Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Thanks for ATC

I was in Esbjerg when I took this picture of the contrails ("condensation trails") in the sky. Although the picture only shows about 5, there were at least 3 more that I could not get in. Apart from that I saw 3 aircraft in the air with no trails. I was imagining how busy the air over Europe has to be to see all that in one go. When we flew to Amsterdam, I sat at the window and noticed a 474 approaching us from the front. It was heading straight in our direction, but I could see that it was at a different altitude, so I didn't get too alarmed about it. The speed at which it was approaching was incredible seeing that both aircrafts were probably cruising at around 900km/h. When it came close enough I could see that it was a Lufthansa flight, it passed right over our heads and it was quite exhilarating stuff to see. Our our flightpath from Bullin to Schipol was not in a very straight line either. We were dodging not only heavy cloud cells, but for sure some other aircraft as well. With all this air traffic it is such a comforting thought knowing that their are air traffic controllers (ATC) at work...and hopefully not sleeping on their shifts!

It's all about information and experience

The more you travel the easier it gets. Yesterday I arrived at the airport with no ticket or any reference to any booking. I had a bit of a problem when I tried the self check-in desk. My name was not recognized from my passport and only after a while I got it sorted. Was this in my earlier days of travel, I would've had everything with me, checked, re-checked and double-checked again. But you gain experience and you get to a point that going to the airport is like going to the toilet, you know what to do without any concerns really. Another thing that comes in really handy when you travel is information. The more information you can find, the easier it is to travel without the usual concerns and frustrations.

Yesterday when we landed at Schipol Airport, which according to many is the best organized airport in Europe, we headed for the carousal to collect our baggage. All you have to do is follow the signs. The information is in your face, so finding it is not much of a problem. Our luggage was expected on carousal 12, which was also very easy to find. But what I saw on the screen above the belt really amazed me. They were actually telling you when your baggage will be loaded on the belt, they even tell you once all the baggage have been loaded, so if you don't see your bags then you will know that you don't have to wait and do the next obvious step, go to the baggage claim desk. All this information giving to you while you are standing there.

Compare this now with arrivals at Luanda. The size of the airport is a 20th of Schipol. Two flights arrive at the same time and there is complete chaos. You stand and wait at any of the only TWO carousals and you still don't know when or where to expect your baggage. After 2 hours (and this is not a lie), you still stand and wait because you have no idea whether your bags might appear or not. There's no-one to ask, because no-one seems to know what is going on outside where the luggage is loaded on the belt. Or maybe they know that nothing is happening outside and they are too embarrassed to tell you. In this case experience comes in handy again. If you have been through this before you know that you just stand in wait until you fall over, because there is still a chance of your luggage appearing. When you compare airports like these two, then only you realize how far behind some countries in the world are when it comes to service delivery. What a pleasure to travel through Schipol airport, you can actually arrive at your hotel with a smile and minus the headache you pick up when traveling through the airport at Luanda.

Sunset in IJmuiden

Today I took my first sunset scene with the SLR. We arrived in IJmuiden and went straight for a beer and a TV to watch the Spain-Portugal game. After dinner I fetched my camera with the plan to walk to the beach, but only when I got out of the building I actually saw the beautiful sunset. Because the yacht club is in front of the hotel and in between myself and the sun, I had to literally run to a place where I could take a proper picture without too many things in the foreground. While running I had to change lenses and looked like some war reporter in Afghanistan running to get the best action photo…or running for his own life not to get shot himself. Four girls on Vespas drove past me and cheered me on like I was about to win the Comrades marathon. They obviously figured out why I was running with a camera while the sun was about to disappear…or they were just happy that it was such an awesome day. By the time I found a spot the sun had already sunk lower and was about to hit the water. Fiddling to get the right settings didn’t help much either, and by the time I took the picture I was out of breath and shaking. So yes, the final product was nothing to rave about, but this was one of the better ones. The bloody yacht that was coming in was also not giving me much time, so the more he moved into my pictures, the more desperate I became to take the bloody shot. After that I couldn’t wait to get back to my PC to check out my first sunset shots. I was a bit disappointed to be honest, but I am sure if I have more time on my hands to set up and even use a tripod I might get a better shot. I can just see me sitting at the beach in Cape Town waiting for that perfect sunset. I have one concern though….TIME! If I start this new hobby that is really got me hooked right now, when will I get time to do my other hobby stuff? I was thinking of taking the bike and go to a spot where it is really beautiful and then just spend the day there taking pictures until I get that prize winning shot, but where will I find time to fit that in…?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Esbjerg, Denmark

