Photography of Roy Thoman

Posts tagged “Travel

Apollo Moon Mission Memorial, Full Moon Photo

I have been following photographer Hudson Henry for a while. Hudson has been doing a live Zoom/YouTube session called Office Hours. The subject of the last episode was shooting a full moon. You can see the recorded session here. Hudson Henry Office Hours Hudson and a few of his friends discuss how they photograph the moon. On August 1st the moon rose about an hour before sunset. This provided an opportunity to photograph the moon while the foreground is still illuminated by the setting sun. The moon wasn’t quite full yet, but it is the best night to photograph the moon before sunset. Not only will the foreground still be lit, but the moon and the foreground will be similarly illuminated. So the moon and the foreground will have similar exposure values. Normally after sunset the moon is much brighter than the foreground. This makes it very difficult to balance the exposure for the moon and the foreground. So either the moon is overexposed or the foreground is underexposed. That’s why this full moon cycle is a good one to photograph. So a challenge was set for everyone watching Office Hours to photograph the moon on August 1st. Hudson will be showing and talking about everyone’s photos on the next Office Hours on August 4th. So I thought it would be fun to give it a try.

The best night for photographing the moon is Saturday August 1st. Enter hurricane Isaias, expected to hit Titusville Florida when? You guessed it, August 1st! I did some planning, using The Photographer’s Ephemeris to locate where the moonrise would be. I was able to determine that the moon would be rising just behind the Apollo Moon Mission Memorial. I thought the Apollo Memorial would be an appropriate moon subject. I wanted to do a practice run first. So I went out Friday night July 31st, to give it a try. With Isaias on the way, it could be my only chance. My results on Friday night were less than stellar. I did learn a few things though. Moonrise on Friday was two hours before sunset. This proved to be too early. The sky was still too bright; the moon looked  small and dim. The monument was still in some pretty harsh light as well. The other thing was focal length, I needed a longer lens so the moon would appear larger. Being a starving artist, I only have two lenses. My main lens is a 24-70mm. It’s a great lens. I use it all of the time! For this photo of the moon though 70mm was not quite cutting it. My other lens is an old Sigma 50-500mm that I break out once in a while to photograph birds at the wildlife refuge. I didn’t bring the Sigma with me on Friday. I hung around until sunset hoping for a decent sunset photo. The sunset was not so great. There were some interesting clouds, but no color.

Hurricane Isaias was moving through the Caribbean on its way to Florida. Luckily Isaias weakened and slowed down. Isaias wasn’t predicted to make it to Titusville until Sunday August 2nd. With Isaias a few hundred miles to the south, Saturday night was a beautiful night to photograph the moon. Using my Sigma lens at 135mm I was able to get good composition with the moon a bit larger than before. If I were to do it again, I think I would try to get farther away and use maybe 200mm. The sky was a bit darker so the moon contrasted against the sky better. The monument was lit by nice warm golden hour light. I used ISO 100, f11, my shutter speed ranged from 1/30 to 1/6 of a second. I was much happier with my results from Saturday. In the end, Isaias moved offshore and never really made it to Titusville.

 

 


Comet Neowise

Comet NEOWISE visible over the Indian River Lagoon in Titusville Florida. NEOWISE is a newly discovered comet. It was just discovered this past March. It was discovered by the NEOWISE space telescope (Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Explorer). The comet is visible from just after sunset until about 10:00pm. In Florida anyway, I think it’s visible later farther north. NEOWISE is low in the north sky just under the Big Dipper. The comet is pretty dim and hard to find without binoculars. Once it’s located with the binoculars, you can see it with the naked eye. NEOWISE will be visible until July 22. Happy comet watching!

_DSC0208


The Sahara comes to Florida

A huge dust cloud from the Sahara Desert, floated over Florida’s east coast. I thought this may have an unusual effect on the sunrise. I woke up early one morning to find out. One of my favorite times of the day to photograph is blue hour. I got going extra early so I wouldn’t miss it. Blue hour turned out to be nice and blue. I’m not sure what I was expecting from the Sahara sunrise. It turned out to be a bit dull and lifeless. You can definitely see the haze from the Sahara dust. The sun was a few degrees above the horizon before it was visible. It was definitely not a typical Florida sunrise.

 


SpaceX Dragon Crew Capsule Demo 2 Launch

Florida’s Space Coast is launching humans into space again! After a scrub due to bad weather, SpaceX launched two astronauts into space. Demo 2 is a manned test flight of the SpaceX Dragon Crew Capsule. Demo 1 was an unmanned test flight of the SpaceX Dragon Crew Capsule. Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley successfully docked with the International Space Station 18hrs later. They will spend several months working on the space station. After finishing their duties, they will board the Dragon and test the re-entry and splashdown capabilities of the Dragon Crew Capsule.

My main objective was to document the spectators that came to see this historic launch. I visited several of Titusville’s launch viewing hot spots. It’s very interesting to see how people come prepared to watch a launch. Most of them had been here for hours. A lot of them had tables and chairs and a pick-nick lunch. The big thing today was umbrellas. There were big ones and small ones. Umbrellas of every color of the rainbow. We were having small light showers, with bright sunshine in between. The umbrellas were keeping everyone in the shade and dry.

