Autumn in Fota

Since moving back to Cork from Dublin in 2013, Fota Gardens has been like the replacement for IMMA, the Botanic Gardens and the War Memorial all in one. Something to look at all year round. If there’s one place in Cork that I’ve probably photographed to death at this point, this is it. Still manage to find something new or a new way at looking at something old. Most of the time anyway.

Nano Nagle Place

First time visiting Nano Nagle Place on Douglas Street in the city. Heard great things about it, now believe them all. Took far too many photos of this particularly impressive and hugely detailed glass sculpture, so there’s another one below. Can’t wait to go back, grab a coffee, sit on the grass and watch the world go by.

Last of the evening sun


What with it being the first of the year and all, I usually get the urge to do something productive, if only in an attempt to prove to myself that I can and in the hope that I’ll continue to try to outdo myself as the week/month/year progresses. Productivity started early(ish) this January 1st with a trip to the gym. Yes, I’m one of those people now.

After all that unpleasantness was over, I wanted to get out somewhere local to catch the last of the sunshine. With the sun rapidly disappearing below the hills, that local somewhere was the beach at Ringaskiddy.

For the first time in what feels like years (actually, it probably is years) I went out with only the 150mm macro lens, with the intention of getting some moderately decent shots of the random crap that washes up on the beach, one of my favorite things to photograph. I could and should probably link to a post showing the last time I used this lens, but it’d take too long to find. Another job for the list I guess, sorting out this blog theme to be properly searchable.

It was great to get out just in time to catch the lovely evening long shadows, even if it meant I couldn’t feel my face, hands or ears by the time I got back to the car. Winter has been particularly mild in Cork this time around. We got a cold week or so in November, then a balmy 10 or so degrees the rest of the time. January may be about to remind us that it’s still winter with temperatures dropping back to a more seasonal 3 to 5 degrees. It’s worth it for that low winter sun though.

If nothing else, this taught (reminded) me that the macro lens isn’t particularly forgiving. Photos that looked sharp and appeared somewhat in focus on the back of the camera, thanks to the focus peaking feature in the magic lantern firmware, were quite disappointing once I got them into lightroom. I guess I’ve been spoiling myself with the 24-70L on the 60D too much. All my other lenses look soft in comparison.

Not to worry, I’ll most certainly have the 24-70L on the camera tomorrow when I head down to the Ring of Kerry for some landscape goodness. Hell at this rate, we might be looking at a photowalk before spring.

Kilruddery Gardens

IMG_0157It seemed that I’d been missing opportunities to get to Kilruddery Gardens left right and center over the years we lived in Dublin. So in the run up to moving, a list was made. Kilruddery was on it. Thats the entire story really. Needless to say it’s a great place, worthy of another visit when/if I should find myself in Dublin with time to kill at some future date. Less words, more pictures.

IMG_0344IMG_0331IMG_0277IMG_0241IMG_0229And so on and so on. Ah, just one more then…

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Ballinspittle Bluebells

Well, it’s been a while. Amazing how moving to a different county, getting a new job and oh yeah, getting married, tends to divert attention from blogging and even picking the camera up. After Julie got a tip from Jamie on the location of some bluebells, we added it as a pit stop on a fairly short tour around west Cork last weekend.

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I’m not keeping it a secret, the forest is at Ballinspittle. That’s just outside Kinsale. Head towards the Old Head and you can’t go wrong. I put the 60D back into action and borrowed one of Julie’s lenses for once. She bought an 85 f1.8 not too long ago that although a lovely lens, is just a bit too long on a crop camera. That’s not really true, it’s miles too long on a crop camera. I’m really regretting selling the Sigma 30 f1.4 some years back when I thought I’d never have another Canon crop camera. I have been considering buying a Samyang 35 T1.5, but I’ll put that on the ever increasing list of stuff to buy when I win the lotto.

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Yes, I said T1.5 and not f1.4. I believe in a previous post I mentioned I had bought the 60D with the intention of doing some (well, more) video. I loaded magic lantern on it and dug an audio cable out of my huge box of cable junk to allow me to connect a Zoom H1 I bought (again with the intention of doing some video) to it to capture better quality audio than you would ever get on the 60D’s built in microphone. Aside from a couple of small projects, the video never really happened. I’m making another go at it, I just need to storyboard a few projects I can work on that will be accessible for someone that really doesn’t know video but has a decent handle on the whole photography thing. Editing video and coming out with something watchable at the end of the process is still very much a mystery to me.

