2014 – A Year of Travel In 65 Black and White Photographs

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the abandoned lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude in North Western Jutland. Upon the sand berm the individual posing is my younger brother. One of my goals this year was to work on my portrait photography and to add people into some of my shots. Hopefully you enjoy the result!

A 7 Day Road Trip Through Rural Scotland – From Ullapool Northward

The Scotland Road Trip Map
The route, color coded by day, I took during my road trip through the Highlands.

In Part I and Part II of this series I shared with you the adventures and experiences of my first three days on the road. This included the trip from Edinburgh through Glen Coe to Ratagan before outlining my second day which was dedicated completely to the Isle of Skye. The third day documented the voyage from Skye up along the western coast to the small town of Ullapool.  In this post we pick up where I left off as I leave Ullapool and continue my exploration of the jagged, and largely empty, north western coast of Scotland. Impatient?  Jump to the fourth and final post in this series.

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.

A Norwegian Sunrise – Weekly Travel Photo

Oslo Harbor - Norway

We found our way to Oslo as part of a mini-cruise special.  The cruise ship – and it was a cruise ship, not the ferry I expected – left Copenhagen at 4PM in the afternoon, steamed over night to Oslo and then disgorged us near Oslo’s famous opera house on a cold January morning.  The deal was a fun one – $4.50 for the entire cruise.  The catch?  We had 7 hours in Oslo before we needed to be back aboard and steaming back to Copenhagen.

As we made our way up the final leg of the Oslo fjord we were treated to an incredible sight. Blanketed by clouds, the early morning light that surrounded us was a foggy gray. On the horizon, where the water met land and the clouds broke, golden morning rays were visible.  It was one of the strangest, and slowest, sunrises I’ve seen.  As the weak winter light fought against the thick, low hanging, coastal clouds the light slowly worked its way closer and closer to Oslo. A progression that mirrored our own voyage.  Then, as we disembarked and wandered the city – eventually finding our way down to the harbor which is where this photo of the Helena was taken – the light finally started to fall across the city, brightening it.

Though it was now late-morning the nature of the Nordic light made it difficult to tell if it was mid-day, just after sunrise, or just before sunset.  None of which really mattered to us, as the view and the sun’s hues were stunning.

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

Hiking Preikestolen The “Preacher’s Pulpit” in Norway

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

For years I’d seen photos of a stunning rock cliff face that leaned out over a massive fjord.  The sheer majesty of the formation and the presence it conveyed – even in photos – captivated me.  I knew at some point I’d have to track down where the images and videos were shot and find my way there.  The spot has been featured in base jumping videos, wingsuit videos and more than a few rugged adventure photo sets. Despite it’s relative popularity, the actual name and location of the spot was anything but easy to track down. In many ways it’s one of Norway’s worst kept secrets.  Once you know what to look for it’s easy to find – but until then it’s not something you’ll just accidentally stumble upon.

As my Norway trip started to take shape, I knew that if at all possible a stop at what I later came to learn was commonly referred to as Preikestolen or the Preacher’s Pulpit  was an absolute must.  To my surprise I learned that Preikestolen was best accessed via a mid-sized Norwegian town I’d never heard of: Stavanger.  The city is the 3rd largest in Norway and regularly hailed as the Nation’s Culture Capital due to its thriving music scene.

Eager to see Preikestolen, I based my Norway visit around a stop in Stavanger even though it meant I had to cut out my planned exploration of the Northern half of Norway and a return to the Arctic Circle.

