Llama park

Llama park

The llama park in the Ashdown Forest, East Sussex. It was the year when it snowed like crazy in the run-up to Christmas.

~ Spotted Cow

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

Dazzle camouflage on the Mersey ferry

Mersey ferry with dazzle camouflage against the Liverpool skyline.

The dazzle camouflage was designed to confuse not to conceal, and was used on British warships in World War 1. The mix of patterns and colours meant that enemy ships found it difficult to estimate a ship’s size, speed and direction, or whether they were looking at the bow or stern. A not-so-tenuous link for this week’s challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Victory

~ Spotted Cow

Liverpool. Sculptures on the beach

Sculpture on the beach

Antony Gormley’s sculptures on Crosby Beach are the main reason I wanted to go to Liverpool. “Another Place” is 100 life-sized cast iron figures looking out to sea. Some are on the beach and some submerged in the ocean, spanning 3km of the coast.

We turned up on a cool, sunny morning. The scene was peaceful. I reckon that on a dark and cloudy day, it would feel quite eerie. As it was, the motionless figures on the sand were a little bit spooky. The ones in the water looked like men wading out to drown.

Nevertheless, Crosby beach feels very local and the silent figures mingle with the township, their children and their pets. I’d love to go back for summer twilight.

~ Spotted Cow

Antony Gormley's Another Place

Crosby beach

Making sandcastles on Crosby beach

Sculpture tag

Sculpture with moss

 

 

 

Beatles tour

Penny Lane

We chose a black cab Beatles tour with the Fab Four Taxi Tour company and were very pleased with it because we had an informative story-telling driver/guide who added to the atmosphere by playing Beatles music en route. Also, we didn’t turn up to sites with a crowd, didn’t have to manoeuvre narrow streets in a big vehicle, and didn’t have to jostle for a view or pictures.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, going round to see the houses that the Beatles grew up in, visiting Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields, seeing Eleanor Rigby’s gravestone, and realising that the (one-man) yellow submarine is real ! Can you see what’s hidden in the brickwork of the house on Ringo Starr’s childhood street?

~ Spotted Cow

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Strawberry Fields

Strawberry Fields

You can’t go to Liverpool without visiting the Beatles sites, and that was definitely on the weekend’s agenda.

The most striking thing on my Beatles route was the crimson Strawberry Field gates. Strawberry Field – without the s – was a Salvation Army orphanage that has since closed down. John Lennon lived and grew up nearby, playing in the grounds and in the woods around, which he dubbed Strawberry Fields, with the s. The myth goes that some of John Lennon’s ashes are scattered here and the Salvation Army will never sell the land. It is indeed Strawberry Fields Forever.

~ Spotted Cow

Swedish Baths

Towels & swimming costume

On our last morning in Stockholm, we went to the baths at the art deco inspired Centralbadet. We had a swim, soaked in the hot pools, and sat in the sauna. I would definitely recommend it if you like unwind time on your travels.

The Centralbadet is a beautiful building. I can’t show you pictures of the inside, but the swimming pool was surrounded by lush plants, wooden loungers and old-fashioned cubicles. Lots of light flooded through the stained glass windows. The spa area was quiet and relaxing. It was a Tuesday morning and mainly a mature crowd and housewives.

If we hadn’t had to leave to catch our flight, we would’ve stayed for lunch and booked a massage. And so, it was bye bye Stockholm, till another time. We departed super chilled.

~ Spotted Cow

Centralbadet window

Entrance Centralbadet

Stained glass window

The Ship That Sunk Before It Left The Harbour

The Vasa Museum, view from across the waterfront

If you go to only one museum in Stockholm, go to the Vasa. It intrigued us because on one of our walks, across the waterfront, we saw an impressive ship-like building – the Vasa Museum – sitting next to a classically built edific

The Vasa is a large warship that took 300 men two years to build in 1626. In 1628, it set sail on its inaugural voyage to much fanfare, only to keel over and sink before it made it out of Stockholm harbour. What an anti-climax.

333 years later (such a magic number!), the Swedes salvaged the ship, excavated and restored it, eventually turning it into a 7-floor museum. Conservation is an on-going process. The ship’s size is the most dramatic thing about it. You can go up & down – your choice, elevator or stairs – to look at all the levels of the ship. And they’ve extracted details like the decorative elements, the working objects, and a model ship for a close-up inspection.

Normally, war ships aren’t my thing. However, having been, I can see why it is the most popular museum in Sweden.

~ Spotted Cow

The salvaged Vasa

A view of the model ship from a high floor

Decorative detail on the Vasa

Inside the Vasa Museum

 

Snap Chat. Food tour & food photos

Blood pudding with lingonberry sauce on a stick

I used to laugh at my Singaporean friends visiting London, who would took pictures of the food they ate on their travels. I’ve sat through photo files of steak tartare in Paris, truffle spaghetti in Siena, and breakfast kippers in London’s East End.

