Underrated!

I wonder how many times in my life I’ve said it myself or overheard other people speaking about it. You just don’t travel inside of your own country. You might visit certain sights when people from abroad come to visit. I’m guilty as charged when it comes to not having the energy, but certainly all the excuses to not drive a couple of hours to look at something beautiful close by, instead of thinking about the next super exotic destination to check off another country on your to do list.

Luckily, I have friends visiting on a regular basis, but to be quite honest, I have a list of 6-8 things to do in the surrounding area and mix and match a bit depending on interests and weather. The list includes Frankfurt, the Hessenpark, Heidelberg, Darmstadt, my hometown of Aschaffenburg and a few castles for mostly the American crowd.

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What I had never done so far was going on a real vacation in Germany. Several days, on the road, one or two nights at a place and move on. When my friend Hasan announced his visit, I jumped on the opportunity to finally do it. We had one week to spend and tried to get as much in there as possible. Some things worked out very well, others had to be cancelled or re-planned, but all in all I think we had a great trip!

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Gear

Even though we were on the road in a car, you have to put a limit to the gear you’re carrying around. For me it had to fit into one backpack, but I also carried a smaller bag for day-trips, so I was able to switch bags according to my need. For the backpack, I took my recently acquired Peak Design Everyday Backpack and a small Wotancraft Scout bag, which gave me enough options in every situation.  I brought three cameras on the trip, my workhorse Fujifilm X-T1 (of course), the X100F with its fixed 23 mm F2 lens and a Fuji Instax Square SQ10, as I am quite addicted to instant photography these days. For the X-T1, I like to travel with just two, max three lenses. This time it was the 18-135 F4.5-5.6 and the 10-24 F4. For traveling light, I usually take the smaller of my two tripods, which is a Sirui T-005 Series and ultra light, but most importantly quite compact.

The Rhein-Main Area

To get acclimatized and to beat the jet lag just a little bit, we decided to stay in the area around Darmstadt on the first day. After a short trip to Aschaffenburg, we visited a few more spots and ended the day in Frankfurt, where I can recommend the burger restaurant ‘Der Fette Bulle‘ and the sunset on top of the Main Tower. This is, as I’ve mentioned just earlier, pretty standard stuff and if I haven’t, I’ll cover it at some point.

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On the road to Bamberg and Nuremberg

We tried to leave early the next morning, but failed and went on the road a bit late. The first destination was Bamberg, a nice town in Franconia and listed as a Unesco world heritage site since 1993. On the way there, I remembered a nice little castle at the side of the highway called Schloss Mespelbrunn which was build in 1427, even though only the main tower remains from the original castle.  It became a bit famous in 1958, when a movie called ‘The Spessart Inn‘ was filmed and produced there. I still remember watching the movie when I was a kid and always liked it.

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We hit a bit of traffic continuing our way to Bamberg, which gave us only little time to see the city, but it was enough to stroll around the old town area and take a little walk along the river.

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Probably the most famous building is the old town hall, which I’ll definitely have to photograph again with better light! I’ve talked about this before in other blog entries, but if you have a tight schedule or travel with a group, you can’t really be Mr. Super Pro Photographer, as you have places to see, people to meet and usually not that much time to come back to a spot and shoot it again.

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After a short lunch, we continued to the city of Nuremberg (Nürnberg) and checked into our first hotel, situated right in the old town area. I’d been to Nuremberg only once before and that was during the Christmas month, where everything is focused on the big Christmas Market. After walking around for a few hours, I must say that we should have rather spent more time in Bamberg, as the old town area is not as nice as I had hoped it would be. There are a few spots here and there, but generally speaking, there are nicer spots.

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While my friend finally got hit by the jet lag and rested, I gave Nuremberg a second chance at night. I’m quite happy with the results and somehow the sights were much nicer when the lights came on!

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Munich

One thing I’ve learned about Munich is booking a hotel downtown. It might be a bit more pricey, but you save a lot of time and most things can be reached by foot. If you overdo the walking, you end up with blisters like I did and that is also not smart! Munich also has a pretty good public transportation system, which easily gets you to the places further outside. We took a tram from the main train station to Nymphenburg Palace, which is a little bit outside the city center but absolutely worth the visit. The palace itself was completed in 1675 and is a beautiful building. If you get there from the road, you’ll have to pass the water in front of it and will see the insane width of the whole structure.

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While we didn’t wanted to ‘waste’ the time of exploring the inner part of the palace (please do if you haven’t had your share of beautiful old palaces and residences), we spent quite some time in the gardens of Nymphenburg. You could spend days there. Make sure you get one of the maps at the entrance, so you know where all the little hidden buildings are. It’s quite a big number.

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Downtown Munich is of course well known. I’d say you should just try to get lost, but that would, of course, just get you lost. While you can’t possibly do much wrong in the area around Marienplatz, you should get some guidance if you widen the circle a bit. If you stay in Munich, just hit a tourist office and get a map, they will be able to point out the better areas. Generally speaking, you could get tired of beautiful old buildings after a while. In contrast to a lot of other major German cities, Munich decided to rebuild the old infrastructure after the war, instead of going for then newer, more functional buildings, which made a lot of the German cities boring and grey. Thanks for that info Till!

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One thing you can’t miss are the churches, if you’re into that kind of thing. I personally haven’t for many years, which was part of my problems with religion (to be discussed another time over a beer), but lately I have rediscovered the art and beauty inside these mostly very old houses of worship. Light is often difficult and you can’t / shouldn’t use flash in most of the churches, so dial up your ISO settings and don’t be afraid of a little noise in the picture. The shot below was taken in the St. Michaels church close to Marienplatz, but you also have to visit the Frauenkirche and many others.

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In the evening, we were lucky to get into a little art installation called Les Colombes inside of the Heilig-Geist Kirche (Holy Spirit). You weren’t allowed to use a ‘big’ camera, but the iPhone 7 took good enough shots. They had bean bags all over the floor and you could just lie down, kick back and relax to instrumental music, while the lights and colors on the ceiling changed constantly.

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Food

While traveling in Germany, eat German. As long as you can do it that is. Even as a German, I’m not eating German kitchen every day. Especially not the pork-heavy dishes with lots of potatoes or dumplings on the side. That kind of food is extremely popular in Bavaria though. After a couple of typical Franconian sausage dishes, you’ll also have a Schnitzel. Even though the original veal Schnitzel is from Vienna, you get a cheaper pork version in every restaurant. I personally like veal better, but pork is usually the bigger portion. You won’t get past a Haxe very long, which is the back knee of a pig and usually very tender meat, as well as Schäufele (shoulder) which differs by region. After an (un-)healthy diet of this for a few days, you’re happy to check out a bit of international cuisine again!

Peter Lindbergh

While in Munich, we also ran in an exhibition of the famous Peter Lindbergh. It was one of the best displays of photography that I’ve seen and it was especially great to get a bit of story behind a few of the famous shots he made. I don’t want to bore you with the details too much, as you can go and see his pictures in one of the exhibitions or by just buying one of the books, but it made me realize again how important it is to print your work. Given that none of us will most likely have a gallery to hang up dozens of photos in a big size, just go ahead and create a photobook per year. It doesn’t cost much anymore. Lindberghs prints were extremely big and in a fantastic quality, which of course made the whole exhibition even more special. I don’t think it was allowed to take photos, but I did anyway. Of course we also had to do the tourist shot in the entrance area!

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Garmisch Partenkirchen / Ettal

Garmisch Partenkirchen is located just about an hour south of Munich. We had a few reasons for going there and making it a stop along the route. One reason was friends living there, another being the Alps. Hiking up the Zugspitze was not an option, but there is a nice (though expensive) train going up there from the German and Austrian side. Another was hiking through a gorge and enjoying nature. Good plans don’t always work out, but I’ll keep these things on my bucket list for the next visit.