Photographing spectators is much different than photographing a launch. So I was not equipped to get awesome photos of the launch. I did take a video of the launch. You can hear the roar of the crowd cheering as the rocket lifted into the sky. Unfortunately  I can’t post it here.  

 

 


SpaceX Dragon Crew Demo-2, 1st attempt on May 27th.

SpaceX Dragon Crew Demo-2, 1st attempt on May 27th. I went around to a few of the popular Titusville launch viewing locations to take some photos. I took these photos between 11:30 and 12:30. The launch time was 4:33pm. The east side of the Max Brewer Bridge was pretty full and filling fast. Sand Point Park was still pretty open. I wasn’t able to get to Space View park, but the parking areas were pretty full. All of the popular spots along US1 were pretty full. I stopped at the new Kirk Point Riverside park across from El Leoncito. The parking was full but there was still plenty of space for watching. Parking on side streets was available. El Leoncito was open as well as having an outside takeaway taco bar and a Kona Ice truck. So Kirk Point not only has a great view of the launch but refreshments close by! I was a little early and the weather was not great, although there were a lot of people, I was expecting more. I think the weather may have been a factor. I have to admit that I was pretty sure of a no go due to weather. So after I took these photos I went home and stayed home. I do plan to visit more locations for the Saturday attempt. I really enjoy getting around to watch all of the people that come to see launches. I like to see all of the equipment that people bring with them, from just an umbrella to a motor home. All types of cameras and all types of lenses. Telescopes from tiny to huge. There were people from all over Florida and the country. It’s almost better than the launch. I’m hoping for much better weather for Saturday, although rain is in the forecast. Fingers crossed!


Church of the Holy Sepulchre

After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he underwent a series of trials. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to death by crucifixion. He was humiliated and taunted as he carried his cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Calvary. On Calvary hill he was nailed to the cross, he hung on the cross until he died. After his death he was removed from the cross and anointed with spices and oils and wrapped in linen cloth. After his body was prepared for burial, he was placed in the tomb. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven; he is seated at the right hand of God the Father.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built over the sites of Calvary and the tomb. On the lower level is the Stone of Unction, where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Upstairs is the Rock of Calvary. The tomb of Jesus is in the main rotunda.

 


The Garden of Gethsemane

After celebrating the Passover feast, that would come to be known as the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus moved to a rock to pray and agonize over what was to come. Jesus wanted his disciples to share his sadness and agony, but they fell asleep. Jesus was disheartened that they could not watch over him for only one hour. Jesus was betrayed and then arrested in the garden.

The Church of all Nations known as the Basilica of the Agony was built next to the Garden of Gethsemane over the rock that Jesus prayed on. The rock is visible by the alter.


Failure to Launch

First, the rocket launch was a total success. It was my image of the launch that was a failure. The other night Space X launched a Falcon 9 rocket on a resupply mission to the ISS. Night launches not only make great photographs, but they are really cool to watch. You can watch the glow of the rocket engine all of the way into space. Photographing a night launch is very tricky. You only get one shot, literally one image. So if everything doesn’t come together, the photo is a failure. Photographers always like to share our amazing images that were a success. I think it’s also important to talk about the failures.

When you photograph a rocket launch at night, the idea is to use a long exposure. As the rocket climbs into the sky during the exposure, it makes a light trail through the image. It makes a really nice image. Using the cameras bulb mode, when the rocket ignites (trust me, at night, there is no question that the rocket has ignited) you open the shutter. As the rocket rises into the sky, you keep the shutter open until it goes out of sight, approximately 3 minutes. When it works, it’s awesome, when it doesn’t it’s not. This time it didn’t work.

The other part of the image is location, location, location. The rocket launch is really pretty on its own. To make the image even more interesting, I like to add something else. This can be either a silhouette of something interesting or something interesting that is illuminated added into the frame. A reflection would be great as well. For this launch I chose the Exploration Tower in Port Canaveral, Florida. It is several miles south of the launch pad. The tower is a unique structure that was designed to look like a sail. At night the tower is illuminated and stands out really well in the night sky. The tower is also lined up with the launch pad. If you line everything up properly the rocket makes an arc over the top of the tower. I looked up some launch photos from this location, so I knew where the rocket would be in relationship to the building.

SpaceX Night Launch Exploration Tower_03-06-20_010

The next hurtle is getting the correct exposure. The shutter speed is fixed at the duration of the flight of the rocket, approximately 3 minutes. This makes the aperture very important. Rocket engines at night are very bright. If your aperture is open too far the rocket will overexpose. If your aperture is too small the rocket will be underexposed. Typically I end up at f18, this works most of the time, especially for the rocket with a silhouetted foreground. When you add an illuminated subject this makes things more difficult. A 3 minute exposure will severely overexpose an illuminated subject. To overcome this I used a neutral density filter. After testing different apertures with a 3 minute exposure, I found that f11 and a 4 stop ND filter at ISO 100 exposed the tower properly. The rocket exposure would fall where it may. The important thing was to expose the tower correctly.

