Needles in Arms

 The week of Feb. 1, 2021, began on a positive note for my sweetie, Kathy, and me.  Kathy had a scheduled first covid vaccination at Region's Hospital in St. Paul, MN.  This was through our healthcare provider, Health Partners.  The process was slick and she was in and out within 45 minutes (30 minutes of which she had to sit to determine if she had any reactions - she didn't).  I dropped her off and went to McDonald's where I  read my book in the car.  Kathy got the vaccination because she is over 75 years old.  I didn't get one because I'm 74 (bummer).  Several days later and Kathy had no reactions to the vaccine and is scheduled for her second injection in several weeks.

I must admit I was a bit jealous (can you believe anyone would be envious of someone getting a shot?).  That changed on Wednesday morning when I received an email informing me I had won a slot in the Minnesota State vaccination lottery!!  I set-up a Thursday morning appointment for 10:30 am at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a huge place that covers several blocks in downtown Minneapolis.  We were told to arrive no sooner than 15 minutes before our appointment, no problem.  I left home a little earlier than I intended because we got about 3 inches of snow the night before and the roads were a little slippery.   I slid into the parking ramp with plenty of time to make the 15-minute window.  At the main entrance, I had to prove I had an appointment (I showed my email) and was directed across the atrium and to the left.  We were given a second mask to wear (I was already double-masked, but had to wear the one they gave me as well so I was triple masked.  Well, here was where the fun began!  I turned the corner to the left and saw a long line stretching halfway down the length of the center.  When I got to the end of the line and qued-up, it was apparent I would be here for a bit.  I snapped a few photos with my cellphone to give you an idea of the line.


Near the end of the line.

Ala Disney, they snaked us into another large room to keep the line long!

Once out of the Disney detour, the line resumed in the main hall.

Headed back to the entrance.

We must be close, we finally turned the corner.

Back to the main entrance, where we started

Looks like we are close.

I'm in!!

My savior Sarah!

The 15-minute reaction wait area.


Because this was the first day of the new process and location, there were folks from the local TV station (KARE 11).  As you can tell from the photo I took of my TV, my boots made the nightly news!!  I'm selling the image in an 8X10 glossy if you're interested ($25 or $50 if you wanted it signed).  I must have at least a thousand requests already, so hurry or they will be gone!!



My legs and boots on TV.

As you can see, Kathy and I are on two different routes for the vaccinations.  Her's was much smoother and quicker.  I was in line for over an hour and, according to Google Fit, covered a half-mile getting in and out.  Also, her vaccine is from Pfizer and mine was Moderna.  In fairness, my process had a much larger group.  The process can be improved, but it is inherently challenging due to the number of injections given.  There is hope folks, stay safe and wear your fricking masks!!  


Comet Neowise 2020


Crex Meadows

Since Covid-19 hit, I haven't done much photography and what little I did was around the homestead.  Well, we have been blessed with a spectacular event this year as Comet Neowise has passed us in the night sky.  I love night photography and Neowise has provided me with the excuse/impetus to get off my butt and do some photography.  It is also giving me a push to get back to producing my blogs.

To be honest, I haven't had much ambition for this stuff lately.  Well, it is time to pull things together and get back in the game (every blog needs several cliches so there are a few in this one).  I decided to take a trip to one of my favorite locations, Crex Meadows in Grantsburg, Wisconsin.  I picked a night when clear skies were forecast and I tossed my gear into the Subaru (the deer death machine - two so far, one at Crex).  I took a complete set of lenses to capture the comet in a landscape and a close-up.    

I arrived at Crex in the afternoon and had my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner.  I scouted most of the old spots in an attempt to find some nice foregrounds.  I like trees in my night shots and found several with the correct orientation to capture the comet in the sky with the trees as frames.  As darkness approached, I drove up to the highest spot at Crex, which is an overlook where you have 360-degree views.  The comet was forecast to be in the north-west area of the sky, just below the "Big Dipper".  I first caught it with binoculars just after the sunset.  I set-up the camera and got a "record" shot with the sunset glow on the horizon.


It was not yet visible with the eye, but the camera does a nice job of capturing the light.

I moved from here to my chosen location and set-up for some more interesting shots.  As the night progressed, you could see Neowise with the naked eye, but again the camera sees it much better.  Also, binoculars work well.  

Neowise shot with a wide-angle lens.

A little wider shot.

Neowise shot with a telephoto lens.

