The Wadden Sea – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

The Black Sun – it almost sounds ominous doesn’t it? If you’re a small worm, grasshopper, or fruit tree around south-western Jutland in fall, I suppose it is.  But, for the rest of us, it describes a stunning bird migration which is one of those you’ve-gotta-see-it-to-appreciate-it experiences. While photos like these or video like this may help convey some of the wonder of the Black Sun – the annual migration of more than 14 million starlings – it’s only when you’ve seen the birds in person, heard their chatter, and the incredible whooshing sound of their wings as they move in unison, that you get real insights into why the Black Sun is special.

How does that relate to this week’s photo? It was the main reason that drew me to the historic Danish town of Ribe in southern Jutland.  And, while I was drawn to Ribe to see the Black Sun, I soon fell in love with the city itself, often hailed as Denmark’s oldest, is historic, charming and home to beautiful doors, wonderful architecture, and lovely people.  It also serves as the home-base for an exploration of the Wadden Sea or “Vadehavet” National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site which is immediately in/around/outside of the town.

Florence in Black and White – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

Holding my breath I closed my eyes. Around me the auditory press of a vibrant Italian city roared about its daily business. Filtering through the array of sounds I sorted out the thread I was looking for – a rhythmic sound. An organic sound. The sound of boat paddles slicing smoothly into the currents of the river, extricating itself, and slowly dripping droplets of water in its wake. It was the subtle splash of a boat advancing against the current and immediately triggered memories of my childhood. Of times spent in Mexico in a small inflatable kayak paddling gracelessly against coastal currents and a mild wind. So much was different and yet so much was similar. The sleek suggestion of movement, the groan of the oar, and the sound of the boat cutting through the water.

Fishing Boats Dragged Ashore – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

Generations ago fishing ships were dragged ashore through brute force, a bit of creative mechanics, and a stalwart work ethic. This avoided the need for the construction of grand breakwaters and deep harbors.  However, as technology has progressed and the ease of construction has increased, more and more safe harbors have been created up and down Denmark’s wind-tossed shores.  With beach erosion a perpetual issue these developments have been for the best, as the process of dragging the ships to and from the water is often far from easy on the local ecosystem.

This means that the opportunity to see a fleet of reasonably large fishing ships muscled ashore in the traditional fashion is highly unusual and this in turn makes Thorup Strand “Thorupstrand” one of the largest coastal landing sites in Europe. The site, which has been active since the 1700s, serves as home to as many as 25 fishing vessels at any given time.  Utilizing the deep sand and specially designed ship keels the modern vessels take advantage of a winch system and series of tractors which are used to drag the ships into the water in the morning and to pull them ashore above the tidal line every evening. Sounds daunting doesn’t it? 

The Elephant Crossing – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

The choice to cross obviously rested in the tusks of a powerful matriarch.  As she deliberated, surveying the water carefully for threats, her familial herd clustered around her with eyes open and surveying in every direction.  From time to time they would move ever so slightly closer to the water’s edge.  When they did, we readied ourselves, perched as we were in a raised observation platform atop a deck on the opposite side of the river. With equal care our eyes were focused as we surveyed the river as it stretched out before us…likely looking for the same threats the great matriarch worried about.  We spotted several crocodiles and a handful of seemingly docile hippos nearby. Were either threats? It was hard to know.

Perito Moreno Glacier and A Jacket Review – Weekly Travel Photo

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

If you maintain a bucket list it’s time that you get out your pen and add hiking a glacier to it.  The experience is incredible. Of all the blues I’ve seen during my travels I think that glacial blue is, hands down, my favorite.  It’s also quite possibly my favorite color.  There’s just something so deep, so rich, so pure about it – it leaves you thirsty, yearning to swim in it, and to touch it all at once. It’s also a color you can only find in the wild, flowing along the surface, or out from a fissure in a glassier’s jagged surface.

This week’s photo is of adventurers hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonia region of Argentina.  Ringed by sheer cliff faces and cascading waterfalls the Perito Moreno Glacier is a hulking behemoth that slowly slides its way down towards a glacial lake with blue-gray waters that seem otherworldly and which change depending on the intensity of the light.  Opportunities to hike the glacier come in the form of short, and long excursions where intrepid visitors are strapped into harnesses before lashing their shoes to crampons and striding out onto the ice.

The only thing that was missing was the opportunity to explore one of the many ice caves that thread beneath the glacier.  But, I suppose that’s the perfect reason to return.