As soon as we left Munich, the weather turned on us, clouds and rain moving in. The gorge hike might have been possible, taking the train up to the mountain for 50 Euros was not. The good news is, you can always check the weather and view through panorama cameras! So you have a chance to not end up paying and not seeing anything. The temperature also dropped quite a bit and we adjusted the plans accordingly, as the area has enough other options to choose from.

While driving around, we stopped at the Eibsee, a little lake not too far off. I think with time and better weather, it would be absolutely worth a hike around the lake. Look at the cover photo at the top of this story and see for yourself. We also found a herd of cattle at the side of the road and couldn’t escape the temptation of taking a few wide angle shots. If you can get close to an animal, 15mm are the focal length to go!

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Another destination nearby are the towns of Oberammergau and Ettal. While Oberammergau is a little touristy (get some German souvenirs there!!), Ettal has two major sightseeing destinations, Linderhof Palace and the Ettal Abbey. The palace is one of the famous places of Ludwig II and was built between 1870 and 1886. The place was very busy that day, high season and weather preventing much else, but we still got tickets and walked the gardens while we waited for our tour of the inside to start.

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The palace itself is not very big but really pretty on the inside. The tour will guide you through the major rooms and you get a good glimpse of how life as a king or nobility was like back in the day. You can’t take photos inside and you probably won’t be able to, as the groups fill up the rooms quite well and there just isn’t a lot of light either.

The other stop we took was the Ettal Abbey, a Benidictine monastery with a beautiful church as the centerpiece. You should take your time and sit down, just to look at the frescos under the dome.

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Another reason to go might be the beer the monks are brewing, as well as the distillery. There might be tours, but we didn’t check them out. The brewery was actually founded in the 15th century and was located in Oberammergau, before being moved on site 100 years later. They sell different kinds of beers in the shop, you can get them in six-packs or little 5 liter kegs. The liquor is also available and they have different bottles from sweet to bitter. Little sample packs are also available.

If you need a recommendation for a restaurant, we went to ‘Zum Wildschütz‘ twice and had absolutely good food and beer!

Another thing you might notice when in Garmisch, people paint their houses not simply white, they put some art on the outside. This could be a wide variety of things, mostly christian or nature motives, but also some things you scratch your head at.

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Castle Neuschwanstein / Konstanz with a little stop at the side of the road

The bad weather followed us, as well as the sheer insane amount of tourists. When we got to Neuschwanstein, it was raining waterfalls on everybody and all major parking lots were full! I surely didn’t expect that and we skipped.

We drove on and took the car ferry across Lake Constance to the town of Konstanz, but couldn’t see much of the lake. Fog, rain and nasty wind made this an unpleasant experience and there aren’t many or any good photos of the stop. I could have left this out of the story, but I think this is a good lesson to learn, weather can always play a part on these trips and you need to find other stuff to do. For us it was finding a couple of bars and an Indian restaurant, to at least get something to smile about in front of us.

The day was not completely lost though. While crossing through Austria on the way from Garmisch to Neuschwanstein, we saw a huge suspension bridge going from one hill to another. We stopped and took a closer look at it. The Ehrenberg castle ruins were a fortress complex from the 13th century. The gorge between the two main castle sites was connected by a suspension bridge in 2014, which was named Highline 179. The bridge is 406 meters long and runs 114 m above the ground.

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The climb up is steep, but well worth it and you can enjoy a beautiful view from the bridge down into the valley. I tried to take a few shots while being on the bridge, but most of them were not good, as it is shaking quite a bit when people walk across. A few actually turned around after a few meters, I guess it is not for people with a fear of height!

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The Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart

If you’re into cars, this is a place to go. If you’re into architecture, I’d recommend a visit as well. Mercedes opened the new built museum in 2006 and is very well visited. In 2015, over 7 million people from more than 160 nations stopped by and looked at the more than 160 vehicles displayed in the modern structure. I’m not a big car fan, cars and engines don’t mean anything to me, but I love taking pictures of them.

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You can’t take a big bag inside, so I had to choose one camera, which was the Fujifilm X100F. It did very well with the changing light situation, which went from bright daylight to very low artificial lighting. A constant threat to my car pictures are actually the visitors. I don’t like to have people on them, but sometimes you give up and have a reflection of somebody here or there!

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The museum is divided into themed collections, like travel, names or heroes, where you can find anything from a big truck to a silver arrow race car. You’ll also find cars that celebrities once owned if you’re into that kind of thing, e.g. Arnold Schwarzenegger or the German soccer player Lukas Podolski.

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Heidelberg

Our tour through the south of Germany ended with a visit to Heidelberg. The city has a really beautiful old town that is worth visiting, as well as a castle ruin on the side of a hill and in summer you can enjoy a walk around the Neckar river.

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You can walk up to the castle or take the newly built cable car up, which actually goes up a bit further, so you can get your panorama shot of the city, river and area. We were there in the early afternoon, but it is well worth doing this with the lights on down below and get a shot during the blue hour.

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Heidelberg is also quite old and was founded in 1386. The castle and its garden were destroyed several times during the Thirty Years’ War and the Palatine War of Succession. As Prince Elector Karl Theodor tried to restore the castle, lightning struck in 1764, and ended all attempts at rebuilding. It is a great place to go to, make sure you do when in the area!

Conclusion

The road trip through Germany was a great idea. I’m so glad that we did it and I’ll definitely do one again, maybe to the north or east next time around. I can’t say how much I underrated the beauty of my own home country, it’s richness in history and buildings, as well as meeting new people everywhere we went. There’s more to disover and you don’t have to fly to the end of the world to find something you enjoy looking at. If you read this, please comment on what you think and if you have had the same experience in your own home country!

Find more of the Road Trip Germany pics and other photos on my website!

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German Adventures: A Sunday afternoon walk in the Rheingau region

One of my many foreign friends is coming over from New Zealand pretty soon and we’ll be taking a trip around the Southern part of Germany. More about this to follow, but it made me think about a few funny facts about myself. Many of the places on our tour itinerary are new to me. They are not far, they are pretty famous, like Castle Neuschwanstein, but I’ve just never been.

I shared the itinerary with a few people and some of them have laughed, asking me if I haven’t really been to these places and why. I actually don’t have an answer, only that I’ve eaten fried quail eggs on the streets of Myanmar, encountered a wild elephant 30 steps ahead in the bush of Botswana, seen beautiful whales a few times already and have done plenty of other things around the world, but actually haven’t seen my own home country too much.

If you’re a traveler and have the same problem, tell me about it. It is mostly visitors that get us out and make us take a look at our own neighborhood.

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Hattenheim

A friend asked me if I wanted to join him today, he was planning on visiting his parents, who own a weekend house in the Rheingau region. If you’re not too familiar with it, this is close to the cities of Wiesbaden and more famously known by tourists, the town of Rüdesheim. Rhein is the German word for the river Rhine and that is exactly where the region is located. Hattenheim (Google Maps Link) is a small town with a population of around 2200 people. It became part of Eltville in 1972 and is a typical small German town with lots of timber frame buildings. I’ll have to go back and shoot the buildings another time, light and limited time didn’t allow it. Check these pics out until I get back there!

This is one of these places I’ve been talking about a few lines up. Not even an hours drive away from my house, it is a beautiful place on earth and well worth visiting.

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After a coffee at the parents house, we took off for a 3 hour walk around the vineyards. Thee area is pretty well known for their wines (mostly white) and the hills are plastered with grapevines.

One problem when just visiting and walking around with 3 other people who are not really interested in waiting for you ALL THE TIME? You can’t wait for the light to appear and give you the best shot available. It would be worth going back, bringing a tripod and do exactly that.

