Panoramas just won’t fit

I love shooting panoramic (pano) photos. Not the kind you do with your iPhone. The ones I take are usually composed of a series of photos I have taken from the same place, with my feet firmly planted on the ground. I swivel my upper body and shoot anywhere from six to 15 photos. Before I start shooting them, I take a photo of my left foot. Then when I finish, I take a photo of my right foot. When I am doing my photo triage, later on, I know where the pano starts and ends.

Then I process those photos in Camera RAW and stitch them together in Photoshop. From that, I have gotten some pretty good panoramic photos. But I will let you decide. I decided to put together this post because I have so many panoramic photos, but I can’t post them on Facebook or Instagram because they crop them severely. When I do, you can only see the very center section. So here are a few of my own with a caption that tells you where I took them. As you will see, I take them both indoors and out, of scenery and people as well. Anytime I have a subject that won’t fit into one frame. My shortest (the indoor one in Naples) is only three photos stitched together. My longest (not sure which one) might have as many as 20.

Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. To really see these, you have to see them BIG!

In the beginning, the cubists broke up form without even knowing they were doing it. Probably the compulsion to show multiple sides of an object forced us to break the object up – or, even better, to project a panorama that unfolded different facets of the same object.
—Marchel Duchamp

Disembarkation and our trip to Barcelona

When we cruise, the first thing the real cruisers want to know about is the food. But the second is the embarkation/disembarkation. It’s been my experience after more than 30 cruises that if things are going to go wrong, one of these two times is when that will happen.

With this disembarkation, I am happy to say that nothing went wrong…except to say that they made us get off the ship (this is every cruiser’s lament). Pretty much everything went off without a hitch getting off the ship. We got up, had breakfast, and were asked to be out of our stateroom by 8:00 am. Sat for an hour in the Atrium, got our tag colors called, grabbed our luggage, took it to a van (since we were doing Viking’s post-cruise two-day extension), it was loaded into a van that followed our “luxury motor coach” into Barcelona from Tarragona.

That’s where thing kind of went bad. Viking now had to do something with the 35+ people on the “luxury motor coach” from 9:30 am when we got on until 1:00 pm when the Nobu Hotel in Barcelona would be ready to check us in. So they arranged a “luxury motor coach” tour that would drive us from the ship to Barcelona and then drive around Barcelona, showing us some of the sights. This started with them getting us lost before they even got the “luxury motor coach” out of the port (Seriously!).

Then they sent us a guide who admitted up front that he usually worked with Japanese tourists, so his English was not very good. On top of that, he also (like other guides we had previously toured with) felt like they had to fill every moment of the three-hour sojourn with the sound of his voice. He even started singing at one point. I overheard another passenger say, “I thought the guy with the flute yesterday was bad, but this guy is so much worse!” I had to agree. And since he was not confident in his English, he seemed to be much less confident in his directions and tour facts.

It took us about 70 minutes to get from Tarragona to the outskirts of Barcelona. He talked about 90% of the time. Mostly gibberish to us because his English was so poor. Our first stop in Barcelona was at the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. This gorgeous art museum we thought was built high above and far from the city and not near anything. I took the header photo I am using today from in front of it.

We later learned that we were less than a mile from our hotel but that it would take almost three full hours to get there. And we didn’t stop to see the museum, just to use the bathrooms. Viking had bought tickets for us to get into the museum, but then we had 15 minutes to use the bathrooms and get back on the “luxury motor coach”…so we could be driven around and mumbled at while seeing the sights through a “luxury motor coach” window. As a photographer, this is my idea of torture. Seeing things I want to shoot but not being able to shoot them because the reflections in the “luxury motor coach” make it impossible to get a good shot. I did take a few when we got off at the museum. Here’s what they look like. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Once we arrived at the hotel around 1:15 pm, we were told to go up to the second floor and that we would be checked in at a special desk just for Viking cruisers. When we got to the second-floor room they were using, there was about an hour’s wait to get registered. This is because they had planned well by sending the first “luxury motor coach” off and then not sending the second one for about 30 minutes. That way, we should have been staggered when we reached the hotel and able to check in without any lines. But this was not to be after our “luxury motor coach” driver got lost getting out of the port, and by the time he figured out how to get out, “luxury motor coach” number two was ahead of us, and we were not that far ahead of “luxury motor coach” number three. That meant we all pretty much got there at the same time. Viking had close to 250 people staying at the Nobu Barcelona. It was very much like the Marriott where we had done our pre-cruise extension in Athens. Both of them were four or five-star, high-rise hotels that were well outside (not in easy walking distance) of the main attractions of their respective cities. The rooms were nice, and the included breakfast at both places was delicious, but I would have traded that for something a little closer to where I wanted to shoot pics.