Now, with a travel & photography blog, I find myself doing it. Sometimes. It really is awkward. Inside light is often poor, white plates & shiny utensils reflect everything, and you stand about conspicuously trying to find the best angle.

The Lovely J is a bit of a foodie and she booked us on a food tour with Food Tours Stockholm. My favourite part was the samplings around the various stalls in the basement food hall at Hötorgshallen – where all these pictures were taken – and later at Meatballs For The People.

My modus operandi with getting the shots was to bump up the ISO, use a very low f-number and focus with a steady hand on one morsel of food. That way, the one morsel is in focus and everything else is progressively blurred. In order, the food images are of blood pudding with lingonberry sauce, ham in olive oil & garnish, and reindeer mousse with accompanied cold meats. All were taken on ISO 1600, f6/3 settings.

I also wanted a shot of the prep counter when the cook was making our herring and salmon samples. So I stood back to use the widest angle possible, with the camera still on ISO 1600 and a bit higher f9. Then a deep breath and fingers crossed that everything would come out in focus.

I think I did an ok job. I’m keen to hear other people’s travel food photography techniques.

~ Spotted Cow

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Swedish meatballs

Swedish meatballs

My Swedish colleague told me – somewhat indignantly – that Swedes eat meatballs at home, not in restaurants. However, apart from imposing on his mother’s hospitality, my lovely friend J and I were going to have to eat meatballs somewhere. And that somewhere turned out to be Meatballs for the People in the Södermalm area (Nytorgsgatan 30, 11640 Stockholm).

We had the classic with a creamy gravy, lingonberry sauce, mash potatoes, and pickled cucumbers. These guys know where their meat comes from and there is a map on the wall with animal stickers showing the farms. I wouldn’t be surprised if they know the names of all the animals, but maybe that’s a bit too intimate. Best said that there’s a variety of meatballs and vegetarians get a look-in too.

Incidentally, they are listed in the Conde Nast Travellers “The World’s Best Meatballs”.

I have to let on that we ate Swedish meatballs twice while in Stockholm. After all, you have to be empirical about these things. On our first evening, we wanted to go to Operakällaren Bakfickan as recommended by The Slow Pace girls, but unfortunately the kitchen closed early that day. So we ate meatballs at the place next door … and I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but apparently it’s the regular hangout of Dolph Lundgren, whom I didn’t recognise at the table next to us.

~ Spotted Cow

Meat map

Meatballs for the People, inside

Meatballs for the People, outside

Stockholm. Immediate impressions

Stockholm life on the river

The two things that struck me on my Stockholm city weekend was life on the water and the ubiquitous greenery. The combination made it feel fresh to be outside, and we were blessed with good weather to savour it. The picture above was our view while having a beer on the evening we arrived.

Stockholm sits on 14 islands, and water is everywhere. As I mentioned, the weather was good and we walked around a lot. Every so often, we would have a rest at one of the many bars and enjoy the calm of our surroundings. It’s not often you hear the words “tranquil” and “city” together.

It made me wish that we made more of London’s river and riverbank life. It’s not non-existent, but it could use a healthy helping of green.

~ Spotted Cow

Stockholm Opera House

Stockholm city skyline

Bridge onto Skeppsholmen

Taj Mahal at dawn

Taj Mahal at dawn

The Taj Mahal at dawn. This is one of those instances where I lugged my tripod around northern India only to find that I wasn’t allowed to take it into the Taj Mahal compound ! I’ve been told since that I should carry a bag of lentils to substitute for a tripod when I need one. Handy tip, although not one I’ve remembered at any point when it would’ve proved useful.

~ Spotted Cow

Pebbly beach

Brighton seafront

Did I mention that most English beaches are pebbly beaches? Brighton beaches are pebbly. It was one of the things that perplexed me when I came to live here because I didn’t think it was physically possible. My definition of beach – at the time – was sand and sea. Well, that has since shifted because my world is now broader, which is always a good thing.

~ Spotted Cow

Beach pebbles

View of Brighton Pier

Beach hut weather

Hove Huts

I was in Brighton for the Easter holidays and it was beach hut weather. England is a different country when the sun comes out and there was lots of glorious sunshine last week. The temperatures were still in the teens – or 50s & 60s in Fahrenheit – and those of hardier stock bared their limbs in t-shirts and shorts.

These beach huts are in Hove. The Hove Huts are on the seafront, but they sit on the promenade as opposed to on the beach, which is about 10 metres away. So, it’s a bit like sitting in a car park.