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I did shoot a small amount of video at the forest and I’ve thrown together a rough cut of clips. It’s below and also on Youtube.

Lessons learned include
1. If I’m going to keep doing this, I need some ND filters. Possibly a cheapish variable one.
2. I may also need one of those clip on viewfinder things. Focus peaking on grayscale display helps but it can’t do much against bright sunlight.
3. I couldn’t hand hold a camera and keep it steady if my life depended on it.
4. Final Cut Pro video stabilisation is terrible and should be avoided unless it’s absolutely unavoidable.

But back to the photography.

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Nice to be back out. Nice also that I was able to remember my blog login. Hopefully it won’t take me over 6 months until I update again.

IMMA

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IMMA is and has always been too damn handy. As I have mentioned before, it literally is the neighbours front garden. If it was any closer I wouldn’t have to put my shoes on to walk over there. Quiet neighbours too, never any trouble from them. They have a couple of wild parties every year and a couple of more sedate ones but I’ve never had to go up there and bang on their door to tell them to keep it down to a dull roar.

Alas but by being too close, they’re all but forgotten. Very often when I’m sitting on the couch with a sunny day outside and little else other than the goings on of the tiny electronic people in my xbox to occupy my mind with, I rarely hit upon the idea of a stroll around the gardens. It only ever seems to happen when I get a new camera or lens and the Botanic Gardens seems just too far away. So, enter the 60D, my latest reason for visiting.

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I’ve been on a major photography drought for what seems like a few years now, one of the many cameras in my collection have only really been taken out when holidays are being planned or weekends away in Cork are happening. Even then I only ever seem to take what people would refer to in a derogatory tone as ‘snaps’. The fear of turning into a collector rather than a user hits every time I look at the list of cameras I bought recently but rarely use. In a recent post I may have even told a sorrowful story about blowing dust off my X100.

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Poor me, yeah I know. Somewhere a tiny violin is playing. I’ve almost arrived at the conclusion that the prescription is a 9 hour jaunt around west Cork on the motorbike on a particularly sunny summers day. But then that’d solve most of life’s little problems, wouldn’t it?

Of course, there’s plenty of scenery around Dublin too. Well actually no, it’s all in Wicklow, but that’s a minor complication solved by a few too many mind numbing minutes on the M50. Having to sit on the motorway/dual carriageway for any length of time has put a stop to many potentially productive photography outings. Lord how I hate that M50/M11/M7. Well, the M7 a little less because it’s the road to Cork!

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I think all thats left to say is “Bye IMMA”.

Fota Gardens

I thought “I’ll post some photos of a recent trip to Fota Gardens, then link back to previous visits” but I can’t find any previous visits. Well, there’s one, but I would have imagined there should be far more than that on here. Maybe I’ve just been very selective about posting photos of the gardens on here. Yes, selective. That’s the word. Not lazy. Never lazy.

The car park at Fota, which I always kind of appreciated for it’s rough & ready feel, has been dragged into the age of health and safety. Gone are the pot holes, the tree branches that would poke you in the head as you fumbled around in your pockets for your car keys and the giant gaping muddy puddles that’d fill your shoes as you stepped out of the car. It’s a grand tarmacadam affair now, with an access road that leads right down to another well manicured car park only a swung cats distance from Fota House itself. Convenient but I’m still not sure about it. Probably mostly because I fear change.

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Taking advantage of sunny days, as one must when they rarely occur, we took a drive to Fota during a weekend trip to Cork. Fota Gardens is one of those places that rarely disappoints. A trip to Fota (either the gardens or the wildlife park) has to meet some strict criteria before it’s counted as a write off. Two main headings are ‘full of noisy tourists’ and ‘full of noisy children’. Thankfully on this day it was neither of the above.

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As you might expect, the gardens were still very much in a state of reawakening when we visited, thank the long winter for that I suppose.

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Nowt more to say on the matter, just looking forward to a long weekend in Cork.

Back to the Gardens

Botanic GardensSitting at home on a Sunday morning, needing to get out for a few hours despite the cold and the threat of rain. Wiclow? Kildare? Wait, we haven’t been to the Botanic Gardens in ages! Every time we go up there, I seem to get the great notion to try something new. “This time, I won’t take photos of any plants”. How very obscure I’m sure. After all, plants are so mainstream. Things like that.