Twin Cities

I ventured out on two more nights in an attempt to catch the comet in an urban environment.  One night I saw Neowise and the camera captured it, but not very well. Downtown Minneapolis looked good with the evening lights, so I shot an image of the skyline that I rather like (sometimes you just need to go with the flow). 

Neowise is faint in the upper quarter of this image.  Too much light pollution for a good image.

Downtown Minneapolis from Lake of the Isle (no comet here).

For my third attempt (second in the urban environment), I tried the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis.  This was a complete failure that I happily share with you.  The lights from downtown are just too bright to get any shot of the comet (it is there, but not visible).  I did get a nice shot of one of the bridges with a great light display.

If you spot Neowise, let me know.

Great light display.
All in all, it was fun getting out to shoot.  If we stay under control for the virus, I'll do it again.  In fact, there are some very good meteor showers in August, so I might take a trip to shoot them.  I usually do these outings with my photo buddy John, but with the virus, it is tough to do.  Maybe soon!  Stay well, wash your hands and wear your masks and we may just make it through this.
  

Bordeaux 2019 - Barcelona

Barcelona


Barcelona!  For me, Barcelona evokes images of unique architecture, delicious food, and interesting people.  I first became intrigued by the city in 1992 when Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympics.  Barcelona was the last stop on our Grand Circle river cruise in the  Bourdeaux region of France.  It was an add-on along with Andorra, which I covered in the last blog posting.  Kathy was the primary reason we added this to our trip.  She was excited to see the Gaudi works, in particular, the Sagrada Familia basilica.

Barcelona's favorite son must be Antoni Gaudi.  His unique architecture can be seen throughout the city.  Gaudi was heavily influenced by his religion, which is visible in many of his projects.  He used tile (often broken waste material), stained glass, and wrought iron in many of his works and he used three-dimensional models instead of blueprints.

A model of Casa Mila used by Gaudi.
Gaudi was killed in 1926 at the age of 73 when he was struck by a tram on his way to his daily prayer and confession at Santi Felip Neri church.  Because of his shabby clothing and lack of I.D., he was mistaken for a beggar and left unattended for over a day.  By the time he was finally identified, he was too ill to save.  At the time of his death, he was working on the Sagrada Familia basilica, which is still under construction and is estimated to be completed in 2026.

Park Guell is a community designed by Gaudi for a wealthy businessman named Eusilin Guell.  Our group spent a morning visiting the area.

A tiled bench in Park Guell.

The porter's lodge.
Gaudi was a unique architect evidenced by his requirement that he be allowed to design and build the project as he felt it should be.  He had this written into the contract he signed with the client.  This often resulted in lawsuits from unhappy customers.  An example of this is the Casa Mila.  The family that commissioned this building withheld payment and Gaudi was forced the sue to get paid (he eventually won). 

Casa Mila.
 One of the most interesting features of this building is the roof area.  Vents look like Star Wars stormtroopers.  The building was built in the art nouveau style with natural forms that contain no right angles!  The first image above shows the model which is on display in the attic of the building (not a bad attic). 

The most famous and spectacular project designed by Gaudi is the Sagrada Familia basilica.  We spent most of a day in and around the basilica with about a hundred thousand of our friends.  It is massive and very popular.  The feeling of awe as you stand in the middle of the church is palpable, it is hard to keep from gaping.  I hope we have a chance to visit it once construction is completed (est. for 2026, but I would bet it will take longer).  The flow of the design and the stained glass are magnificent!



 

While Gaudi was the primary focus of the Barcelona portion of our trip, we also spent time at several local restaurants where we indulged in Tapas and a Spanish treat called "churros".  The churro is a pastry that you dunk in hot liquid chocolate, fantastic!

Kathy was forced to try a churro, the smile tells it all!

No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the Picasso Museum.  We spent a pleasant afternoon walking around the museum and listing to the audio guide.  Picasso spent time in the city over several time periods throughout his life. 

Picasso!

A surprise that was not on our itinerary was the "Gay Pride" festival that occurred on the weekend we were there.  It was interesting to walk around and see the colors and the outfits worn by the participants.  I must say they do have a great time!

Do I really need a caption for this?

Or this?
Barcelona was possibly the most interesting part of our trip.  Neither of us had ever been to Spain; now we are considering a trip to Portugal and Spain with Grand Circle.

As usual, I have an album of images from Barcelona here: Barcelona






Bordeaux 2019 - Andorra

Andorra

Grand Circle Tours offers trip options for pre and post-trip tours.  We took the post-trip option for a tour of Andorra and Barcelona.  Kathy has always wanted to see the Gaudi church in Barcelona and it was a chance for us to visit a part of Spain.