The Fjord - Stavanger, Norway

My morning began with a hint of uncertainty.  Taking advantage of the private room and a quiet night in, I’d done my laundry in the sink/shower the night before.  As experienced travelers no doubt are well aware that means clothing hanging from every possible surface and a room that looks like it has been struck by a tornado.  According to the website, I’d be doing a Tide.no tour.  For 200 NOK the self guided tour included round trip ferry transport from Stavanger to Tau, then Bus transport from Tau to the Hotel/basecamp which is located about 3.8KM and 1,000 feet in altitude from Preikestolen. The catch?  I wasn’t entirely sure which side of the old port in Stavanger the ferry left from.  Even after doing a bit of research online I was still somewhat uncertain.  Though, luckily, I remembered wandering past what looked like a Tide ferry terminal the day before.  Using that as a base, I caught the bus and struck out for what I hoped was the 9:30 ferry.

The Fjord - Stavanger, Norway

Sometimes its better to be lucky than smart.  As it turned out, a combination of the two worked to my favor.  I arrived shortly after 8AM, slightly out of breath, found a ticket window and got directions.  The attendant informed me that tickets for “Tour 4” could be purchased on the boat and that it would be departing at 9.   After a moments hesitation and confusion over the 9AM departure time (all of their paperwork said 9:30) I forded across a nearby street, wading through the heavy flow of traffic and found a small SPAR supermarket selling a relatively cheap hotdog.

Eventually I found myself on a large car ferry. The ferry itself was nice and offered a great view from the top deck as well as fairly comfortable seating inside for those eager to escape the sun or light ocean breeze.  As it turns out, there are actually two ferries that make the Stavanger – Tau trip.  One at 8:45 and the other at 9:30.  The 9:30 aligns directly with the Tau -> Basecamp Bus, but both are equally convenient.

The Fjord - Tau, Norway

The trip to Tau was gorgeous.  The weather was perfect.  Slightly cool, crystal clear blue skies, with a slight breeze to keep you feeling refreshed and invigorated, I couldn’t help but relish every moment as our ferry (turned budget cruise ship) wound its way through several small channels cut between beautiful rock islands.  Many of which had small lighthouses or picturesque villages sandwiched into tiny coves.  From time to time I’d spot a small sailboat making its way across the fjord’s flat waters – each looking as though it was an old oil painting come to life, all set to the backdrop of large mountains turned a light blue by distance and the ocean’s haze.

Wild Jellyfish - Tau Harbor, Norway

Tau Harbor was simple.  A long cement quay for the ferry to land at, an old industrial looking structure along one side of the harbor, and a secondary sailing harbor backed by several picturesque homes hidden across the harbor behind a second, smaller breakwater.  It was anything but exciting but a great place to relax for 30 minutes.  I took the opportunity to explore the water’s edge.  The water was a rich green but also crystal clear and full of fish, seaweed and a number of Jellyfish.  In truth, just about every harbor in Norway I visited was full of Jellyfish.  Some were small, most were pancake sized and others the size of a soccer ball.  Though no doubt a pain for locals, the Jellyfish added an exciting curiosity and other-worldly beauty to the overall experience.   Note the incredible clarity of the water in the image above.  I snapped it from the small dock pictured in the previous image, right before being driven off by two full sized Swans and a mid-sized gray Swanling.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

From Tau the Bus drops you off at the basecamp (not sure of its actual name).  It sits overlooking a beautiful lake and is home to a large parking lot, hotel, cafe, bathrooms, a small treat and tourist knickknack store and of course the start of the Preikestolen Trail.  From start to Preikestolen the hike covers 3,800 Meters (just under 12,500 feet) and is about 3.8 KM each way.  From the parking lot to the top of Preikestolen there’s a 1,090 foot altitude difference which the map above showcases fairly accurately.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

The path is well maintained but challenging.  In addition to steep inclines it consists of a mixture of lightly graveled paths, wooden boardwalks, natural terrain and large piled rock fields.  While the majority of the path is doable without the use of your hands there are more than a few spots where you’ll find yourself using hands to stabilize yourself as you scramble from small boulder to small boulder. Despite the path’s difficult nature there was a wide cross section of people hiking the trail.  Some old, some young.  Some thin and fit, others not so much.  The biggest deciding factor seemed to be pace and water.  When hiking the trail, make sure you take more than enough water with you and move at a pace you’re comfortable with. Don’t rush.  I had a liter as well as a 20 oz soda and was thoroughly parched by the time I finished the hike.  Having enough water, and taking your time on the treacherous footing should allow just about anyone to make the hike assuming – of course – that they’re up for a7 (almost 8) KM hike over rough terrain.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