This wasn’t much different, although as usual I did slip back into taking photos of plants by the time we got as far as the larger of the two greenhouses. No more commentary, just photos.

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Happy New Beer

Happy New Beer

I thought a little ‘year in brewing’ review was probably called for as the end of 2012 will mark my first year as a home brewer. If at the same time it serves to give a few of those currently on the fence about taking up the hobby a bit of a kick in the right direction, all the better. As I said, I started brewing at the start of 2012 after humming and hawing about it (as usual) for quite some time. The whole thing just seemed daunting to the extreme. Ingredients this, process that, mix A & B, heat, stir, the whole thing just seemed like it was food poisoning waiting to happen. Julie provided the voice of sense (as usual) by pointing out that if I can develop slide film, I can brew passable beer. Home brewing seems to be going through a massive revival at the moment, home brew website forums are packed with people taking up the hobby and are an invaluable resource for information and help for both the new brewer and the more seasoned veteran. Thankfully, unlike some social circles, everyone interested in home brewing that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting or speaking to over the last year has been friendly and helpful. It really helps to put you on the right path and steers you away from some potential horrors when you know you can just ask someones advice. So thanks for that.

Yes, I was over complicating it. I started with basic equipment one normally buys when first getting into brewing. I got a lot of stuff for Christmas 2011; a couple of fermenting buckets (large 25 liter food safe plastic buckets with lids), thermometer, hydrometer, crown capper (and a bag of caps), bottling stick, steralising powder (I later started using Starsan instead, much more idiot proof), long spoon, funnels, hose and of course the all important beer kits. The only thing I was missing was bottles but a quick call to a friendly local pub sorted me out with plenty of 500ml brown glass bottles for my first brew.

So as not to go in completely over my head, I started with kits. Kits, that is, where all the ingredients come in a single (or in some case two) can(s). Not to sound like I’m over simplifying the process but all you really need is a tin opener and some hot water to make beer from a kit. With the kit you’ll get a sachet of yeast and sometimes (depending on the beer) you’ll get a sachet of hop extract too. The process I used to go through to make kit beer wasn’t too far from the following.

1. Place can(s) in basin of hot water to soften contents
2. Steralise fermenter
3. Open can(s)
4. Empty can(s) into fermenter
5. Top up with required amount of hot water
6. Top up to final amount with cold water
7. Take gravity reading with hydrometer
8. Add yeast and anything else that was in the kit
9. Put fermenter somewhere with fairly stable temperature for a week or so
10. Bottle finished beer

There are obviously some other minor steps in between 9 and 10, like taking gravity readings to identify that fermentation has finished but I don’t intend turning this into a technical how-to type of blog post. If anyone wants to know that stuff, ask me on twitter. I did three kits. My first attempt was a Coopers wheat beer (drinkable), then a Coopers Irish Stout (very drinkable) and finally a St. Peters Golden Ale (very very drinkable). I got to the stage when drinking the Golden Ale where I began to think about hops and their effect on bitterness, flavour and aroma of the finished beer. The St. Peters kit came with a small sachet of hop extract and while I was fairly pleased with myself when making the kit one evening, I couldn’t help but wonder how I might make it better.

Happy New Beer

Enter the itchy trigger finger. I sold some camera gear I hadn’t been using and spent the money on what was referred to as a ‘fairly posh’ stainless steel boiler, a wort chiller and a few more bits and pieces to take my brewing to the next level. The logical progression from kit brewing seems to be to go to extract. That is, you purchase either liquid or powder malt extract, heat some water, whack in the extract, put in some hops and after some fermentation, there’s your beer. For some reason I chose to skip that intermediate step and go straight for the big daddy, all grain. Now we’re talking bags of milled (crushed) grain, mash tun and a whole hell of a lot of science that, just like when I had thought about starting brewing in the first place, seemed very daunting. Bear in mind at this stage I was about 5 or 6 months into my brewing hobby.

The way I went was ‘brew in a bag’, a method that’s quite popular in Australia apparently. You get a large muslin or similar bag, big enough to line your brewing boiler with. All the action takes place in the boiler. I won’t go through all that action, a brew day is between 6 to 8 hours after all. When I started all grain brewing, I’ll admit I was horribly naive. I got my huge 36 liter boiler, stuck it up on the kitchen hob, rolled up my sleeves and got into it. Little did I realise or even consider before I began that a piddly electric hob is in no way going to boil anything close to 36 liters of anything. So, my first all grain was bloody awful, a almost complete failure. On the other hand, it was about as drinkable as Miller or similar.

