Weekly Photo Challenge: Ascend

What remains of St John’s Church sits on on a hill overlooking Gamrie Bay and the fishing village of Gardenstown in Scotland. The walk up from the beach winds through reasonably steep and rough grazing land, there is evidence of recent slips but that doesn’t seem to bother the cattle.

St John’s Church is said to have been originally built in the 1190s and it has a long and bloody history. The ruins are visible from Gardenstown and celebrate a victory over the Danes in the 11th century. It was once known as the ‘Kirk of Sculls’ because of the three skulls (supposedly Danes) that decorated the church interior. The skull and other symbols adorn many of the headstones in the graveyard.

Three people walking up to the ruins of St John's Church
Ascending to the ruins of St John’s Church.
The ruins of St John's Church, Gamrie
The ruins of St John’s Church, Gamrie

I plan to make my contribution to this week’s photo challenge: ascend the return of more regular posts. New challenges are posted every Wednesday at The Daily Post Photo Challenge should you wish to join in the fun or you just need blogging inspiration ūüėä

Keep your dog safe at Christmas

Our dogs have always been part of the fun at Christmas, presents from Santa and a special meal on Christmas Day.¬†Everything from a chunky bone to roast chicken or beef, not to mention a few treats such as pigs ears or kangaroo chews. There are however, many ‘people foods’¬†that dogs shouldn’t be given at Christmas time and if you’ve got a puppy then there are also inedible objects that should be kept out of reach like Christmas tree decorations and pine cones. Below is a handy checklist from PuppySpot and it provides basic advice on how to keep your safe pet although I would add ham or ham bones to the list of things you shouldn’t feed your dog.

Merry Christmas and stay safe!

Holiday Dog Safety Checklist
Holiday Dog Safety Checklist

Venice. Oh how I love thee

Gondola cruise on the canal
Gondola cruise on the canal

You’ve heard me rave about Venice before so it will come as no surprise that after my third visit to the serene city¬†I still¬†feel the¬†desire to return. We stayed in a small hotel called the Locanda La Corte not far from Rialto Bridge and close to the Ospedale vaporetto stop, perfect for walking to the city’s main attractions.¬†The window of our hotel room opened¬†onto a canal, it was ideal for us and there were many moments when all I wanted to do was look out¬†that window, listen to the seagulls and watch the world float by. Of an afternoon, when the sun was shining, the reflection of the waves could be seen on the wall and ceiling of our room creating a feeling of calm.

Being Autumn the number of tourists seemed lower than on my previous visits in Spring and Summer, but still the streets and main squares were crowded. Away from the main attractions such as St Mark’s Basilica and the Rialto Bridge we could stroll freely and without interference from people armed with selfie sticks and those trying to sell them. It was the quieter alleys and squares¬†that I love, although feeling¬†like an intruder armed with a¬†camera and invading¬†a local’s personal space. One morning I left hubby at the hotel while I went out for a walk, camera in hand I decided to venture into a part of Venice that I had not seen, Cannaregio. I didn’t make it very far and found myself standing on the edge of the island and looking towards the Island of San Michele and in the background, snow covered mountains. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, ideal for hopping on a boat and heading to the islands of Burano and Torcello which is exactly what we did.

Venice is often described as a theme park, attracting millions of visitors all year round and¬†it is easy to get caught up in the hype and complain about how expensive everything is and how it is difficult to find a good, affordable meal. On Burano there are a dozen or more places to eat on the main street where all the tourists go, a couple of locals recommended two restaurants but they were packed so we sat down to a meal of fried calamari and chips (fries or frites) by the water. The food was cheap and fresh and not far from the vaporetto stop. Our favourite cheap eat find was a little place not far from the Rialto Bridge, I had read about it in a couple of guide books and expected it to be full of budget conscious tourists like us. Rosticceria Gislon is not what you would expect in a seemingly tourist area, it looks like a cafeteria and offers pre-prepared food at a good price, it was also crammed with locals (or Italian¬†speaking tourists). We had three great meals at Rosticceria Gislon, one of the most memorable (and cheap) being the deep fried mozzarella and ham sandwiches…delicious!

I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in a centuries old city such as Venice, one that is never free of the hoardes of tourists whilst also having to manage the impact of high tides and rising sea levels.  The eery beauty of this city appeals greatly to me, I have always wanted to spend a few months living in Venice however I wonder if the enchantment would wear off during an extended stay. In the meantime, editing all my photos and remembering our time in Venice will have to suffice.