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I knew beforehand that this wasn’t a photography crowd per se, even though my friends mum actually owns a Fuji X-T10 with two lenses that I helped her buy. So I had one partner in crime to take a few photos with, while my friend and his dad often continued on, as I tried to get good light and find the right angles.

My camera today was the Fuji X100F and I like it more and more every day. I’ve talked about this in the last blog already, but it does everything I didn’t like about the predecessor, including giving me extended battery life. It is also so easy to take with you and I didn’t miss the bigger X-T1 at all. I’m also a big fan of the 23mm focal length, which translates to 35mm in the full frame world. It can be used as a landscape camera (in a way – before you start complaining) and has a minimal focus distance of 10 centimeters, so you can actually get really close. The f2 lens also helps in putting some details in focus of course.

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As we moved along the vineyards, I kept running into little details on the side. We found, ate and photographed fruit (sooo good) and encountered also a few funny things, like this big pile of dung , that a few mushrooms now call their home. We didn’t collect them, don’t worry.

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All in all a great day out and I’m happy that I went, even though I was first a bit lazy on a typical Sunday morning.

So go out tomorrow and tell / show me what you found in your neighborhood!

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Busy week

It’s Tuesday evening and I’m tired. Beside the fact that I can’t seem to find enough sleep when I’m home lately, I was on the road for the better part of the last 10 days. First world problems? Humble bragging? Maybe. I’m fortunate enough, that my job allows me to travel inside and outside of work and I’ve made use of that for the last years. I’ve stopped collecting countries as a number for now, but if that is important to somebody here, I’m at 44 right now. Nothing compared to other people I know, but traveling still gives me so much. My friend asked me the other day, if I have revisited any place over the last years and I had to say no, even though he asked me while we were sitting down for a coffee in Malmö (Sweden), a place I’ve seen in and out. More about that later though.

It is getting harder to find easy accessible places close by though, but some are still left and this might be the beauty of living in Europe. You can get to many countries and places in less than 2-3 hours by plane. If you live close to the middle of Germany, you have the luxury and option to even drive to many places in a small amount of time.

 

Bruges

 

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As a tradition, me and a friend pick a place to visit each year and while we have used planes to get to destinations before, road trips always seem to be more fun. Bruges is only 4.5 hours away from where we live and has been a place on my “need to go there” list for a long time. The city center is a UNESCO world heritage site and first settlements actually go back to the bronze and iron age, even though they are considered to be unrelated. The first castle was built around 850, but it took until 1128 for Bruges to receive the right to call itself a city.

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Bruges is not really big. Around 120000 people live there right now and around 20000 of them in the inner city. We picked a hotel in old town, which is the place you want to see and stay at. Parking is not really great there, but you can either park on the street further outside, or just spend a few extra Euros on a spot in one of the few garages in old town.

You won’t need your car after you’ve dropped it. Everything is walkable and easy to reach. Sometimes you’ll get a bit turned around, but that is the beauty of exploring a new city! Get one of the free maps from the hotel to find your way back at least!

What I like to do when arriving to a new place is simply trying to get lost. I take a camera with me and just wander around without having a real goal or destination. You’ll find more hidden places and beautiful motives if you do that and not follow the first 10 pages in your guide book.

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Most of the buildings are built with clinker bricks (or red bricks if you’re unfamiliar with the term) and even the renovated or newly built houses follow the lead. I know the style from northern Germany of course, but seeing a whole old city built with it was truly great.

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Bruges was also featured in two movies. Michelangelos famous marble Madonna statue  was part of the Monuments Men movie with George Clooney, but the more famous appearance was certainly made in “In Bruges”. Check them out. Both worth watching I thought.

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One thing I certainly liked in Bruges were the canals. I just like water in general, but it gave some of the pics just another level. The swans tried their best to be good models and I like to work with reflections. We managed to NOT go on a boat tour though, as I thought the 8 Euros were better spent on beer.

Belgian beers are some of the best in the world and you should go and try quite a few different ones. Be careful though, some of them will kick your butt. 9% alcohol content is nothing unusual.

We ended up in one of the famous bars, Le Trappiste, which is located in an 800 year old medieval cellar. They have around 20 beers on tap and another 80 or so bottled. Be careful, you might get stuck for a while! One hundred different beers is actually nothing uncommon in the bars there.

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Gear Talk on

The last pic was actually shot with my iPhone 7. I thought the quality and effects were quite amazing, but it will never replace my Fuji cameras, or whatever brand I might use in the future.

Beside the phone, I carried two bodies with me to Belgium (three, if you count my drunk friend). My workhorse, the X-T1 with two lenses, the 18-135 kit lens and the 10-24 wide angle. The workhorse took a back seat though, as I had purchased a new X100F just days earlier and I was in love with the camera right away. I had sold my X100T a few weeks before and missed it a lot, but the battery life was horrible and I couldn’t stand the fact that you couldn’t leave a battery inside the camera for a day without it getting drained.

Most of the pics you see here were actually shot with the new X100F and I think they came out quite well, especially for bad light and overcast skies. We had around 2 hours of sunshine all weekend. Repeating what so many other people say seems a bit ridiculous to me, but in one case I have to say the experts and pros are right. It gives you a new perspective and you need to be more creative if you just have one focal length. While I used the X100T mostly for street photography, the weekend in Bruges proved that it can be a camera and focal length for everything. You just need to work a bit harder sometimes, which is a nice challenge in itself.

The X-T1 was still in use though. My night shots were all taken with it and I believe for these things it is still the go to model. I’m just not happy with the bracketing function and have to do it manually by using a tripod and changing the exposure to get the 6-8 pics ranging from quite dark to quite bright. Editing is then done in Lightroom and by using either the built in HDR-stack functionality or preferably the Enfuse plugin.

Let’s hope the software update on the X-T2 will really make bracketing easier though. I’d be looking forward to it.

Gear Talk off

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As a place to visit, I can totally recommend Bruges and if you have the chance, you should go. A weekend might be too long though, as you can see most of it in 1 – 1.5 days. Options would include Antwerp and Brussels, but these cities might also require a bit of time. A good alternative might be going to the beach, which is not too far away, or just relax, take the walking a bit easier and enjoy your time with a beer and a Flemish stew.

The full gallery of the pictures can be found here.

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Bilbao

The next stop after exchanging shorts, t-shirts and sneakers in the suitcase with a suit, was Bilbao in Spain. This was a business trip and usually these are not much fun. You fly in, go to the hotel, work a bit and too long, sleep, go to and see the customer and fly home again.

As the weather was great, I took a long walk around the city center. Bilbao is a typical Spanish city, clean, organized, with a few nice corners here and there, but unfortunately not too spectacular. Beside a few nice parks and fountains, you won’t see much while walking the streets. I wasn’t in the mood for street photography as I only brought my phone this time. Yeah, I know, he buys the X100F and doesn’t even bring it with him. I regretted that fact right away.

There are people who love iPhone photography though. I just can’t get used to it and I think the lens is way too wide for what I like to do and maybe I’m just feeling more like a tourist than a photographer by using the phone instead of a camera with a viewfinder.

When coming in by taxi from the airport, you’ll notice a shiny and futuristic looking building on your right while crossing the river. It is the Guggenheim Museum and from what I hear, supposed to be formed like a ship. Maybe you’ll have a hard time seeing that as well!

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One of the most admired works of contemporary architecture, the building has been hailed as a “signal moment in the architectural culture”, because it represents “one of those rare moments when critics, academics, and the general public were all completely united about something.” The museum was the building most frequently named as one of the most important works completed since 1980 in the 2010 World Architecture Survey among architecture experts. (Source)

Read the full text on the Wiki site if you want to know more, it is actually quite interesting!