So instead of standing in line to register, we left our bags with the bellman at the front desk and took a taxi to a wonderful restaurant that Kathleen and I had eaten in when we were here in 2007—La Rita. The restaurant had been there for about 10 years before that and is still going strong. The menu was exactly as we remembered it. I made reservations almost a month in advance because when we go to Spain, we make our main meal, our lunch. People in Barcelona eat dinner around 9:30 pm, and we just can’t eat that late. So we have our main meal at lunch (around 2:00) and then grab some tapas in the evening.

After lunch, we came back and were able to check in easily, with no lines at all, and our rooms were ready. We unpacked, I did some posting on this blog and some photo processing, and we hit the hay for a very busy day on Sunday, our only full day in amazing Barcelona.

I had thought I could wind up the entire cruise with two more posts, one about Barcelona and disembarkation and one to sum up the cruise. But once I started talking about disembarkation, this one got too long to include our awesome day in Barcelona, so you will have to read two more. See you tomorrow. (BTW: we are home in Redmond after a hellacious day of flights and being up for 26 hours straight.)

You’d have a hard time finding anything better than Barcelona for food, as far as being a hub. Given a choice between Barcelona and San Sebastian to die in, I’d probably want to die in San Sebastian.  —Anthony Bourdain

 

Tarragona not Barcelona—it all worked out!

When we first booked this cruise with Viking, the itinerary finished in beautiful Barcelona. About three months later, we received a note from Viking that we would NOT be docking and spending an overnight in Barcelona. We would instead be docking and spending the night in Tarragona, a (we researched) small, industrial city south of Barcelona. (You can see how far apart they are above.) That kind of ticked me off because I was really looking forward to being able to wake up on the ship and then go for my pre-dawn photo walk and still be able to sleep on the ship that night.

We later learned that Viking had to switch because even though Barcelona is a HUGE port for cruise ships, there were going to be so many there over the two days (Friday and Saturday) that she would not have been able to stay for three full days. She needed four days tied up at a pier because we would have two days there (arrived Friday morning, disembarked Saturday morning) and then the cruise that followed ours would need the same (embark on Saturday afternoon, sail late on Sunday). Viking just could not take up a berth in Barcelona for that long. So that’s why we wound up in Tarragona.

In hindsight, I am so very glad that we did because it turned into one of my favorite photographic experiences on the trip. And I almost missed it once we were there. I almost missed it because we had tickets for the Viking-included excursion called “A Snapshot of Tarragona,” and when we got up, we just weren’t sure that we wanted to go. After being on the road since August 29, we were pretty much done. Kathleen wanted to just stay on board and pack, but she encouraged me to go ahead and take the excursion. I still (up until 15 minutes before it left) had not committed myself to go. But go, I did.

The first thing to note about leaving the ship was that it was docked a VERY long way from the gate to the port. In other words, this was NOT a port I could have walked out of. And then, once you got out of the port, it was a long way to the city. To say it was a very long way is an understatement. When we got on the “luxury motor coach,” we were then driven for about 30 minutes, and we were still in the port. It is a HUGE industrial port, and we were moored all the way out as far as you can get before still being at sea. And the road out of the port had what seemed like continuous speed bumps that the “luxury motor coach” could not go over quickly. Once we were out of the port, it was another 20 minutes before we were off the coach at the edge of downtown.

At this point, I am beginning to think that I made a mistake in coming. Viking was running shuttles all day long, about every 15 minutes, so I knew I could go back whenever I wanted. Our guide for the day was another guide that seemed to be paid by the word. She walked us around some Roman ruins (as much as I love Italy, if I never see a Roman ruin for a few years, that will be OK with me), which were pretty cool, but they didn’t really hold that much interest for me. I have so many photos from my Tarragona day that I will put the Roman ruins and what we could see from them here. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

What did grab my interest were explosions and gunshots going off about three blocks away. We had been told that there was a Catalunya-wide festival going on that weekend (Catalunya is the “state” that both Tarragona and Barcelona are in) so we were pretty sure that this was what we were hearing. We could also see fireworks and a parade at the end of those three blocks. Here’s what I saw when I looked down the streets and then walked around to do some more investigating.

