Archive

May 2018

Browsing

Salt and Pepper, the two most basic spices. Here, you can see cracked black pepper and coarse sea salt used on filet mignon sautéing in butter.  This is a simple, yet unbeatable and delicious combination.  Sea salt,  specifically coarse grind sea salt, brings out the maximum flavour of meats, the same is true for a coarse grind cracked pepper. Better yet would be fresh ground peppercorns from a pepper grinder.

There are basically four types of peppercorns: white, black, green, and red (or pink). Each has a distinct flavour. You can buy them individually, or as a combination, which is delicious when used in a grinder. Freshly grinding peppercorns brings out a more intense flavour than already ground cracked pepper, as the flavour is released the moment the peppercorn is ground. Green peppercorns are an exception as they are usually packaged in a jar with water.  A properly done green peppercorn sauce is incredible, particularly on a filet mignon (see below).

Sea salt is harvested from evaporated salt water, as opposed to basic table salt, which is mined. It has two primary uses in cooking. The first is on meats (or fish), which, as mentioned above, brings out the best possible flavour. The second use is more as a “condiment”, meaning it’s added to the dish after it is cooked.  Either way, the flavour is mouthwatering. I basically restrict the use of table salt to cooking pasta or other dishes using boiling water, as the value of using of sea salt in these dishes is lost.

These two simple basic spices, used properly, are the foundation of great cooking.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Getting lost in the Medina of Marrakech is all part of the fun.  It takes a strong sense of direction and a lack of panic to navigate the normally busy alleyways.   Set out with the idea of exploring and an adventure and you’ll be fine.  Go with a film camera and you’ll be even better.

The Medina of Marrakesh is an old Islamic capital originating from the 11th century. It is enclosed by 16km of ramparts and gates.  The city owes its original splendour to the Almoravide and Almohade dynasties (11th – 13th centuries), who made Marrakech into their capital.

The Medina has several architectural and artistic masterpieces from different periods in history:
– the ramparts and gates (in pinkish clay, like most of the original structures)
– the Koutoubia mosque (its 77m high minaret is a key monument of Islamic architecture)
– the Saadian Tombs
– Djemaa El-Fna square
– Ben Youssef Madrassa

I can’t count the number of times I’ve lost my way in the Medina.
Fortunately, Marrakech has plenty of things to see so you’ll end up at an interesting place anyway.  My best advice – wander aimlessly—without a guide or destination—through the narrow, labyrinthine alleys of the city’s ancient walled medina.  In the narrowest, quietest alleys of the medina, don’t be surprised to find a lemon garden or an extravagant Moroccan courtyard. The enclosed courtyard—necessary in Marrakech because of Islamic notions of privacy and the realities of harsh desert climates—offer some of the most beautiful and surprising spaces in the medina.

In the busy main streets of the medina, you’re sure to be bombarded with the aggressive sales tactics of would-be guides and craft-sellers. But wander deeper into the alleys, and you’ll get an up-close view of how people in this city really live.

Mopeds, donkey carts, push-carts, bicycles and tiny, hand-painted trucks all frantically move through the medina. Seeing ancient and modern modes of transport bustle through these tiny streets is a spectacle itself. Do be careful with those speeding mopeds.

The traditional Arab markets, or souks, of the Marrakech medina, are renowned around the world for the exotic and ageless experience. Souks are organized into traditional commodities. There are souks for spices, olives, musical instruments, antiques, crafts, wools and silks, and even brass lanterns.

The motif of the keyhole arch is emblematic of Moroccan architecture, and this beautiful theme can be found in almost any structure throughout the medina. Some of the most striking arches can be found near the entrance of the Ben Youssef Madrasa.

Repeating patterns, bold colours and varied Islamic and North African motifs abound in the medina. You’ll be drawn to stunning tiles and bold colours no matter where you turn in Marrakech.

Photo of Ben Youssef Madrasa
OLD MEDINA OF MARRAKECH – MAMIYA 7II

Map Showing the Location of the Medina in Marrakech.