Peter Storm Jacket

Peter Storm Waterpoof Jacket – Product Review

The folks at Millets recently reached out to me and asked if I was interested in reviewing one of the jackets they have for sale.  After some discussion I gave them an outline of what I wanted.  A jacket that was waterproof, that was good in a mixture of different environments, that had some wind protection, and which also had excellent pockets.  I HATE how many of the jackets in this class lack usable pockets.  They are either too small, too far up on the body, or too shallow.  Another requirement was that it come in an intelligent color that was city-friendly.  Which ruled out watermelon pink, neon yellow and vomit green.

After getting the chance to try the jacket out for a month or so, I’m generally quite happy with it.  The pocket layout is excellent and exactly what I want in a jacket. The jacket itself is warm enough, does a good job repelling water, and can handle itself in the wind.  It’s a good jacket for good weather as well as mild bad weather. Exactly what I need as a backpacker. General build quality is good, and I feel like most of the jacket is built to last.  It has a well designed hood that stows away neatly and in a way that doesn’t disrupt the look and appeal of the jacket.  The jacket has underarm zippers, draw ties on the hood and other relevant places to reduce wind drag, and waterproofed zipper seams.

There are, however, two things about the jacket that people should be aware of.  The first is that they apparently run large.  The version I was provided with is a “large” which is what I normally wear. Keep in mind I’m 6’4″ and roughly 90kg with a 34 waist.  I almost went with an XL, and I’m really glad I didn’t. The cut of the jacket isn’t as fitted as I like and I feel that while I probably had to go with the large for arm length, body wise I’d have been happier with a medium.  This added size does make sense though if you anticipate wearing the jacket with bulky sweaters or run a bit thicker in the waist.     The second, which is my only real complaint about the jacket, is the quality of the main zipper.  While the pocket zippers are all high quality and seem durable, the primary zipper has taken a long time to break in, and doesn’t feel very robust. It’s always hard to judge the quality of a zipper, but in this case the teeth and zipper fit overall feels like the one weak spot in the jacket.

All in all, I’m very happy with the jacket and feel it is a solid piece of waterproof clothing.  It has already replaced my old REI jacket which had started to lose its waterproofing and failed to stand up to the wear and tear of my backpack straps.

You can find out more about the product on the Millets website.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.

**The jacket reviewed in this post was provided as a complimentary sample by Millets Online for consideration.  My review of the jacket and its performance is independent and in no way influenced by Millets or Peter Storm. 

Old Turkish Couple and Scarpa Mojitos – Weekly Travel Photo

Reflection - A Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey

Of the multitude of moments that I experience while traveling there is one type in particular that always warms my heart.  These are the moments where old couples that have obviously shared and made a life together are spotted relaxing or interacting.  Often set to the backdrop of ancient city streets and gorgeous historic landmarks.  In these moments the detail and complex stories worn into the faces of the lovers mirror the rich depth and history of the backdrop that surrounds them.  These moments add such incredible warmth and light to otherwise dead and lonely views that I often find myself smiling and hoping that some day, forty or fifty years from now, I’ll enjoy the same type of close relationship and rich history. Who knows, perhaps if I’m lucky I’ll even capture the imagination and lens of a young traveler as he or she explores an alien land and vibrant culture for the first time.

This particular moment was captured in Istanbul in the courtyard for one of the city’s many large mosques. I’d been sitting and relaxing after a tour of the mosque’s gorgeous grounds and decided to rest my feet. With my feet sprawled out in front of me, I sat in a corner as a mixture of tourists and locals entered the courtyard and made their way inside.  The couple in this week’s photo had just exited the mosque and decided to relax in the shade of a nearby corner.  As they slowly and careful settled down onto the stone steps they looked after each other, and moved with the flow and synchronicity that comes with sharing a lifetime together.  Reflecting on that moment still brings a large grin to my face.

