Bordeaux 2019 - Nantes

Adventure Overview

Our Grand Circle Tour (GCT) trip this year was an adventure in many ways.  We had some great food and wine.  Sampled some fine French cheese and tried the local mussels.  We were treated to some tall sailing ships and fireworks in Bordeaux.  And we happened to be in Barcelona during the Gay Pride Festival.  The trip also included several local tours were we learned about the history of the different areas we visited.  All in all, it was a busy, but fun trip.  

The trip included a visit to the Bordeaux region of France on a riverboat sailing the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.  We began our trip in the city of Nantes, followed by the river cruise, three days in Toulouse (with a day trip to Carcassonne),  a couple of days in the tiny, but lovely, country of Andorra, and finally three days in Barcelona.  

I will be publishing five blogs about this trip.  This first blog covers the time we spent in Nantes.  The following blogs will document the river cruise, Toulouse and Carcassonne, Andorra, and Barcelona.  Hopefully breaking up the trip into five blogs will make it less time consuming for my adoring followers and easier to enjoy.  At the end of the blogs, I will include a link to the Google Photo albums for each area (I will try to keep the number of images in each album to 50-75).


The old town

Nantes was founded by the Celts in 70 BC.  It is located on the Loire River in west-central France. Our first impression of the city was not so good.  The ride from the airport to our hotel meandered through the industrial outskirts of the city and it was not very pretty!  But once we reached our hotel in the old town area of the city, we were pleasantly surprised.  This area of the city has some fine bars and restaurants and many old interesting buildings.  We had a walking tour of the old town including a visit to the Chateau des ducs de Bretagne.  Nantes is also known as the birthplace of Jules Verne, one of my favorite authors.

Our hotel the Radisson Blu Nantes was nicely situated for walking to lunch or dinner and to all areas of the old town.  We also used public transportation, the tram, to get back from the Isle of Nantes where we saw the machines (more about that below).

I highly recommend a visit to this city if you are traveling in the area!  

The Chateau.

Interesting art in the old city.

Machines of the Isle of Nantes

The highlight of Nantes for both Kathy and me was a trip to the "Machines of the Isle of Nantes".  The machines were inspired by the works of Jules Verne.  They are extremely clever and lots of fun!  The machines move through the use of steam, gears, and pistons.  They create an abundance of noise and motion.    It was particularly fun to see the reaction of the kids to the machines (including the elderly kids in our group).

These are some of the machines including the most famous machine the Grand Elephant. 

Riding the caterpillar.

Huge Ant

The spider!

The elephant sprays on the crowd.

This gives you an idea of the size of the elephant.

The machines visit also included a ride on the merry-go-round for us older folks (who are really young at heart).  The carousel was huge and included rides on two levels.

The carousel

The "Game of Thrones" ride

La Rochelle

We ended the Nantes portion of the trip with a bus ride to the ship in Bordeaux.  Along the way, we spent some time in La Rochelle.  Located on the Bay of Biscay, La Rochelle is a beautiful little town which was featured in the Alexandre Dumas novel "The Three Musketeers".  We had a walking tour then a nice lunch.  Weather was gorgeous and the trip to our ship was relaxing and interesting.

The harbor with the old entrance towers.

Have fun deciding what they are talking about!

The sailing tradition is reflected in the art in a local church.

Nantes was a great start to our trip!  I've added more photos to a Google album which you can view here: Nantes Photo Album

Spring Wildflowers 2019

Pennington Bog

My photo buddy John and I made a short trip to the Itasca State Park area in northern Minnesota.  It was late May and John wanted to get some images of the Calypso Orchid.  We started our search at the Pennington Bog.  Pennington is a nature area that requires a permit to enter.  It is a delicate area with a variety of wildflowers throughout the spring and summer.  Our goal was to photograph the Calypsos in a group (John has single flower images from a prior visit, but no group shots).  We spent most of the morning in the bog fighting mosquitoes and ticks.  Wearing the "bug tamer" and using repellents helped but the bugs were still a nuisance.

Our efforts resulted in spotting about a dozen Calypsos, but none in a nice group.  We photographed what we could and called it a morning.  The Calypso is a beautiful orchid living in a challenging area.

Fairy-slipper (Calypso bulbosa)

These guys are tiny, 3-6 inches tall and a challenge to photograph (the old knees feel it after a morning of kneeling down).

Lake Bemidji State Park

After a quick lunch in the car (the bugs were so bad, we couldn't use the picnic area!), we headed to Lake Bemidji State Park to see if we could find the Calypso in the Big Bog Lake area of the park.  No luck, but a nice day for a hike.  The trail in this bog is restricted to a boardwalk, so it is tough to do any photography even if we did find the flower.

Big Bog Lake

Itasca State Park

The remainder of our two-day visit was spent in Itasca State Park. This is one of my favorite Minnesota state parks.  It has great trails, a variety of flowers, and many activities year round.  The park employees are friendly and do a great job of making this a fun place to visit.  

We hiked the Nicollet trail searching for the Calypso, but once again we were skunked.  We did find some other wildflowers and had a good time shooting them.  

Round-lobed hepatica

Large-flowered bellwort
The bellworts were everywhere in the park.  We found multiple areas to shoot them in.

We also saw plenty of trillium.  There were carpets of them in many spots along the road.  We came back one evening to shoot them in the nice soft sunset light.  We also got a nice sunset over the lake.  The sun was bright orange due to some wildfires in Canada.  The only thing missing was some nice clouds.