The path is what I’d call a sprinter’s path.  It sprints up large inclines quickly before leaving hikers to meander along relatively flat spaces across beautiful boggy meadows or polished granite hilltops with incredible views of lakes or fjords stretching out towards the horizon.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

As you break through the halfway point you’re forced to make one final great push.  The hill pictured above is slightly steeper (if only slightly) than some of the other areas.  You can see the moss covered, fern decorated rocks which make up the path and perhaps get a feel for what to expect during the “sprint” phases of the hike.  Mind the ankles – it can be a bit dangerous.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

The reward, however, is well worth the effort.  After completing the last difficult scramble, you find yourself upon the spine of one of the hills.  You’ll also get to enjoy your first view of the Lysefjoren.  It’s spectacular. There’s really no other way to describe it.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

Well, when I said final push…I didn’t truly mean final, final.  Once on the spine of the mountain, you wind your way up a far more gradual incline.  With only one or two relatively small rock scrambles, you wind through a mixture of scenery like that in the photo above and lush green forest before getting dumped out next to three small lakes in an area largely devoid of trees. The lakes double as swimming holes for those brave enough to risk the frigid Norwegian water and were home to massive schools of tadpoles.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

With the lakes to my back, I began to make my way towards what I hoped was getting close to Preikestolen.  Shortly after the lakes I was greeted by a wooden sign with two options.  One was the cliff top path, the other was the hill top path.  I opted for the cliff top path, which looked like it would wrap around the remaining crest of the mountain, instead of cutting up and over it.  A decision I’d suggest anyone making the hike consider.   The hill top path makes for a far better return trip as part of a giant loop.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

Though most of the remaining path was fairly easy, there were a few challenging spots.  There’s nothing that gets the heart pumping quite like a chain link hand rail, uneven rocks and a several hundred foot drop to the left.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

The weather was incredible.  Hardly a cloud in the sky, relatively survivable humidity and a gentle breeze – which while absolutely perfect was more than a little toasty.  By the time I reached the 2/3 point I’d surrendered my shirt and was relishing every step.  There’s something spectacular about a good hike in an amazing setting surrounded by crystal clean air with blue skies in every direction.  Throw in a few spectacular cliffs and a massive fjord in the background and you’ve got paradise.  As I continued along the cliff top the path cut inland briefly, turned a few corners…

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

…and then rounded a ledge and stopped me in my tracks.  The sheer cliff face fell away to my left, some 1,800 feet down to the Fjord and there ahead of me I could just make out the small dots of fellow hikers exploring and enjoying Preikestolen.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

Even though my final destination was finally within eyesight and reach I still paused briefly to rest and take in the cliff I was standing immediately next to.  I knew that Preikestolen itself would be incredible, but couldn’t help but be awed by the sheer drop off I was standing next to.  So, I did what anyone with a reasonable fear of heights would do.  I sat down, swung my legs out into the breeze, tried not to whimper like a little girl, and took a photo…then paused and enjoyed the moment and view of the fjord below.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

Still feeling a bit light headed from my glance over the cliff I collected myself, dusted my pants off and started towards Preikestolen.  I didn’t have to walk far before being greeted by the cliff in its full majesty.   Keep in mind that what you’re looking at in the image seems tall, but loses some of its power and scale.  From clifftop to water is about 1,900 feet.  If you figure 10 feet per story, that’s the equivalent of 190 story building.  Not half bad ehh?

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

The fjord that sits at the base of Preikestolen is the Lysefjorden and is accessible from Stavanger via a variety of fjord cruises though I have to admit, after seeing it from above, I doubt that I’d be satisfied taking a ferry based tour.

