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Archive for the ‘holiday’ Category

I went on holiday and took … no photos

Posted by briandh on May 5, 2007

We are just back from our fifth visit to Madeira. Considering that I once said I never wanted to visit the same place twice, this is pretty amazing. Even more so is the fact that the five visits span only something like seven years.

I made a significant decision this time round – no photos.

Since we have been there, seen it, done it, drank the wine … I figured I’d give the camera a rest and see how I got on.

Well, I can certainly recommend it. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking and looking at and working with photos but every once in a while it really is nice to just kick back, totally relax and soak up the full atmosphere. Here are a few of my non-photographic highlights:

Monte Palace Tropical Gardens.

These gardens are probably our favourite place in the world and are both a photographers dream and nightmare in one location. The sheer beauty of the place begs to be photographed, in wide angle and minute detail. The problem is that every direction you look, every step you take, is another fabulous view so you never stop clicking long enough to take it all in.

Also the human eye, mine anyway, is really good at grasping three dimensional panoramas – views that stretch in all directions and change as you mentally zoom in down valleys and pathways and between trees. Capturing that through the lens is damn near impossible – especially for a rank amateur like me.

Without the camera you are free to let your eyes roam and take in the magnificence of the place and let your brain frame its own imaginary shots.

There are people who spend a hour or two in these gardens. We spent five hours there – twice. Even if you do take your camera try to go back again without the camera, it makes a huge difference.

The Monte Cable Car

There are three ways up to Monte – bus, taxi or cable car. Bus is by far the cheaper but a little hairy on those roads and it could be busy. On previous trips we took a taxi for the sheer convenience and – if you didn’t get ripped off it was less than 10 Euro.

This time round every taxi driver wanted to charge 15 Euro and we thought they were trying to rip us off. It turns out that they have regulated the costs and this is now the standard fare – its no longer on the clock – apparently. So, we decided to just take the Cable Car – and got a pleasant surprise – a combined ticket that got a round trip on the cable car plus entrance for Monte for 22 Euro.

Monte entrance is 10 Euro.

This got us both directions on the Cable Car when we would normally only come down by Cable Car – fantastic views. And cheaper than taxis.

Oh, there is a fourth way down from Monte – toboggan- two guys push you [half way] down the hill in a wicker basket chair thing. Looks scarier than it is allegedly but we’re still never tried it.

Dolphin and whale watching

A 25 Euro ticket gets you a three hour catamaran trip out to look for dolphin, whales, turtle and anything else they come across. Nothing is guaranteed but you will almost always see some common dolphin which live in the waters around Madeira. If you are lucky you might also see turtles, other types of dolphin and whales. We were very lucky (maybe because we took three trips) and saw:

  • common dolphin
  • striped dolphin
  • turtles, and the big one
  • sperm whales – two females and a young one.

The catamaran has nets slung out front that you are allowed to climb out onto. This meant I had a terrific view as a female sperm whale and baby swam right under me. The dolphin do this on a regular basis, swimming alongside the boat, racing the bow waves and just messing about.

The one we weren’t expecting was after we turned round to come back along the coast. They take you past the cliffs for a really nice view of the second highest sea cliffs in the world but, having seen that a few times already, I was looking back out to sea and saw something amazing. Something was skimming at very high speed across the top of the water – just above the surface. A little later I caught sight of a second one, they skimmed along for a hundred metres or so then vanished. They looked a bit like birds and I had no idea what they were – a chat with the crew and I found out it was a flying fish. I had heard of these but had no idea they behaved like this – I thought they just jumped out of the water to catch flies now and then. Apparently they can skim along as long as their fins stay wet – as soon as they dry out they plop back into the water again.

I have taken my camera out on these trips before and I can tell you that you see a lot more without the camera.

Walking the streets and gardens of Funchal

I love Funchal and they have recently mostly pedestrianised the main street along from the Cathedral to the municipal gardens. Just wandering around, drinking in the atmosphere – especially during the flower festival is quite magical.

