Starter

My sourdough starter appears to have…started. Obviously in desperate need of moving into a larger jar and not heeding instructions about social isolation. Let’s hope that bread flour doesn’t run out though otherwise it’ll be a wasted effort. This is my first photo since COVID-19 came to town. Difficult to get the motivation in the current circumstances. Keep well.

They say it’s better to say nothing

If you don’t have something nice to say.

It’s not often that I’ve visited new places and come away thinking that, however interesting they may have been, I wouldn’t really mind if I didn’t go back. Well that’s just happened, which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy my trip; but I really don’t need to go back to Marrakech.

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View from our Riad

What a setting though, surrounded by mountains and full of those famous pink/red buildings. No high rises at all, and the minarets are the only buildings with more than a few stories. Shame the early morning calls for prayer felt like they started at yesterday o’clock!

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We had some nice tagines while we were here

Many of the locals were lovely, helpful and wanted to show off their town. But you need to be alive to the scams too – the countless number of times we were advised that places or roads were closed with an offer of assistance to go another way eventually became quite an irritation. Luckily I’d read about this before we arrived, so perseverance paid off (which is not to say that we didn’t get lost – we did; often! ).

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El Badii Palace, in glorious weather

It was a cheap trip though. Even browsing in the souks is a complete non-starter as the high pressure selling starts when you’ve not even stepped over the threshold. Apart from food and museum entries, the result was that we didn’t spend a dime (well, dirham).

There were some nice items on sale though – if we weren’t travelling light it would have been tempting to come back with all kinds of locally-crafted rugs, cups, leather goods and some of the gorgeous Moroccan lamps.

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I think a relatively recent development has also been the arrival of scooters and motorbikes which mean a relaxed wander through the souks or the medina is completely impossible – walking next to each other is only achievable if you maintain constant vigilance and listen so you can jump out of the way every few seconds. The bikes should be banned. It would do wonders for the pollution in the city too; it seems so odd to come from London and notice how polluted another place is, but Marrakech is that place – the smell of two stroke engine smoke was pervasive, and the thick layer of resulting smog easily visible from the roof of our riad.

There is respite to be had though. The Jardin Majorelle next to the YSL Museum was lovely, and one of a number of highly praised gardens in the city So nice to see them in this weather too given the winter floods back in England.

It was interesting to see there is a small remaining Jewish presence in the city, with a nicely preserved synagogue and huge cemetery (there used to be an enormous Jewish population here before the establishment of Israel when things became rather more difficult) which is now being very carefully restored. Also fascinating to hear more about the Berbers from the nearby Atlas Mountains.

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It was nice to hear lots of birds in the city, although storks do not have the most beautiful voices!

No visit to Marrakech is complete without visiting the Jemaa el Fna square – full of traders (and snake charmers) during the day, and a massive multi-stall BBQ at night.

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So that’s it, a short note of a short visit. Perhaps we didn’t do Marrakech justice. I suspect more to the point Marrakech probably doesn’t do Morocco justice – I think getting into the mountains and heading to the coast may provide quite a different experience. A very interesting visit, but not one that I need to repeat.

Cheers,

Jon

The best thing about Britain

Is that it’s so easy to leave. At least that’s the view of one recent forum post on another photography website. Somewhat cynical, even for a Brit.

Ice cream van on the coast near Lindisfarne

And plenty of us do, not least because our climate isn’t exactly reliable or generally all that good. Couple that with a desire to experience things that are a little more exotic and unfamiliar, drink cold beer and eat food with flavour and it’s easy to understand why many of us enjoy our foreign travels.

Berwick upon Tweed, notorious for moving between Scotland and England on 13 occasions.  Allegedly after the last change, the Mayor exclaimed “Thank goodness!  I won’t have to put up with any more lousy Scottish Winters”

However a recent all too brief road trip to The Lake District, Scotland, Northumberland and the Yorkshire Moors brought back home some of the joys of staying at home. I’m sure I’m not alone in probably spending as much vacation time travelling outside the UK as I do within it, and this trip left me wondering why – although escaping from our broken politics for a couple of weeks is certainly one strong motivator.

Coniston Water on a busy Bank Holiday weekend

You can see from the photographs that we were certainly lucky with the weather, erm thanks to global warming, and by keeping off motorways and planning routes along smaller roads we had a fabulous time. The scenery is both beautiful and varied (no USA-style driving spending hours going through landscapes that barely change) and it’s surprising how empty parts of our little overcrowded island actually are.

En route through the Trossachs, Scotland

A few more images…

The Lake District

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Heading away from Near Sawrey

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Looking towards the Langdales

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Views from the Gourock Ferry as we left Dunoon

Loch Fyne

Lachlan Castle

Berwick and nearby

Norham Castle

Road to Lindisfarne – source of much amusement to locals when tourist idiots in SUVs think they can cross when they can’t

North Yorkshire/Goathland

The Mallyon Spout

A couple of panoramas….

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Whitby

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Views towards the Langdales

So all in all a lovely scenic trip. Not only that, but also – particularly for those who’ve heard different from foreign climes, some very good food too. I think I may need to do some more of this staycation malarkey.

Jon

Forgotten gem?

How things have moved in a decade in the camera-world.

It’s just over 10 years since Olympus launched the E-520; a camera which was pretty well specified for its time.  Relatively compact (smaller than many current mirrorless bodies) to take advantage of its Four Thirds sensor and yet including image stabilisation, live view (very clunky compared to what we expect now) a decent amount of control for those who wanted it, and plethora of scene modes for those who didn’t.  It’s 10MP sensor is no great performer by the latest standards but as is often the case for Olympus, it can certainly churn out beautiful colour.

