Author Archives: mark

Barcelona. Paris by the Sea. Pt1.

What can I say about Barcelona? The capital of Catalunya, and by all accounts, a city that is reluctantly part of Spain. Independent since the 10th Century, its fortunes and independence have been taken, returned and tested ever since, right up until Franco’s regime again abolished Catalan institutions and banned the official use of the Catalan language – until its autonomous institutions were again restored in 1975. From seemingly every balcony, the Catalan flag flies defiantly, a silent but powerful protest symbol and a gentle way of saying, we are a very different people and proud of our heritage. A referendum on the political future of Catalan is to be held on November 9th 2014, however this is likely to get ugly as the Spanish Government has vowed this referendum will not take place.

Barcelona however, does have a different feel about it. It certainly did not feel like a Spanish city and could not be more different than Madrid, the capital a few hundred kilometres inland. And here I think is why Barcelona had a different feel – more like a Paris by the water.
Very cosmopolitan and an ideal location on the Meditteranean, it is nestled in a bowl surrounded on three sides by mountains. At 1.6 million residents, it has all the facilities of a much larger city, but still compact enough to be liveable. Its underground system is second to none and I found I never had to wait more than 3 minutes for a train. The airport buses were spectacular, super frequent and cheap at 5 euros one way.

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The wonderful long coast that stretches along Barcelona’s eastern edge from Port Vell and the old fishing suburb of Barceloneta – which is now a trendy playground with a proliferation of beach bars, eateries, bike riders, joggers and roller bladers, enjoying the magnificent mediterranean coast – stretches for kilometres down past the revitalised Olympic Village to the Forum zone to the North. One of the best walks in Barcelona on a balmy meditteranean day, take the time to meander along stopping for coffee, then lunch, then dinner – and maybe have a couple of swims along the way. Make your way back on the fantastic tram that runs along the ‘Boulevard Diagonal’, or on one of the frequent subway trains.

Barceloneta

The seafront is just one of the eight or so distinct villages that make up Barcelona. The old city behind Barceloneta – Ciutat Vella – consists of the wonderful El Born and Barri Gotic quarters and the wonderful boulevard La Rambla. The tight laneways existing for centuries are now home to trendy galleries and shops that then open up into wonderful old plaza’s alive with diners and people enjoying the open space. Home to the magnificent Picasso museum and one of the best fresh food markets in the world, ‘Le Boqueria’.

Gaudi’s work is ever present in Barcelona, with countless buildings and museums almost around every corner His Park Guell – a magnificent park he designed and had a house in –  is a testament to his skills and is an outdoor museum of his quirky style. Organic vaults, broken tile benches snaking around the perimeter overlooking the city, and his two imposing entry towers are just a few of the highlights. Sadly this once free park, has since October 2013 had a fee imposed on visitors and is just one of the high profile casualties of the recession that has gripped Spain. The ‘Basilica of the Sagrada Familia’, Gaudi’s most famous work and one that is still in construction after starting in 1882, is breathtaking in every respect. The interior church is finished and on a scale that is hard to take in, while the exterior still tends skyward towards its eventual 170 metre height. Nothing prepares for the initial site of this magnificent structure. Gaudi himself spent 40 years of his life devoted to the project, but most of his plans and drawings were deliberately destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. There is a whole wing devoted to painstakingly restoring the architectural models he produced, which were also damaged, to stay true to his vision for the project. The building is not expected to be finished for at least another 20 years.

Sagrada

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The hills surrounding Barcelona on the southern and western sides are home to some magnificent attractions.

Tibidabo high up on the Western most outskirts of Barcelona, contains one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. It also has a magnificent church built in 1537 and dominates the skyline. The quaint blue tram ‘Travia bleu’  leaves from Plaza John Kennedy and travels a couple of kilometres up the steep hill depositing you at the base of the ‘Placa Furnicular’ station for the steep rail trip up the side of the mountain to Parc de Collserola, the vast forest that snakes around the mountain along the whole western side of Barcelona. The old style carnival is spectacular for its location and all rides have uninterrupted views back across the city.

Tibidabo

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Sants-Montjuic is the southern region and includes the Olympic village and the magnificent Castell de Montjuic, its commanding presence right on the Southern boundary of the city centre, was the scene of many pitched battles since 1641. Catalonia’s quest for independence from Spain can be trace back to this period. The Principality of Catalonia challenged Spain’s authority in 1640. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French Army entered Barcelona, and on orders from Napoleon, captured the castle without firing a shot as the troops guarding the castle were ordered not to fight the French. It was a key garrison during the War of the Spanish Succession, between 1705 and 1714. The castle has launched bombs on the city and it has also been used as a prison. On the 15th of October 1940, the president of the Catalan government, Lluís Companys was executed by firing squad in the castle. The castle has also been a military prison right up until 1960.  In 1963 after being used as a military base, Franco opened a weapons museum in the castle. In 2007, the castle came under the ownership of Barcelona City Council and is now being restored and used for community purposes and exhibitions. Standing on the wall high up above Barcelona Port, you can watch the cruise ships docking at the waterfront, and has a commanding view of Barcelona downtown.

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Portugal & Spain

Just back from Portugal and Spain with 130GB of photos and as you can imagine, editing is taking some time! September in this part of the world is almost perfect. Not too hot as to be uncomfortable but still warm enough to enjoy the days and the balmy daylight saving evenings. Lisbon was the first stop and the first thing that struck me was the quaint oldness of the place. It looked like a slightly tired movie set, with the ancient yellow trams, the cobblestones on every road (which I would curse later on while walking the Camino up towards Spain) and the beautiful but faded glory of the tiled buildings, many with tiles missing but also many still intact or hastily repaired.