I have arrived in Denmark yesterday and is leaving this afternoon. Esjberg to be more exact. I didn't have much time to take pictures, but I guess if you have one of the four massive men staring at the sea (Men at the Sea), then you have at least something to show all your eagerly awaiting mates at home who cannot wait to sit through your 3-hour photo slide of "My time in Europe"!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Gorge Walking near Aviemore

When I was informed that we were going gorge walking somewhere in the Scottish Highlands I really didn't know what to expect. I knew for sure that on the scenery side of things I wasn't going to be disappointed. Scotland is very well known for it's beautiful mountains, and combining that with rivers and waterfalls one cannot other than expect just the ultimate beauty. Every time I see the luscious green hills with the rivers in between I always think about my mom that loves to watch movies and programs that plays off in these parts of the world, and of course the accents that goes along with it. I was fortunate enough on this trip to experience all of that, so the trip across country for a day's fun in the sun, was the cherry on top of everything that I have already experienced this week.

We left early on Sunday for a 90 minute ride to Aviemore on the northwestern side of Scotland. There we met up with a team, Pete and Mike, from Active Outdoor Pursuits. The plan was to treat Dave's two kids to a day of gorge scrambling which included rock climbing, cliff jumping and some "foefie sliding", or zip sliding as it is referred to over here. I think I was the most excited of us all about this whole trip, but 12-year old Aidan would soon overtake me as his confidence grew, but a bit more on that later. We arrive arrived at Aviemore with just enough time to fill our stomachs with a bacon roll, bread with bacon that seems to be a very popular treat in Scotland. After sorting out our wetsuits we headed for a small river gorge not far away.

When we arrived at the gorge, they beauty of area obviously stunned me again. The sound of the water roaring over the rapids added to the excitement and pretty soon we were all climbing along the rock edges on our first challenge for the day. The route wasn't very technical, but for Aidan and Hayley this was just enough to get the adrenalin going. With only cold water below to catch your fall, it was enough motivation to cling on for dear life. Aidan was a natural and was soon following Pete all over the place to make sure that he was going to be the first one to try out everything that Pete had planned for the day. While we were climbing I made the most of my chances to appreciate the beauty of the gorge. After the climb we finally all ended up in the water, sliding down rapids and eventually doing a few jumps off a cliff. The water was much warmer than I expected, but coming from the icy waters of Bloubergstrand, I guess I was just used to numb feet and ice cream headaches. While the rest of the gang still spend some time in the water, I took the chance and grabbed the camera for some action and scenery shots. After all, what would the day be without some memories and pics for my blog.

Over lunch we had some sandwiches and coffee, while Pete and Mike set up the ropes for the zip slide. Dave and I would soon realize that the slide was a bit on the small side for the two heavyweights, but Aidan and Hayley made the most of it and really enjoyed sliding down into the water. At this point we were all getting rather tired, so after packing up and while heading back to Aviemore, all of us were caught dozing off into a short nap or two. The day belonged to Aidan and Hayley who really had all the fun they could squeeze out of the day. I got my pictures and memories and Dave had the smile of a dad that was very proud of his two children's achievements for the day.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Aberdeen Beach