The newest addition to the Bridges of London Family Millennium Bridge and one of my favourites Is there a London bridge not to like?   The Millennium stretches across the River Thames connecting St. Paul’s Cathedral to the Tate Modern.  In future posts, I will share some of my favourite London Walks which will include two ways to use this great bridge.   If you want a unique visit to London adds each of the bridges along the Thames River to your list of things to do.

For now, I will say the views east or west are not particularly great, though Tower Bridge is in nice view toward the east.  What I love most is being at either end of the bridge – Tate Modern side, or St Paul’s Cathedral side.  I especially favour this area for night photography because there are fewer people out and about after dark.  I often mention exploring London after working hours as the city’s population dwindles drastically.  Depending on the hour you venture out onto London streets, it is entirely possible to have the town to yourself.  And, here is a huge promise to you – when you are on your own in the city, you’ll appreciate London more and love her even more.

Being atop the Millennium Bridge is fantastic, which I mention above.  The contemporary design and airy feel of the bridge lend itself nicely to being below the bridge.  If the tide is low climbing down to the banks of the River Thames is easy enough if you don’t mind mud on your shoes.  The mud does hold a tripod in place very nicely I might add.  There are plenty of interesting perspectives for great photos towards The Shard, Tate Modern and even Blackfriars Bridge.  The city lights add interesting elements to whichever scene you choose that you will only capture being directly at the water.

For night photography, this is a fantastic spot for a stunning view of St Paul’s large dome. Of course, you’ll want to be on the bridge and not underneath it.  Get right down low, and place your camera on the bridge. Do be warned as others walk by, there is a vibration, so be sure to keep your camera steady.  Patience is the key for brilliant images.

Also be aware a few people will ask you not to include them in your photographs.  If you know about long exposures, then you know when the shutter is open for a length of time most people will not appear in your image.  On one occasion, I proved this to a passerby.  She did not like my answer after she told me not to take photos of her.  My reply was – “it doesn’t matter, you won’t show up in my photo.”  So, I asked her to walk in front of the camera then return to me.  She did just that and voila!  She was nowhere to be seen in the image.  

No matter if you are only a visitor to London or keen to capture brilliant images of the city, the Millennium Bridge should be on your list of things to do.  It should be no surprise I think night time is the best time to be here.

You might also like the short video of Millennium Bridge at night.

 

 

 

 

 

Bhutan can mean many things to visitors.  It is safe to say a journey to Bhutan will open an entirely new world to you.  From the spirituality of Buddhism to the majestic Himalaya Mountains and the ancient fortresses, Bhutan will touch you in ways you never imagined.

The following advice will help you have the best experience in Bhutan. 
The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is mostly untouched by the modern world.  Yes, there is phone service and faint hints of the internet, but you will not find corporate chain stores anywhere.  For those travellers who are weary of being bombarded with marketing, the lack of the familiar is a very very good thing.

The Bhutanese are kind.  Very kind.  You will find the Bhutanese to be mindful, thoughtful and generally at peace.  They also enjoy the quiet, so if you tend to be loud, tone it down a bit.

Everything you see and the experiences you have in Bhutan are real, genuine, authentic and probably everyday life.  Their daily dress is normal for them.  Nothing is for a show just because you are visiting.

Be respectful in the Temples.   Bhutan is almost wholly Buddhist and each monastery and Temple is active even if they are near a thousand years old.

Go with the flow.  Expect your itinerary to change.  Follow the advice of your guide.  And yes, every visitor to Bhutan must have a guide.  

When people ask me which are my favourite places I’ve visited?  I can only answer by naming those I would return to.  Bhutan is high on my list of places I love and where I would return.

Consider these interesting facts about Bhutan – 

:: Bhutan is one of the last countries in the world to introduce television to its people. The government lifted a ban on TV—and on the Internet—only 11 years ago.

:: Anyone found guilty of killing a highly endangered and culturally sacred black-necked crane could be sentenced to life in prison.

:: Bhutanese manners dictate that you are to refuse food whenever it’s offered to you. The tradition is to say the words “meshu meshu” and cover your mouth with your hands. You can give in, though, after two or three offers.