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Just because of the great shapes and forms of the outside ‘hull’, I’d love to go back and shoot it with real equipment and lenses. It must be beautiful at night and I’d also enjoy a visit on the inside. It is actually formed in a way to catch the light, which hopefully comes across a bit on the two pictures here.

There’s quite a bit of art around it and this also looked like the place to be that day. There were a lot of people taking a stroll or just hiding in the shade as it was still 32° C at 6:30 p.m.

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After circling through the streets for a while longer, my colleague and I decided for a few beers and some tapas, which you shouldn’t miss when in Spain. A trip to Madrid will come up in August and I’m already looking forward to it!

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Malmö

If you know me, you know that I once had the pleasure to live in Sweden for a while. My company moved me to Malmö and I spend almost two wonderful years there. Some of the things that happened to me there were actually so funny, that I had a blog back then and wrote about daily life. One story still makes me laugh, which was caused by me trying to get a box from the post office and they wouldn’t give it to me. I didn’t have a Swedish ID and instead of accepting my German passport as proof of me being how I claimed to be, I needed to get a Swedish person there to vouch for me. This continued later as I tried to get a Swedish ID for foreigners, where you need to bring a Swede along. The Swede then signs a document, that proves that you are who you said you are. Again, passports don’t matter as much as the spoken word.

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You might not understand this and time will not allow me to go into the details now, but these stories, the sights, the sea, sounds, food and at least some of the people made me fall in love with Malmö in the end. I had to leave too early as my company ended our relationship, but if I’d have found a new job, I might still be there.

After moving back 8.5 years ago, I made a point out of going back as often as I could. I might have even gone back every year for a while. But as these things go, the former friends and colleagues become a bit more distant and in the end, I hadn’t been there since 2014 now.

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One thing that has bugged me ever since I picked up photography as my favorite thing to do, was not  being able to come home from Malmö with good pictures of the city. You’ll find a great mix out of old and historic buildings, mostly in Gamla Staden (the old town area), and new architecture nowadays. Especially the area around the Central Station and out West in Västrahamnen have developed fast and architect probably is the most sought after profession right now.

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If you’re in Malmö only for a day or two and don’t have time to wait for the right light or time of the day, you might suffer a similar fate to what I have encountered. The last three visits have been either rainy and super overcast, or there just wasn’t enough time to put the highlights into the right perspective. Coming back from yet another trip with another set of pictures that are ok, but not showing the beauty of Malmö the way I have seen it is devastating.

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The trip also went by quite quickly. I had time to walk around on Friday evening and Saturday morning, but attended a wedding later on Saturday and headed out hung over and way too early on Sunday. Just not enough time. Facing 18 degree weather and a mostly grey sky with the occasional rain didn’t really help.

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Another visit is needed, not only seeing old friends and places, but also trying to capture them in better light, with time and also in every detail they deserve.

The Malmö images have not made it to my website gallery section (yet), as I’m not sure I’m happy with them, or happy enough to present them there. I usually don’t get a lot of comments here, but maybe you can tell me what you think and if they should make it to the site.

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Travel Tips

Most people wouldn’t fly into Malmö for a trip. The big brother Copenhagen is just across the bridge and probably the go-to destination. If you can stay a day longer, take the train to Sweden and check out Malmö. Most things can easily be tackled by bike, so rent one and off you go. If you just want to stay downtown, you can do that on foot.

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There’s plenty of hotels in Gamla Staden and you can always get a good deal. Beside Gamla Staden, the area around the Central Station and continuing to Västra Hamnen is a great walk for an afternoon. It is usually a bit windy out there, but seeing the Turning Torso is also worth the effort. From there you will also have a great view on the Öresundsbron, the bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark.

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There’s plenty of restaurants and bars, most prominently (but also most expensive) located on Lilla Torg (the little square) next to Stor Torget (the big square). Personally, I’d probably go somewhere else to eat and drink, but Trip Advisor and Yelp might help you find the right choice.

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So time for me to plan another trip to the north and maybe bring more time with me. I said all along that I wouldn’t mind moving back if the job would take me there, but it might not be in the cards for now.

Time to say congratulations to my friend Brian and his lovely wife Charlotte again, who got married last weekend and also had a name giving ceremony for their newborn son Christopher.

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Africa – A first journey into a beautiful continent. Part 4: The Okavango Delta

The next bigger stop on our trip was Maun, a little city in the Okavango Delta. It is the capital of the North West District and as it’s biggest city, the starting point for most trips and safaris into the Delta.

The first stop was the local supermarket and money exchange. While we had relatively little human contact after the busy streets of Cape Town and all the way through Namibia, Maun was the first place where a “welcome to Africa” escaped my mouth. It was busy. People everywhere, selling and buying things, going after their daily business and a little bit of chaos in the car parking lot. On one side you were missing the loneliness of the desert, but on the other you were a bit excited that finally the scenery you knew from TV was right in front of you. Of course everybody is more than used to tourists, so don’t think you’re anything special there. You just blend in.

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One of the main activities of the day was the scenic flight over the Okavango Delta. I didn’t book it up front and thought I had plenty of time on a plane in my life already, but changed my mind on the way there and was happy that I did.

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The view was just amazing and it was really great to see all the streams, rivers and lakes across the wide plain. The Okavango River drains the summer (January–February) rainfall from the Angola highlands and the surge flows 1,200 kilometers in approximately one month. The waters then spread over the 250 km by 150 km area of the delta over the next four months (March–June). The high temperature of the delta causes rapid transpiration and evaporation, resulting in a cycle of rising and falling water level that was not fully understood until the early 20th century. Every year, approximately 11 cubic kilometers (11,000,000,000,000 liters) of water flow into the delta. (Source)

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From a pure photography standpoint, you shouldn’t take the normal flights and rather book your private trip and pilot. I’ve seen videos of people who were able to take a door of the plane out and shoot straight down. Unfortunately, that’s not what we did and the pics used in the blog never made the album for a reason. Our plane had scratched plastic windows and it was quite a bumpy ride for most parts, so please excuse the low quality. At some point, and that is probably the best tip I can give for most parts of traveling, I just put the camera back in the bag and enjoyed the flight.

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As you might be able to spot in the last picture, we saw a herd of elephants walking around the little collection of trees. For me, these were the first free living elephants I had seen in my life (many more to follow on the trip) and really a special moment. We saw a few more and also some giraffes and hippos, but I guess this will stay with me forever.

Back in Maun it was time to check into the hotel. The Sedia Riverside Hotel was quite a view. The reception area was luxurious and the staff more than friendly. The same could be said for the rooms and as I was lucky to have no roommate on the second part of the trip, my room was filled with a very very comfortable king size bed, most importantly equipped with a mosquito net big enough to have a peaceful night. The hotel also has a nice pool with a well stocked bar, so life was good and we enjoyed our evening there a lot.

‘Unfortunately’ we were supposed to leave already the next morning, but thunderstorms were rolling in and our night out in the Delta was canceled. We had to switch from the rooms to quite spacious chalets, but were able to stay one more night and I can totally recommend the place if you ever go there.

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Instead of camping in the rain, we opted to go on a day time trip into the delta. After getting picked up right after breakfast by 4×4 vehicles and being woken up by the 45 min ride across bumpy gravel- and sand covered roads, we arrived at the camp of our pole rowers, or ‘Polers’ as they are called in the Delta. We split up in groups of two to man the dugout canoes, commonly knows as mokoro or makoro (plural mekoro), depending in who you ask.

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Back in the day these around 6 meter long canoes were made out of trees, but with growing tourism and the mekoros only lasting so long (wood of course rots), a decision was made to save the trees in the area and not cut all of them down. Nowadays they’re made out of molded fiber-glass. We were randomly assigned to one of the Polers and soon started gliding through the sheer endlessness  of water, plants and water lilies, on our way to a bigger island in the Delta.