If you have no idea how to pronounce the word "bennachie", go ask the Scots. You will be surprized what it sounds like, but then again, every word pronounced in Scotland is a bit different than what I am used to hearing in South Africa.  On Wikipedia it says that it is pronounced as /bɛnəˈxiː/ (ben-ə-khee), or something like that. No matter how it is pronounced, it is probably one of the best spots to view Aberdeenshire from the "air" without having to climb in an aeroplane. The walk to the highest point called Oxen Craig (518m) is a pleasant one which starts off meandering through a bit of forest until you hit the open part with vegetation which reminded me a lot of the fine bush you find on Table Mountain. There are just no cliffs, but this is Scotland and everything seems to be a bit saver here than back home. Even the muggers are absent, but I still felt awkward leaving the car behind.

When we left the starting point it was quite warm, but getting closer to the top it seemed that bad weather was approaching. When we went back again I realized that the "bad weather" was disappearing again. So anyone climbing without taking the necessary jacket or jersey might get a little surprize when they get to the top. Even though it was a bit cloudy the view was still clear enough to get a good impression of what the surrounding area looks like. It is strange, but in South Africa I can easily determine where north and south is, but as soon as I get north of the equator it seems like I lose all my bearings. At the top of Oxen Craig is a sign indicating the directions and some of the more obvious landmarks. I was surprized to see where north was, but fortunately this was not an adventure walk and following the footpath was easy enough to guide us to the top and back. Anyway, my "chum" that was with me knows the paths like the back of his hand and I was never worried that we might get lost. He told me his mother apparently climbs this hill every day, so if we got lost we only had to survive until the next day I guess...and wait for "mom" to come and fetch us.

I again used the opportunity to take some pictures. I am getting good at handling the SLR camera, but I probably now need to work on spotting good subjects to photograph. Milly and Casey, the two dogs that were walking with us seemed to end up in every picture that I took. I don't believe in "photoshopping" my photos, so I basically had to take each picture a couple of times until my "picture spoilers" had disappeared from the scene. But they get so excited being there, they are all over the place...and all over my photos. I cannot really blame them, one tends to get renewed energy when you walk up there. This is experiencing the beauty of Scotland first hand. What a beautiful place.

You never know your luck in a small town in Scotland...!!!


Friday, June 25, 2010

Watering the Flowers

In some countries there are places where you don't take out a camera. In some African countries you can get arrested for taking pictures of state buildings, but this can usually be solved with an on-the-spot fine. A friend of mine told me that in the UK you have to be careful when taking pictures of children, and if you do it is better to make sure that it's your own children. For more obvious reasons I have never taken my camera out in a public toilet, but when I saw these urinals in Dobbies Garden centre outside Aberdeen, I had to take the chance.....

Missing the point

I am in the UK at the moment on business and due to the reason for my visits the topic of energy reduction  is discussed in every meeting. The UK had introduced a new Carbon Energy Efficiency Scheme that more or less forces major companies to manage their energy consumption in order to reduce their carbon footprint. Energy reduction is not as simple as just switching off the lights when you go home for the weekend, it is basically part of every process that we as human beings are involved in, so every aspect of off our lives have to be looked at to see where energy can be saved. One of the topics that also popped up was the use of paper, plastic or ceramic cups as a means of saving energy. These cups obviously have to be manufactured and eventually disposed of, and the question is which type of cup would be the most "energy efficient" option to use. After all the talking about coffee cups I realized that having another cup of coffee would not be a bad idea at that point so I excused myself from the meeting and headed for the coffee machine to make me a cuppa. At this point I still was not sure which cup I was going to use, seeing that a conclusion on which cup is the most energy efficient had not been reached.