:: At 24,840 feet, Gangkhar Puensum is the highest point in Bhutan—and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

:: Bhutan is the only nation in the world where the sale of tobacco is banned.

:: Thimpu is one of just two capital cities in Asia that does not have a single traffic light. (The other is Pyongyang, North Korea.) There was such public outcry when local officials installed a single signal that it was quickly removed, and a traffic officer was re-assigned to the intersection.

:: One-third of Bhutan’s population is under the age of 14; its median age is 22.3 years.

:: Bhutan is the first country in the world with specific constitutional obligations on its people to protect the environment. Among its requirements: At least 60 percent of the nation must remain under forest cover at all times.

:: The word “Bhutan” translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” It earned the nickname because of the fierce storms that often roll in from the Himalayas.

:: One of 43 landlocked countries in the world, Bhutan is about half the size of the state of Indiana.

Destination:  Bhutan

This small family run restaurant, The Little Diner, in Canutillo, Texas (on the western outskirts of El Paso, the map below ) makes the best Chile Con Queso on the planet, bar none. I have been going here for years and always order the same meal: six Flautas, and a large bowl of Chile Con Queso, with their homemade Tostadas. It’s a meal you can’t beat.

Chile Con Queso (Chili with Cheese) is one of the dishes I use to judge Mexican restaurants, another is Chile Rellenos.  I wouldn’t even begin to guess how many different versions of Chili Con Queso I have tried; hundreds, I’m sure.  And The Little Diner’s is still the one that all others are judged against.  Now if I can just convince them to share the secret of their recipe, I’d really be in heaven.

The Little Diner is a bit out of the way, and not on the main street. It is definitely worth the effort to find it. Countless celebrities from rock stars to presidents have made their way to this small unassuming restaurant.  And the locals in the know have been coming here for over 30 years. Aside from the Chili Con Queso, their homemade Gorditas are quite the rage. It’s really hard to go wrong at The Little Diner. I have found that the best time to go is in the mid-afternoon to avoid the crowds. Make sure you go with a hearty appetite and a thirst for a cold beer.

SaveSave

SaveSave

There has been a walkway crossing the Thames River at this point since 1845 when Isambard Kingdom Brunel opened his suspension footbridge.  Of course today, we call this point the Golden Jubilee Bridge.

Back in Brunel’s time, the footbridge connected the South Bank, now the Queen’s Walk, with the 180-year-old Hungerford Market which closed in 1860 to make way for Charing Cross Railway Station on the north side of the bridge.

Using the original brick pile buttresses of Brunel’s footbridge the original Hungerford Railway Bridge combine pedestrian and rail use, which the new 2002 Queens Jubilee footbridges continue to do.

The footbridge(s) offer some of the best views in London and remain one of my favourite places to cross the River Thames.  On one side of the bridge, there are unparalleled views of The London Eye, Parliament and Big Ben.  The other side of the Jubilee Bridge you can clearly see the Southbank, Royal Festival Hall, The National Theatre and St Paul’s Cathedral with Waterloo Bridge in the forefront.  At night The City of London shines like a beacon on the hill so beautiful and grand.

Especially nice is the way St Paul’s Cathedral dome towers over The City of London.  New contemporary buildings are going up at a rapid pace in The City, and yes, some are taller than the cathedral; however, these buildings cannot match the size of St Paul’s dome.  It’s remarkable and so beautifully lighted. 

During the winter the sun sets earlier so you can have a splendid view of commuters walking across Waterloo Bridge.  Additionally, a steady stream of London’s iconic red double-decker buses crosses the bridge in both directions.  Combine the silhouettes of people walking with the double-decker buses and the City of London in the background, and you have a classic London view.  What you will see is a scene directly from a movie.  It is a London scene you’re sure to remember.

The views from the Golden Jubilee Bridges are ones you’ll crave moments after you leave.  And, though modern(ish), the bridges are a window to what came before and made London so wonderful.

