Kenai Fjords

Yesterday we took a Kenai Fjords tour to see the wildlife and Glaciers characteristic of the Alaskan Wilderness.  I was a little disappointed in the pictures that we took as the conditions were very challenging.  In photography, light exposure comes from balancing three things:  f/stop, shutter speed, and ISO.  If you have low light conditions, you can open the aperture by choosing a lower numbered f stop, you can choose a slower shutter speed, or you can increase your ISO making the sensor more sensitive to light.  There are tradeoffs however to doing any of these.  If you choose a larger aperture, you sacrifice depth of field so that not all of your subject will be in focus.  If you shoot at a lower shutter speed, you will have motion blur, and if you increase ISO you introduce grain, or noise into your image which can be removed post processing, but you end up with a softer focus.

Add in the fact that the longer the lens, the less light you have to begin with, and the slower your lens or f/stop.  Yesterday on the tour, we had dark skies, a lot of rain, and the motion of the boat, which created really challenging conditions.  It was hard to be on the boat and look around thinking that if the sun had been shining it would have been without a doubt the most spectacular scenery on this planet.  As it was, peaks and mountains were shrouded in mist, fog and clouds which have their own intrigue, but make photography nearly impossible.

So, it was an exercise in mastering bad conditions to the best of my ability, which is probably not a bad thing, except that I felt like this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and not one that I wanted to be tested on.  Still, I did the best I could, the results of which I will include in this post.  We saw whales, puffins, a variety of other birds including an eagle, otters, sea lions, dolphins and seals.

The tour left the dock at 8:00, and returned at 5, and it was a very long day.  We were told that the ocean swells in the gulf of Alaska were reported to be a very good day at only 6 feet.  I slapped on a scope patch, a sea band, and prayed.  I have a tendency to succumb to seasickness and was slightly worried that I’d be stuck on a rolling boat in heavy seas for 8 hours with no help for it.  As it turns out, there was only one really bad section that lasted 30 minutes or so, and they handed out ginger candy, which helped.  We ate lunch in front of the Glacier, where it rained like mad, and looked way less impressive than I had expected.  The trouble with Alaska is, you lose all perspective when it comes to size.  When you look at something, you think it looks big, when really it is gargantuan.  Take for example a crevice that was at K2.  When we asked the guide how deep it was, we guessed around 10 feet from out viewpoint.  He said it was likely greater than 50 feet deep.  The same holds true for Glaciers.  Unless you have something to put next to it for perspective, there is no way to appreciate how big it truly is.

Back to the camera problem of light, Since we did not own a long lens, I rented one to take with me.  At 400mm, I thought that would most likely be fine.  Turns out for a Fjord tour, probably 500mm would have been better.  The only problem with 500mm is the smallest f/stop you can get (for a reasonable price anyway) is 6.3, which does not let in enough light, especially for the conditions we encountered.   The other caveat of a long lens is, handheld you would have to have a fast shutter speed such as 1/500 of a sec. which also means a higher ISO.  Then your image is so full of noise, you might as well put the camera down and just forget it.  So, many of my images, well, most of them, have been severely cropped.

So without talking too much more about it, I will start with the wildlife pictures:

Here are a few of the scenery pictures I was able to capture.

The glacier pictures I’ve saved for last.  If you look at the first one, on the left side towards the bottom, you’ll notice an arch in the ice.  These occur from the melting of the ice.  The hole is big enough for a boat to enter, even though it doesn’t look it.  Right as we pulled in, there was a cracking sound and the glacier calved a chunk of ice from the topmost left side.  The piece that came off was the size of a large home.  The water was estimated to be 40 degrees, and we frequently encountered ice in the water everywhere we went.  The guide estimated the height of this glacier at about 400 feet.  He also said that over the years it has receded, and that where we parked the boat 20 years ago was the front face of the ice.  The third picture my oldest son took with the boat in it to give perspective.  The ice reflects it’s true blue color on cloudy days, and in fact only appears white in bright sunlight.

Musée de l’Armée

The L’Hôtel national des Invalides is a group of buildings in Paris, France that house museums and monuments that relate to the military history of France.  The museums there are the Musée de’Histoire Contemporaine, Musée des Plans-Reliefs, and Musée de l’Armée.

The L’Hotel was opened originally by Louis IV to shelter and care for 7000 of the aged or informed soldiers, the building being constructed between 1671 and 1676.  There are a number of important tombs in the chapel, most notably Napoleon’s tomb.  Nine hearts are concealed in the vaults while their bodies have been put to rest in other places, a curious but not uncommon medieval practice.

It was quite and amazing complex, and when we entered, we didn’t know what we were getting into with respect to size.  It is massive, and in the end, we ended up missing some of it because we just couldn’t go on any longer.  It starts with weaponry of the middle ages, and goes through the second world war.  It is truly an astounding place to visit and see the progression of weapons over the history of civilization.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio means Old Bridge.  The original bridge was built by the Romans around 996 to cross the Arno River at it’s narrowest point, but was swept away in a flood nearly 100 years later.   It was rebuilt of stone and swept away in another flood in 1333, and rebuilt again in 1345.  The Upper portion was built in 1565 and is known today as the Vasariano Corridor which connects the Ufizzi Gallery and the Pitti Palace.

Bridge in Florence behind the Ponte Vecchio

Italian Countryside and Olive Oil

The Countryside of Florence is so very beautiful.  We drove from San Gimingnano to this little place that made Fattoria Olive Oil in San Donato where we had lunch, and got to taste Grappa.  It’s a good thing we weren’t driving.

San Gimignano, Italy


San Gimignano, Italy became a town in the 10th century.  It was named after the poet Folgore da San Gimignano who was born there in 1270.  It boasts five museums and nine monuments and is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.  We had a great afternoon wandering through the town and through the shops.  Many shops sell sketches of the Italian countryside done by local artists that are quite good.

Courtesy of Google Maps

The Temple of the Italian Glories

The Basilica di Santa Croce, also known as the Temple of the Italian Glories because of the number of famous Italians entombed there is located on the Piazza di Santa Croce 800 meters south of the Duomo.  It is the principle Franciscan Church in Florence, has 16 chapels, and was probably started in 1294.  There are a total of 16 tombs and monuments of famous Italians such as Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Dante, and Rossini.  The neo-gothic façade dates 1857-1863 however, and the campanile 1842.  Some 19 artists have contributed to the artwork.

Duomo is Dome in middle of photo


Galileo

Machiavelli

Undergoing restoration…

Michelangelo

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.