Snow Trillium

Bellworts near a Hobbit house

Fishing at sunset
The first night of our stay was cool and clear, so we decided to do a night shoot at the headwaters of the Mississippi.  We sat in the car for about an hour and a half until the night sky appeared.  We wanted to get a shot of the milky way and had to wait until midnight when the fat part of the galaxy rose over the horizon.  We also tried some star trail photography.

The Mississippi River headwaters

The milky way over the Mississippi River headwaters

A composite of 60 thirty second images
The Northstar is the focal point that the others rotate around.
I really enjoy night photography, but it sure is nice having a companion with in case the bears' attack!!

Another fun trip with my pal John.  The flowers were a little out of synch due to the weather we had this spring.  But, all-in-all, we had a great time.  

2019 Lunar Eclipse

The Lunar Eclipse, January 20, 2019.

The story behind the images.

I love astronomy and have tried to capture lunar eclipse images in the past.  This is my fourth shot at getting some good images and I'm starting to learn how to do it.  I went out with my pal John Pennoyer on the evening of the 20th of January.  Our strategy was to capture some Minneapolis skyline images to use as a background for the moon.  In our area, the eclipse began at 9:30pm and ended at about 2:00am on January 21st.  John and I started at Lake of the Isle for the skyline shots.  I also got an interesting shot of the moon reflecting off the ice (this was before the eclipse began).  The moon that night was a "super moon" and shows up well on the image.  I used a 150 - 600mm zoom lens at 150mm for this image.  

Once we had our base images, we spent some time scouting other spots.  The problem with this eclipse was the moon was way too high in the sky at the time the eclipse began.  This meant we would have to use very wide angle lenses to capture the moon and any foreground elements, such as a building or trees.  That would have made the moon appear as a small dot in the image.  We decided to shoot telephoto shots of the stages of the eclipse then paste them into one image showing the progression of the eclipse.  This is the result of pasting together five of the moon phases into one photo. 

Below is a shot of downtown Minneapolis with the "blood moon" that actually never happened.  Some folks may not think that is ethical and they may be right.  From a pure record of what happened, the image is "fake photography".  I like it as an artistic expression and have included it here for your enjoyment.  Let me know in the comments section what you think of doing something like this photoshopped image.

The final image is a shot of the lunar eclipse at it's maximum.  This image is the one I used to paste into the downtown skyline above.  I shrunk it and placed it above the buildings.

It was a fun evening.  Cold but beautiful.  The moon was fairly small by the time the eclipse occurred and even the 600mm lens was a bit on the short side.   The next one occurs in 2021, so I hope to be out shooting it again!

Geminid Meteor Shower 2018

The stars at Crex Meadows

My buddy John Pennoyer and I made a short overnight trip to Crex Meadows in western Wisconsin to photograph the Geminid Meteor shower.  We arrived on Friday afternoon in time for a very nice sunset.  The clouds were lit with a nice pink glow that was complimented by the ice on the main dike.  

My favorite birch grove.

Crex main dike.

Nice as the sunset was, we were there for the meteor shower.  We had a very good fish fry at T-Dogs in Grantsburg, Wisconsin and were back out to Crex by 11:00pm.  We spent a little over two hours photographing the stars.  I had two goals.  0ne was to create a star trail and the other was to capture a couple of shots of the shooting stars.  The peak for the Geminid show was estimated to be 100 meteors per hour.  We didn't get near that many (however we were concentrated on one section of the sky so we may have missed some).  We saw 20 meteors in about two hours.  Here are the results of the photo session.

Star trails - a composite of 100 images.

The best single meteor captured in the sessions.

The approach to getting the images was to set-up a series of 20-second shots with a two-second delay between shots.  To create the star trail image, I combined 100 images using a software package called Star Stacker.  John and I stood out in the 20 degrees cold for about 45 minutes, then retired to the car for warmth.  

The main problem in this type of photography is the rude interruption of the series by a passing car.

Damn car!

I had three images with the car and its headlights.  We went out and restarted the series, so it worked out ok, but it is always a hazard.  We figured there wouldn't be anyone out this late on a cold winter night, but we were wrong.  I mean who is crazy enough to do that?

The next morning we had breakfast at the Cozy Cafe then went out for a final run around Crex.  John spotted some nice ice formations on the lake and we stopped for some bonus images.

Ice ripples in black and white.

My buddy John, happy to be cold and shooting photos!

All in all, this was a great trip.  John is always good company and we got more photo ops than we anticipated.  

Fall 2018 - Bayfield, Wisconsin

Our fall trip this year include two locations.  The last post covered the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota.  This time I'll discuss our next stop which was in Bayfield, WI.  This area of Wisconsin has more hardwood forests and fewer pines.  Bayfield is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Superior and is very quaint and picturesque.   Hit the link button below to read more about the trip.

Wisconsin in all her glory!

Fall 2018 - The North Shore

This is the first in several postings about our fall travels.  I love this time of year due to the colors and the joy of photographing the fall landscapes and activities.  Our goal every year is a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior, usually around the last week of September or the first week of October.  One of the unique characteristics of the North Shore is the difference in colors between the shoreline and inland.  The shoreline has more aspen and birch trees and inland has more oaks and maples.   Add in the many rivers, waterfalls, the lake itself-- and you have a photographer's dream!

One of the backroads in the hills above the lake.