[Un]fortunately they were in the process of refurbishing the pond in Santa Caterina Gardens so they had it completely drained. It is unfortunately for us, for the view, but it does mean they are maintaining it which is a good thing.

The funniest moment of the whole holiday was when we were sitting in the cafe having a bite of lunch and I saw some of the gardeners running around the bottom of the empty pond. I thought they were having a lunch time kick about until we figured out what was going on. They were attempting to round up the resident ducks so they could re-home them during the renovation work. Watching these poor guys chasing these ducks around the pond and gardens was priceless – “oh guys – ducks can fly!”.

The Flower Festival

Funchal gets all decked out in flowers during the annual flower festival. The main street gets beautiful carpets of flowers laid along the pavements – the best gets a prize. There’s a tent showing off prize winning exotic flowers and arrangements:

Here’s a big vote against cameras – the prize tent is free to enter and you shuffle along in an orderly queue gawping at the amazing display of exotic flowers. This is significantly marred by everyone with digital cameras, phone cameras and movie cameras – all stopping and getting in the way. We even saw one woman forcibly pushing a group aside because she hadn’t finished taking her movie shot.

Shop windows get decked out in arrangements made from the local famous embroidered tablecloths and flowers – again its a prize-winning thing.

The Festival Parades

Deserving a separate mention are the two parades. The Children’s Parade on the Saturday is a shorter parade for the kiddies, primary school age I’d say, in school or club groups to get all dressed up and follows a few flower bedecked floats into the main square. Once in the main square the kids all place the flowers they have been carrying into a specially prepared Wall of Flowers which sits there for a couple of days. After the parade the kids take part in a talent contest.

The main parade is a much bigger affair, eight large floats each with a different theme picked out in masses of flowers with music blaring and followed by full dance troupes.

The dance troupes are about as all inclusive as I’ve ever seen – everyone that wants to seems to take part. This isn’t a case of just showing off the “most talented” and “most attractive” – people of all ages, abilities, sizes and shapes were giving it their all. It’s lack of over-done show-bizzie perfection actually adds to the enjoyment for me. There’s even a float with recent mums wheeling babies in pushchairs.

The excellent organisation of this event deserves a special mention. It was hot and the parade is long and the streets are hard. For the participants, every troupe had helpers constantly handing around water bottles and checking everyone was OK, there were first aiders at regular intervals and those nearest the massive speakers were kitted out with earplugs. A nice touch for those of us who had chosen to buy seated tickets was the bottle of water handed to us as we arrived.

I could go on and on as I haven’t mentioned our favourite little fishing harbour, the hotel, the sea, the main harbour, the ships, the restaurants, …

All of the above are things that are highly enjoyable both with and without a camera, but leaving the camera at home this time strangely let me have both a wider view, looking around and drinking it all in, and a more personal intimate view as I felt much more involved in everything.

I urge all keen photographers to give it a try some time – the withdrawal symptoms do die down eventually.

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Posted in digital photography, festival, flower, flower festival, funchal, holiday, madeira | 2 Comments »

Menorcan Memories

Posted by briandh on October 15, 2006

Menorcan Memories

We are just back from a two-week holiday in Cala Galdana, Menorca. At this point it is normal to say things like – ‘you really need to go to Menorca and see X, Y and Z’. Unfortunately, for you, we rarely got ourselves out of the hotel on this trip. This is not usual for us. We normally do all the tourist things, see all the sites, visit all the famous places – especially when it is somewhere we have never been before. So why the change? Two main reasons:

  • we were both knackered and highly stressed out, and
  • the hotel facilities were excellent.

Trundling round all the sites was just not what we wanted this time.

However, I can pass on some useful info and pictures.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in 2006, cala galdana, ciutadella, holiday, hotel audax, macarella, menorca, mitjana, photography | 3 Comments »