Archive for the ‘Life in UK & Europe’ Category

Lost Italian Holiday

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Italian Holiday

Sometimes I wonder how many orphaned pictures are wandering around my hard drive, not recognized as being attractive, or interesting, let alone prize worthy. In digital limbo for 6 years,  this 2006 photo of an Italian family swimming and rowing in the Bay of Naples off the coast of Vico Equense is a good case in point.  I like this picture—it has humor, it tells a story, and something about it seems very typical and authentic of the place.  This is street photography on the beach.

Looking for a relatively inexpensive, yet interesting place for a week’s holiday, Elizabeth bought us a trip to Naples in July. Even if wasn’t the 5th week of a garbage workers’ strike, it didn’t take much time in that frantic city to figure out why the rates were low. There’s a reason why Italians say “va fa Napoli” instead of “go to hell.” Claiming Norwegian DNA, Kirk and I melted all over several archeological ruins.  But everybody should get a chance to see Pompeii, and anyone who has failed to experience a bus ride down the Amalfi coast lacks sufficient appreciation for the advantages of western civilization.

Elizabeth did find us a delightful and newly renovated hotel in Vico Equense, a place with fantastic pizza, a relatively laid back lifestyle, and a steep cliff overlooking the vivid green bay of Naples and distant Mount Vesuvius. We spent some time in a lovely little park, overlooking the Bay, watching swimmers, boaters, and a wedding party coming out of a nearby church.  Reaching to the very limits of a 70-200mm zoom, I was checking out the beach, and captured a couple pictures of a family in a rented row boat.  The last one was over exposed and a bit far away.  I don’t know how I eventually stumbled over it years later, but I applied some newer highlight adjustment in Lightroom, pulled down the blacks slider, cropped it, and the unremarkable little picture below suddenly turned into the image at above.

Italian Holiday

World’s Most Interesting Coal Stove

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Iron Stove

Graufthal’s protestant church contained the most extraordinary heating appliance I had ever seen. An eglise mixte until 1904, an unusual arrangement offering both Lutheran and Roman Catholic services in the same facility. Cold and crumbling, the non-descript, non-ornate, and apparently non-profitable sanctuary looked like it had seen better better times. Elizabeth and I were in the small Alsatian town to see its one tourist attraction: the Troglodyte Houses, or Maison des Rochers (the Rock Houses).

Manufactured by De Dietrich & Cie, a 17th century industrial dynasty that remains in business today, the church’s stove was photographically irresistible. Apparently shut out of the French railroad market after the 1870 German annexation of Alsace, they returned to their historical roots in cast iron and began making consumer durables, including stoves. The somewhat shorter entry mentions specially that their cast iron ovens were produced in nearby Niederbronn. the location appearing on the stove’s door,  after 1848.  The company still makes home heating and cooking appliances, along with industrial equipment.

Elizabeth didn’t come in with me, so I didn’t dawdle, but just snapped a quick shot and left.  That wouldn’t be the first or last time that I failed to fully explore what would turn out to be one of the more visually interesting subjects of a trip. Returning home and reviewing my pictures, I realized that this one might have some potential. I ended up spending far more time in Photoshop than I did in Graufthal.


The lighting was very uneven, with a ray of sunlight falling across the middle of the stove, burning out the highlights on the rusty/shiny metal, while leaving some of the shadows almost pure black. This was more dynamic range than a Canon 50D DSLR can capture in one shot, and I regret not having taken at least 3 bracketed images. Lacking the ability to do an HDR image, I ended up instead spending an afternoon in Photoshop, burning, dodging, masking, and correcting, until I’d ended up with a realistic stove. To balance the composition, I picked up the wall sconce and moved it about a foot to the left.   My day in the digital darkroom resulted in 18 Photoshop layers.

It’s a fascinating thing, and I love the spiraling triangular elements. I’ve never seen a stove like it, and haven’t been able to find anything specific online.