SpaceX Night Launch Exploration Tower_03-06-20_011

So what went wrong? I don’t really know for sure. To get the 3 minute exposure I needed to use the bulb setting. I made many test images that all worked perfectly. I was there with a fellow photographer friend, Chris. We also wanted to photograph the tower before the launch, so we arrived pretty early so we had some time to do that. After my final test shot, I didn’t touch my camera until the launch. We finished up a little early, so quite a bit of time passed between my last test and the launch. We had been talking with another photographer from Orlando. I think maybe something timed out and I was no longer in bulb mode or my remote switch may have timed out, I don’t know. The viewfinder indicated that I was still in bulb mode, but the shutter would open and immediately close. It was very frustrating to say the least. Several colorful words were going through my head. By the time I corrected the situation the rocket was over half way through its flight. At about 8 minutes before the launch, a voice in my head was telling me to do another test photo, I didn’t. If I had, I would have encountered and corrected the problem during the test. I will be doing that in the future. Once I got the shutter to stay open, I left it open for approximately 3 minutes. The rocket was still going so even though I wasn’t going to get the whole light trail. I wanted  to see how my image would have looked if everything had gone as planned. The rocket flew right where I wanted it to be and the tower was properly exposed. I will need to try this one again.

SpaceX Night Launch Exploration Tower_03-06-20_012

I also made a mistake when I was photographing the tower before the launch. It makes me crazy because I have made the same mistake several times in the past. I am not a very technically disciplined photographer. I tend to concentrate more on the subject and composition. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in that and I forget about the technical side of things. Apparently the last time I used my camera I was using ISO 800. I never checked the ISO, I wanted to be using ISO 100. Once again my little voice was asking me, “Roy, why are your shutter speeds so fast?” I should have been smoothing out the water more. I was almost done when I realized what I had done. ISO 800 probably helped the shadow areas. If I would have used ISO 100 I would have been able to control the highlights better and I would have smoothed out the water with a slower shutter speed. I always promise myself that I will remember to check the ISO, and/or remember to return it to ISO 100, but every once in a while I forget. These are some of the things that make photography a challenge.

 

 


Bethlehem

I visited the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine last month. It was an interesting place to visit. I thought it would be nice to make a Christmas post with some of the photos. Merry Christmas!

 


Cruising to Havana: Some interesting things we saw along the way

Our art and culture tour was great! We learned a lot about Cuban culture and life. We saw lots of neat things like Revolution Square, Hamel ally, we had a nice lunch and Mojitos at the Bodeguita. We learned more about Cuban culture at the Bodega. As we walked through Old Havana we saw an architectural school where workers were learning how to restore Havanas old buildings and statues. Our tour ended at the building with the old railroad equipment. This was a large craft market where all sorts of Cuban art and products were sold. We purchased a wooden 3D wall art of La Bodeguita del Medio. We also took home some Cuban rum and a few cigars. Havana was awesome! It really did have a pulse or a vibe that you could feel. When I was reading about Havana before our trip, I read somewhere, I’m sorry I forget where or who said this, but they said, “Havana was in a state of elegant decay.” That was pretty much how I would describe Havana. There’s lots of great architecture. Some of it is restored and some of it, although it is in a state of disrepair, has a certain elegance to it. The colors of Havana are awesome! I really like black and white photos and lots of these photos would probably look really good in B&W. It’s the color of Havana that gives it its charm. I don’t think I will be converting any of these. Robbie and I had a wonderful two days in Havana. Sadly all good things must come to an end. It was time to board our ship for the cruise back to Miami. Things came to an end more than we knew. Havana only gave us a taste for Cuba. There are many other locations in Cuba that we wanted to see. Unfortunately, before we were able to go back to Cuba, the ban on travel to Cuba was put into place. Hopefully the ban will be lifted, but it doesn’t look like that will be anytime soon. For now, photos of Cuba are all we have.

If you click on an image you will be able to see it larger. I’m sorry there are so many, I could not help myself.

 


Cruising to Havana: La Bodega de Barrio

After a really nice lunch at La Bodeguita del Medio, we continued on a walking tour of Old Havana. There was some repetition of our tour from yesterday, but it was mostly things we didn’t mind seeing again anyway. Also this tour took a different route and we saw lots of different things along the way, as well as getting a different perspective. For instance, we got off of the bus near Plaza de Armas and walked through Plaza de la Catedral on the way to and from the Bodeguita.