No, I did not get to see the human pyramids in Tarragona. To show you the photo above, I took a picture of a picture. But we did get to see one being built on Sunday in Barcelona. We weren’t able to see one built in Tarragona, because around noon, it started to rain, accompanied by quite the thunderstorm, so they were canceled for Friday. After looking at a few more ruins, the guide said we would now have some free time, but not to go downtown, it would be too loud and dangerous near the parades. So you know what I did…I went right downtown where the parades were. I am so glad I did. An amazing experience, as you will see.

On the way downtown, I found people getting ready for a parade. It turns out they do the parades twice in the morning. Once from the square and once back. So I ran into a bunch of people getting ready to march on my way down. Here’s a quick gallery of those people.

When I finally reached the city square, I could tell they were getting ready for something. At this point, I thought I had missed it all. Then I heard (from a side street) firework explosions. I headed from the square to where the parade would be coming from, and this is what I saw. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

OK, sorry to post so many photos, but it was a photographic bonanza where I got to combine travel photography with street photography, my two favorites. I spoke to so many other photographers during the parade. They would see my camera and comment on it, and I would ask about theirs. Or about what was happening in the parade. They all spoke some English, and I speak zero Catalan, but they were so hospitable, and they did their best to tell me about their city and the festival. This, to me, is what travel is all about. What an incredible time I spent shooting in this awesome city.

After I had shot all these photos, it was back to the ship (I actually shot more than 900 photos of the festival—aren’t you glad I didn’t put them all online?) I was actually back on the ship in time for lunch with Kathleen. Then we spent the afternoon with Kathleen napping and packing and my processing photos, posting the photos and writing about our adventures. Speaking of processing and writing, I have had a couple of people ask about what cameras and lenses I use and how I decide what to post and not to post. I promise to do a separate post about that when I have finished the cruise write-up.

Two more posts will finish this trip. One for our disembarkation and full day in Barcelona and another to sum it all up and review the cruise. We are sitting in Barcelona airport, ready to board our flights home. See you soon.

I saw a human pyramid once. It was very unnecessary.
—Mitch Hedburg

 

Marseille and Seti finish our time in France

Let’s get this out of the way quickly. We have been to Marseille before. We were not impressed the first time, and the ship was moored a VERY long way from anything worth seeing. So to make a long story short, we stayed onboard. No reason to get off and see the same 500-year-old churches and museums we had seen before.

Now let’s talk about Seti. It seems to us that in every country we have visited (except tiny Montenegro), Viking has planned a stop in a small but interesting village that did not have a major draw; they just gave the visitors a taste of what life is like in the real world. Sibenik, Croatia, Crotone, Italy and now Sete, France.

Sete is a tiny (by French standards) fishing village. It is so small that we could do a tour of downtown without leaving the port on a “luxury motor coach.” We did have to take that “luxury motor coach” from the ship to the front of the port because it was a very industrial port, and they didn’t want people walking around. It was kind of funny that the “luxury motor coach” we got on to go less than half a mile was the nicest “luxury motor coach” we were on for the entire 21 days.

We were doing the Viking Walking Tour of the village, and we had a guide who we thought was going to be great. He led us along by playing the flute. We looked like the rats being led to the sea by the Pied Piper. But once we were in town and he got down to the actual touring, he became just like every other guide—paid by the word. Instead of telling us that the town’s main canal held its fishing fleet, he had to tell us how you fish for this and that fish. To be honest, if I want to know how to fish for tuna, I will look it up. I wanted to know about Sete, France. Here are my pics from Seti. At least the ones that are interesting enough to share. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That about sums up our time in France. Of course, we had Eze and Nice yesterday, but this tiny town, Sete, was the real deal. Just a sleepy fishing village.

I woke up one time coming out of a blackout, and I was on an airplane, descending to land in Charles de Gaulle Airport in France. And all I can think is I must have decided it was a good idea to go to France, and got my passport, and got on a plane.  — Joe Walsh, lead guitarist of the Eagles.

 

A very long day in Eze, Nice and Monaco

The morning after we left Livorno, we awakened in Monaco. That’s the best part of cruising. You go to bed at night in your hotel, and when you wake up, your hotel is in a brand new city. And you don’t have to unpack again.

In Monaco we were doing an eight-hour ship’s excursion that would take us to the hilltop village of Eze, the beachside city of Nice and then the old and new parts of Monaco. The afternoon before when we were watching the port video on the TV in our room we noticed that they had changed the rating of the excursion from “moderate” to “demanding.” Well demanding was fine for me but not for the rest of the group, especially Kathleen and Jamie but they came along with us hoping they would be able to find a place to sit and wait when it got “demanding.”