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Regent’s Canal, behind King’s Cross station

So why mention it now?

Because old cameras like these can be picked up for a relative song these days.  In this case I was looking for a camera for my partner Elena’s 13 year old nephew who wants to study photography.  £100 bought the E520 complete with 14-42 and 40-150 kit lenses, plus the Olympus FL36 flash.  All in superb condition – looks like it has taken around 4,000 images from new.  You’d struggle to buy a single lens for a modern camera for that kind of money.

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Always nice to take photos of boats in the sun!

Before handing the camera over, I thought I’d better check it out so these are just some quick images taken around London a couple of days ago – it was a breeze to use, small enough to barely notice when carrying around, and an awful lot of fun.

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Even the kit lens can give some bokeh in the right circumstances

I suspect there are rather a lot of mid level cameras gathering dust as their owners have moved on to better things, which is rather a shame really – time to get them out and see if someone else can put them to good use.  In modern throwaway society it’s a great pity that the lifespan of so many of our possessions is measured in such short time spans, especially when, if considered objectively, they still more than serve our needs.

Oh well, sermon over, at least for now. A few more images below which probably get bigger if you click on them – I’ve never used the E520 or 14-42 kit lens before, but they certainly didn’t hold me back on this occasion; I hope their soon to be new owner feels likewise!

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And I only washed it the other day!

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My mum learned to drive in one of these, well a bit like one of these…

And one final image to sign off – I rather like this typical quiet side-street view:

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Cheers,

Jon

Digitale dinosaurus rijdt weer (the Digital dinosaur rides again)

Brexit Day loomed, the French customs officials were working to rule, the gillets jaune were protesting every weekend; what could possibly go wrong?

In the event, nothing.

A quick trip on the Eurostar to Lille was marred only by the astonishingly noisy businessman booming at his companion on the table in front of us.  At least he didn’t spend the whole journey on his mobile phone.  And after a quick transfer we were soon headed through horribly British wet, windy and grey weather towards our destination, Brugge, the capital of Western Flanders.

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The Rozenhoedkaai and leaning Belfry in the background – a classic view of Brugge helped by glorious golden morning light

We were captivated by this lovely medieval city with its beautiful buildings, canals and cobbled walkways.  The locals were unfailingly friendly and good-humoured; I suppose you would be if you lived in a place as attractive as this.

The city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and survived both World Wars remarkably intact.  A claim to fame is that the first book in english was printed in Brugge by William Caxton.  Now, it is probably better known for its lace.  And chocolate, of course – although most of the Belgian chocolates on offer here are made elsewhere.

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Brugge is famous for its swans and there are numerous legends about why they are here – brew a coffee and fire up Dr Google (other search engines are available) if you want to find out more…

The city is very photogenic, and it was fun to take out the ancient Olympus E-1 for a spin on this trip.  It performed flawlessly and, as ever, produced colours from its old Kodak sensor that are rarely equalled even with the latest and greatest cameras.

A random collection from my wanders around the city – click to see larger:

A visit to Flanders, especially not long after the centenary of WW1, was incomplete without making a trip to nearby Ypres and Passchendaele.  The recent history of Ypres is an interesting one; the place was flattened in the war and apparently not a single building survived unscathed.  You could see an uninterrupted view from one end of the town to the other.

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Ypres

Winston Churchill suggested the town should be left as a memorial but the locals had a different idea, – they rebuilt it, replicating the buildings that had been obliterated and rebuilding another beautiful medieval city.  A new addition, though, is the Menin Gate – a memorial to the missing Commonwealth soldiers who have no grave.

“Who will remember, passing through this Gate,
The unheroic Dead who fed the guns?”

Siegfried Sassoon

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55,000 names.  What a senseless war.  And nearby Passchendaele saw in the region of half a million casualties.  Many of these are now buried at the Tyne Cot cemetery – the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in the world.

I haven’t got the words.

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I suppose all of this now seems rather a long time ago, and yet casualties on a grand scale are still happening in other parts of the world – but when they’re not happening in the West, somehow they don’t feature so much in our conscience.

A few final images to round off this post; reminders of a memorable trip – one I’d urge others to go on if they have the opportunity.

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Cheers,

Jon

Artistic inspiration

So yet again I’ve taken some photographs that will be almost identical to the millions of other images taken by others who’ve visited the same place.  But it’s a pretty place.  And one that inspired many artists including some of the famous French impressionists (Honfleur in Normandy).  Besides, trying to get a nice photo to print and frame at home is a lot cheaper than paying the prices the local art shops were asking for mostly fairly mediocre paintings for the passing tourist trade.

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I’m waiting for a couple of prints to come back from an online order service but I’ve had fun trying to give them a bit of a stylised old-master look – and getting them printed on to some really nice Hahnemuhle German Etch paper should give much nicer results than standard photo-paper.

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For those who haven’t been, Honfleur is a lovely medieval town with a picturesque harbour surrounded by cobbled streets, art shops and restaurants.  Calvados and seafood are in abundance.  Car parking spaces aren’t!

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It was a lovely place to wander around, and I enjoyed slowing down photography wise too by using a manual focus (Samyang) lens for many of my photographs – generally I find that if I slow down and use less capable auto-everything gear, I get results that I’m happier with.

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The weather was well-behaved too.  No featureless cloudless skies (I don’t think theses are a feature of Normandy), but not too much rain and enough golden sunlight peering through on occasion to show the town at its best.

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I could post many more photographs and that’s before moving on to other nearby attractions like Giverny (Monet’s garden) and Rouen.  Suffice to say, however, that it was a very enjoyable short break made all the better by travelling to the continent without going anywhere near an airport – slow travel, slow photography, what’s not to like?