Here’s the before image, showing what the camera saw before processing it in Lightroom and Photoshop:

ISO 1600, 1/30, f/3.5

Our 15 Minutes of Google Fame

Sunday, March 17th, 2013



Wandering down a cobbled Nancy street on our way to the medieval Porte de la Craffe, a brightly painted Opel with a strange rig on its roof drove past. Then Elizabeth and I waited over two years for our pictures to appear in Google’s Street View. Street View capture vehicle

At the time, I was aware that a privacy dispute with the government had resulted in a halt to Google’s Street View data collection in Germany, so even though we were in France, it wasn’t a surprise that the Googlewagon had German plates and a .de URL.  Apparently, it had been redeployed in a nearby country where Google was on better terms with the Privacy Commissioner (and it would hardly be the first time during the last 1500 years that Germans had conducted surveillance on the west side of the Rhine).


Most of the faces are obscured by a blurring algorithm, but individuals on the street are certainly recognizable.  I’m wearing a bright red jacket and usually holding a camera up to my face. Elizabeth is in blue jeans and a black jacket.


The vehicle first passed us when Elizabeth was admiring a church door at 68 Grande Rue. I’m visible to her left, taking pictures on the edge of the street as the Googlemobile went past.  Then we headed north on Grand Rue towards the medieval city gates.

The Street View car heading south from Porte de la Craffe

The car passed us several times, taking another set of photos as it drove south, away from the Porte de la Craffe.  Depending upon which way you follow the map, you’ll see different pedestrians, or as in our case, different views of the same people. The photo below is a Google image of me taking the picture above.


You can see these pictures in Google on this link (or bring up Google Maps and search for 68 Grande Rue, Nancy, France). If you are following on Google Street View, take two clicks towards the towers (north) from number 68, turn yourself 180 degrees in front of the gate towers, and you’ll see me just in front of the intersection of Rue Bracconot.  If you look very closely, you can see Elizabeth at the SE corner. If you then return back to number 68, you’ll see a different view of me on the left.  Turn completely around just past 68 and you can take another pass over us.


As soon as we came back from our trip to France, I started looking at Street View to see if our pictures had appeared.  For about a year, the Grande Rue, an important old town tourist street, didn’t appear at all in Street View.  Then the first set of images didn’t include us.  After two years, I’d pretty much given up and hadn’t looked at, but I found this set in January, and as of mid-March, the same shots are still there.  As long as these September 2010 images are current, you should be able to view us either from the link above, or just south of the Porte.


If you’ve never used Street View, its an interesting and sometimes useful toy. Within Google maps, you’ll see a yellow icon of a figurine (it appears in the two images above).  Click on him, and it’ll paint a blue line down all the streets within your current map view that have been photographed . Keep him up and drop him, and you’ll flip into the 360 photographic view that allows you to sort of virtually fly down the street.  Our new townhouse isn’t Street Viewed yet, but Google updated our last street 2 months before we sold out house, and as f this writing, you can clearly see Kirk and my cars in the driveway.

I’ll never stop dreading Ikea!

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

The most confusing store I’ve ever shopped:
Ikea, Ikea, Ikea, Ikea…
All the flatpack storage in one room dropped..
Ikea, Ikea, Ikea, Ikea…
I’ve just bought BESTÅ from Ikea,
And suddenly our home
Is furnitured with chrome
Oy vey!
I’ve just built a bed from Ikea,
And suddenly I’ve learned
How metrically absurd
Drop it hard and there’s Melamine breaking,
Drop it soft and your back it is aching.
I’ll never stop dreading Ikea!

(apologies to Sondheim and Bernstein)

The Free Beer Bike Ride

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

Free Beer

Just a few miles from my house, there are some lovely parts of Surrey for an evening or afternoon bike ride. Feeling the pressure of our upcoming departure from England, I’ve been trying to squeeze in some last few rides in the part of the local countryside most familiar to me.  This ride on the last Sunday of August turned out to be an especially memorable one.

I filled up my water bottle and put my Canon G9 into my handle bar bag, and took off for the wilds of north-western Surrey.  It takes about 3 miles of riding through traffic before you get to a more relaxed place.  Although surrounded by motorways, railways, and suburban sprawl, Windlesham is a nice little community.  Church Road is a quiet and wide street that includes the Half Moon pub and Saint John’s Church.   Crossing underneath the busy M3, the countryside starts in earnest with Hook Mill Lane, a very narrow uphill through the hedgerows. Taking a right on Burnt Pollard Lane quickly brings you to the tidy suburb of West End.

