Beneath the Surface…

Every year we travel to Roatan for a week of SCUBA diving at CoCoView Diving Resort.  Rustic and simple, you couldn’t ask for a better dive setup.  The dive boat captains are on top of your every need, and the resort is mapped out for simplicity.  Accessed only by boat, it is also a quiet place to hang out.  There are no phones, and no television.  All the entertainment is beneath the surface of the ocean that is right at your doorstep.

I became SCUBA certified in 1992 when we lived in New Orleans.  We went to Mexico where I did my certification dive, and I had the opportunity to marvel at the amazing coral and sea life that was Palancar Reef.  Six months later, my husband and I obtained our advanced SCUBA certification where the check out dives were done off the coast of Florida.  This was my first experience with sea sickness, as well as the night dive that not only heralded SCUBA divers, but spear fishing participants.  Following a day of semi unconsciousness from the effects of dramamine, there was a dip in a naturally fed spring where the temperature was 53 degrees and we were required to stay down for 45 minutes.  So far, my perceived value of obtaining an advanced certification was roughly nil.

Shortly after, we moved to Virginia where I promptly gave birth to three adorable little boys in eleven months, and the wonderful memories of Palancar reef and the amazing sea life were relegated to the distant past.  Then in 2001 my husband was introduced to a gentleman that taught SCUBA diving as well as organized SCUBA trips, and suddenly life beneath the surface became forefront for us again.  It was another two years before we took another trip to SCUBA dive, this time to Roatan to dive with the group from Holladay SCUBA.

It wasn’t love at first sight with me.  My biggest complaint then is still my biggest complaint now.  The water around Roatan, and CoCoView Resort are fairly rough, and it’s a struggle for me to enjoy getting on a boat because of this.  I’ve tried every seasick remedy known to man, finally settling on Scope Patches.  They aren’t perfect, but the best resource for me.  This first trip after a hiatus of roughly 10 years was like starting all over, and I didn’t enjoy it.  For some reason, we saw little sea life, I was uncomfortable, and I left not only wondering what I had ever enjoyed about it to begin with, but also thinking it wasn’t something I wanted to do again.

Then a curious thing happened.  Our oldest, when he was 14, expressed an interested in SCUBA diving.  He took lessons, and my husband took him to Roatan.  I secretly thought is would be a disaster, because of my recollection that there just wasn’t a lot to see there.  But when they returned, they had pictures from a simple point and shoot underwater camera that my husband had invested in that showed a variety of sea life I simply couldn’t believe.  Eventually, his twin brothers became certified, and we’ve taken all of them to Bonaire and to Roatan.  The oldest accompanied my husband to Indonesia for ten days on a live aboard (seeing that I don’t do boats very well), which turned out to be the trip of a lifetime.

I enjoyed Bonaire the most, simply because of the water factor.  Smooth and easy, I did every dive and never got sick.  The downside is, it’s fairly expensive, whereas Roatan is more reasonable.  There is one dive site in Roatan that provides a fairly smooth ride and that is French Cay Cut.  Located  between the reef and shore, this is a muck dive; the boat drops divers in a sandy muck bottom–teeming with micro life, but little else.  You can make your way however, through the cut and along the wall of the reef for an excellent exploration of larger sea life–even a turtle or two, but be prepared for fairly large surge on top of the coral.

So I made my return to SCUBA diving in 2010.  Only this time my hobby of photography coalesced with SCUBA diving, and an entirely new horizon opened up before me.  A horizon of maddening moments, sheer frustration, and epic failure that only hardened my resolve to prove to myself that I wasn’t really as stupid as I felt with a camera in my hand below the surface.  In my extremely humble opinion, underwater photography is not only the most difficult photography to practice, but it seems to contradict so many rules of land based photography.  It is it’s own world.

So without going on too much longer, here are the first of three years of underwater photos that I’ve felt halfway decent about.  If you would like to see some of the top photographers in this realm, check out these links:  Todd Winner or Scott Geitler.  You won’t be disappointed.

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Picture the World – Scotland

When I went to Scotland, I took over a thousand pictures, and that wasn’t nearly enough to convey the beauty of this country.  There is something so pleasing and soothing to the eyes in the lush green of their countryside.  However, it isn’t only the visual interest of the Scottish Countryside that I found appealing.  Scottish history is intriguing, complex, often violent and tremendously fascinating.  So when I learned from Madhu over at The Urge to Wander about the Picture the World Project on The Departure Board website,  I thought I’d have a look.

Since Scotland still seemed to be open, decided to send a picture for entry.

There are many things that are visually strong representatives of Scotland.  But my favorite is the Leanach Cottage on Culloden Moor.  This farmhouse stands on the edge of the site of the last battle of Scotland’s bid for independence that occurred on April 16, 1745.  The roof is simple thatched heather, the walls are stone and the floor is dirt.  There is a glimpse of the battlefield behind it where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops made their stand on a bitterly cold day and a moor sodden with rain.  A sobering experience to stand on this field, and imagine that day.

I nominate Travel Photography by Dmetrii Lezine for his wonderful photos of just about anywhere, and The Ego Tripper for the same reason.  Both well traveled, and great photos.  If you are interested in filling in some of the world pictures, just go to the link on the Departure Board in the first paragraph of this blog.

The Catacombs of Saint Callixtus


Built in the 2nd century, the Catacombs of Saint Callixtus contain dozens of martyrs, sixteen popes, and countless Christians over a 33 acres within 5 levels of 12 miles of tunnels.