Travel with gadgets

In a few weeks we’ll be in Paris, struggling with the language and feeling the cold¬†but¬†still I am excited to be heading back to Europe. It has been a few years since our last holiday and I have nick named this trip ‘Scrappy Adventure II’. This trip we’ll be taking more technology, which¬†worries me because I like travelling without a phone and a video camera however Hubby wants to shoot video and as yet I cannot convince him to make use of the video¬†feature on the phone and the Panasonic Lumix. The smart phone will come in handy because we can make use of offline maps, guidebooks and messenger for keeping in touch with people however I’m hoping that once hubby sees all the cables and power packs then he’ll forego the video camera.¬†My DSLR and laptop go everywhere with me, as good as the iPhone and Lumix are for photography, they don’t completely satisfy my photographic urges ūüôā

When it comes to sharing photographs of our trip I will be making use of instagram, Facebook (to some extent), this blog and my Smug Mug account. Having an iPhone with us will make some of that quite easy, I am keen to see how¬†much free wifi we can access and whether the iPhone will take the place of the Lumix even though it doesn’t have the benefit of a 30x optical zoom. My sister in-law and her husband will be on our tour of Europe soon and they’re only taking their smart phones to use as cameras, we’ll meet up with them in Paris so I’ll be curious to see how the phone photography went.

The list of gadgets so far includes:

  • Nikon D750 and 24-70mm lens
  • 11 inch Macbook Air
  • iPhone 5s
  • Panasonic Lumix TZ70
  • JVC HD video camera
  • Numerous SD cards ranging from 8GB to 32GB
  • SD card reader
  • 500GB portable external hard drive

When it comes to photography and gadgets, what do you prefer to travel with and what sort of challenges have you been faced with?

These¬†photos are¬†from our last trip, they were taken with an earlier model of the Panasonic Lumix and it doesn’t matter how old they are, looking at them always makes me smile.

My first trip to Europe

15 years ago I travelled to Europe and the United Kingdom for the first time, taking with me my old Pentax SLR and about 35 rolls of film Рcolour and black and white. It was my first foray overseas alone and it was both scary and exciting, Europe had been a dream for me since I was in high school and studying art. The photographs I took still give me joy and bring back happy memories.

With friends in Brighton, UK
The Italian Gardens, London
The fascinating architecture of Chester, UK
Enjoying a local snack in Volendam, The Netherlands
Berchtesgaden Cemetery
Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna
Coloured houses of Burano, Venice
Michelangelo’s David, Florence
Island of Capri
Fat cat of Eze, France
Stray dog of Pompeii
Town of Beaune, France
Pont Neuf Paris
Me and the Arc de Triomphe

 

Taking a break in rural Australia

Recently I spent a few days with my folks in the small country town of Beechwood, located inland on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. It is a town surrounded by rolling hills, forests and bush tracks, cows and horses are a common sight as are wandering dogs and 4WDs, as a child many of my friends came from families living on dairy farms or they had brothers and fathers working at timber mills, but that is no more. Beechwood has become popular with young families and ‘city folk’ desiring a tree change, they move out into the country where a sense of community still exists and real estate is much cheaper. Once upon a time I knew everyone and they knew me, but that too has changed.

My time in Beechwood was husband and black dog free, the year has been an exhausting one, mentally and physically and I needed a break somewhere quiet, familiar and without any pressure to do anything. It is the perfect place for me to have a break, I always sleep soundly and eat well, plus there is always something comforting about being at home with my parents. Wherever I look there is nature, clear and sparkling night skies, elegant and tall gum trees, laughing kookaburras and wallabies dining on new green grass, of a morning I stalk birds in the yard and in the afternoon I wander through the paddocks enjoying the warmth of the sun.

I didn’t stray far when it came to taking photos of this place that I love, that would have required more energy than I wished to expend and I was happy sticking close to home. The horses were curious when they saw me approach, once they realised that there were no carrots or treats in my hands they turned their back on me and pretended that I didn’t exist, one of them didn’t even both to lift his head from eating, obviously the grass was too sweet and delicious to pay attention to the camera toting human. Wallabies and Kangaroos show up when there is less light, they feed at dawn and dusk so I was thrilled to make it out of bed early enough one morning to catch them enjoying the fresh pick in the back paddock. Farmers and those who live in the country consider Wallabies and Kangaroos to be pests, they destroy fences, eat all the grass and create havoc on roads in low light, but I love seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural environment.