As I settled in on top of the 82×82 foot flat top of Preikestolen to enjoy my lunch I couldn’t help but pinch myself. This is why I’d come to Norway.  This is what I’d dreamed of – and the best part?  It was living up to every ounce of my expectations.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

Preikestolen is effectively a giant square which protrudes from the surrounding cliff.  The cool thing about this is that it also has one corner which is perfectly laid out to serve as a seat.  One very lofty, heart pounding, slightly windy seat (pictured above).   So, not to miss out on a once in a lifetime experience I gathered up my courage, overcame my fears and carefully scooted my way out to the point, then dropped a leg over either side and sat straddling the point.  Luckily, I’d befriended a Korean couple on the ferry and run into them again at the Pulpit, which left me feeling comfortable enough to trust the husband with my camera.  No small feat (or request on my part) since it required he backtrack a few hundred feet to another smaller point to take the photo.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

After spending an hour or so at the Pulpit I started my trip home.  For the return trip, I decided to take the hill top path knowing it would take me up onto the remaining portion of the mountain, which overlooks Preikestolen.  The 100 or so foot climb up above the Pulpit was well worth it as there was a series of stone cairns which decorated the top of the 2nd cliff.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

As you can see in the image above, the Pulpit’s surface area is of a decent size, but not overly large.  It was also somewhat busy, but not bad when considering how incredible the weather was and that it’s effectively a world famous landmark.  Still, I can only imagine how stunning it would be to stand out on it alone under a full moon at night.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

The hike back down over the top of the hill offered a spectacular view of the Fjord/bay back towards Tao and Stavanger.  It also brought with it a bit of excitement.  As I crested the final hill and prepared to wind back down towards the lakes I was greeted by the sight pictured above – a rescue helicopter circling the lakes, and preparing to pick someone up.  A small crowd had gathered around what I can only imagine was a hiker who had slipped and broken a bone, or perhaps feinted from the heat.  Either way, the helicopter settled in next to one of the lakes in hover mode, dropped a cable, and picked up the injured individual before winding them up, and then heading back towards town.

Preikestolen "The Preacher's Pulpit" - Norway

Beyond a gently rolled ankle and feeling terribly parched the rest of my hike back down to the base camp was every bit as beautiful and delightful as the trip up had been.

The hike as a whole was spectacular and a must do for anyone visiting Norway. It was truly incredible.  If you’re thinking about doing it and have any questions (or comments) or have done it yourself please leave a comment!  I’d love to keep the memory alive with continued discussion!

Wandering in Oslo, Norway

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

My final day in Oslo was spent meandering the city’s cobblestone streets, wandering through the old harbor, and resting lazily in the park reading my book.   I’d paused at the local rail station during the previous day’s walking tour and picked up a discount reservation for an overnight train from Oslo to Stavanger on Norway’s western coast.  To my disappointment, my Eurail pass only reserved a reclining airplane like seat, but – it would have to do.   The train left late in the evening – 10PM if memory serves and would take just over 8 hours as it wound its way along the southern coast, before hockey-sticking up through the Fjords to Stavanger.

Downtown - Oslo, Norway

The late departure gave me the entire day to explore the city and relax.  Hildur was off work at 4:30 which gave me a sold 4 or 5 hours to explore.   Eager to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I struck off down towards the old harbor.  My path took me along major streets with old buildings, showcasing an eclectic mixture of architectural styles from all over the world.  Despite the inherent beauty in most of the buildings, one stands out in my memory: the US Embassy. The building stood on the corner of the street which encircles the Palatial Park/Main Palace.  It was an odd building.  Ringed by an imposing 10+ ft tall black fence, the building was all blacks and grays.  About 3 stories, it was square, with an odd architectural design, one which had arrow slit like windows.  The whole thing oozed a sense of…I don’t want to say Evil…but perhaps…unfriendliness is a better word.  It may have just been the color and the architectural era it hailed from.  Either way, it left me feeling disappointed and misrepresented.

