stop there again. I mean it was THAT GOOD! And guess what we ordered? The exact same thing—artichoke appetizer and fried chicken sandwich. And they were still as great as I mentioned in my last post except that this time I remembered to take a photo so you could see them. The artichokes are grilled on a wood fire. When mine came to the table part of the stem was still burning. They are amazing. And what makes the fried chicken sandwich so good is the slaw that sits on top of the chicken—amazing.

After lunch S&J dropped us off, we waited the prescribed two hours, boarded and took off right on time, landed almost 20 minutes early, found a Lyft in less than five minutes and were home and turning off the lights by 10:15! Whew, I got tired just thinking about that.

To sum it all up, we had an AWESOME time. It felt so amazing to be traveling again. My sister-in-law Jamie is a fantastic SoCal trip planner and we ate and drank a lot more than we should. Oh, and we would do it all over again in a minute.

My ideal travel companions are my family.

Pharrell Williams

2020–well that sucked. But hope is around the corner.

Consider this my end of the year/start of the year post. This blog (I still hate that word) is two years old now and this will be my 160th post. I truly believe if this had been a normal year for us, I would easily have written more than 200 posts by now. But without being able to travel there just wasn’t that much to write about. I mean how many lists can you make?

What did we get to do? A quick look back at our year does include our February/March trip to Florida, our cruise from there to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and then on to Mexico so I guess I can’t say it was all bad.

What did we lose? We had to cancel our spring cruise from San Diego to Vancouver on HAL’s Konigsdam, our summer trip to the Galapagos and our European Christmas Market river cruise in December. By now we should have added at least another eight countries to the list of those we have visited and I would have had pictures to prove it.

What have we been doing since then? The same as so many of you. Ten months of mask wearing, ten months of social distancing, ten months of being at home. Too many friends gone. The last week of the year I actually had to buy three sympathy cards. I have probably bought at least 8 this year and that doesn’t even count the GoFundMes I have contributed to when friends have become ill or passed away.

But we did have a little fun. We did two short get-aways to AirBnBs in Washington. We did four days at the coast with the grandkids. We FaceTimed with them at least twice a week. We Zoomed, HousePartied and Teamed with friends. We changed travel agencies we represent (one of the smartest things we have ever done). We are working on our 19th jigsaw puzzle, we ate a ton of takeout, we drank some serious wine and cocktails (we are doing a dry January 😔) and we watched five years worth of streaming movies and TV (always looking for suggestions).

For me, one bright spot this year has been my photography. The quantity of travel photos may have been lacking but the quality was much improved (at least from my standpoint). I took the best photo I have ever taken, I started posting a daily photo on Instagram (and have done that every day for more than a year–follow me @jimbellomo13) and later started doing that on Facebook (JimBellomo) as well. I started selling my photos (had a little luck but hopefully the more I post, the better it will get) on SmugMug (JimBellomoPhotography). Check me out on those platforms. You can even see my Instagram feed at right.

It is both funny and sad that so many people were glad to see 2020 end thinking that there would be some great change…but let’s be honest folks. Here we are on the fourth of January and it still feels the same to me 😜. Maybe once the vaccine is in my arm and I am getting on an airplane to go someplace it will feel a lot better.

What’s coming in 2021? It is so important to us to have something to look forward to, so we are still booked for our Galapagos trip (June 30–fingers crossed), a week with our kids at the beach in August and almost a month in Europe in December including that Christmas Market river cruise we missed (we are hoping for stops pre-cruise in Lisbon and Amsterdam). And that’s just what we have planned as of today. We are sure that as soon as they open the border we will be off to Chilliwack or Point Roberts. Maybe a long weekend in Vancouver, one of our favorite cities. I am sure even more will come up once we have those two shots in our arms. We actually have travel friends who are getting their first shots this week—lucky bums.

Which brings me to…we hope you are safe, healthy, wearing a mask in public, social distancing, dreaming of travel, awaiting your injection and all the other good things that can happen to you this year. The first date we are particularly looking forward to is January 20…for obvious reasons.

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been. —Rainer Maria Rilke

Last Days on San Juan

As promised in my post yesterday, here’s a short and sweet synopsis of what we did on our last full day on San Juan Island. Mainly we drove around. I had woken up at 2:30 am (couldn’t shut my brain off) so I got up and wrote, addressed, stamped and sealed our Christmas cards. Kathleen got up at a normal time and we had breakfast. When we were done with breakfast (see I told you this was short and sweet) we went out to see the rest of the island we hadn’t seen yesterday.

Many of our drives and my walks/hikes are just about finding things to take pictures of so we headed out to find some subjects. First stop, an old resort named Roche Harbor. It’s on the far side of the island from Friday Harbor but it only took about 20 minutes to get there. Has an old photogenic hotel and a nice marina but nothing photographically that made me jump for joy.

Then it was off to English Camp. This is a national historic park that has two locations, this and American Camp at the opposite end of the island. We have been there before but it is a really pretty place and this was the first time we had ever been there when we were totally alone. Above are pics of Roche Harbor and below one of English Camp.