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Fortunately enough, we didn’t encounter any hippos, but were also avoiding the bigger channels as much as possible, where these massive creatures usually like to hang out at. The landscape was just amazing. After a lot of chatter in all of our mekoros for the first 30 minutes, it got a lot more quiet after a while and everybody  was just sitting back, relaxing and enjoying the view and peacefulness of the area.

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While it was not easy to get good shots through all the high plants, there was an opening every now and then. We also met a few other boats along the route, mostly fisherman who seemed to be very proud of the big catfish they pulled out of the nets!

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Through our Poler, we were able to speak to one of the guys and he asked to get the pics I took of him. Unfortunately, as these thing seem to be too often, I never got any e-mail address and he probably won’t ever get them. Maybe your G-Adventures guy Jaco could help!

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After arriving at our place to be, we quickly got all of our stuff out and went on a walking safari. It was one thing to sit in a jeep, looking around to find some animals and wildlife, but it certainly a different kind of thrill when walking through the bush. In retrospect, I wonder if there weren’t any predators in the area in general, or if our Polers then turned safari guides just knew how to act. They were definitely not armed.

Being later in the morning and the sun standing high above us, it wasn’t easy to find animals. If you have read my blog post about Namibia, you know that we’ve faced the same problem in Etosha National Park.

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Some Impalas ran by early on, but were way too far away for a shot with the camera. After around 15 minutes of walking and asking myself already if it made any sense, we approached a herd of about 30 zebras.

The beauty of digital photography is definitely being able to take almost as many pics as you want to. And I took a lot of the zebras, but you really never know if you get another chance in wildlife photography. Being about 100 meters away first, most shots where just good for the trash can. We kept gettng closer and closer though, always stopping, waiting, taking a few shots, moving again, until we really got close to the animals. As we got closer, the pictures of course kept getting better and better. I think the difficulty with a herd of zebras is getting the symmetry without making them look boring. The patterns are wonderful though and if you then get a few more details in, like the birds on the third zebra pic, you know it is a keeper!

One thing that no photo can give you is the smell. Such a distinct smell of horses, which was really intensified with every step we took in their direction.The closest we got before really making them anxious was around 40-50 meters I’d say.

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They didn’t seem to mind us too much, until we really got close, but mostly we were watched with interested eyes. The guides told us, that if you’re moving as a group, most animals will take you as one bigger animal. In our case, we probably looked like a big, slow and lazy one.

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As got too close, they took off and galloped about 100 meters away, just to stop and eat grass again.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else to see. We found some elephant bones along the track, which are really really big. You wouldn’t believe it actually.

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We soon returned to camp and were a bit disappointed. Only a few zebras and impalas, but no lions, elephants, rhinos or anything else that would get your heart beat faster. Lunch was ready and well prepared, but suddenly we were assembled again and headed back out in the bush. An elephant sighting, very close to our camp.

Through tall and very sticky grass, your shoes and pants were plastered with it after a few steps, we approached the area. Quiet, careful and always listening, but we almost didn’t find them. Elephants are very silent when walking, which seems to be quite unbelievable, just looking at them. Suddenly, a crack in the bush up ahead and through thick branches and bushes, there was thick grey skin passing by. Way too small and dark to take a photo, but nevertheless a great feeling.

Personally I was still a bit disappointed though, as I would have liked to see one in an open field. They must have read my thoughts, as one suddenly turned and took a few steps outside to take a look at the big, slow and lazy animal walking by (see the group reference further up). It looked at us, was surprised as we are and while people were scrambling to take photos and get into a good position, it got a bit upset and showed us with his ears spread that this is his place to be, not ours.

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I had only one shot. The whole scene happened so quickly and I was one of the people who had to get into position. When the elephant clearly showed a bit of aggression, our guides got a bit nervous and everybody had to stop. The only way out was to retreat respectfully and so we did. And yes, an encounter like this will get your heart beating faster.

After returning to camp, we all had a bit of adrenaline pumping through our body and I believe most members of our little safari group were still excited for days. I was at least and even though this might not be a photo to make anybody’s wall at any time, for me that is one of the best shots of the whole trip. Especially when adding the story to it.

After a quick lunch, the polers still wanted to sing and dance for us, which they usually would have done next to a fire in the evening. Clouds were rolling in already and we knew it was the right decision to not camp there. The dance was quite funny and I enjoyed it a lot.

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It was time to head back, which was a good decision. About 2/3rds of the way back, raindrops fell down to earth and we got a bit wet. The big thunderstorms were rolling in later and as we were sitting at the pool with a beer in our hand, it rained cats and dogs and we could cheer to a dry bed instead of a flooded tent.

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The Delta is a great place to visit. You should not miss it on your trip through Botswana and you should also go in a mokoro out on the water to explore (with a poler guiding you). Good luck on finding some animals and hopefully you’ll also be looking back smiling about the things happening to you!

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Africa – A first journey into a beautiful continent. Part 3: Visiting the San tribe

Continuing our trip, we left Windhoek on another early morning and had a rather emotional moment, as parts of our group stayed behind. When I booked a 18 day trip, I didn’t realize that it was actually split in two parts. Cape Town – Windhoek and Windhoek – Victoria Falls. So four group members left and we welcomed eight new ones. Keeping things fresh. The good news for me though, after sharing with a German guy for the first part, I got to sleep on my own for the rest of the tour, as numbers were odd and I got lucky.

Our first stop after another interesting African border crossing was the Ghanzi Trail Blazers camp. The camp is a recreated San bushmen village, offering a westernized view on the life of the local tribes. The rustic traditional grass huts actually have a concrete floor and even lights, but electricity is switched off at 11 pm and you’ll be relying on your flashlight as well as shared facilities but separated by genders.

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Each hut has two tiny beds inside and thankfully a mosquito net, which was needed badly, as the ‘doors’ don’t really close and you could hear all sorts of insects and flying things celebrating when entering the quite small hut.

The main reason we stayed here, as I’m not going to get into details about a tour provider saving money on accommodations and selling it as the ‘really authentic’ experience, was to meet the people of the San tribe. The San are part of the bigger Khoisan tribe, which splits into the San and the Khoikhoi, previously known as the Hottentots.

*Private memory on*

The Hottentots were often misused by my mom and grandma to describe untidiness aka my room for most parts of my teenager life, as they always said “it looks like we’re at the Hottentots”.

*Private memory off*

From what we’ve learned on site, the tribe used to live freely in the area as hunters – gatherers, but  government-mandated modernization programs forced them to relocate them to a provided area, changing their lifestyle from semi-nomads to ‘modern’ citizens, relying on farming and a permanent home. They used to only own the clothes on their back, tools and of course weapons like bows and spears for hunting. Their ancestors are considered to have been the first inhabitants of what is now Botswana and South Africa.

Guests at the Trail Blazer camp have the opportunity through the activities offered to have a glimpse of San Bushman culture, which is fast disappearing, providing San Bushman with sustainable employment.

After a couple of cold beers at the bar, we met a few people of the San for a bush walk.

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We all went through a traditional greeting ceremony before they took us on a 45 min long tour through the area around the camp, showing off their knowledge about plants and roots, explaining in a very animated way of what these were used for and gave us a glimpse into their language, which is a typical African click language and really impossible for us to use.

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There was only one guy speaking English, as he went to school when he was younger, who translated all explanations and animated people to try leaves and roots. I personally tried some myself and it is really interesting how simple leaves can taste or how much they store. You can easily hydrate from some of the plants.

The younger women were carrying their kids on their backs, but as much of a kid animator as I usually am (I can turn to a 3 year old kid within a millisecond), those were just ignoring me.

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We’re not sure what would be happening to these giant caterpillars after the walk, but I was quite amazed by the size.