Something needed to be done about this. I looked for advice on the forums. Everyone seemed to be using electric boilers (plastic bucket with a couple of kettle heating elements in it). Had I made a mistake in buying the fairly posh stainless steel boiler? I went the other route, gas. For about €50, I got my hands on a small outdoor gas ring and a regulator for a bottle of propane. I was literally cooking with gas. (Yes I know, I know. I’m sorry alright)

The next attempt which if I remember correctly was a pale ale and was far more successful. It actually tasted reasonably nice. I could be onto something here. I was buying all grain kits from what I now referred to as ‘my local homebrew supplier’, except for the fact that they were about an hour away in Co. Laois. Minor detail. I drank the pale ale all too quickly and next produced a stout which was equally tasty. Getting cocky for a minute and having bought a copy of Beersmith (brewing software) when it was on sale, I made my next brew day a SMaSH day. Single Malt and Single Hop for the uninitiated. Using all Maris Otter (a very popular grain from the UK) and Nelson Sauvin hops (from New Zealand) I produced a God awful beer that even now, several months later, is still practically undrinkable. But, far more importantly than producing good beer, I learned a valuable lesson. The hops I had chosen in my quest to make a mouth numbingly bitter ale were far too strong for use in the rest of the brew. See, generally you’ll add some hops at 60 mins (the start of the boil) which give the brew it’s bitter characteristics. Then, at 45 to 30 min remaining in the boil, you’ll add more hops to give the brew some flavour. Finally, usually when you turn off the heat, you’ll add the last hops which give aroma to the beer. You can also add hops to the second stage of the fermentation process. I did all four with the same crazy strong hop. Lesson learned but I’m hanging onto the remaining bottles of the brew as over time, the flavour has mellowed slightly. Maybe by 2016 it’ll be tasty. Either that or I can sell it to a foreign superpower as a biological weapon.

Happy New Beer

Undeterred, I soldiered on to another brew. More stout. Except this time I modified the recipe by putting a whole hell of a lot of coffee in it. That’s what I’m drinking at the moment. Literally, right at this very moment. It’ll also be the reason why this blog post is so long. I don’t think I’ll ever sleep again. Maybe less coffee next time.

In the mean time, I was spending more of my hard earned money and invested in some kegs. Then came the gas cylinder. Then some other bits and pieces. Long story short, I now have draught beer at home. First purchase of 2013? A cheap fridge to keep the kegs in. The winter hasn’t been very cold and the keg has been living on the balcony. I’ve sadly ended up with some moderately chilled beer. As I’ve gotten used to drinking cask beer, the temperature isn’t bothering me. That’s another thing I could write an entirely separate blog post about, the emergence of craft beer in Dublin. Since I started brewing only 12 short months ago, it seems like the amount of craft beer on sale and indeed the outlets selling it have increased enormously. There are now dozens of pubs bringing in beer engines (think UK pubs, pumping beer from an unpressurised cask in the cellar) and getting an increasingly large range of cask beers from both Irish and foreign craft breweries. More of this kind of thing please! Now all we need is for people not to make a face when you tell them you’d rather eat the empty pint glass than drink a pint of Heinebergen Guinneweiser. I’ve also tried to introduce a few folks to craft beers over the course of the year but this has mostly been met with similar pained facial expressions. I’m obviously not lecturing them enough while they’re tasting the beer, that must be it.

Happy New Beer

To go some way towards explaining the series of photos dotted throughout this post, I had an all grain beer kit left over from my last shopping trip to the home brew shop. Was it going to be a 2012 brew or my first brew of 2013? Nobody knew. Not even me, thanks to my entirely unpredictable procrastination. It sat in the hall for weeks waiting for some lovin’. The stars aligned this morning when the sun came out and I worked from home. Yes, I worked. Really I did. Honest. Someone said it recently, possibly on twitter or facebook. “The outdoor brewer has to choose his or her moments very carefully”. Absolutely. I’ve been rained on during a few brews and got a small sprinkling toward the end of today’s brew. But eh, that’s about it. I’ve chosen my days to brew very carefully. Sun comes out, check the rainfall radar on met.ie. Looks good? Brew.