One of the things we saw along the way was La Bodega de Barrio, a local ration store. Basic staples like rice, sugar, salt, soap and many other necessities have been rationed in Cuba since the 1960s. In order to understand rationing you need to know a little about Cuban currency. There are two types of currency in Cuba. The Cuban convertible peso or CUC and the Cuban peso or CUP. Cuban state workers are paid mostly in Cuban pesos or CUPs, they also receive a few Cuban convertible pesos or CUCs. At the risk of oversimplifying, if Cubans are paid by the government or spend money at a government business, Cubans use CUPs. If Cubans are paid or spend money at a non government business, Cubans use CUCs. You can probably guess which one is worth more. When people from other countries visit Cuba, they exchange their currency for CUCs. Visitors are only allowed to use CUCs. When you exchange U.S. dollars for CUCs there is an added surcharge of 10%, lucky us. Some people like to get Euros and exchange the Euro for CUCs without the surcharge. Getting Euros before your trip also has a cost, I figured it was close to a wash and we didn’t need that much anyway, so we just exchanged U.S. for CUCs and paid the extra 10%.

Getting back to Cuban rationing and the Bodega. The Cuban government gives each family a ration coupon book called a Libreta de Abastecimiento. The amount of rations each family is allowed depends on the size, age, and gender of each family. There is a Bodega for each neighborhood, they must use that Bodega. Cubans take the coupons to the Bodega, the coupon determines how much of each commodity they can buy with CUPs. There are stores where Cubans may buy things over and above the rations. Unfortunately, they need to pay for those items with CUCs and CUCs are hard to get for a lot of Cubans.

When we arrived at the Bodega our guide was telling us about the Bodega and rationing. After that we entered the Bodega. I could tell buy the size of the group and the size of the Bodega that we were not all going to fit. As the group was inside the Bodega, I hung around outside taking some photos of the area. My wife Robbie took these photos of the inside of the Bodega. Also for some reason I felt a little strange photographing the Bodega. As the crowd thinned, I did go inside and took a look around.

You maybe wondering about the La Bodeguita the restaurant and the Bodega the store. The Bodeguita started out as a store many years ago, long before rationing. They started making a few dishes to sell in the store. Eventually it evolved from a store, into a restaurant. Hence La Bodeguita or the little store.

Update on Cuba: Due to the recent ban on travel to Cuba, along with tightening of the U.S. embargo, as of  May 2019, rationing in Cuba has been increased. Cubans now need to make due with even less than before! Also the situation in Venezuela is having an effect. Venezuela has stopped sending aid to Cuba. The relationship between Cuba and Venezuela is said to be the reason for the U.S. travel ban. Although even before things in Venezuela became an issue, the U.S. started restricting travel to Cuba.

 

 


Cruising to Havana: La Bodeguita del Medio

We had a great morning seeing Revolution square and the Callejon de Hamel. Now it was time for lunch. We boarded the bus for the ride back to Old Havana. The streets of Old Havana are fairly narrow, not suitable for large buses. So here is where the walking tour portion of our excursion started. We exited the bus near El Malecon and walked about three blocks through the Plaza de la Catedral to La Bodeguita del Medio. La Bodeguita del Medio is probably the most famous restaurant and bar in Havana, maybe even all of Cuba. They claim to be the inventor of the mojito. It was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite place to have a mojito. Many other famous people made a point of stopping by when they were in Havana. There is a large painting of Ernest Hemingway and I think maybe the bartender or owner on the wall behind the bar. Back before the days of Hemingway, it became a custom to autograph the walls. Today there isn’t an inch of wall space that doesn’t have someones name on it. They reserved the whole second floor for our tour. They served lobster tail, plantains, rice and beans. Robbie and several others were vegetarians; they had a nice veggie plate. We washed it all down with a world famous Bodeguita Mojito. After lunch we were entertained by a Cuban band. The music was great, and in case we didn’t already know it, we were definitely in Havana! Our local Cuban/Mexican restaurant has artwork on the wall depicting La Bodeguita del Medio. Now every time I see it, I remember our lunch at Bodeguita. We also brought home a wooden wall art of the Bodeguita.

 

 


Cruising to Havana: Callejon de Hamel Art and Rumba Dancing

Our bus ride took us across town to the Callejon de Hamel, basically an ally named Hamel. The Hamel is a small two block long alleyway in the Afro-Cuban neighborhood. The ally is covered with the colorful, eclectic art of Salvador Gonzales. The buildings are covered in colorful murals. There are sculptures most people would probably call junk art. Salvador used old pipes, car parts, bike parts, bathtubs, and other assorted scraps of metal to make his sculptures. His use of bathtubs is particularly interesting. Some of them he cut in half and made benches from them. Others he put on pedestals or embedded in the walls. Salvador is self taught, he started with a few pieces in the ally near his home. He was encouraged by other residents and visitors to continue. He now has murals and art work all over the world. There is a small gallery of his art in the ally. These items are for sale, and I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures of them. You can walk up and down the small alleyway several times and see something new each time.

After learning about Salvador and seeing the artwork in the ally, we were taken to a small brightly colored room, decorated with more sculptures. There were chairs all along the walls, we all found a seat. Our resident Hamel Ally expert, who had told us all about the ally, started telling us about Cuban Rumba dancing. Rumba means party and this dance is certainly a party! It was created by freed slaves living in Cuba. It is a mixture of their African and Spanish heritages. The music, also called Rumba, is played with three different size conga drums. The beat is loud and lively. The dance is wild and exuberant. Some dances are showing off dance moves and skill. Other dances with a man and a woman, have sexual overtones. The man will make advances toward the woman and the woman will resist. This is not the Rumba that Robbie and I learned in ballroom dance class! They passed the hat at the end, a tip was well deserved. I wasn’t expecting the dance show and we didn’t have a lot of Cuban money left. I wish I would have been able to give a little more.