The atmosphere was friendly, as we had lots of smiles all around, but I just couldn’t get off the feeling that something was odd. We found out later, that the English speaking member of the group was not liked very much and he also tried to oversell a lot of the things they told or showed us, especially at the dance in the evening. A few days later, we heard that he was fired and I must admit, that was a bit sad in retrospect.

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For me as a photographer, this was still like heaven. Although it was a set up walk and not a real genuine experience, a look into the culture and even though just interacting mostly through hand signs and face expressions, it was leaving you with a feeling of connection. It is hard to describe I believe, but language really isn’t always the key to everything. Communication can easily be done in other forms.

The photography part of it still felt like a unique chance for portraits and a documentary styled series, which I hope you’ll get out of this blog post as well. They might be used to tourists taking their pics and some of them actually posed, but others were quite hard to get on camera.

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As the walk continued, we got to know more about their skills and usage of naturally provided tools for making fire, carrying water, etc.

An ostrich egg for example, is a perfect water transportation system. It’s shell is hard enough to not break easily and the San carried them in a little leather holster on their side. I didn’t get to taste, but it was a nice change from our plastic bottle infested world.

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Fire was made using a hand drill and while this is something I’ve seen plenty on TV, it was quite nice to see it live in action. It went very quick as well, and the ember was good to get a fire going.

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Beside the fire being a good time for a short break, the tribesman gathered around and also used it to get their ‘little’ pipe out. They did mention that it was nothing bad and all natural ingredients, but I’m still suspicious about what was stuffed into the pipe!

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The walk came to an end shortly after and most of us had smiles on their faces. I like to believe everybody enjoyed the experience. A pick up truck was waiting for them at the camp and they drove off sitting on the bed, which felt wrong, but is just signs of modern times.

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We met the San again later, as we had also booked a dancing performance after dinner. When traveling, I like to carry my little Fujifilm Instax Printer and a few cartridges of film with me. As an example, back in Myanmar I was able to hand out a few pics of school kids to them and their teachers, or gave a picture to a tea shop owner, featuring his old dad peacefully sitting in front of a stove. These moments are always special.

My bag was probably the heaviest of our group, but I didn’t regret bringing extra things like the printer with me. It was nice to print out a few of the shots that I’d made during the walk and give something back beside money.

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There’s a new version of the printer out, but both can easily be accessed by WiFi, either from your Fujifilm camera or your smartphone through an app. I don’t get anything for these recommendations, but check it out if you’re interested, it is a great thing to carry around. Of course you can also buy an Instax camera, but then you don’t have a digital copy for yourself!

For the dance, a bonfire was set up and it created a nice atmosphere. The women assembled aound the fire and started clapping and singing, while the men performed traditional dances of various types, mostly featuring wild animals and imitating their movements in the wild.

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It was a nice ending to a day in the Kalahari Desert, even though I wouldn’t really enjoy the night later. The air in the huts was a bit sticky and my mosquito net had a few holes in them, which gave me a bit of unnecessary anxiety. All in all, it was good to be there, spend time with the San and get to know them a bit better, as I had no idea about them or their culture before traveling to Botswana.

I’m also very excited about the pics I got out of the walk, but it was hard to shoot the dance in almost total darkness. The last pics were shot in high ISO (3200-6400) and wide open at f1.4 in case you’re wondering.

If you get to visit the Ghanzi Trail Blazers on a tour (most companies stop here), I hope you’ll enjoy the company of the San and please let me know what you thought about it.  One tip, upgrades to ‘real’ rooms are available 😉

 

A Sunday afternoon at the Hessenpark

Don’t worry, the next part of the Africa story is already in work. Nothing really to show yet, so I wanted to take the time to talk about last weekend.

Summer has finally arrived, or should we say we went from the cold to a hot Spring? After a nice breakfast in the sun, I decided to follow up on an invitation from one of my Meetup.com photography groups and go to the Hessenpark open air museum (click on the English flag on the top right for – guess what – an English version).

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Hessen is the name of the state I live in, which translates to Hesse in English. The park was opened in 1974 and more than 100 endangered buildings have been re-erected in accordance with scientific standards. The buildings in the Museum have been divided into five groups, each group representing a Hessian type of settlement typical of its region of origin. Houses and farmsteads from different villages have been placed as to give a realistic impression of the social and economic situation in the respective region.
The houses are utilized in a variety of ways. In part they are home to permanent and special exhibitions, whilst others have been furnished with original furniture and household items. In addition, you can also visit several historical workshops in the buildings. (Source)

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And to be honest, even though I’m not really good in taking photos at home or even find the motivation to go out and have Germany itself, local things, history or just daily life as a subject, I always love to go back to that place. It is just a good mix out of buildings, nice little details and history.

One thing you’ll notice when you go there on a weekend, taking photos is quite difficult. The place was packed and you had to wait for a good moment if you didn’t want to have anybody in your picture. Yes, the good old discussion. Do you want to tell a story, or just have a landscape / architecture shot of the building. I personally don’t mind the people, but got a bit lucky on Sunday as most shots were possible without having anybody in.

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Or at least you won’t see them anymore 😉

I’m a big fan of the workshops there. Most of them are not always open, but you’ll always find somebody working or selling their items. This weekend, the basket- and rope maker showed off their skills and the little carving shop was also open. I should have brought more cash, as I saw a few things I’d have loved to take home, but you can’t pay by card. Old school. Don’t forget to haggle at least a bit when buying more than one item!

The shops have all kinds of details, but were really busy. I found the closed wheel makers workshop though and had nice light coming through the windows.

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The open air museum is quite large and it is also a nice walk if you take the full tour. It is also worth checking the inside of every building, as some of them really show life in the past. There’s a nice little old shop just after the market square on the left hand side, which unfortunately has everything hidden behind glass, but it’s a very old mom-and-pop store with lot’s of old goods and features displayed.

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The big thing of course are the timber frame buildings itself. I’m a huge fan and I’m always happy when I still see some in local towns, even if they are completely renovated. They just give me a nice feeling of home and German culture. Yes, if you have read my Namibia blog, you can find them in Swakopmund as well! Of all places…

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One thing you should look out for while visiting are the special exhibitions. Very interesting stuff if you’re a museums buff and like to see or read about e.g. the development of technology over time. Right now they have an exhibition about miniature cameras and it’s worth checking out. Click here for more info!

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After talking a lot about the park and what it offers, I’d like to go back and talk about the pictures you can find here and in the gallery on my website. When shooting these things at home, I’m usually quite excited and feel like a little kid exploring a big new world. Later, when working on them on the computer, I often don’t have that feeling anymore and get thoughts like “who really cares”, booooring, or this is really not that special… But in the end, even though it is not as exciting as riding the train in Myanmar, walking up and down the hills of Lisbon or not hearing your own words when standing next to a massive waterfall in Africa, you should document these things, show people your home country and daily life of where you live. So sorry if this was really boring, but looking back, I’m quite excited again!

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One more thing

If you made it that far, thank you again for reading. Just before publishing this story, I thought I should also have a small paragraph about a second hobby I seem to have developed. It is instant photos. Some of you may know already, but I own a few old Polaroid- and also Fuji Instax cameras. It is fun to make what they call ‘real photos’. Just thought about linking to Instagram, but the hashtag is often misused (of course). After my #thatonemessage project last year, which I should really continue now, I’m using especially the Polaroid to take photos of other things, even architecture. I understand this is not everybody’s taste and some of it has to be seen as quite artistic, but judge for yourself. Here are a few shots of the Hessenpark, taken with the old Polaroid SX-70.

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Africa – A first journey into a beautiful continent. Part 2: Driving through Namibia

One of the top 250 reasons why I’m not a successful blogger might be the frequency I’m posting stories on here. But here we go, continuing the trip through Africa.