So the kit got made today, if only to have a go with my spanking new mash tun (essentially it’s a picnic cooler with some plumbing in it) that I got for my birthday. Again, long story short, it’s wonderful. I really struggled to keep the temperature right during my last brew. It was damn cold outside and everything went to shit very quickly. I’m amazed I got a drinkable beer out of it. Now that I’ve used a mash tun, I’m converted. I may never brew in a bag again. Sorry Australians. Similarly when I got the kegs, it was revelation. I may never bottle again. Sorry eh, bottling zealots. Brew in a bag was working well for me, it was just the temperature control and the inability for me to get a reasonably clear beer that hacked me off a bit. The wort running out of the mash tun today looked as if it had been filtered by angels. Angels of beer.

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I’ll be drinking this in about 4 weeks time all going well. As for 2013? Now that I’m armed with a mash tun, I’ll be unstoppable! Er, maybe not unstoppable but less stoppable than I was previously. I want to do more stouts including a wonderful looking imperial stout recipe I saw in the last couple of weeks. Some porter because, well, why not? Quite high on the list is a hoppy as all hell ale. If you’re a craft beer drinker, think Sierra Nevada bigfoot. Or somewhere between the pale ale and bigfoot. Then rinse and repeat until I’ve gotten so drunk on my own stash that I can’t remember what I was supposed to brew next. That’s what life is all about I suppose. Now, as I appear to have run dangerously low on beer, I best make a trip out to the balcony to pull another pint. To summarise a very long winded and frequently meandering post, just brew. If you’re thinking of getting into it, just get started. If you aren’t thinking of getting into it, think about getting into it. Happy 2013 and may you brew some truly wonderful beer!

Now it’s Christmas.

A quick Christmassy post before the annual pilgrimage to the rebel county for for festivities. About this time of year, wonderful things start happening. Possibly the most wonderful of all is when Julie announces that it’s time for some experimental gingerbread baking. This year, I took it as an opportunity to skulk about so I could both test my new camera and so that I could possibly munch on the rejects of the experimental gingerbread baking process. But first, the tree.

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Preparations began quickly. Plans were drawn up for front elevations, load bearing struts, supportive platforms and most importantly of all in the construction process, a couple of squirrels and rabbits.

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Following the baking there is of course the construction and decoration. I have some video of this too, just haven’t done anything with it yet.

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Finally, the anxious moments while I work out what I can eat that won’t get me into trouble. The answer of course is ‘nothing’ but I’m hoping the tupperware box of biscuits is going to make the journey to Cork with us.

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A quick note on the camera; I bought a now discontinued Sony NEX 5N as for some time, I imagined it would be a good second camera to have around with me when I’m using the X100. I was after one for quite some time and now that there are good discounts to be had (as it’s been replaced by a newer model) I thought I’d have one for an early birthday present to myself. So far I’m pleasantly surprised by the startup speed, the lack of shutter lag and the autofocus speed from the more than acceptable 18-55 kit lens. Time was against me before Christmas to pick up an E mount to FD mount adapter but I’m looking forward to getting the FD 50 f1.8 and the 135 f2 on there in the new year.

So all that’s left for me to say is to wish you all a very happy Christmas and in the quite likely event that I don’t post anything new before the end of 2012, a very happy new year too.

Offering Assistance

Wait, whats your name again? It’s only been [counting on fingers] June, July, August, September, October, November; Oh almost 6 months since I last pressed the export button on a batch of photos. I suppose as long as I post once a year I can still refer to myself as a (photo)blogger in the sometimes polite circles of whippersnappers that know about these things.

It seems the more cameras I buy, the less photos I take. The less photos I take, the less I open up Lightroom. The less I load up Lightroom, the more guilty I feel when I do eventually load it up and see photos from 2010 still sitting in my ‘to do’ queue. I blame a Catholic upbringing and the uncanny ability to feel crushingly guilty about almost anything at the drop of a hat.

So I found the 5D (classic*), charged up the battery and grabbed the 50 ƒ1.8 and Julie’s 100 ƒ2.8 macro. I was supposed to be offering assistance to Julie, who was shooting some knitty/crochety stuff. As usual, I proved absolutely useless by mooching around by myself and taking photos of grass.

My appreciation for the cheap and endlessly cheerful plastic 50 ƒ1.8 is intact and while it might not be the sharpest or best built of Canon’s lens portfolio, its hard to argue with the bang to buck ratio. Its also the first time in a while I’ve shot with a prime (I don’t know if the X100 counts here as you don’t really get a choice).