Andorra is a parliamentary Co-principality with the French President and the Catholic Bishop of Urgell (Catalonia, Spain) acting as Co-Princes.  They each visit at least once a year (probably to buy the tax-free stuff).  Andorra is the smallest state in Europe, for all you trivia buffs. 

We met our new program director in Toulouse at the end of the French portion of our tour.  We spent the day, with three stops, on a bus drive to Andorra La Vieille, the capital of Andorra.  Our first stop was in the small French town of Foix.  The chateau overlooking the town is built into the rock outcropping which makes a very dramatic photograph. 


Chateau de Foix


Our next stop was in Pasa del la Casa in Andorra.  The town began as a hut to guard the pass into the Pyrenees mountains.  Today it is a ski town and a shopping haven due to its tax advantages.  The weather was nice, much cooler in the mountains (compared to the heat we experienced in France).


The happy couple with the Pyrenees in the background.


Our last stop before our arrival in Andorra La Vieille was a monastery in the mountain town of Meritxell.  The chapel of the Lady of Meritxell is a new structure built when the old Romanesque church burnt down in 1972.  The Lady of Meritxell is the patron saint of Andorra.


The monastery in Meritxell.


The Chapel of the Lady of Meritxell.

We spent two nights in Andorra La Vieille.  The highlight for me was photographing the town at night.  It was a very lively place due in part to a concert at the local arena.  I was fascinated by the modern statues that light-up at night.


"La Noblesse du temps" by Salvador Dali


"7 Poets" by Jaume Plensa


One of the poets.


Two parts of our Andorra stay that sticks in my mind are the trip to the Roc del Quer cliff and dinner in Andorra La Vieille where we had a very interesting conversation with a wonderful young French couple.  

The Roc del Quer is high up in the Pyrenees where the views were awe-inspiring.  We ventured out onto a skywalk that hangs out over the valley; it's not for anyone with a fear of heights.  The floor of the skywalk had plexiglass windows to look down; unfortunately, they were so scuffed-up we couldn't see through them.  At the end of the skywalk is a statue of a naked dude looking out over the valley (I started to undress to join him, the women in the group said "yes", the men said "no", I went with the men's wishes).  


The Skywalk.


The naked guy surveys the valley.


On our final night in Andorra, we had dinner on our own at a local restaurant.  The waiter did not speak English and we did not speak Catalan, so we were struggling to order.  A young French couple at the next table was nice enough to help us get what we wanted.  The wife spoke very good English partly because she had spent a year in the U.S. as a child-care worker.  They were in Andorra to buy a tent addition for their camper van (prices are very low compared to France and made it worth the trip for them).  We wanted to try the paella (a Spanish rice dish) but it came in a huge bowl and was black due to the squid in it, so we passed.  Unfortunately, we never did get to try it.

If you ever get a chance to visit Andorra, take it!!  It is a lovely place to visit, nice folks and great scenery.

Here is a link to the images from Andorra: Andorra Photos

My next post will cover our time in Barcelona, stay tuned (don't you just love a good cliche?).


Bordeaux 2019 - Toulouse

The French portion of the trip "est fini" 

Carcassonne


We have reached the endpoint of our French trip.  After leaving the "River Chanson", we spent three nights in Toulouse.  During our stay, we made a side trip to the medieval city of Carcassonne.  This is a place that has long been on my list of must-see sites.  It is the most well preserved walled city we have seen in Europe.  We walked through the city and visited the Chateau, before a nice lunch at one of the local restaurants.  Kathy and I had to try the "cassoulet" which is a regional favorite.  It is a wine-based, slow-cooked casserole with several types of meat included.  It was good but not as good as we were lead to expect (maybe it was over-hyped by the locals).  


Lady Carcas

The image above is Lady Carcas.  She is at the heart of the legend of Carcassonne.  In the 8th century, the city was held by the Saracens and ruled by Lady Carcas after the death of her husband.  The French Emporer Charlemagne laid siege to the city going on six years.  The city was near starvation when Lady Carcas made a brilliant move.  She had the last pig in town fatten-up with the last sack of wheat and had the poor guy thrown over the wall in front of the French.  Charlemagne reasoned that the city must have plenty of food if they are able to waste it by tossing it over the wall, so he cut off the siege and left.  As the French rode away, Carcas ordered the city bells rung in celebration.  One of the Frenchmen commented that "Carcas sonne" meaning Carcas sounds and "voila-voila" a city is born.  I'm sure this is a historical fact because it has been confirmed by Fox News.