Scarpa Mojito Shoes

Scarpa Mojito Shoes – Product Review

The folks at Blacks Online recently reached out to me and asked if I was interested in reviewing a pair of shoes.  As you may recall, I have my long-running boot gallery which has, up until recently, been populated predominantly by shots of me in my Keen Targhee IIs. I told them I was looking for a replacement that was waterproof, durable, good for hiking on dirt paths, but also wearable and attractive enough for use in the city.  As a backpacker I typically want a pair of shoes that won’t get wet if it rains, that are incredibly versatile (rain, snow, mud, you name it), and which let me tromp through Scottish peat bogs during the day, and then get into a relaxed night club that evening for cocktails.  The Keens have been good for walking around the city and tramping through wet marshes, but are unfortunately quite ugly.  Not crock ugly, mind you, but they definitely leave something to be desired for a casual walk around town that doesn’t scream “tourist”. A similar challenge that seems persistent across the board when talking about hiking/city crossover shoes.  I don’t understand what it is about shoe companies that makes them think garish colors and hideous shoes should be the only option on the market. The Keens are also absolutely worthless on ice and wet rocks where the tread/rubber combination has left me awkwardly ice skating on multiple occasions.

My contact at Blacks came up with a pair of Scarpa Mojitos as a suggestion.  I liked the look, and was particularly drawn to the fact that they have both Gore-Tex uppers and Vibram soles.  I’ve had the Mojitos a couple weeks now and am so far very impressed.  They’re a great shoe for walking around the city, quite comfortable, and seem to be extremely durable.  I’ve spent several 6 hour days walking the city in them, in both sunny weather and rain and been quite happy with how my feet felt afterwards. Especially given that my feet are still adjusting to the shoes.

There are two quirky aspects of the Scarpas…one which I think is advantageous, the other less so.  For those familiar with climbing shoes, you’ll notice that the Mojitos have a similar appearance.  This comes from the laces which travel all the way to the toe of the shoe where they meet the rubberized toe guard. Scarpa describes the Mojitos as approach shoes and definitely borrows from their reputation and experience in the climbing shoe sector. The added laces seem to provide a better fit for my feet and one of the things I loved about my Keens was the rock-guard that protected my toes and the shoes in cases where I dragged my feet, or accidentally hooked a protruding rock. While not as robust, the Mojitos retain this feature, and the rubberized nature of the covering also helps keep the shoes dry when walking through wet grass, rain puddles or snow.   This is also where the second quirky aspect and my one complaint comes in. Because the shoe laces stretch all the way down to the toe, it means that the gap between the shoe tongue and sides of the shoe is longer and closer to the ground than in other standard hiking shoes.  While experimenting with the shoes in an outdoor fountain (trial by fire), I noticed that the proximity between the toe and the start of the laces made it much easier for water to sneak into the shoe. This wasn’t an issue with the suede Gore-Tex tops which worked perfectly, but rather with how close the seam is to the toe. For general/casual use this wouldn’t be an issue, but as someone who periodically likes to walk across shallow streams and creeks, it means I’ll definitely have to be slightly more careful and keep the water depth about an inch shallower than I have in the past.

I’ve been very happy with the build quality of the Scarpa Mojitos.  The shoes appear to have an excellent tread, and I’m always impressed by the quality of Vibrams soles. The suede uppers which make up the majority of the shoe have high quality stitching and are both durable and attractive.  The shoes MSRP for 125 GBP on the Blacks website which is comparable to most hiking shoes in their category. If you’re looking for a good crossover shoe, they’re definitely worth considering.  The shoes have lived up to my expectations so far, and I’ll be taking them as my primary traveling shoe for my upcoming trip to Belgium.

You can find out more about the product on the Blacks website and a direct link to the Mojitos here.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here.

**The pair of Scarpa Mojitos reviewed in this post were provided as a complimentary sample by Blacks Online for consideration.  My review of the shoes and their performance is independent and in no way influenced by Blacks or Scarpa. 

Turkey at Sunset and the Hoboroll – Weekly Travel Photo

A Ship at Sunset in Antalya

In celebration of my recent return from Turkey, here’s a flashback to last year’s trip.  I’m in the process of editing more than 20gb of photos from this year’s trip, so you can expect to see new shots later this week.

This photo was captured in the storied city of Antalya along Turkey’s southern coast as the last rays of sunset cast a golden shadow on the peaks across the bay.  As luck would have it, one of the local sailing ships was in the midst of a sunset cruise, and in so doing lent its silhouette to this photo.  The colors were incredible, especially as the rays of light cut between the mountain peaks and filled the valleys with a plethora of different colors, all filtered through the slight haze brought about by the cool ocean air mingling with the warm afternoon sun.