I’m mostly pleased with the results, if only because looking at them proves I actually went outside into the countryside with the camera. Shooting this kind of stuff brings me back in a big way to my first couple of years with a DSLR, then a Canon 20D. Shoot everything, get a 10% keeper rate then go absolutely nuts processing them. The once blue sky is now purple, rivers run orange, that kind of stuff. I am a serial abuser of presets and/or slide bars. I attribute most of my early preset madness to being introduced to the notion of post-processing an imagine in Picasa. The only thing that is missing from the equation is West Cork but that is a whole different conversation/blog post.

*5D Classic: What forum users now refer to the 5D Mark 1 / original 5D as. A moniker I don’t especially enjoy, possibly because I still own one. Tied in some way to my use of ‘whippersnapper’ in the above text.

Bluebell Hunt

In Cork two weekends in a row (a rare treat) and the promise was made to seek out some bluebells to photograph. Currabinny woods has nealy always been a good spot, something I believe I pointed out on the morning we were setting out to go and take some photos. Without knowing I’d already jinxed the operation completely. Although there were bluebells, there was nowhere near the amount I’ve seen in previous years. So instead, I contented myself with using the remaining frames on the roll of God knows what that was in the A-1 while Julie tried to make the most of it.

When the film counter rolled past 24 with no sign of it stopping, I imagined that the loaded film (which had been in the camera for months by now) was a lovely roll of black & white. Just the ticket for bluebell photography. So I pretty much rattled off the remainder of the roll. I shot the sky, trees, the ground, Julie, grass, more sky. You get the idea. Having rewound the completed roll, it was a nice surprise to open the camera and find a 36 exposure roll of ‘that expired film’ staring back at me.

My distaste for scanning is intact and as such, expect to see spots, lines, hairs and other foreign bodies lurking in the scanned negatives above. It’s only the very special photos these days that get the full spit polish in lightroom. Again the DSLR sat in the bag and the above is a product of my two (and only) gorgeous lenses for the A-1; the 50 ƒ1.8 and the 135 ƒ2. There is a shopping list but it’s better not to explore that too much in case my bank balance gets wind of it and goes into hiding. Let’s just leave it by saying there’s a couple of ƒ1.2’s on there. Or, if I was feeling extra flush, maybe one of those ƒ0.95’s you don’t really see many of anymore.

I could go on and spitball at length about how my love of the FD lenses has led me onto the notion of selling an unused EF lenses and buying a Sony NEX-5N but then I’d just be waffling. And that wouldn’t be like me…

Colours of Autumn

My first post in December and I’m back with a couple of photos and a large bag of excuses. I became the newest splitter at the end of November when I left my old job and started a new one. I think either I underestimated how busy I’d be or grossly overestimated the ‘settling in time’ I’d end up taking because it’s been crazy pretty much since I started. Sadly, updating the blog has been far from top priority although it’s always stuck in the back of my mind. It doesn’t really help either that I haven’t been taking any new photos of late. Above are two shots from Powerscourt Gardens taken in October. I imagine the place looks a little different now.

Day 7; Reims

Leading with a photo this time, this was taken on the way to Reims when I pulled over to get out of the wind for a minute. I will admit to the two nights in Reims being somewhat of a backup plan, the original plan was to stay a night or two in the nearby town of Épernay and spend much of the time rolling between champagne houses. Having looked at the prices of hotels in the area (and picking my jaw up off the floor), Reims became the new plan A. By now the full on ‘not doing anything because I’m on holiday damn it’ mode was in full swing and as such, the photography took a back seat. In fact I should probably just name this post ‘Day 7; Reims Cathedral’ because that’s pretty much all we did on our first day in Reims. We walked around the city, ate, drank and generally didn’t do that would make a very interesting blog post.

The hotel was only a few minutes walk from the cathedral, in an out of the way, middle of a residential area kind of place. It was only a few minutes off the motorway and through a very straightforward series of junctions and sat nav directions. Chosen for it’s safe underground parking, the proximity to the cathedral and the city center was a nice surprise. So as you may have assumed already, we discovered the cathedral. It was nice to get inside the cavernous, cool building on a day that must have been in the low to mid 30’s temperature wise. Definitely one of the hottest and most extreme sun days we’d experienced during the holiday.