The Hamel was awesome! I did read about it when I was researching doing things on our own in Havana. It’s a little out of the way and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to get there or not. Even if we had been able get there, we would have missed the Rumba dancing. The dancing that we saw was done especially for our tour. The public dancing in the ally is only done on Sundays. It’s little things like this that can make doing a shore excursion worthwhile.

 


Cruising To Havana: Plaza de la Revolucion

On our second day in Havana, Robbie and I chose to do the Art and Culture tour. This was sort of a hybrid tour that involved a bus ride, as well as a walking tour. We woke up early and ate a good breakfast. There is no shortage of food on a cruise. This tour included lunch, but we were not sure when that would be. Once again we met our group in the big showroom to wait our turn to exit the ship. Once we were off the ship we needed go through customs. They had several customs people, so the process went fairly quickly and smoothly. They just check your passport, visa, and make sure you don’t have any weapons, fruits, etc., the typical things you can’t take into another country. There is airport type scanning and off you go. We met up with our group at the designated area and boarded our bus.

The first stop on the tour was Plaza de la Revolucion, we call it Revolution Square. The square is outside of Old Havana, too far to walk. To see this on our own we would have needed a taxi or maybe one of those cool little yellow Cocotaxies. A Cocotaxi is a small, round, motorized rickshaw thing that looks like a coconut. They are rather cute, but being a three wheel vehicle they are prone to tipping over (I don’t think that happens too often). The bus ride from the port took us down Paseo de Pardo,  this is a large tree lined boulevard with a promenade through the middle. If you have the time, a stroll down the promenade is recommended. We road past the Memorial Granma. The memorial houses the yacht Granma that Fidel Castro used to transport revolutionary fighters from Mexico to Cuba. The glass building that houses the Granma is surrounded by old military vehicles, the Granma is not visible from the road. We then passed by El Capitolio, the old capitol building. It was modeled after our own capitol building in Washington DC. Just past El Capitolio is Chinatown.

Revolution Square is a huge plaza where political rallies are held. Fidel Castro and other Cuban leaders address the people of Cuba from this plaza. A prominent feature of the plaza is the Jose Marti monument. It’s a tall star shaped tower along one side of the plaza. Jose was a Cuban hero from the late 1800s. There is a museum in the base of the tower, we didn’t have time to visit. Behind the monument is a large government building and the home of the Cuban Communist Party. On the other side of the plaza are two other government buildings. One has a large drawing in steel of  Camilo Cienfuegos, who sort of looks like Fidel. We thought it was Fidel at first. The other building has a matching drawing of Che Guevara. They were both heroes of the Cuban Revolution and friends of Fidel Castro. As you can see in the parking lot one of the best ways to get to the plaza is in an old classic car. Due to not being able to buy parts from the US, most of these old cars have a Russian engine under the hood. All aboard for the bus ride back to Old Havana.

 

 


Cruising to Havana: Havana at night from the ship

Old Havana is a very beautiful and colorful city. Robbie and I had an awesome day touring it. Although most of the old town was beautiful, I only have shown the beauty of the city. There are parts of Old Havana that were in near ruin. As we were walking through the streets we also saw buildings being repaired or restored. So I would say that Old Havana is a work in progress. The walking tour was great but we were exhausted. We had a relaxing meal and had a bit of a rest. I wanted to take a look at the city at night, so we went up to the upper deck. Old Havana was just as beautiful at night. I’m pretty sure that if we had wanted to, we could have taken a short walk through town. But as I said we were exhausted.  I took some photos from the deck of the ship and we called it a day.


Cruising to Havana: Plaza de Armas

The fourth and final plaza on our walking tour was Plaza de Armas. The plaza is the oldest plaza in Havana. It was used for a military parade grounds for the near by Castillo de La Real Fuerza. There is a large beautiful park with lots of trees. Besides the castle, there is El Templete, a roman style temple commemorating the establishment of Havana. On certain days there is a used book market that is quite popular. The plaza is very close to the famous Malecon of Havana and the cruise terminal. A short walk from the plaza and we are back at our ship. We had a really nice day exploring Old Havana. The tour guide was really good, he had lots of info about Old Havana. He took time to answer everyone’s questions. We really enjoyed our walking tour of Old Havana.