Garden Allotment in West End

I stopped at the northern end of West End to wander around the allotment. Allotments are public areas that have been set aside for the use of gardeners, and they are a common scene in England. They are also very common in the German-speaking lands, where they tend to be much, much, much more regimented and formalized. English allotments, although they can have some very elaborate fixtures, tend to be ‘organic’ looking, tending towards the sloppy.

Charles George Gordon statue

Gordons School is located on the other side of the road from the allotments.  Originally sponsored by Queen Victoria, the school is named after the extremely colourful British army officer, George Gordon. Known as Chinese Gordon, Gordon Pasha, and Gordon of Khartoum, the school features a statue of Gordon and his camel.  Portrayed by Charlton Heston in the somewhat romanticized flick, Khartoum, Gordon was killed at the fall of Khartoum in 1885. Although he was probably in over his head, Gladstone could arguably have saved him by sending relief forces earlier, and Victoria never forgave the PM for Gordon’s death.

Dry Wash Road

Riding through West End and then taking Pennypot Lane back north, I crossed the A319 and went looking for Watery Lane. Featured in several guidebooks, it is apparently the status of a byway, connecting Clappers Lane with the very posh pseudo-rural neighbourhood along Ford Road.  The road is certainly accessible by horse, and possibly by a very fit and ambitious mountain biker, but I chose to walk my bike along the narrow path that parallels the perpetually flooded and well-named lane.

I turned East on Windlesham Road, crossing the B383 along the northern end of Chobham.  Past the Red Lion Pub, the road changes its name to Gracious Pond Road. Much beloved by local cyclists of all skill levels, this long and smooth road skirts along the southern edge of the Chobham Commons, passing through lovely birch tree stands.

Gracious Pond Road, Chobham, Surrey

On the other side of Gracious Pond, I headed back towards Chertsey. Riding about 1/8 of a mile East on the busy A319, I crossed over to Philpot Lane. A beautiful little arched masonry bridge, crossing a burbling brook, is one of my favourite sights on these nearby trips.

By this point, I was getting tired and ready for home.  I almost didn’t stop when I saw the huge handwritten sign, “Free Beer,” in Chertsey. Then I remembered that there had been a beer fest the day before, and realized that they must have some left over that they would be throwing away.  I immediately turned around and headed for a large tent with a large Pimm’s banner drooping along one side.

After the Beer Fest

It was like beer heaven.  They gave me a pint and congratulated me on arriving just before they shut down. I bought a sausage and downed my pint, hoping for seconds. That’s when I noticed some well-pickled locals who were filling up soft drink bottles at the bar. I poured the water out of the bottle on my bike, kicked myself for not having brought two bottles, and filled it up with the lightest ale that they had (why overdue it, right?).  It looked like I was bringing home a urine sample, but I figured it was a worthy experiment.

About a mile and a half down the road, I heard a little pop sound, and noticed a stream of foam, volcanoing away from the nipple of my bottle. I stopped, took about an inch off the top, pushed the nipple back down, and headed for home without further incident. I put it in the fridge, and had it with my dinner a couple hours later, after church. It was flat and sour–just like it was when I got it out of the tap. Perfect!

Several other pictures from my rides around Surrey can be found on my Cycling Surrey photo gallery. The map/satellite image below shows my route in blue, and it can be zoomed in so you can see some of the places from my trip.

London Thames Cycle Route Part 3: Gravesend to Richmond

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

The trail heading east out of Gravesend was in horrible shape, threading its way through a mostly obsolete industrial area.Lousy Trail

(If you want to follow along on this trip, a larger version of the map below, including mile markers and elevation, can be found on the Mapmyride site.)