The Hoboroll – Product Review

Just before I left for my Austria and Turkey trip, the folks at Gobi Gear reached out to me and asked if I’d try out a complimentary version of their Hoboroll product after seeing a piece where I talked about using plastic bags to help organize and separate clothing inside my backpack.  Somewhat skeptical that it would be significantly better than my trash bags, I decided to give it a try on my most recent trip.  The Hoboroll is basically a lightweight fabric tube with cinch cords on both ends and which is divided into a series of interior compartments. It also has several straps around the outside and reminds me a bit of the bag you put a sleeping bag into.  In short, it’s a simple and clever idea and a great solution to the problem most of us have.  Especially those of us using backpacks that only open at the top.

After using the Hoboroll on my 23 day trip, I’m happy to say that it’s a great product.  I kept and used it throughout the trip, and found it made life easier.  Especially when it came to getting access to the bottom of my pack.  I was able to pull the Hoboroll out, and then access large and less used items such as my snowboarding pants,  sweater and spare jeans without needing to re-pack my entire bag.  It also made sorting and separating things like shirts, underwear and socks much easier.  I’ll definitely use it again on future trips, and the light weight nature of it and study construction makes it durable and backpack-friendly.

While it’s not a necessary purchase -you could, after all, continue to use plastic bags – it is a much cleaner and more efficient option.  Depending on how you use your backpack, it may make sense as an addition to your packing list.

You can find out more about the product on the GobiGear website.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Lounging Lions – Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

Lion cubs in just about any context are pretty adorable.  After all, they’re kinda like giant kittens and who doesn’t like kittens?  Well.  A few lost, wayward souls seem to. Luckily for lion cubs, even most of the folks who don’t like kittens seem to love lion cubs.  That childish/kittenish charm was part of what made the moment behind this photo so magical.  We came upon a group of five cubs ranging from four to six months old during our Safari in South Luangwa while in Zambia with Shenton Safaris.  As we approached they rolled over and looked at us lazily.  They apparently decided we weren’t a threat and looked too chewy to try nibbling on.  For the next 20 minutes they allowed us to sit a few feet away form them firing off a series of amazing photos.  A few of the cubs were feeling lazy, but several had a performer’s personality and clowned a bit for the camera – rolling over, staring at us, and posing in profile.  This shot is of one of the more active characters in the group!

The chance to see these amazing creatures completely free and in the wild was a wonderful experience and one that left us all with goosebumps.   It’s amazing how different the overall moment is from those spent viewing lion cubs in a zoo or watching cubs which have been domesticated.  There’s the natural vibrancy that comes from their hard lives and the lifestyle they live that is unlike anything you can see anywhere else!  It’s also why I encourage you all to add spending time near wild lion cubs to your bucket lists!

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon IS 55-250mm lens.

Product Review

A few weeks ago the folks at InspireMyCase reached out to me with an offer to try one of their custom phone cases.  Curiosity piqued but not entirely convinced I agreed to give it a try. The part that really caught my interest was the ability to upload one of my photos, to slap some text onto it, and then to turn that into a high quality case for my iPhone 4S.  Given how dreadfully unattractive or boring most iPhone cases are this seemed like an enticing service and an easy way to advertise VirtualWayfarer while out and about.

I logged into their custom web-panel and then set to the task of trying to decide what image I wanted to use.  Which, to be honest, was the most difficult part of the entire process.  The interface worked smoothly and made customizing the image easy.  It also made it simple to see what my final design would look like.  My only complaint was that the text customization options were somewhat limited. So, while I had initially hoped to do “INSPIRE CURIOSITY” and then to add “VirtualWayfarer” underneath, the interface wouldn’t let me enter an independent second line.  Given how small an iPhone case is and that you want your font to be pretty large, this makes sense.  I also could have just manually added the text onto the image itself if it had bothered me.  In the end simplicity won out, and I ended up finishing and ordering my case which arrived about a week later.

Product Review
Photo taken on my iphone 4s

I decided to add this product review to this particular post because the Lion Cub photo above is the one I used for my case image.  So far I’m really happy with it.  The plastic is thicker than I expected and very sturdy. The color, gloss, and print quality are all fantastic and also better than I expected.  The image is sharp, the text is clean and sharp, and over-all the case beat my expectations.  I’ve also received a lot of nice comments about the shot and the case since I started using it.

The cases aren’t cheap, but then again for a custom printed item like this they’re really not that expensive either.  As an added perk 20% of the purchase goes to the non-profit AngelMule.

So, if a custom iPhone case seems appealing, consider checking out the folks over at InspireMyCase.