When I got to the coffee machine, my heart sunk into my shoes. I was standing in front of this coffee machine that made my difficult cup decision look like a child's decision between ice cream and vegetables. There was nothing less than 8 different choices of drinks on this machine. But this was not what disappointed me, it was the fact that each one of these drinks were individually packaged in its own little sachet...and a very fancy sachet if I may add. I was just imagining how much energy must have gone into manufacturing these individual sachets, as well as shipping it and finally disposing of them without causing too much damage to the environment . It took me back to my last trip to Luanda where I couldn't find hot water for instant coffee, let alone a coffee machine. Here I was standing in front of a machine that does not only give me 8 options to choose from, but it even opens up the sachet for me and makes the coffee. All I had to do was to make a decision on what I would like to have, press a button and drink. So what is wasting the most energy I asked myself, the manufacturing of a ceramic cup vs a paper cup, or a coffee machine with near human capabilities and fancy sachets?

I don't have a problem with enjoying coffee, or even having options to choose from, but I think that we are looking for the solution to the energy crisis in the wrong places. I think we need to do away with all the luxuries that turned us into lazy consumers and start using our own energy again...human energy. But wait, let me go get another cup of coffee before they junk the coffee machine...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Digital For Dummies

Today while most of Scotland were watching the football hoping that England will be eliminated from the World Cup, I was on the mountain bike again taking pictures. I am starting to get the hang of the SLR camera, but find the focusing still to be a problem. I have now taken out "Digital Photography for Dummies" with the hope that it might help. Will start reading tonight. Here are some of my attempts for the day....


I'm having such an awesome time in Scotland, just enjoying the scenery and tranquility of the surroundings. Today we decided to head for Dunnydeer, the remnants of a 13th century castle on the top of a hill just outside the village of Insch. The weather is perfect and taking the bicycles was the obvious choice. We rode through some green pastures, over streams, along some interesting footpaths and eventually reached the pathway that goes up to Dunnydeer.  We left the bikes at the bottom of the hill without locking them. As a South African I was a bit concerned, but when we got back they were exactly where we left them. I think we were just lucky today, nobody needed a bike to go to work.....

I was taking pictures with my friend's SLR camera. After the disastrous photo's of the past few weeks with my little Sony Cybershot I am thinking of getting a new camera. I feel a bit stupid with this camera, it has more buttons than an Airbus 380's dashboard and sometimes I even forget to switch it on. But I don't think I did too bad for my first ever pictures with a SLR. And to think, most of these pictures were taken after 9pm....

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Solstice in Northeastern Scotland

Yesterday it was the longests day and shortest night in the northern hemisphere. I happen to be in Scotland at the moment, and probably the first time in my life that I have been on such a hight lattitude during any solstice. Aberdeen is lying on the 57 degree N lattitude, making the day much longer than it it is experienced in Cape Town during the December solstice. My "chum" took me for a long forest walk after work, and even though the route took us on a 10km track in the "wild", it was still light by the time we returned home. As a matter of fact when I went to bed last night just after midnight it still felt like someone had forgotten to turn of the light. This morning at 5 when I woke up the sun was shining again. It feels like someone has stolen my night from me, but at least I got my bit of sleep in.

We took a stroll through the Gartly Moor Forest which is a couple of kilometres (or miles as they prefer to use in Scotland) from Insch. I was amazed by the tranquility of the forest. Being a commercial planted forest this is obviously not really in the wild, and the only wildlife we encountered was a little field mouse which my friend had mistaken for a baby hedgehog. He obviously does not see much wildlife in Scotland. I have to admit, it didn't look much like the mice we have in South Africa, and the poor little thing didn't even run away. But what is there to run away from in such a beautiful forest anyway...except kestrels maybe. No matter the type of wildlife, Scotland is beautiful and I hope to post more pictures soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I'll have a Bavaria, no, make that two...!!!

I'll be traveling to Holland in a week's time. If there is one thing I am going to do then it's having a couple of Bavaria beers on these ladies for pulling the "publicity stunt of the year". Well done to Bavaria for taking on the FIFA bullies!

And to FIFA, here is something for you too....