 


Cruising to Havana: Rum and Cigars

Our walking tour of Old Havana included a stop at Palacio de La Artesania Casa de Don Mateo Pedroso. It was the mansion of Don Mateo Pedroso who was an influential man in colonial Havana. Inside of yet another beautiful interior courtyard there are shops selling arts and crafts. From time to time they have live music. There is also a rum and cigar bar. Here is where we learned about Cuban rum, coffee, and cigars. Cubans like to have rum and coffee with their cigars. We learned the proper way to light a cigar. There is a lit candle on the table along with some thin strips of wood. You light the wooden stick with the candle, then you light the cigar with the wooden stick. The chemicals in a match would ruin the flavor of a fine Cuban cigar. You then smoke the cigar and sip the rum and coffee. You do not inhale the cigar smoke. You drawl it into your mouth and enjoy the flavor and then blow it out. As I mentioned before, we normally like to do some exploring on our own. This rum and cigar experience is something that we probably would not have done on our own. We may have had rum and cigars but probably would not have learned about the Cuban tradition. We really enjoyed the rum and cigar experience. So taking a tour does have its advantages.

The stone castle in the photos is the police headquarters for old town.


Cruising to Havana: Plaza de La Catedral

The beautiful Catedral de San Cristobal is the centerpiece of the Plaza de La Catedral. The other buildings in the plaza were mansions of the 18th century rich and famous. They are now museums of art and history. El Patio, one of Havana’s more famous restaurants is also in one of the old mansions. The buildings are a rustic stone with blue wood trim, very rustic chic.

On the way to the plaza, we passed the Mural Historico Cultural del Liceo Artistico y Literario de la Habana, phew that’s a mouthful. It’s a large mural that depicts the history of Havana in the 1800s. It’s interesting to note, the mural is not painted. The artist used different shades of sand and stone instead of paint. The scene takes place at the Palacio del Marques de Arcos, just across the street. The large wooden door in the mural is the same door that we are looking through in the photo. We passed through the palace and it’s interior courtyard on our way to the plaza.

 


Cruising to Havana: Plaza Vieja

Our next stop was Plaza Vieja. At one time this plaza was the main square of the city. It’s surrounded by beautiful buildings centuries old. In the past they were mostly residences or apartments. Today most of them are museums, restaurants, or hotels. In the past decade or so, many of the buildings have been restored after falling into a state of disrepair. They have been painted in bright colors. Their colorful stained glass windows have been restored to their original glory. Plaza Vieja was really beautiful.

On our way there we passed through a building with a beautiful open courtyard in the center. There are a lot of these open courtyards in old town. They all have lots of plants and trees, giving you the feeling of being inside and outside. I really liked these courtyards.

Plaza Vieja also has a unique statue that seems to get a lot of attention. It’s a bronze statue of a naked woman, riding a huge rooster, holding a huge fork. The artist apparently gave no explanation of his artwork; he left it up for interpretation. There have been many interpretations. The most probable one says that the woman is a prostitute, the rooster represents the men who pay her and the fork represents the food that she puts on the table for her family with the money. It’s a most interesting statue for sure.

On our way to the next plaza we passed one of many little parks. They provide a nice green space that locals seem to enjoy. We also passed an interesting fountain. The water for the fountain ran through a trough down the middle of the street.


Cruising to Havana: Plaza de San Fransisco

Due to the regulations for visiting Cuba, Robbie and I needed to do a shore excursion for each day in Havana. We chose to do a walking tour of Old Havana. I really like walking tours. I think they are the best way to see a city. You can get up close and personal; it gives you more of a feel for what the city is actually like. It’s also the best way to photograph a city. Another plus to doing a walking tour is that we got to walk off a lot of the wonderful food we had been eating on the cruise. There are four main plazas in the old part of Havana, Plaza de San Fransisco, Plaza Vieja, Plaza Catedral and Plaza de Armas. During our walking tour we visited each of these plazas. We got to see most of Old Havana along the way.

We started with Plaza de San Fransisco. Walking out of the cruise terminal, we crossed the street and we were in the plaza. The plaza is named for the Basilica Menor de San Fransisco de Asisi, that is the most prominent building in the plaza. Being near the port, this plaza was a center for commerce. Another prominent building is the old customs and stock exchange building. There is also a nice fountain, the Fuente de Los Leones. There were lots of locals enjoying the fountain and the plaza. There were also school children playing. Our guide, who was great by the way, was telling us that the color of the bandana the children were wearing indicated what grade they were in.

 

 

El Caballero de Paris

(The Gentleman from Paris)

One of the most prominent features of the Plaza de San Fransisco is the bronze statue of El Caballero de Paris. El Caballero de Paris was a well known street person who lived in Havana in the 1950s. He walked the streets of the city making friends with everyone. Most people were a bit leery of him at first, but they grew to really like him. When people would give him some money, he was known to give them back some change. He would also draw pictures on postcards to give out in exchange for money. He was born in Spain and moved to Cuba when he was 12 years old. So where did the Paris part come from? Nobody really seems to know. Some say it was from a french novel. He was also known to hang out at a place called the sidewalk of the Louvre. He also may have worked for a while at the Paris restaurant. He is also dressed like a Frenchman. What ever the reason, the people of Havana saw fit to honor him with a statue.