It was an enjoyable break in the country, I returned home feeling a little refreshed, it would have been wonderful to stay longer and experience total rejuvenation, maybe next time…

The holiday is over

Frangipani flower
Frangipani flower

Well, that is it then, holiday over and back to work. Can’t complain too loudly though, with temperatures over 40 degrees celsius in some parts of Australia it is great to be able to work in air conditioned comfort. My poor doggies are melting, throughout the day they move from one cool, shaded spot to another and you can see the relief on their faces when I come home and they can finally lie on the nice, cool tiles.

Bundy the dog napping on the cool tiles
Bundy napping on the cool tiles

Joy to all at Christmas

 

Kookaburra and surfboard Christmas decoration
Australian themed Christmas decoration

Christmas and New Years Eve was spent south of the border in New South Wales. My parents live in the country, surrounded by cows, horses and alpacas, it is a very peaceful place to stay and the nights are so dark that you can easily see the stars. The dogs love it there although they’d be much happier inside with us, but their Nan and Pop don’t allow dogs in the house so Maxi claimed the deck and Bundy decided that sitting on the outdoor table was the place to be. Every morning I took Bundy for a walk down to the river while Maxi got to have a walk through the paddock (her legs won’t carry her very far anymore), on the first morning everything was shrouded in fog, it was magnificent to see especially when the sun’s rays started to burn through the fog and throw a little more colour and light onto the picture.

Dew on a spiders web

Cows

Alpacas

Christmas day was a hot one, after the traditional early morning opening of presents I joined my husband’s family for brunch, watching our nephews playing with their presents reminds me of the excitement I felt when I got my first record player and the soundtrack for the movie Xanadu – I loved Olivia Newton John :-). The heat and the boys desire to try out their new boogie boards drove us to the beach, it was cloudy and windy, the water freezing but we still got sunburned and soon it was time for us to head off to my cousin’s house for a late Christmas lunch. Christmas with my family usually means five types of meat, a tonne of baked vegetables and more desserts than anyone could possibly need, not to mention lots of bubbles and beer. At some stage water is involved, often swimming in a pool however this year it was a water fight using the latest in water pistols (they look more like cannons) and buckets, this is when holding a camera has its advantages.

Nephews on boogie boards
Christmas day at the beach
Flynn's Beach, Port Macquarie
Flynn’s Beach, Port Macquarie

The 2013 National Beach Volleyball tour kicks off in Cronulla, my husband is part of the operations team that organise the event and work started on Boxing Day, December 26 so that is where we spent New Years Eve. Cronulla is heaven for surfers and beach goers, alot of effort has gone into tidying up the foreshore but this Sydney suburb still feels as though it is made for locals and on New Years Eve it was surprisingly quiet. New Years Eve is also our wedding anniversary, this year we celebrated our 5th anniversary and although in Sydney we celebrated quietly with bubbles and delicious nibbles on our hotel balcony, avoiding the crush of two million people on the harbour’s foreshore. New Years Day was spectacular weather wise, the beach was packed and the temperature soared, the lifeguards were going to have a busy day.

View from Rydges Hotel, Cronulla
View from Rydges Hotel, Cronulla
Cronulla beach
Cronulla beach
New Years Day at the beach, Cronulla
New Years Day at the beach, Cronulla

On the road

Preparing for Christmas, attending Christmas functions at work and spending time with friends and family over the Christmas break didn’t leave much room for blogging. As soon as the computer came out my Mum hit me with questions about her computer, using picasa and organising all her holidays photos which she somehow managed to download in the lowest possible resolution from her camera (if she is able to get 6 x 4 prints done I’ll be surprised) so I gave up even trying to get online.

Anyway, I digress. The first step to our Christmas holiday this year was packing up the car and driving between six and seven hours south to reach the homes of our parents, luckily my husband’s Mum and my parents only live about 30 minutes apart. The road trip is not something I necessarily enjoy, but I’m getting better at it especially if it means an opportunity to see something different. Intermittent road works mean that route has changed slightly since I last drove south, leaving home at 4.30am also resulted in us seeing the sun rise over the hills, slowly burning away all the mist which covered the countryside. Rather than get my DSLR out of the back of the car to take photos along our journey I used my iPhone and when boredom kicked in instagram become my travel friend.

This is our journey in pictures from the sunny Gold Coast in Queensland to the Mid-North Coast of New South Wales.