Entrance to the walled city of Carcassonne.

Part of the Chateau.

An overview of the restaurant where we had lunch.


Toulouse


Toulouse is a lovely old city with many interesting areas to visit.  We did the group city walking tour, then spent a day on our own.  We had reached a fatigue point with churches and castles, so we decided to do a leisurely day of walking and sitting in a cafe.  

I've always been fascinated by canals in France from the time I was young and Dad was stationed in Nancy, France.  He was "career army" and we spent many years in foreign countries, including four years in France.  One village we lived in had a canal just a half block from our home.  It was unique in that it had a bridge on which the canal passed over the local river.  I spent many an afternoon watching the barges cross over the river on this bridge.  Kathy and I visited the place several years ago and the bridge is gone and the canal closed (it is just a grass-covered ditch now). 

Toulouse is embraced by a ring of canals including the Canal du Midi.  We found the canal and walked along the bank for a while.  Unfortunately, there was some construction and it was not as nice as I had hoped for.  We found a local sidewalk cafe and stopped for some refreshments and to watch the people go by.  The highlight was watching the local police inspect a car that was, we think, illegally parked.  Three policemen were there at least thirty minutes and were still there when we left. Were they looking for a terrorist, an illegal parker, or waiting for donuts (or croissants, it is France after all)?  We never did learn what was happening, but it sure was fun to speculate.



Toulouse, "La Ville Rose", known for its pale red brick buildings.


A tour boat on the canal.


A sidewalk cafe.

We ended our stay in Toulouse and the French portion of the trip, with a farewell dinner with our group.  We made some good friends on this trip; possibly the best group of people we have traveled with on a Grand Circle trip.    We have now completed 14 trips with GCT and this group definitely ranks in the top 13! 

Some of the group continued on with us to Andorra and Barcelona.  That will be my next and final blog in this series, look for it in the next several weeks.

Here is a link to more photos from Toulouse and Carcassonne: Toulouse and Carcassonne Photos.

Mike

Crex Meadows Summer Photogaphy

Photo buddy John Pennoyer (see his website for some great photography -https://www.impressionsofnature.net/) and I spent last Wednesday and Thursday at Crex Meadows in God's country (Wisconsin!!).  We had some good photo-ops and, sadly, a falling out over my "guide" services - more on that later.

We reached the Grantsburg area around 2:30 pm and started a reconnoiter of the Fish Lake area where John was looking for butterflies.  We found and photographed two that John identified as "Fiddlemary Astro-something" and a "Blue Little Guy".  Here is an image of the Blue Little Guy:

"Blue Little Guy"



"Fiddlemary Astro-something"


I may not have the names exactly correct, but it's close and they are cute.

After checking into the five-star Grantsburg Inn, we did a trip around Crex looking for places to shoot the milky way and possibly a sunset.  After a nice drive around the area (due to my excellent guiding), we went into Grantsburg for a gourmet dinner at T-Dawg's bar and grill.  Unfortunately, the sunset was a bust (very few clouds, only on the horizon, and they blocked the sun).  We went back to the Inn for a nap and ventured back out at 10:30 for our night photography.  We were treated to the milky way and several meteors.  Here are a couple of my favorite shots.


Milky Way looking towards Grantsburg (thus the light pollution).

Stars over an old oak.

We photographed until 1:00am and headed back to the Inn for a restful night. 

At 4:30am we crawled out of bed and headed out to Phantom Lake for a possible sunrise.  That turned out to be the highlight of the trip.  We got to photograph a beautiful pink sunrise over a calm reflective bay on Phantom Lake.







A great trip!

Now for the sad part.  My photo partner (henceforth "client 1") accused me of leading him on the wrong route as we left Crex.  I felt it was a much nicer route and one "client 1" had never been on.  As a result of this, "client 1" refused to pay for my services (which at $500 an hour seems fair to me).  In addition, "client 1" dropped his camera and long lens on my coffee cup, resulting in the loss of at least 50% of my morning joe. 

I have been in touch with my lawyer, Ima Frawd (of the firm Ware, Dafug, Awee) and Ima assures me we have a solid case.  Ima is a world-renowned guide lawyer and should strike fear into the heart of "client 1".   He points to my sterling reputation based on my past guiding work on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the more recent lunar landings.  In addition, I have found my way home every single time I've been out - a record most of you can't claim.

I'm sure this suit will make the international press, so keep an eye on the progress.  Also, pass this blog on to your friends so that the jury pool will get the inside scope on the lawsuit.

Until next time.