Plaza de San Francisco_12-06-2017_23

A conversation with El Caballero de Paris

Our guide was telling everyone about the tradition of touching the statue. If you put your  hand on his beard, grab his finger with your other hand and put your foot on his foot. Then you must look across the plaza, at the statue of the God Mercury on the dome of the old stock exchange building. This is said to bring you wealth and a return trip to Havana. I’m still waiting on both! I think there is a fair chance I may return to Havana. I’m not sure about the wealth.

 

 

 


Cruising to Havana: Sailing into Havana.

Robbie and I had a great day in Key West seeing the sights. Departing before sunset we had some time to enjoy the ship. We had a nice dinner and took in the evening show. When you are cruising there is no shortage of food or entertainment options. We were scheduled to arrive in Havana early the next morning.

After breakfast, we were up on deck early, along with most of the other passengers, to get a first glimpse of Havana as we approached the port. Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro is a beautiful stone Spanish fort that has guarded the port for many centuries. Castillo Del Morro is an impressive sight as you enter the harbor. The massive statue of Jesus, El Cristo de La Habanna, overlooks the the port keeping watch over everyone coming and going. From the other side of the ship we get a good view of Old Havana. The dome of the old capital is visible in the distance. Sailing into Havana is quite an experience.

We like to explore a port on our own as much as possible. Sometimes though the places you want to see are too far from the port. Maybe a guided tour is a better option. There may be some other reasons why purchasing a shore excursion may be the better option. Havana is a great port to explore on your own. The port of Havana is right in old town Havana. All of old town is within walking distance. Unfortunately, due to US/Cuba relations, there are regulations about visiting Cuba. When we first started to plan our trip to Cuba you needed to do what was called a person to person tour. Meaning you needed to do a guided tour that had some sort of cultural exchange. After that you were able to do some exploring on your own. As our cruise approached, we elected a new president that changed the rules. The new rules went into effect just before our cruise. Now we were required to be part of a tour the whole time. We were no longer able to do any exploring on our own. I wanted to do a tour of Havana in one of the old classic cars. The old classic car tour from the cruise line was rather expensive. We could have hired an old classic car tour on our own for half the price.  The regulations being shiny and new; the cruise line was unsure about how to handle them. I wasn’t sure if we would be allowed off of the ship unless we were part of a shore excursion. So we booked shore excursions for both days.

Update on Cuba. This is a multiple part post that I have been working on for a few weeks. As I finished writing about our first day in Havana, we learned of a US ban on travel to Cuba. This is very sad, we really enjoyed our trip to Havana. We were looking forward to going back and seeing more of Cuba. I not only wanted to share our experiences, I also wanted to inspire readers to visit Cuba. Sadly, posts like these may be the only way that any of us will be able to visit Cuba in the future.

No matter the port, the shore excursion procedure is about the same. We all gather in the big show room at a scheduled time in groups according to your particular excursion. Each group is dismissed in turn, so everyone is not trying to exit the ship at the same time. There is usually still quite the queue, since excursions were required, this was a longer one. Cuba being a mystery, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when we went through customs. As it turned out it was no different than any other country. The cruise terminal is on the dock and is pretty big and long. After going through customs there are some shops selling cigars, rum, and all sorts of things. You can’t get Cuban currency in the states, and that’s something we needed. At the end of the building there is a money exchange. Its just like going to a bank, you go to the next available teller, give the teller US and they give you Cuban, easy! The whole process is rather easy and stress free. Cuban money in hand we went down to the ground level to rejoin our excursion group.

Walking out of the cruise terminal into the street, seeing Havana for the first time, is hard to describe. The buildings are old, the cars are old, it’s like no other place I have been before. Havana has a pulse or a vibe that you feel right away. We were looking forward to seeing the rest of the city.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cruising to Havana: Key West, 90 Miles to Cuba.

My wife Robbie and I have been doing some cruising. I have not blogged about any of our cruises yet. I thought I would start with our cruise to Havana.

Update on Cuba. This is a multiple part post that I have been working on for a few weeks. As I finished writing about our first day in Havana, we learned of a US ban on travel to Cuba. This is very sad, we really enjoyed our trip to Havana. We were looking forward to going back and seeing more of Cuba. I not only wanted to share our experiences, I also wanted to inspire readers to visit Cuba. Sadly, posts like these may be the only way that any of us will be able to visit Cuba in the future.

There are many factors to consider when choosing a cruise. I could probably do a whole post just about choosing a cruise. You may choose a cruise because of the departure port, cruise line, specific ship, cruising days, dates, cost, itinerary, destination, probably many others. The two most important factors for us for this cruise were destination and itinerary. We definitely wanted to see Cuba! There were several cruise lines going to Cuba and a lot of those were spending one or two days in Havana. We picked this Royal Caribbean Cruise because it was going to be docked in Havana for the longest period of time. We were in Havana for two full days. Some of the other cruises were spending the night in Havana, but leaving early on the second day. Only staying in Havana for a day and a half or less.

The hard part done it was time to pack our bags. If your going to do some cruising, living in central Florida has it’s advantages. We are about 20 minutes from one cruise port and only a few hours drive from 4 others. Not needing to fly to a cruise port is a huge advantage. This cruise was sailing out of Miami. So we packed up the car and drove to Miami.