There was only one other place I wanted to see (plus I was scouting for a place to take an afternoon hike) and that was American Camp, the other half of the National Historic Park. It is at the completely other end of the island and is almost a different ecosystem. Where most of the island is heavily wooded, the American Camp section is pretty much a wind-swept plain and nothing but grass. Sadly, when we got to the park, it was closed. They were doing some kind of construction.

Since we had driven all that way, we decided to continue on to the very southern tip of the island, a place I had never driven down to before. We always used to stop at American Camp and then head back. We are very glad we did as the views were amazing.

But even better than the views were the three wildlife shots I was able to get. First, after I took the panoramic photo above, we drove all the way to the end of the island where there was a turn around and found ourselves surrounded on two sides by deer. As if that wasn’t enough as we drove back (not more than three minutes later) we saw what we thought was a dog running through a field. But it was an interesting dog. And as it got closer we could see that it was not a dog at all but a fox. Strangely enough, the fox came right at our car (we think someone in a red car must be feeding it), nonchalantly walked in front of the car and then calmly crossed the road. All the way it was as if he was posing for pictures. Kathleen identified it as a red fox.

Once we left our foxy friend behind and headed into some trees, we saw what we thought was a hawk fly down and land on the side of a tree. I slowed down as we passed the bird and it wasn’t a hawk (we see hawks in the NW all the time) but an owl. Kathleen later identified it as a Barred Owl. As you can see from the photo, if the owl had not flown in just as we were passing, we never would have seen it because it blends in so well with the tree. In my opinion, the owl is one of the best animal pics I have taken.

The next morning (yesterday) we had a 10:30 am ferry to catch back to Anacortes and we struck gold. If you remember, I mentioned yesterday that on our way to the island we had been stuck on the car deck between two large trucks so we could see nothing. This time we got the very front of the boat so we had a totally clear view of everything on our way back. I have two photos from that morning I want to share. The first I took while waiting for the ferry. The sun was so perfect over the marina, I couldn’t pass it up. The second I took through the windshield of our car of another ferry approaching us (it was too damn cold to get out of the car) but it came out just fine for me.

No travel, but a new camera…sort of

Greetings all!

Dropping in with absolutely NO TRAVEL NEWS. Nothing. Nada.

As you may recall from my last post, our plan was to head to the San Juan Islands last week. If we had I would have posted at least two or three times from the islands. But my brother and sister-in-law arrived on Friday the 23rd. On Saturday the 24th, they joined me on a short walk to the local library (about four blocks away). On the way back, Redmond’s lousy, tree-pushed sidewalks took my sister-in-law down. A hard fall when she hooked her foot on an errant sidewalk, left her battered and bruised with two broken kneecaps.

This put her in a local hospital until yesterday when they left for the long ride home. The bad side was no traveling for us but the good side was I got to see my brother for almost two weeks. And I got to cook just about every night. We were not able to get our money back from The Web Suites in Friday Harbor but my brother declared his against his travel insurance (see why you need it) and we were able to move ours to another time. We are thinking about going in early December so watch for pics then.

But enough about our woes. On to my new camera…or my new phone, I can’t tell which. My old iPhone 7 was on its last legs. The battery was lasting just enough time to go from 100% to less than 10% on my two hour walk. So when Apple announced the iPhone 12 I decided it was time to move on…up!

Watching the Apple announcement I was impressed with the fact that the new phone was 5G (can’t get it here in the house but was able to try it out in downtown Redmond—FAST!) and the form factor and look of the phone. But since I am a DSLR Nikon shooter, I wasn’t that jazzed about the camera. I figured it wasn’t a whole lot better than my iPhone 7. Then I started doing some looking and realizing that so much of the excellent photography I was seeing on Instagram was from phones. I started having online discussions with other photographers using only their phones to get amazing shots and I was convinced.

So during the event I was chatting with my buddy Mike in Florida as we both watched in our respective living rooms. When they showed the iPhone 12 I was thrilled and figured I would save $150 and get the 12 and not the 12 pro. But Mike convinced me that I should really think about spending the extra $$$ to get the pro because the cameras were so much better. Plus he said the since I am now skipping a bunch of generations of phones, the pro would last me longer.

So now I have had the phone for almost two weeks and I have to say I am impressed. It did take me a while to get used it not having a home button and to get everything to work together (watch, AirPods, etc.) but now things are flying smoothly and I am trying to learn the camera. Speaking of learning, Apple now has a program that gives purchasers of new products 30-40 minutes of education on those products. They send you an e-mail in advance and tell you that a week after you have the product you can set up an appointment to ask questions or focus on a specific area you want to learn. By the time I scheduled my online meeting, I had pretty much figured out the phone so I just asked them to show me all the features of the phone for pictures and video. Had an outstanding session with a guy named Derrick. Then I went out on a couple of walks the next few days and shot some different kinds of things.

Of course it helped that Washington is seeing tremendous fall foliage this year so I had lots of color to work with. And I haven’t shot anything indoors yet nor have I shot any video, so I promise to post that when I have it. But suffice it to say, I am darned impressed. Below are six shots I took with the new iPhone. And they have never been in Photoshop. The camera just knows what to do. If you click one of the photos you will get a scrollable slide show so you can really see the incredible quality. 