Below are two photos showing a different perspective of the City of London with Waterloo Bridge and the Thames River in the foreground ::

Travel Destination :: Bali Indonesia
FULL MOON CEREMONY IN SMALL VILLAGE IN BALI
FULL MOON CEREMONY – BALI INDONESIA

My first genuine encounter with Balinese culture was in the small village of Tampaksiring called Penempaham. I was the only foreigner in the Temple that day and was warmly welcomed by the locals. I had no idea what was happening but a young Balinese boy quickly befriended me and explained all that was taking place.

BALI FULL MOON CEREMONY
FULL MOON CEREMONY – BALI INDONESIA

It was on this day I began to wrap my head around the genuine dedication the Balinese have to their beliefs, as well as the strong sense of community. This was also the day my love for Bali grew immensely. If you are looking for a rich cultural adventure and travel destination you will not forget, add Bali to your list of top places to visit.

These are a few things I learned while in the small Balinese village:
In Bali, there is no single day without a ceremony. It is an obligation for the Balinese to promote balance relations among human, gods and nature. Those principles are materialized through a sacrifice called Yadnya. Yadnya can be a very simple thing like giving a slice of one’s food to a wandering dog or cleaning up rubbish in a temple area. Yadnya, or giving away, is the root of most ceremonies in Bali.

There are five obligations or Panca Yadnya. Dewa Yadnya is for thanking the God, Pitra Yadnya to respect the ancestor’s souls. Manusa Yadnya is for cleaning human souls. Rsi Yadnya is held when someone wants to be a priest and Bhuta Yadnya is for thanking nature and balancing positive and negative powers. Yadnya is reflected through ceremonies.

Hundreds of ceremonies are regularly held anywhere in Bali and each is based on one of the Panca Yadnya. Different traditions from one village to another create more variations across the island.

Take time to step away from the comfortable resorts designed to make you not want to leave. Venture into a cultural education you will never find in a textbook by visiting a small village.

FULL MOON CEREMONY – BALI INDONESIA

SaveSave

SaveSave

London at night was not always so glamorous. Buildings and monuments were not so well lighted as they are today. In fact, until recently even the bridges though Central London were not as vivid as we now see them.

As a student in the 80’s I wasn’t the bravest soul in London. In fact, you might have called me terribly timid. The darkness of London kept me from exploring and being mischievous like I should have been at that age. At some point, the lights came on and what was once dark and grungy showed off the beauty of London. The buildings glowed and life seemed to have ignited around town. I always say when London discovered lighting, everything changed and London began to sparkle. It’s true.

Funnily, today I trundle the streets of the city into the wee hours without a care in the world. My sense of adventure is far greater today and there isn’t much I fear – even in the dark. Today, London and night photography go hand in hand. What’s more is the crowds disappear at night. Most of the city’s daytime population disappears once working hours are finished. The absence of people and distraction allows you to see the city differently, especially if you are a photographer. If you are simply exploring the city as a visitor, night time is ideal. You can actually drink in this great city and appreciate it more without having to mind others.

What does any of this have to do with the London Eye and sounds? Not much really. The Eye brightened up the Southbank considerably. This big wheel is a well-oiled machine so there is little sound at all. As my curious mind wandered, I thought what if….what if the London Eye needs a tune up? What would the sound be? This happens when I have one of the most populous capital cities in the world all to myself at night. My creativity and imagination take over. I talk to the city and sometimes I think she talks back to me.

Sometimes I even go back in time to precarious situations. I once saw a photo exhibition showing the Jewish quarters in East London. Seeing the compelling imagery I retraced the steps of the photographer and imagined what life was like for the people during that time. And, as glossy as the Southbank is today, I try to imagine the time when the area which is now the London Eye was a bit dodgy and the walk toward Tower Bridge was grungy.

Time has drastically changed London. Like New York changed Times Square into a Disney-like atmosphere, so, too, is London changing in that direction. Gentrification updates the old, yet the old bits we love are paved over for homogenization and I’m unsure that is very interesting.

Below are a few images of the London Eye

Called the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik is a step into a thousand years of history. The Old City is one of the best preserved European fortresses and still a living city today. Walk the impressive city walls, trundle along the Stradun, and let your imagination take you to another time.