Hilltop Eze

Our “luxury motor coach” first took us to Eze. We had been to Eze back in 2007 and had loved it but it is quite a climb. So Kathleen and Jamie stayed at the bottom while Steve and I climbed up. Here’s my pics from Eze along with captions which will tell you even more. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

On to Nice

As soon as we climbed back down and collected our waiting wives, we were back on the bus for a short drive (again on crazy, twisty roads) to Nice, France. We did a 20-minute drive-through with our guide pointing out sites as we went. Then the driver dropped us off near the huge farmer’s market and the promenade that lined the beach. After a short walking tour, the guide told us we could wander off on our own and meet her back at the bus at a particular time. Of course, we walked in and found a place to have a seat and an Aperol Spritz (our clear choice of drink on this trip). While Kathleen, Jamie and Steve sipped their spritzes, I, of course, took a lot of pics. Here they are! You know the rules.

The Principality of Monaco

From Nice, we were off on the low road to Monaco. Although Monaco is less than one square mile, it is divided into two parts. The older section on top of the rock is much more historic. The newer section where you would find the casino (where James Bond plays cards) and the “fancy” shops are down the hill. It is amazing how many people have slammed into this tiny country. Since we were here in 2007, they have almost doubled their population yet; the area is still the same…although they are building out over the sea now.

We first stopped in the older part of Monaco, where you would find the cathedral, the palace and an awesome place for lunch. Our guide walked us up from a really strange underground parking lot that was so big about 20 “luxury motor coaches” could fit inside. When we reached the surface, it was a hike past the Oceanic museum to the cathedral. By this time, it was getting pretty late (lunch-wise), and Kathleen needed to eat, or she would get a headache. So she and I broke off from the group and walked up and found this awesome place that served us our favorite Aperol Spritz and a pizza Margherita. It was just what the doctor ordered.

After lunch (Steve and Jamie joined a few minutes later), we went back down, and I went into the Cathedral, took some shots, saw the grave of Princess Grace, remembered why I am not Catholic anymore and left. Took a few more pics of the outside, walked over and did the same at the palace, including a cool pano of the rest of Monaco, and that was about it for the old town. We met our guide at the yellow submarine outside the Oceanic Museum and went back down to the bus to be driven to the newer side, which the locals consider Monte Carlo.

On the Monte Carlo side, we did even less. Kathleen and another woman from the bus had had their fill of stairs, so they found a bench in the shade and waited while I went around and took a few more photos. We got back on the bus and went back to the ship. Here are the pics from Monaco. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That concluded our day. It was a long one. Many hours on a “luxury motor coach” going around tight bends above high cliffs, seeing where rich people live. Eze was the best part. Just wish we could have stayed for some crêpes like we did the last time.

It’s true that Ferrari and Monaco are the two most important things to F1.   —Albert II, Prince of Monaco

Pisa and its Tower

This one will be short and sweet as I am still high as a kite about a photographic experience I just had in Tarragona, Spain, today (it’s Friday, September 23 as I write this). Besides, our visit to Pisa was not the best day of our trip. Not because the Tower wasn’t leaning, but because it was just kind of a ho-hum experience. After so many days of getting on a “luxury motor coach,” testing our Vox earsets (so we can hear our guide while we walk around), driving to wherever, getting off the bus, having the guide rush away like a madperson, having to go and ask them to slow down, listening to them tell you the history of everything while wearing the headsets, then going from place to place quickly and standing while the guide talks (you would think the guides are paid by the word), it was getting really old.

This was another of Viking’s “included” excursions, so we were on the bus to Pisa at 8:30 am. We are glad we went in the morning (we had a choice of the afternoon as well) because those who went in the afternoon said it was a total zoo with huge crowds. We were able to at least move around the square.

Today’s guide was a speed demon. She went so fast that the people at the back of the line lost track of her leading the group. And worse, there were numerous other groups from bus tours who had parked where our bus did, and we were mixing in with our crowd and we with them. It was horrible. And this was the day the Vox system that we bring from our rooms (headsets so we can hear the guide) decided to fail. We knew it wasn’t our headsets but the guide’s microphone because no one could understand about 80% of what she said—too much static.

So there we were in the square in Pisa, with the Tower and the basilica right in front of us and not able to understand a word the guide said, so we ditched the tour. We just took off on our own, went at our own pace and made our own plans. The guides kind of know you are going to do this because they tell you in advance where to meet to go back to the “luxury motor coach.”