We took a cab from the Spanish Steps which was about a 20-25 minute ride.  There is a walking tour of the grounds, and another tour of the catacombs, or you can combine the two.

There is no photography allowed in the crypts, however more information can be found here, with photos.

Below are the grounds at Saint Callixtus.

The Vatican Palace II, The Sistine Chapel

The Sistine Chapel is one of six chapels in the Vatican Palace.  It was built between 1475 and 1483 duringPope Sixtus IV della Rovere and designed by Giovannino de’ Dolci.  The artists who painted the walls were Sandro Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Pinturicchio, and Luca Signorelli.  The subject matter to be painted was the biblical history of the world divided into three eras:  the time between the creation of the world and when Moses received the ten commandments, the time between the ten commandments and Christ’s birth, and the Christian era following Christ’s birth.  All the scenes were painted as frescos while the ceiling was painted blue with gold stars.

In 1508 Pope Julius II “requested” Michelangelo paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Michelangelo did not want to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  He considered himself a sculptor, not a painter, and he had never painted using fresco technique prior to the Sistine Chapel.  Information that renders his work even more amazing when you consider the detail.

The ceiling dimensions measure 30 feet by 140 feet.  The ceiling is curved so that the center is just shy of 68 feet high.  This makes the amount of space to be painted around 5000 square feet.  Over this space he would paint nine scenes from the book of Genesis, the Creation of Even, The Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Flood.  Surrounding these in a historical timeline are a variety of old testament prophets and ancestors of Christ–a total of 336 figures.  He also used a technique called pozzolana which uses lime, water and volcanic ash to create the “plaster”.

Michelangelo painted from 1508-1512.  He wrote a poem when he was finished, expressing his feelings about his work on the ceiling.  It’s short and worth the read–quite humorous as he describes the physical consequences of being upside-down for so long.

The Sistine Chapel is truly and amazing work of art, especially the ceiling, and especially when you consider it was painted by someone who didn’t really want to do it.

A small travel tip;  we went in August, and all the heads you see in the photo above show the crowds.  It was literally wall to wall people in the Sistine Chapel–shoulder to shoulder, packed with people.  The only time I’d ever seen anything like that was Jackson Square in New Orleans on New Years Eve.  We were told this is the heaviest tourist time for Rome.

The Vatican Palace, Part I

We went to the Vatican as part of the speed tour, so I would do it again, but differently.  A tip from another traveler suggested that the end of the day, roughly two hours from closing is the best time to see the Vatican.  She said she got the tip from Rick Steve’s or Fodders travel books on Italy.  I had Rick Steve’s, so I must have missed that page.

Seeing the Vatican the way we did was a major deal, and not in a good way.  The line was unbelievable, and the same method once inside of practically sprinting through was annoying to say the least.  The only respite came when a ten year old in our group (who did NOT want to be there) ran off.  The whole place came to a stand still while all the guards and police searched for him.  I would not recommend this tour for kids that age unless they really like historical Rome, but if you do, rest assured, they have an amazing system in place for finding lost children.  Not a single person was allowed to move ’till he was found–quite a feat considering how many people were in there.

The Vatican Palace was built between 498AD and 514AD during the reign of Pope Symmachus on the left bank of the Tiber River in Rome.  It contains some 11,000–yes thousand, rooms on 13.5 acres and in 2003 the property was worth an estimated $1.21 billion not counting the art.  I can’t imagine the dusting and vacuuming.

The Vatican is now used mostly for religious and administrative meetings.  There are many priceless works of art housed within the Vatican and it’s five museums; The Museo Pio-Clementino, the Galleria Chiaramonti, the Braccio Nuovo, the Egyptian Museum, and the Etruscan Museum.  Some of the art is in the form of sculptures, like the ones below.

And some in amazingly detailed paintings on the walls and ceilings.

The museums within, and the art they contain, and the art on the building’s walls and ceilings are breathtakingly amazing.  So amazing that words cannot do them justice.

The Spanish Steps and Ancient Rome

The Piazza di Spagna and the Piazza Trinita del Monti are on either end of the Spanish steps, with the Trinita dei Monti church at the top.  They are the widest set of steps in all of Europe.  In the Piazza di Spagna at the base, Fontana della Barcaccia.

Every time I look at this I have the same thought:  My, he has a rather high opinion of himself, doesn’t he?

Ancient Rome has been here since the 8th century BC.

Trevi Fountain, Pantheon

The Trevi Fountain marks the end point of an aqueduct.  Originally there was a simple basin to collect the water, but in 1730 Pope Clement XII commissioned a contest to build a more suitable fountain.  The official winner, one Allesandro Galilei was denied the job because he was a Florentine, and thus it was given to the Roman Nicola Salvi.  Work began in 1732 and continued for 30 years, at the end of which Oceanus, or Neptune carved by Pietro Bracci was set in the center.

The Pantheon was commissioned in 118AD by Emperor Hadrian, and is of a circular design.  It was the largest dome in the world until 1436, measuring 142 feet in diameter.  The  height of the occulus, or opening at the top which is the only source of light inside the building is also 142 feet high.

The massive 60 tons that support the portico were quarried in Egypt and moved by barge for construction.

This shot from inside the Panteon, which is now used as a church, shows persecutive of it’s size.

This shot taken inside the Pantheon shows how much light is let in by the single occulus 142 above the photographer.  The opening is 27 feet in diameter and the concrete is 6.5 feet thick.

The tour guide called these tall monuments story poles.  They are carved from top to bottom with scenes that are deciphered into a story.  They occupy several of the squares around Rome.