The Harbor - Oslo, Norway

Though I’d poked around the main Harbor the day before, I relished the opportunity to continue my exploration.  The harbor is home to some 5-10 “tall ships” which is to say old/classically modeled sailing vessels.  Many have been converted into tour vessels but others are still classic sailing ships.  All offer a beautiful ambiance to the harbor which is ringed by cafes and small kiosks not to mention an incredible view back towards the down town area.

Street Performer - Oslo, Norway

From the harbor I struck back up, re-tracing the previous day’s steps, towards the Parliament building and central greenbelt.  From there it was up and down the main shopping street. Lined with people, the street also provided a wide selection of street performers.   From jugglers, to musicians most of the usual types were in attendance.  Some of the more a-typical ones, however, included a puppeteer playing the piano, and cripple using his two crutches to alternately perform tricks while bouncing a ball with them.  The sights and sounds left me chuckling at times, wincing at others and of course scratching my head in bafflement at yet others.

Flowered Square - Oslo, Norway

The street eventually led me down  towards the main train station, where I headed to the left, and quickly ended up in a picturesque square which was doubling as a flower market.  The market was awash in colors, scents and people as passerby’s paused to relax, pick up flowers, or wound through the square on their way to some errand or meeting.

Children at Play - Oslo, Norway

Eventually my meanderings took me back through the warren of H&M stores and small cafe’s towards the old National Theater.   The boulevard it sits on is split down the middle by a series of small fountains, flowerbeds overflowing with blooming flowers, and of course the usual assortment of relaxing and sunbathing Norwegians.  I paused briefly next to one of the fountains to capture the photo above – two young children at plan.  There’s something about it which just seemed to strike me as being a bit classic.  Boy meets girl.  Boy wears blue. Girl wears red. Both enjoy the innocence of youth, combined with the joys of a youthful, inquisitive nature, while relaxing in front of a gorgeous fountain on a beautiful blue day.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

From the fountain I decided to see if I could explore the inside of the city hall.  It was, after all, a rather unique building.  It seemed only natural that the interior would be equally interesting.  The 5 minute walk down to the main structure was quick and enjoyable.  I say walk, but it was more a lazy meandering as I lankily ambled my way along the sidewalk.   The building – a massive red brick creation – served as a picturesque backdrop for various pieces of artwork, often added seemingly at random.  A prime example is the large clock shown above, which I found all the more beautiful due to the relatively basic and plane brick backdrop that it had been set within.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s main entrance was equally interesting.  Though not completed until 1950 due to the War, the building was started in 1931 which is reflected in its general feel and appearance. Parts of the design left me thinking of a simpler, less ornate version of the Chrysler Building in New York.  Interestingly, the City Hall is also the site of the award ceremony each year where Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s immediate interior is a massive open room.  The room has a variety of different murals – all done in a similar style – decorating each of the walls.  The murals reflect the nation’s history and toils, while conveying a very propaganda-esq artistic style. One which, at least in the US, we’ve often come to associate with former Soviet and more Socialist governments. The murals focus on the people, their labors, culture and wars.  Not surprising given the building’s history and completion in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The Palace - Oslo, Norway

After leaving the City Hall, I found my way back up past the Royal Palace before connecting with Hildur, who had just gotten off work.  After a quick nap, we decided to pick up some Sushi to go (which to my surprise was only slightly more expensive than fast food), before heading to the park to enjoy the weather.  We ate, chatted, and enjoyed the weather before saying our goodbyes. It was time to head to the rail station and to continue my exploration of Norway’s culture and natural beauty.

My stay in Oslo was incredible.  Made that much more delightful by my incredible hosts, who truly went out of their way to share their city, culture and local cuisine with me.  I owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will always have very fond memories of Oslo, in no small part, due to their hospitality.