The English beach huts came about originally to preserve the modesty of Victorian ladies holidaying by the sea. These days they are luxuries that people aspire to, although you might wonder why. The Hove Huts are simple structures. They are the size of a small garden shed, with no electricity or amenities. All you can do in it is store your deck chairs and table, a Primus stove to make tea and your beach accessories. For this little piece of real estate, you would pay about £13,000 (or US$21,000) to own one. Amazing huh? More so, because they’re among the cheaper ones that you can find around the country.

~ Spotted Cow

Enjoying the sunshinePersonalising the beach hutSea view from Hove promenade

Money for old rope

Ship rope

Although we had our amazing dinghy and land expeditions, there was also a lot of time spent on the boat during the Antarctic trip.

When I exhausted the day’s shots of icescapes, I took photographs of the ship’s features, notably the rope, which there was a lot of. It made me think of the saying “money for old rope”.  It has a nautical origin and comes from the days when sailors sold the good, (shorter), undamaged bits of rope when they came ashore.

~ Spotted Cow

More ship rope

Bird seeking shelter under rope

I missed the whales breaching !

Whale tail. Antarctica.

We had tannoys in our rooms on board the Antarctic expedition boat. I was lying in bed dozing to the rocking motion of the sea when the announcement came from the ship’s bridge that there were whales breaching. This, I had to see. I donned all my layers in double quick time and ran up on deck. Alas, I had missed the acrobatics. I did, however, manage to burn through over 100 pictures of their humps and tails going in and out of the water.

~ Spotted Cow

Four whale humpsWhale tailWhale tail with barnaclesWhale spotting

30,000 year-old ice for your gin & tonic

Giant iceberg

It’s a massive understatement, but there’s a lot of ice in Antarctica. Great giant blocks of ice the size of castles. In fact, they’re the young ‘uns, the bits of ice that have broken off glaciers or ice shelves and drifted out into the sea. It’ll take about 20,000 to 40,000 years for them to melt down to something you can put into your measure of gin & tonic.

We had excursions in motorized dinghies around these iceberg graveyards, to get a sense of their enormity, broadly aware that the ice is continuously melting and the iceberg could potentially tip over on one of its sides. Do you know the sound of groaning ice? I would like to have known, albeit from a safe distance !

~ Spotted Cow

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Seals in Antarctica

Seal on ice

Penguins get all the hype, but my favourite creatures in Antarctica are the seals. They have wonderfully enigmatic expressions on their dog-like faces.

Seals are usually quite lazy. Mostly, I saw them lying around on the ice floes, watching the world go by. They’re attracted to the sound of the outboard motor and sometimes, they find enough energy to heave their blubber into water and swim up to say hello.

~ Spotted Cow

Seal swimming Seal of approval Seal and tourists

Did you see penguins in Antarctica?

Penguins on ice floe

Following on from the Snap Chat post about photographing in very white conditions, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on Antarctica.

I did an Antarctic trip several years ago and it was so bewilderingly beautiful that I almost never wanted to travel again because I thought that nothing could surpass it. The trip had a striking effect on me in more ways than one because I quit my job when I got home, having decided that I had to look down other routes. But that is a story for another time.

The most popular question I got when I returned from the trip was “did you see any penguins?”

The answer is a definitive yes. I saw penguins everyday. I smelt them every day too! Their poo – or guano, if you want to use the technical term – has a strong, sharp, pungent smell, which alerts you to their whereabouts. However, it doesn’t take away from how delightful and affable these little tuxedoed gentlemen are, waddling around on the ice and snow. Plus, you have the added bonus of getting up close and personal with them, if you can bear the smell.

~ Spotted Cow

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Singapore eating

Chopsticks

I caught up with Very Stylish Neighbour and her Argentinian boyfriend over clingy noodles, dumplings and chicken wings. They were telling me about their trip to her hometown in Singapore, and in particular, his impressions.

He wasn’t prepared for the heat and humidity, thinking he was Argentinian and it wouldn’t be an issue. Even more so, he was astounded as to how often Singaporeans eat and think about food. He described a day when they went to lunch, had an after-lunch snack/dessert, followed by soup on getting home, and a discussion about what they were doing to do for dinner !

Chopsticks at the ready.

~ Spotted Cow

Chopsticks and condiments

Daily bread

Daily BreadYou can always tell where a bakery is from the wafting scent of freshly baked bread. A Turkish baker let me take pictures of him working in his shop, which was barely larger than the work table that you can see in the pictures. It was a difficult space to take photographs because there was hardly any standing room.  The light was very low and most of the shots were taken with a 3200 ISO setting.

His “actual” shop was the window ledge where he displayed all the made loaves. I’ve been watching the Great British Bake Off and I’m always amazed by the goods that come out of the oven.  My own oven is under-utilised.

~ Spotted Cow

Wife supervising the bakeInto the oven !Loaves of bread