So I shot some pics; it started to rain; we sat by the church and then decided to take refuge at a sidewalk cafe with huge umbrellas and have a cappuccino. It was delightful just to sit and people-watch. After a while, Steve and Jamie joined us, and we started walking back to the “luxury motor coach.” Then we found out that we were just going back to the same place to meet the “luxury motor coach.” If they had told us that, we could have turned the almost mile-long walk into something where Kathleen and Jamie could have rested every so often instead of their version of the Bataan Death March. These guides just do not get it. Usually, I tip our guides quite well. So far on this trip, I have tipped two. Just two. The others have either been rude, in a huge hurry, rambling or worse. Of course, we all tipped Luigi and Alessandro in Cinque Terre, but they weren’t Viking guides.

After the march, it was back on the “luxury motor coach” and back to the ship where I wrote you another blog post and processed my photos, which you can see below. Hope you enjoy them. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That was our day in Pisa. Pretty boring, to be honest. I could have done the entire thing in an hour instead of the two-and-a-half that Viking thought we needed. But I truly think that’s because the guide was paid by the word. Too bad we couldn’t hear more than twenty percent of them.

I’ve been to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s a tower, and it’s leaning. You look at it, but nothing happens, so then you look for someplace to get a sandwich.  —Danny DeVito

The Best Day of the Entire Trip—Cinque Terre


The day after we took our day off in Rome was absolutely the best day of the whole trip from Amsterdam to Athens to that day. The ship was docked in Livorno, Italy, which is the port for Florence. And about 95% of the passengers on board were headed to either Florence itself or the Tuscan countryside and Pisa to see the Leaning Tower. We, on the other hand, had decided to do our own thing.

As I said about Rome in my last post, you can’t see Rome in one day. I also believe you can’t do justice to Florence in one day. If you really want to see the Uffizi or the Academia, you need half a day in each. That leaves no time for the Duomo, the baptistery, the Ponte Vecchio, or so much more that is Firenze. Besides, we had been there before. So we opted out. But sadly, that was the only place that Viking was offering tours to. So we created our own.

About three months before the cruise, I started looking for someplace else to see in the general area of Livorno that we had not seen. We had never seen the Leaning Tower and the rest of Pisa, but that was a two-hour tour, and we would be in Livorno for two days and would see that on the second day. So where to go? I searched maps and Cruise Critic for ideas, and in doing that, I looked up the coast, and lo and behold—Cinque Terre. We had heard so much about it but had never been there, and we really wanted to see it, but for some reason, Viking does not do any tours in that direction (although it took us the same amount of time to get there as it did to get into Florence). That meant I had to find us a tour. So off I went to Google, and the first tour that popped up was a “Tour to Cinque Terre from the Port of Livorno” by BellaItalia Tours. That sounded like just what we were looking for, so I contacted them.

Like most tours, this had one price—the price of the tour. Actually, there were two possibilities—a tour with a driver who got you there and got you off on your way into the first “land” and then picked you up and took you back to the ship after you finished touring everything. The other option was a driver AND a guide. The driver got you there, but the guide accompanied you throughout the day from village to village telling us all about them on the way. We wanted to do this because we were looking for someone to walk us through the entire thing.

If you got the driver and the guide, the price was just about 800 euros for two people. But if you could find more to join you, the price went down because you were paying for the car, driver and guide no matter what. Up to 8 people could come along. To find someone else to join us (the other four in our party had never been to Florence, so they were going there), I went on Cruise Critic to our roll call (click here if you need Cruise Critic and Roll Calls explained) and found Corky and Larry from Maui who said they would love to join us. This meant our price was basically cut in half. And not only did that make this tour a bargain, but we made two great friends in the process.

As soon as the ship had been cleared by the port authorities, we were off and looking for my name on a placard being held by our guide, the amazing and hilarious Luigi. And he and our driver (Alessandro) were waiting right where they said they would be, we jumped in their Mercedes van, and we were off. What joy it was to ride in a van and not a “luxury motor coach.” It meant that there were two of us to a seat, with plenty of legroom and Luigi giving us non-stop play-by-play as we drove along.

On the way, we got to see some things we hadn’t expected, like the famous marble mountains of Carrara. I suppose if I had thought about it, I would have realized that the Carrara marble that makes up so many buildings in the Mediterannean or our very own tile floors at home comes from a huge mountain of marble. The mountains are magnificent to look at, as you can see in this small gallery. Don’t forget, if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

A little while after passing through Carrara and some amazing hilltop towns on either side of the AutoStrada (Italian for freeway), we reached La Spezia, a coastal community that is the gateway to Cinque Terre. You climb far above it and that puts you about even with those hilltop towns, so here are some views from the hill above La Spezia and some hilltop towns we had seen between there and Carrara. Don’t forget; they can be viewed as a slide show.