So the stitching on the vertical panorama above may not be perfect but it gives some sense of the scale of the building. Just ignore the sheared stone column and the half a tourist propelling himself along without any legs. I had considered asking everyone in front of me to stay perfectly still for 20 seconds but I wasn’t sure how well that would be received. After our first experience of Reims in the Cathedral, we wandered aimlessly into what appeared to be the city center and ate a wonderful al fresco dinner in what appeared to be the busiest bar/restaurant in the city. Some more wandering to work off the full stomachs turned into a general meander in the direction of the hotel as the night drew in rapidly around us.

Something we hadn’t expected, when crossing Rue Libergier, was to see swarms of people heading in the direction of the cathedral. Curiosity drew us in their direction and it was immediately apparent what the attraction was.

If I’d thought about it some more, instead of concentrating on the show in front of me, I’d have actually got the settings on the camera right. Maybe I would have even managed to shoot some vide. Several high powered projectors lit up the front of the cathedral and performed a very impressive light show set to music. I remembered seeing this effect on other buildings around the world but up to now had only ever witnessed it on youtube or elsewhere on the internet. Speaking of which, you can watch the entire nearly half hour light show thanks to some intrepid youtuber here as long as you can handle the hand held shaky camera thing. Best to watch in 1080p in full screen if your broadband and/or computer will allow you. This youtube user has just a snippet of the show but managed to get to the front of the crowd with a tripod. It was amazing.

With the smug sense of feeling like we’d accomplished something of cultural value (or at least I did), we headed back to the hotel to snack on the sweet stuff we’d bought in Riquewihr before departing.

Maison Laudiere

Before I move on, I need to write a little note on our first two nights stay. I found Maison Laudiere (as many people do) on the UKGSers website. They have a seemingly very loyal following and everyone that posts about them leaves glowing reviews. Their location was put into a google map at an early stage and any route was planned in the understanding that their property would be the first nights stop. In the end we decided on two nights but I think the next trip will be longer again.

We’ve been up since 6am. Or was it 5am? Damn time zones. On the road since a little after that. It was a pretty sedate journey across the north west tip of France, passing through St Bruic and St Malo as I’ve already detailed. By the time we got to Mont Saint Michel, I was ready for a break. Instead of further diversions, we headed the shortest or possibly fastest route that the GPS decided on and I naively followed all the side roads, dirt tracks and mountain passes (of which there were none of course) that the route led me down. By the time we got to Domfront, I was dying for a cup of tea. Almost literally. That cold that eventually finds it’s way in had found it’s way in.

I think we arrived at a little after my predicted time and immediately Carole put a mug of tea in my hand. I don’t think I even had opportunity to get the luggage off the bike first. It was a fantastic afternoon and after settling in and changing out of the bike gear, we had a short stroll around the area. It feels a little strange, the B&B is right off what I’d call a ‘main road’ but it’s quiet and has that secluded feeling about it. In fact, when we went out for the walk we turned the opposite way up the lane and were immediately on a grass track surrounded by curious farm animals and general picturesque overgrowth.

As the next couple of hours are a blur (I’m reliably informed that my head hit the pillow and that was it), the next thing I really remember is two more guys from the UK arriving via the port in Dieppe and then sitting down to have an amazing home cooked dinner. Fed, watered and entirely satisfied, I returned to the comfort of the bed in the Lotus room to read the stack of information leaflets on local attractions. You’ve already seen a bit of what is in the area, that was about a tenth of what was in the book.

Breakfast the next morning was a case of ‘what do you want and how much of it do you want?’. On both mornings, Carole went to the local boulangerie and bought fresh bread and pastries. Julie went for the almond croissant and as I usually do, I just said ‘same for me’. I did however make the mistake of saying ‘two’ when asked how many I’d like. For anyone in a similar position, I recommend one. There was much groaning and general complaints of eating too much. After breakfast, we got some hand written directions to the locations that Carole had suggested the previous night and we were back on the road to what you’ve already seen at this stage.

Staying at Maison Laudiere for our first two nights in France and indeed Julie’s first experience of traveling to France was an excellent choice. The location is perfect, the welcome guests receive is as if they’re family (using the term ‘warm welcome’ would be grossly underestimating it). I don’t know how to describe our stay properly without sounding like an over excited school girl. It’s not so much that I’d recommend you stay there, more that I will be staying there again several times so I don’t want to start sending masses of people over in case it’s booked out when I’m looking for a room!

All that for a very decent price too. It was a pity we didn’t get to meet Nigel, he was away in the UK for the duration of our stay. Next time I’m sure. Or the time after that. Or even the time after that.