This cruise was a bit shorter than our other cruises. Other than Havana we only stopped in one other port, Key West. We have been to Key West before, but it’s always nice to go back. The sun was rising as we docked. Cruise ships going to Key West, dock at Mallory Square. This is good and bad. It’s good because Mallory Square is walking distance to almost everything Key West has to offer. It’s about two blocks to Sloppy Joe’s bar and Duval Street. From there all of Key West awaits you. So there was no real need to purchase a shore excursion from the cruise line. In some ports doing a shore excursion is a good idea. Whenever possible though, we like to explore a port on our own. I was looking for something different since we have been to Key West before. I found Nancy Forrester’s Secret Garden. Nancy runs a parrot rescue from her home. Since Robbie and I are parrot owners and enjoy visiting with parrots this was a great choice for us. We sat in Nancy’s beautiful garden chatting with Nancy and the parrots for quite a while. Nancy was telling us about her birds and we told Nancy about our birds. We were only a few months from a major hurricane that devastated the Keys and many other parts of Florida. Nancy was telling us about all of the hurricane damage. Key West and the Keys had recovered very well, but it had been a long few months. Nancy was great and we enjoyed our time in Nancy’s Secret Garden.

We walked from there to the Old Town Mexican Cafe for a nice lunch. After lunch we walked down to the Southern Most Point, the most southern point in the United States and only 90 miles from Cuba! From there we had a leisurely walk on Duval Street, taking in the sights on our way back to Mallory Square. We arrived in Mallory Square with enough time for a margarita before we needed to board the ship. The bad thing about docking in Mallory Square, is that it’s Mallory Square! Probably the most popular place in the country to watch the sunset. But who can see the sunset with huge cruise ships in the way. So the ships must be on their way before sunset. This somewhat limits your time in port and you miss the famous Mallory Square sunset. You should really see a Mallory Square sunset at least once. The sunset is the star, but there are lots of street performers and tons of people watching as well. The sunset is just as spectacular from the ship. We were excited to be on our way to Havana!

 


The ROM in Black and White

On our trip to Toronto Canada last spring my wife and I stopped by the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). I saw some photos of the ROM when I was researching our trip.  I really liked the geometric architecture, so I definitely wanted to photograph it. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to go inside and take a tour of the museum’s galleries. They have quite an extensive collection.

The original building is a stone Neo-Romanesque style, built in 1910.  The modern aluminum expansion called the Crystal, was added nearly 100 years later in 2007. Most of the original building is still visible and the contrast between the two styles is quite dramatic.  The public opinion of the new addition was quite dramatic. Like when the glass pyramid was added to the Louvre in Paris, lots of people hated it. I gave these images a dark dramatic look to emphasize all of the drama. Love them or hate them, I enjoyed photographing both the glass pyramid and the Crystal.

I really like all of the angles and geometric shapes of the Crystal. The large glass windows are at the perfect angle to reflect everything going on in the street below. I could have spent hours photographing the changing traffic patterns in the reflections.

Click on an image to see it full size.

 


The CN Tower Toronto

No visit to Toronto would be complete without taking a trip to the top of the CN Tower. The tower was constructed by the Canadian National Railway, hence CN Tower. The tower is 1,815 ft. tall and it was the worlds tallest free-standing structure from 1975-2007. There are three visitor levels and a revolving restaurant. Robbie and I skipped the restaurant on this trip. We were visiting in the off season, so we just went right to the elevator. It looks like certain times of the year there can be a rather long wait to get to the top. The elevator ride is a short one. You are traveling at 20 ft. per second, the trip to the Indoor Lookout Level takes 58 seconds! The elevator shaft is glass so you get a nice view of the city on your way up. Oh, you may or may not want to look down, the floor is glass too. Your ride ends at the beautiful Indoor Lookout Level at 1,135 ft. It’s a large climate controlled area with huge glass widows. You get amazing panoramic views of Toronto and Lake Ontario. Don’t forget to look up at the mirrored ceiling, very cool. The friendly CN staff will happily take your photo with your camera.

Next you can visit the Outdoor Observation Terrace. Protected by wire mesh you can feel the wind in your face at 1,122 ft. get a 360 deg. birds eye view of the area. I think we walked around 3 times. Next visit the Glass Floor. There is an area inside on the terrace level that has a glass floor. The glass is super thick and super strong and super safe, but walking over the glass still made my tummy crawl! Standing on the glass and looking 1,122 ft. down is quite the thrill! You know nothing is going to happen but still, your seemingly standing on thin air! Your brain is telling you, this.is.not, a good idea!

I’m not sure if we were lucky or if this is an off season perk. On the day Robbie and I visited the tower, the trip to the Sky-Pod was free! There is normally an extra fee. Another short elevator ride takes you to the highest level of the tower at 1,465 ft. The pod has smaller glass windows and a great view of the area. For you thrill seekers, there is the Edge Walk. For $225ca you can strap on a harness, connect to a safety cable and walk around the outside of the tower and hang out over the edge! Maybe next time, NOT!