Dogs at the start of the road trip
At the start of the trip

Sunrise and mist

Sunrise and mist
Rural Australia in the early hours of the morning
Dog's head outside window of car
A dog’s favourite spot in the car
Happy Maxi the dog
Happy Maxi
Bundy the dog
Bundy enjoying the warmth of the sun
Bundy and view from car
Mmmm…when do we stop for breakfast Mum?

 Pink waterlily

White waterlily

Waterlilies at Grafton
Waterlilies at Grafton
Dog Maxi napping
Maxi napping, not sure how this is even comfortable
Sleeping dogs in car
Sleeping dogs
Traffic jam on the highway
20km traffic jam on the highway heading north but we’re almost at our destination
ride on lawn mower in the country
Our destination in rural New South Wales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marty and Sam’s scrappy adventure photobook

Marty and Sam's Scrappy Adventure - book cover
Marty and Sam’s Scrappy Adventure – book cover

It is almost 12 months since we returned from our European holiday and it has taken me about 8 months to complete the first photobook titled Marty and Sam’s Scrappy Adventure. Why so long? Well, the book has roughly 800 photos spread over 200 pages and I wanted to include some of our story plus a few historical facts so that anyone browsing through our photos would know what they were looking at, including my husband. Between us we took about 5000 photos over 8 weeks, the first book was designed to encompass our entire trip and include all the ‘happy snaps’, you know the sort, self portraits taken using the one arm stretched out, slightly blurry photos of a tasty meal and photos of the hotel room and/or sign. I’ll do separate photobooks with a city, country or regional theme, such as Tuscany and Umbria, Paris and Germany.

Software also played a huge part in creating the photobook, I have a Mac at home but a Windows PC at work so I had to choose cross-platform software, preferring to download the software and create the album than uploading photos and creating them online. Friends have used Blurb, Momento and Clickonprint and all have been happy with the results, I had used Snapfish previously but that was for a a family album and all the photos were already uploaded to that site so it was relatively quick and easy plus they 50% off photobooks at the time. In the end I went with Blurb, here is why:

  • Clickonprint doesn’t provide a Mac version and I didn’t want to spend time familiarising myself with InDesign or creating layouts in Photoshop.
  • Photobook Australia had good reviews especially with regards to quality of output but I couldn’t get the photos to sort in order of date taken and the software itself was a bit clunky.
  • Momento are Australian and produce great quality books most of the time, my friends had a few problems with them but still choose Momento over other companies. The application is one of the easiest ones to use and you get a high quality product however the cost of a large format, 200 page book was cost prohibitive.
  • Snapfish only have the online service and with 800 photos to upload and organise I knew the process would take longer because it is reliant on bandwidth speeds. The application isn’t as flexible as some of the others either.
  • In comparison Blurb’s BookSmart software is relatively simple to use, the application sorts the photos by date taken, and Blurb offers value for money for large books with over 100 pages and the reviews were mainly positive. For an A3 size, 200 page book I paid just over $1AUD per page including shipping from the US and I received it approximately 2 weeks after uploading and ordering.
Double page photo spread
Double page photo spread

There are a few other digital printing companies offering photobooks in Australia: PicPress; Digital Print Australia; and Albumworks, as well as large companies such as Harvey Norman, Target and Big W but I didn’t want to spend any more time researching and testing applications. There is a great blog that reviews the different products available, it is call PhotoBookGirl.com and although the reviews don’t include Australian products many of the products are available for Australians to purchase.

I’m quite happy with the final product from Blurb and my husband is thoroughly enjoying looking at the photos and being reminded of the different places we visited. Once upon a time I would get all my photos printed individually and then place them in chronological order in an album, writing the details of location, etc would take forever but I did it because I knew that I would find joy in going through them again and again. Photobooks are so much easier and having a book of images and stories to flick through is much nicer than viewing them on a computer or digital photoframe, printed photographs also outlast the technology so printing your favourite photos is essential. Would I use Blurb again? Definitely, especially for large books with lots of pages, however I have already started creating smaller books (fewer than 100 pages) in Momento and am loving how flexible and easy it is to use.

Different photo layouts available
Different photo layouts available
Photos and text
Layouts for photos and text

I’d love to hear about your experiences with photobooks. What products or applications have you used to create your photobooks and would you recommend them?