The reasons to visit Dubrovnik are in the video. As a side note, the Dubrovnik police were not terribly appreciative of me laying on the ground while taking photos of their city during a full moon. I received a citation for public loitering tho’ the police did like the photos I captured. It all made for an interesting and harmless evening. Dubrovnik still shines in my memory.

As you view the video about Dubrovnik, consider these interesting facts about the ancient city.

:: Its claimed that the world’s first commercial pharmacy opened in Dubrovnik in 1317. Allied to the Monastery then, it is still in existence today, but with rather more recognisable modern remedies. That said, it still stocks some creams and herbal teas with recipes faithful right back to the 1300s.

:: Dubrovnik was the first ‘country’ (being a Republic at the time), to banish slavery in 1416.

:: Dubrovnik had the first orphanage in the world, which opened its doors to take in children in 1432.

:: Dubrovnik has a medieval sewer system dating from 1296 which is still in use today!

:: Agatha Christie spent her second honeymoon in Dubrovnik.

:: Dubrovnik’s Insurance Law is the oldest in Europe, being validated in 1395, some 300 years before Lloyds of London.

:: On Thursday 12th October 2016, Dubrovnik Old Town registered 1 million visitors in a year. The first time this ‘magical’ number had been reached in a 365 day period. (We’d say visit before it sinks under the weight!)

:: Dubrovnik is quite the Grande Dame of the film world having featured in Game of Thrones, Star Wars and in 2017 shooting is due to start on Robin Hood.

Destination: Dubrovnik

If you are in Dubrovnik, you might consider also a day trip to Mostar Bosnia. And, with my love of night photography, especially during a full moon, you might like this Dubrovnik post.

Meet Gede and Putu.

In 2014 I met Gede in his village, Penempahan, during a full moon ceremony. You may remember I mentioned Gede being the one who welcomed me into his village’s Temple and explained what the ceremony meant. That very same day, Gede shared with me his main goal in life which is to help preserve Balinese culture and tell the story of Bali. This story of Bali is one away from the beach resorts and the one the Balinese genuinely live.

Gede was 22 years old at the time. As I listened, I couldn’t help but think I don’t know anyone in this world who is 22 with such a lofty goal as Gede’s. That day I gave Gede my camera and told him to capture as much as he could with the camera, then send it to me via email. After the ceremony finished, I left the village thinking I would either hear from Gede or I wouldn’t.

After returning home I didn’t give much thought to our conversation. I only recalled what a splendid experience being in the village had been. Then out of the blue and months later, I received an email from Gede. Included in his email were at least a hundred photographs and short video clips. I just smiled. Needless to say, I was impressed by the amount of work he had done.

At this point, I knew Gede was serious and there was absolutely no way I would not help him achieve his goal. About six months after this, I returned to Bali with Gede’s own new camera in hand. Our journey began. I taught Gede the fundamentals of photography and he taught me a whole lot about Bali and Balinese Hinduism.

Putu is Gede’s cousin. He would join us for each outing and it turns out Putu has a keen interest in filmmaking. I have to be honest. I only taught these young men what the buttons are for on the cameras. Innately, they have an unmeasurable amount of talent. Their eye for photography and video is greater than most people I know. Their talent no longer surprises me but it does keep me in awe.

I began working with these young men in Bali teaching them the art of photography. The truth is they are teaching me more than I am teaching them. Through the process, they have become my brothers. Gede and Putu truly are Bali photography masters and I am fortunate to know them.

When you travel to areas of the world, where life is different as are opportunities, it is difficult for this gentleman not to want to give back. I like to share my knowledge, and if I can, I’ll do everything possible to help others advance themselves or achieve their dreams. I’m not foolish to think I can change the world; this is impossible. What I can do is give others the tools to change their world.

Open eyes, an open heart, believing in others, respect and a bit of compassion can make a difference in other people’s lives. It is easy to walk away from a place where you travel and make memories with you. Next time, please remember you, too, can make a huge difference even with small gestures.

 

Destination: Bali

SaveSave