The amazing furniclar trams that are located in three spots around the city are unique solutions to the severe hill climbs. While they would have been an alternative to walking these rises for the locals in their heyday, I suspect the only people using them now are the myriad tourists flocking to Lisbon – especially at the price of 3.20 euros return for what is a relatively short journey ……its a bit steep:)

The disappointing graffiti that is all over these trams and the walls on the route really makes the whole area look ugly and less inviting. Postcards adorning all the souvenir concessions around town show lovely yellow trams and pristine locations. Either these have been doctored in Photoshop or the area and trams were setup like movie sets especially for the photos, either way, the contrast was stark and is a stain on what is otherwise a lovely city. It has changed my mind about any graffiti – it is a blight wherever it is – and got me thinking about our own Hosier Lane in Melbourne which has become a tourist attraction because of the graffiti. It is a blight and only encourages this ugly form of art in other areas. Look at the rubbish in the picture below to see just how ugly this stuff is.
LisbonTram1

 

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Camino T Shirt

Quality American Apparel T in a range of colours. Reasonably priced.

 Everywhere is walking distance T

camino

 

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Everywhere is walking distance when you have the time.
(Travels on the Camino de Santiago).

Part 1 – Day 1

A great quote from funny man Steven Wright and not a truer word was spoken when talking about the Camino Frances, the most popular of the ancient pilgrim routes to Santiago, Western Spain, the town that gets its name from the supposed burial site of St James and travels from St John pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to Santiago. I started on September 11th 2012, arriving the previous afternoon from Paris on one of the TGV high speed trains. The first morning was an early start as by all reports I had read and heard, this would be the hardest day of the Camino. Luckily I had a magnificent day with a bright dawn rising as i was 5km into the walk.

While only 25km, the terrain is mostly uphill of course crossing the Pyrenees so the day is long. Constantly stopping to take in the view and grab some photos elongates the day and the realisation that I am finally on the Camino after months of planning and anticipation leaves me with a sense of achievement and elation and looking forward to the adventure ahead. By 4pm I was in the brand new Albergue in Roncesvalles, only opened a few months before, this Albergue has all the mod-cons and grouped over three floors with open style 4 bunk cloisters and each having a locker. This ensures the first time Camino walker gets a somewhat rosier picture of Albergues’ from this experience than they may get further into the journey! As good as this Albergue is, I was a little disappointed to not be in the famous single room Albergue featured in “The Way”, which is still used as an overflow dorm and in full use by the end of this day. Anticipation of day 2 was somewhat tempered by the light rain falling as I prepared for departure in the pre-dawn on September 12th.

I pity the walkers setting off from St Jean this morning as they are going to have a drab walk over the Pyrenees.

On with my Altus poncho, not the greatest look in the world, but very effective. It turns out I would only need to use this once more on the Camino…the last day into Santiago in a month’s time.

Part Two…..coming late January 2013

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Back to the Future

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Gillard & Labor’s Leadership Crisis

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Nikon D800

 

The much anticipated Nikon D800 was finally announced this week after probably the most bad luck ever inflicted on a new camera release.

First the Japanese tsunami affected the Nikon Sendai plant and once manufacturing transferred to the Thailand plant, the facility was under water for nearly three months! Sendai is now back in action after $100 million dollars in repairs and hopes to produce 30,000 D800’s a month according to this article. Still, the constant D800 speculation kept everyone excited until enough was enough and people stopped listening. Looking back at some of the “imminent release of the D800” posts going back to 2010, the torture was unbearable! Natural disasters aside, I have been waiting over 18 months to get my hands on the D700 successor and we are nearly there. My only early reservation is the 36mp sensor. Will it have the same low light capabilities of the camera it replaces, the spectacular low light performer, the D700?

Will the current crop of lenses be up to the challenge of the 36mp sensor? Who knows, too early to tell but i certainly look forward to more reviews.

Now, what lenses do i put on it? To start with i need a wide angle for landscapes. Two Nikon options are the 16-35 F4 VR or the Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED. The only thing i don’t like about the 14-24 is it can’t have filters attached due to its bulbous glass.

I know my head is going to hurt over the next month going through the options while i wait for its release. Here are some links to reviews.

Nikon Australia

Japanese Amazon pricing for the D800

Nikon D800 v D4 comparison

Ken Rockwell Review

 

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Marco Simoncelli

I can’t believe just one week after watching Marco Simoncelli at Phillip Island, tonight
i watched with millions of others as he was taken during the Malaysian MotoGP. This
guy was in the same mould as Rossi and I was looking forward to him taking over the mantle
of the best rider in the world, passing the baton if you will, from one outrageous Italian
to another. Sadly that is not to be.

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Snippets Book

Just printed and available now. Bit pricey so basically this version for my benefit:) Cheap ipad version available late November. Snippets is a premium quality coffee table photographic book of some of my work.

40 pages long, it is a traditional large landscape format with minimal text to let the photographs shine, but with a series of spreads that include text, images and graphics to tell a particular story of that photograph. The images have been loosely sorted to compliment one another across a spread. The book concentrates on snippets of colour, design and form in situations that would otherwise be lost in time, but for a quick moment, caught my eye.

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Congratulations Casey Stoner

Always good to see another Aussie World Champ. Congratulations Casey Stoner on your 2011 Win.
Image taken at top of Lukey Heights, 2011 Phillip Island MotoGP. Great weekend.

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