Crossing into Namibia

After a mosquito infested night in Lambert’s Bay, we continued to the Namibian border and I went through my first experience with African borders. You pass one border, drive through no man’s land and cross another border. But you also get thoroughly searched, at least our bus received that treatment. We had to unload all bags and open them, while some grim looking border policemen went through our underwear. If you’re a smart ass, you might even get some special attention in “the room”, where first our tour guide was searched for carrying too much cash and then a quite uncomfortable young officer was searching me. Only wearing some light shorts and a t-shirt, there wasn’t much to discover and common spaces where you would actually hide diamonds or drugs, like my shoes or socks, where not checked. Not that I’d carry any.

Our start into Namibia was also the theme for the coming days. The bus had to fight the gravel roads quite hard and our driver never took the foot of the gas. Tip for all you planning a trip with a group, try to not sit in the back. It gets really bouncy and even I (I’m a big guy) was airborne in my seat a few times.

A very hot day ended in a nice way though. We stayed at a very nice resort, right next to the Orange River. Norotshama River Resort is like an oasis in the desert, literally speaking, and the friendly staff greeted us with some cognac and juice to cool down. As a special treat after a hot and dusty drive, the pool was just amazing. Little funny side note though, group travel might not always be best for the little bungalows you sleep in. The bathroom had no door or separator really and my roommate and I had to invent a ‘shut your ears and turn around’ policy, every time somebody needed to go to the bathroom. You were able to have a face to face conversation while sitting on the toilet.

Alright, I know, what does that have to do with photography so far? Nothing much, but that was coming up right after. Just before the sun was setting, I was able to shoot a beautiful panorama of the river. I really like the pic, as (for me) it really shows the nice and calm atmosphere and the peaceful state of mind I was in.

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This was actually shot without a tripod and stitched together out of 5 single pics in Lightroom, while I shot the sunset as a bracketed HDR. Still using the Fujifilm X-T1, I’m missing the bracketing functions of my old Nikon, as the model after (X-T2) seems to be the first Fuji camera carrying decent settings for it.

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The little village

As Norothshama is located next to a big river, water is not really a premium and that has developed the area into a huge table grape plantation. I had to smile a few times as the land was bought and is now owned by a man, commonly only known as “The Serbian” and I bet there are thousands of rumors and stories about the guy. Most of it he’s just renting out to plantation owners though. The workers for all the plantations live close by. It is a tin hut village called Ausenkehr, which reminded me a bit of the townships I’ve seen in South Africa, but certainly not really comparable. Most workers live in these tiny tin houses with one room while grape picking season is on, but we seemed to have missed the busy times. Most ‘shops’ were closed and only parts of the village seemed to be busy with people living there all year long.

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I would have loved to take a look into the barber shops, or into the several photo studios we saw there. Not to make fun of how simple they’d be, but just to communicate with the owners and get the story about what they’re doing and how they’re getting it done. I’m a big fun of barber shops anywhere I go!

As in most places, the kids are the most curious. They seemed to follow us around, always peeking around corners and sneaking in behind us. They never asked for money, but I guess it is easy to confuse curiosity with begging if you don’t keep an open mind. Some of them especially liked one woman in our group, Lise, who seems to have perfected communication with kids in her career as a teacher. I offered to take a photo of them and it was so nice to see all of them enjoy the pic and get quite excited!

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Fish River Canyon

We had to leave Ausenkehr way too quickly and it was sad to not see a fully packed place, but there was way more to come and we were headed to Fish River Canyon next.

Lucky enough, the second most visited attraction in Namibia was not busy that day. We were able to get really close to the edges and enjoy the160 km long, up to 27 km wide and 550 meter deep canyon in it’s full beauty. The bush you see in the picture is poisonous though, so don’t touch it (not even your monitor now!) and be careful if you go there.

At the right time of the year, you can walk down and hike the canyon, but it wasn’t the right season for it.

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While the view from the main view point offers the best camera angle, I thought that the panorama from the side gave me a better perspective. It made me move the Grand Canyon higher up on my ‘To Do’ list again!

Not far from the canyon is the Canon Roadhouse, where you can eat, sleep and spend hours on the quite huge number of old cars and other funky things displayed in and around the restaurant. We just stayed for lunch, but beside eating a quite nice sweet chili chicken wrap, I was able to take a few nice pics with me.

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Seeheim Hotel

After driving a few more hours on bumpy roads, we arrived to Seeheim hotel, 45km west of Keetmanshoop. It looks a bit like a haunted house and maybe is, but has quite some history. Build in 1896 to house German forces in Namibia, it was turned into a hotel 30 years later and has been hosting travelers ever since. There isn’t much to do there, but you can still take a stroll around the railways and find all kinds of weird things. It is in the wild though, as the decomposing zebra body was telling us, but the wildest thing we saw was one of the cows feeling quite hot and drinking water out of the pool, while people were swimming in it. I was a bit jealous of the cow at night, as AC was not available and we had to live through a very hot and sweaty night. I missed taking a good picture of the house though. In retrospect, I should have done that of course, but go and take a look at their website!

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Sossusvlei

The tour was early nights and very early mornings almost every day. Leaving Seeheim Hotel at 7 a.m. was the start of another long driving day. You will have several stops on the way, but don’t really count on having a bathroom available everywhere in the middle of nowhere. The drive to Sossusvlei was about 6 hours and after picking up a trailer with equipment, we spent our first two nights in a tent. I wasn’t really afraid of the scorpions, but they seem to make a lot of people very nervous!

The sky that night was maybe the best we had all trip long. I was waiting for that, as I planned on shooting pics of the Milky Way, but that really didn’t work out. Being only equipped with my light travel tripod, I had no chance fighting the winds that night. I took a couple of long exposures, but they only looked decent on the display of the camera, not really in a bigger size. Too bad really, as it was cloudy the day after and later on in the national parks, we never had a clear sky like that again.

Another early morning brought us into the Sossusvlei area, as we camped outside and waited at sunrise for the Sesriem gate to open. You and everybody else will then drive into the park and mostly everybody will stop after 45 kilometers in to see and climb up a big dune, which they called Dune 45. You can make the connection why it is called that I bet…The sand is actually around 5 million years old and comes from the Kalahari desert, which gives the dunes its unusual red color. Walking up that thing was not really my thing and I gave up 2/3rds of the way up, but at least I got a cool shot out of it!

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After collecting everybody, we went further on to the Sossusvlei Pan and Deadvlei, which is famous for its dead trees. There you can find the highest dunes in the world, some reaching almost 400m. They gave them funny names, like Big Daddy, big Mama or just Crazy Dune. A lot of people actually climbed up Big Daddy and I was quite happy that this was not on our agenda.

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Deadvlei is famous for its dead camel thorn trees, which died 600-700 years ago, when the dunes cut off the river supplying them with water. Every serious (and not so serious) photographer will come back with a few nice pics after a visit. You almost can’t do anything wrong there, as the combination of the salt pan ground, the dead trees and the high red dunes are a certain winner. The next picture is actually printed and featured on my wall already.

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The tree was separated from the pan where everybody ran right away, so I called it “my tree” and ran off like so often, just to get a different view and shot to what everybody else is doing. Jaco, our guide found another one that I really liked, also a bit away from the others. You can actually see “my tree” just behind it as well.

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As it happens quite often when traveling in a group, time for these things is limited. I had to rush, but believe I still got a few good memories and photos out of it. The sun was brutal and I’d really like to get back there again, maybe very early after sunrise or just before sunset. The shadows of the trees must be amazing then.