 

A mixed bag – 2011 in review

After starting reasonably well (the first few days anyway), the year 2011 presented us with a mixed bag of good and bad leaving many of us thinking WTF! It was the year that my husband and I had been looking forward to for several years with a dream trip to Europe booked, 8 weeks of travelling from Paris to Amsterdam, a week in Germany, a few days in Switzerland and four weeks in Italy.

Notre Dame Cathedral at night
Notre Dame Cathedral at night

Before we had even booked our accommodation disaster after disaster hit and although it didn’t affect us directly, emotions were high and I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty about taking an overseas holiday when many were without homes and had lost loved ones. First came the Queensland and Brisbane floods, 75% of the state was under water including one of Australia’s capital cities, over 30 people had died in Queensland as a result of flooding since the end of November. Christchurch, New Zealand was then hit with a devastating 6.3 earthquake that tore apart the city and killed almost 200 people, since then they have experienced over 5000 quakes. That earthquake was quickly followed by another in Japan, triggering a massive tsunami and a nuclear crisis which will continue to have a devastating impact on our environment for many years to come.

Christchurch Cathedral
Christchurch Cathedral long before the earthquake

The devastation didn’t stop there with mudslides in Brazil killing almost 500, cyclone Yasi in North Queensland, earthquakes in Turkey and Pakistan, flooding in the Phillipines and a prolonged drought in Africa resulting in the UN declaring a famine which is believed to be affecting over 10 million people. I’m sure that there are many events that I am missing, but I cannot recall them all and there is probably a website or two where you can get more detailed information and timelines.

During our holiday we stayed in the small picturesque town of Vernazza in Cinque Terre, a beautiful and romantic spot visited by tourists all year round. Sadly, in October the region was hit by flooding and Vernazza was hit by a massive mudslide, one of two towns in Cinque Terre drastically affected by flooding, the other being Monterosso. This disaster didn’t make the headlines in Australia, it was only through a post from Rick Steve on his blog that I found out about it and then tracked down more regular information in a fabulous blog called Cultural Comments. Although fewer lives were lost in the floods in the region of Liguria than in other natural disasters, this one was close to our hearts because of the joy we felt when visiting Cinque Terre and one day soon we hope to return.

Vernazza's scenic harbour
Vernazza's scenic harbour

Not only were there natural disasters, but the health of colleagues, friends and their families also suffered with a heart attack taking the life of our dear friend Mike and cancer in several forms causing heartache and pain for too many to mention. When the health of those around you suffers it really does make you think about your own health so in 2012 I’ll be heading off to the doctors for a full check up, I also plan on eating more healthy food and ramping up the exercise which will be good for me and my furry friends.

Our most faithful, loyal and bestest friends really copped alot of flak this year thanks to the implementation of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) which is the banning of breeds such as Pit Bulls (or pit bull type) because they are dangerous. Following the progress of the Save Lennox campaign has demonstrated to me how badly BSL works, over 121,000 people have signed the petition to let Lennox go home to his family and there have been numerous appeals but we’re still waiting for the judge to make a (just and fair) decision. I think BSL is a reactive piece of legislation and don’t believe that it will reduce the number of dog bites, nor will it reduce dog fighting, it will just drive them deeper underground. I don’t know how anybody is actually going to stop stupid and cruel people from owning and training dogs (of any breed) to be vicious, euthanising humans is against the law. Animal cruelty in general appears to be on the increase, it is a sad reflection of our society and it is time for governments to introduce tougher penalties for people guilty of inflicting pain and suffering on animals.

Two black dogs
Two Black Dogs

Despite all the sadness and feeling as though 2011 was the worst year ever I have to remind myself that it wasn’t all bad. Apart from our wonderful holiday in Europe we also celebrated a 21st, a couple of 40th birthdays, spent time with family and friends from interstate and I managed to get a high distinction for my Marketing course. 2011 was also the year that I finally registered as a volunteer for the Animal Welfare League in Queensland, my Sunday mornings are now spent blissfully walking and cuddling dogs that are living in a shelter and waiting for someone to give them a forever home, it is the best job I have ever had. Blogging has been a positive experience for me, it has led me to other blogs, people with similar interests and fascinating stories to tell, not to mention beautiful photographs and artwork. I have high hopes for 2012 ūüôā

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog and whilst the stats aren’t huge I am still impressed and very appreciative of the fact that people other than my family and friends actually read my blog. I didn’t think that anyone would really be interested in the report so I’ve only left the excerpt below, thank you for liking/reading/following Two Black Dogs, have a fabulous 2012.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 3,800 times in 2011. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.