Somehow this paragraph was dropped when I originally posted this. I had a quote from Steve Jobs below. Just last week while searching YouTube for videos comparing the different versions of the new iPhone I came across the original video of Steve Jobs introducing the first iPhone. That’s where the quote below came from. I just wanted to say that Steve messed this one up when he said the iPhone was only an iPod, a phone and an internet mobile communicator. What it has also become is a damn good camera. In fact the cameras on phones has pretty much killed an entire segment of the camera world, the point-and-shoot. 

An iPod, a phone, an internet mobile communicator… these are NOT three separate devices! And we are calling it iPhone! Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone. And here it is. —Steve Jobs

Another Direction—Photography

Screen Shot 2020-09-01 at 7.56.25 AMSome of you may not realize it but about a year ago I started posting what I considered my best photos on Instagram. I had just taken a fantastic photography workshop taught by the amazing Scott Kelby.

Scott told us that if you want your photos to be noticed you need to post the best of them on Instagram. So I started an Instagram feed (you can click any of the photos on the right and the link will take you to my Instagram feed) where I posted one travel photo per day. I feel like it has done pretty well as far as garnering attention. Scott also said that it would help me choose which pictures were the most popular and he was right.

All of this is leading to my next direction. A lot of my Instagram followers have been telling me that I should consider selling my photos and I totally appreciated that feedback. I also felt so gratified that they would think I was a good enough photographer that people might want to hang my work in their homes or businesses. So this morning I put my photo store on line. This is something I have wanted to do for a very long time.

If this interests you at all, you can find them by clicking here. The photos can purchased in a variety of sizes and those photos are printed by professional photo finishers associated with SmugMug, where the site is hosted. I hope you will check it out and maybe even tell your friends who might be looking for something to hang in their homes or offices.

Just a note for the photographers out there. One thing that really saddened me in doing this was having to eliminate so many of my favorite photos. You see I can’t sell photos of recognizable people without their permission. Since so many of my photos were taken on the streets of so many cities that means that most of the people in them are strangers. Which means I have no way of getting their permission. I have an entire folder of more than 100 photos of street photography in places like Hanoi, Leeds, London, Auckland and so many more others that I can put on Instagram but not sell. Makes me sad because I love them a bunch.

And to my number one reader (you know who you are), I cannot sell the pic you think is my best because it is too wide to be printed by any of the suppliers on SmugMug. Sorry. Here it is again so you can see it one more time. Best Pano Ever

Thanks for reading my little commercial for my new venture. Hope you check it out and come back here soon for a post on travel. I do have other things to write about even though we can’t go anywhere.

BTW: The quote below says everything I believe in about photography.

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography. —George Eastman

Take a trip with me…

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My first travel photo (that I show anyone). This was the view we had when we walked out of the train station in Venice on our first trip to Italy in 2002.

It’s been a while folks. How is everyone? Sorry I have been gone so long but I have been really busy…ha ha ha. But seriously, without travel it’s a little tough to really get excited about blogging about travel and this is supposed to be a travel blog.

But I thought I would offer you a possible fun way to travel…virtually. Back in November I took a photography class taught by the amazing Scott Kelby (he’s really big in photographic and Photoshop circles). He travels around the USA teaching photography and I was lucky enough to see him here in Seattle.

One of the things he said someone had to do to have their photos noticed was to post on Instagram. Now, I have not been a big fan of Instagram in the past. Mostly because for the first few years of its existence you could only post exactly square pics. They were just there for phone pictures. And it is still VERY difficult to post from a computer. It involves me going into a web testing mode in Chrome. It’s a real pain. If I need to make a change to a caption, I have to do it on my phone after I have posted it. Suffice it to say, it was hard to get used to and I am still not thrilled with it but I have found so many other great travel photographers that it has been worth it. Plus it gives me one thing I have to do every single day.

The day after Scott’s class I started posting my favorite travel photos. The ones I have shot since Kathleen and I started traveling internationally in 2002 (my first travel photo is above). They have attracted a little attention and I have found some great fellow travel shooters to follow as well. Looking at their photos is like traveling virtually. One thing I wish more of them would do is to caption their photos. Most of them just post a picture and you kind of have to guess where it is or what is happening. I write a good caption for every photo.

I bring all this up because I would like to invite you to check out my photos. If you look over to the right of this message you will see my Instagram feed. Today’s shot (top right) is from Bangkok, Thailand. Click on it and it should take you to my feed on Instagram. If you scroll down you will see all my pics. Click on one and it will open and you can read the caption and see where I took it and in most cases why I took it and why I love it. When a photo is open, you can click the arrows on the right and left to progress to the next picture.

I would love to have you follow me over there as I post my favorite travel photos. Or just check back here and click the top right photo as I post every morning around 8:00 am PST.

Actually another problem with Instagram…it doesn’t work the same in every browser. Best way to see ALL my pics is clicking here.

For me, I think my traveling is usually a lot of photographic memories, and I take a lot of photos. —Milo Ventimiglia