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Solitaire

Dried out and probably burned from a few days in the desert, we left the next morning and made our way to Swakopmund. The drive there was an exciting one for photographers, as we first stopped in a town called Solitaire, a little settlement founded in 1848 and nowadays around 90 people call it their home. There’s a few things you can find there, which you might not expect. Gas for your car, cold drinks, a bakery with great coffee and one of the best apple strudels I’ve ever had, but also a junkyard full of old American cars. I have no idea how they got there, but they really take you on a time travel and you think you’ve just landed in 1950’s Texas.

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Swakopmund

We continued on and stopped again 30 km east of Swakopmund. The area there is called the Moon Landscape and looking at the picture, you might be able to find out why. We stopped at one spot, but I believe this is also an area where you can stop many times and take quite a few nice landscape shots.

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When you drive through Swakopmund as a German, you don’t know what to think. You see German names and signs everywhere, while the town looks a bit like an American beach town in Florida. You will find the odd German architecture though, as our Hotel Europa Hof was a timber frame building, that you could find at every corner in a small Bavarian or Black Forest village. I took a picture of another very interesting building just around the corner the next evening, when I bypassed it on the way to the beach.

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Hotel Princess Rupprecht was built in 1902 by the German army and served as a military hospital. The house was plundered during World War I but became a home and facility for healing and to help different groups of people in need ever since. Nowadays half of it is a hotel and the other half a retirement home. I found the building very interesting when walking by and I like the old Volkswagen Golf Model 1 in front of it as well!

Swakopmund has a nice oceanfront area, including a jetty (pier) that is well worth photographing. I first went down to the beach and was at water level to take long exposures, but that got dicey really fast, as the high tide was coming in and the waves got quite close to my tripod. I ended up a level higher on the path along the beach, but was able to get a few nice shots in. The photo you see here is actually three long exposures in one, as I first worked on the single shots and they just didn’t look cool enough, so I tried to create an HDR and that did the trick!

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Make sure to clean your lens and ND filter before you do these though, as I had to delete a high number of black dots out of the merged image! Thank you Photoshop!

I’m going in wrong order here, as some of us went on a tour through the desert in the morning. The tour was named ‘Living Desert’ and went after little animals in the desert, which were nicknamed the ‘small five’. It took a bit of searching by the guides, but in the end we found them all. A gecko, a trapdoor spider, a shovel head lizard, a little sidewinder snake and a chameleon, that was just climbing a rock and changed it’s color to grey therefore. I really like these five pictures and I’m quite happy that I was able to take them, but if you google ‘gecko’, you’ll see how many people have taken these pics and why they are probably not so special after all!

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The fun part actually came at the end, when the guides got some worms out of a can and started feeding the chameleon with it. I tried a few times to get the fully extended tongue snapping the worm out of the guides hand, but either my camera wasn’t fast enough on continues shooting mode, or I just started in the wrong millisecond! Still a great picture though!

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Etosha National Park

Another long day in the bus brought us to the outskirts of Etosha National Park. The tension got a lot higher, as everybody was scanning the area for animals. This might be one of the reasons why this trip in general was so special and I can’t really imagine this being different the next 15 times I’ll travel to Africa. The special warm feeling you get when spotting a wild animal on the side of the road. It was difficult, as Namibia was so green, that you sometimes thought you’d confuse it with Ireland, so the animals could hide pretty well behind thick trees and bushes, or wouldn’t need to come to dedicated watering holes, as the rain had created them everywhere.

As we were getting close to Etosha, the first animals were spotted by several people on our tour. Springboks and other types of antelopes ate and ran along the road and while most people would use the time in the bus to read, write, listen to music or just sleep, you were now almost able to grab the attention out of the air.

After entering the park through one of the main gates, we started on a game drive. While you’d now picture a jeep with a guide in an olive green or beige uniform, it was done right there in our bus. As weird as this sounds, it wasn’t actually that bad. Well, beside one incident where I spotted a rhino on the right side of the road, but before I could yell it to the front of the bus, we went past and couldn’t return. It was devastating, especially because it remained the only rhino sighting we had all trip long. But there it was, my first animal of the legendary ‘Big Five’.

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The first stop was a watering hole, not too far off the main road. We got to see a family of about 50 springboks and even though we’d see plenty of them on the trip, it was still a bit special.

*NERD TALK ON* (skip this section if you’re not into camera gear and problems of a traveling photographer)

When I started planning the trip, I faced the problem of not having the right lenses or focal lengths for a safari. Fuji offers four choices to solve the problem, the 50-230 f4.5-6.7, the 55-200 f3.5-4.8, the 50-140 f2.8 and the relatively new 100-400 f4.5-5.6. They also offer a 1.4x and a 2x converter, while the 1.4x only works with the 50-140 and the 100-400 as of now. The 50-140 was disqualified early on, as it was too expensive and not really the focal length I’d need. Money wise, I faced the same issue with the 100-400, as it is around 1900 Euros in the store and about 1500 Euros on the used market. Way way above my budget to be honest. So it was between the 50-230 and the 55-200, the latter being the better lens, but also the heavier one. Budget constraints, weight considerations and a test that said they are equal in quality, made me buy a used 50-230, which in full frame, is actually a 75 – 345mm lens. If you think that is enough for a safari, think again. It wasn’t nearly enough focal length. I was lucky that we got close to a few of the animals, but the 230mm focal lengths is a joke in Africa. Quality wise, the lens didn’t keep all the promises, especially if you had to go further than 200mm. So in retrospect, I bought the cheap lens as a compromise, which was a good compromise of budget and weight, but not the best choice I’ve made in acquiring photography gear.

*NERD TALK OFF*

After setting up camp and eating around a little campfire, we were hoping to see a few animals coming to the watering hole next to the camp. Rainy season will do that to you, as none showed up. You still sit there in peace and watch the sun go down though, listening to the sounds of the animals, the bush and wilderness, which is a very special memory in itself.

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Another early morning had us go on a ‘real’ safari through Etosha. The morning tour was quite amazing. Giraffes, lots and lots of antelopes, fascinating birds and their loud and exotic chirps, ostriches running around, but last and certainly not least, a young leopard drinking out of a water puddle right in front of us on the road.

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The leopard didn’t really seem to mind the jeeps parked next to him too much, as he gracefully finished his drink and walked just next to our car back into a little grass field.

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After dropping some poo as his next act, he suddenly stopped, listened and started hunting down some little animal a few steps away. Unfortunately for us, the grass was too high to follow the whole scene, but the hunt seemed to be a success and he was having a late breakfast not too far from us.

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The rest of the morning tour was boring after the leopard experience, but you still get to see quite a few other animals and need to appreciate it. Now, a couple of months back, I’d pay money to see a wild springbok or giraffe at the side of the road.

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One thing I didn’t know about the national park before, was the existence of the Etosha Pan. At 130 km long and up to 50 km wide in places, it is comfortably the largest salt pan in Africa and is the park’s most distinctive and dramatic feature, visible even from space. In the language of the Ovambo tribe, Etosha means ‘great white place’. (Source)

There’s not much to see, but maybe that is the beauty of it. We stopped to take a picture of some ostriches, but when I saw the lonely tree, I suddenly turned from animal to landscape photographer again in a heartbeat. Still, the dancing ostriches is also a favorite.

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Our guide was a bit confused when he turned around and saw that all of his passengers suddenly turned to the tree and took photos of it. Probably not to be expected on a safari!

The afternoon was hot and lonely when it came to animals. Most where hiding in the shade and we were driving around for a few hours, without really seeing much but birds.  A highlight was definitely a baby giraffe, but I don’t really have a photo to show, as it was too far for my lens.

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On the next day, we continued our way to Windhoek, which was the last stop in Namibia. I can’t show you any photos of the place though, as we arrived in the afternoon, chilled in the room, said good bye to a few fellow travelers and continued our tour to Botswana with some new people on board. But that is another story for another day.