Just after mile 41, the path crossed a bridge over an inlet into a small marina that turned out to be the former basin of the Thames and Medway canal.  The path went down a sort of dark alley formed by abandoned warehouses, and then took an apparent turn to the right. As it turned out, it did turn right, but not where I thought it did. Unable to find any more cycle route signs, I doubled back, and finally found a very narrow path behind an old fence. 3 feet wide at best, it made a right angle around the end of a building (not the first blind and narrow right angle turn on this cycle trip) and continued down the most convincing example of an abandoned cycle path that I’ve ever seen on two continents. The photo above shows a spot where the path actually widened enough that someone thought it a good place for fly tipping. Carefully avoiding the broken class, the path went across what was apparently the floor of a demolished factory or warehouse, an area strewn with tire-sized blocks of concrete.

Cycle Route along Thames and Medway Canal

Happily, the character of the trip changed entirely at mile 42. For the next  mile, a private and smoothly paved road followed the filled in bed of what had once been the Thames and Medway Canal. The pavement gave out, but the dirt was very smooth, and I could see for miles across the Shorne Marshes , which were mostly filled with salt grass, an MoD shooting range, and a lot of cows.  A 19th century fort was visible in the distance. At mile 44, I stopped to let a pair of oncoming bikers pass a motorbike barricade, and we got into a long chat. He recognized that I was riding a vintage Bianchi Volpe, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he’d been a bicycle mechanic (deja vu all over again, remembering the meeting with Alan far up the Thames in Richmond).  He showed me where you could just make out a fort on the far side of the Thames. At mile 45, in the village of Lower Higham, the path started following public roads again. There were mostly very quiet, and it was the only rural section of the entire trip.

Higham, Kent

At mile 48, the cycle route entered a former MoD area, making a steep hill climb through Chattendon, followed by a gloriously long and fast downhill into the charming village of Upnor (there’s a Lower Upnor, so why not an Upper Upnor?).  This looked like a great place to stop for a pint, with a charming little buildings all bunched together on a steep hill with a view of the Medway Estuary in the distance. I didn’t stop.  After 49 miles, I was ready to head for home.

A short offroad section dumped me out onto a dual carriageway and a confusing array of bike paths. I chose wrong, but doubled back and found the path, which soon took a steep left up a hill past an old oast house.  I stopped at the top of the hill to admire a view of Richmond’s bridges and castle, and what appeared to be a WWII submarine.

Rochester and castle

The narrow path made a steep and dangerous downhill towards river level. When I arrived at Commissioner’s Road, I couldn’t find a route sign, but right seemed to be the best choice. This was the last climb of the trip, and I was starting to drag. A little bright orange car buzzed me, spraying me with wiper fluid. At mile 52, I passed the Strood Rail Station, and decided to keep pushing on towards Rochester. At the intersection of Station Road and High Street I still hadn’t located a cycle route sign, so I asked someone to confirm that I was headed in the most level route towards the Rochester Bridge.

There are actually 3 parallel bridges leading into Rochester: a rail bridge, a newer bridge that had 2 lanes of incoming traffic and a bike path, and the older bridge with the outgoing traffic.  I stopped on the side of the bridge to take a photograph of the castle.  The last mile through Rochester was a busy one along the A2, taking me past a remnant of the medieval city wall. With both a Norman castle and a cathedral, I’m sure that Rochester is worth a longer visit, but it was after 5pm and starting to get dark, and I was ready to head back for home.  According to Mapmyride, I rode 53.17 miles between London Waterloo and Rochester Station. According to my GPS software, it was 53.75. I’ll add that to 1.5 miles round trip from my house to the Ascot rail station and take credit for a 55 mile day.

It was a fascinating trip, with a lot of interesting sites that were totally different from what I usually see on a bike ride. Very little of it was attractive, but much of it was highly interesting. Surprisingly, there multiple spots in the trip where I went several miles without seeing another person, and other stretches where I only saw people in the far distance. It wasn’t a particular fast ride, with much of the trip across rough stone, pavement, or gravel, and there were a number of barriers that required stopping, and even dismounting. It wasn’t really physically strenuous, although there are far more hills during the final 25 miles than I had anticipated.  I did the trip on a touring bike with 32cm tires, and I wouldn’t recommend trying it on anything less sturdy, or with narrower tires. 35cm would have been more comfortable.