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Unique picnic spots around Cape Town, South Africa

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When traveling around the Western Cape of South Africa with my sister last March, we noticed that picnics were common everywhere–from Cape Town, up the Garden Route, and through the Winelands. In Cape Town, locals headed to the beach or rode the cable car to the top of Table Mountain to watch the sunset while picnicking with friends. Along the Garden Route and in the Winelands, we saw couples and friends picnicking along remote coasts, expansive lawns, in vineyards, or under giant willow trees next to lakes or creeks. And Sundays were popular for families–whether small intimate moments or large groups of extended families–picnics were everywhere!

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Many inns, tiny B&B, large hotels and wineries offer a range of gourmet picnic baskets so that tourists can picnic too.  Yummy selections range from chicken satay skewers to salmon, salads, brownies, cheeses, meats, quiche, olives, loaves of french bread, jams, various spreads in tiny containers, champagne soaked strawberries, chocolates or gelato…. Some baskets had to be ordered 24 hours in advance, but others could be selected and purchased on site. And blankets too were provided, to spread out beside a lake or the edge of a vineyard or sit at little tables set with linen or plaid tablecloths…the choices were as vast as the assorted menus.

There are some unique picnic spots around South Africa! Here were some of my favorites… first up along the coastal Garden Route:

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Nature Valley beach:

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Tranquility Lodge Nature Valley is a delightful place to stay on the Garden Route for honeymooners, couples or anyone looking for a quiet place nestled in nature. Situated in a remote hamlet among trees across from a beautiful curved bay, the location is steps away from the ocean and coastal hiking trails. There are many outdoor activities around the area–from the world’s highest bungy jumping at Bloukrans Bridge to tree top canopy tours at Storms River–and lots of animal park attractions too, where you can walk among monkeys, tropical birds, elephants or cats. But my favorite here was exploring the beach–walking the trail, collecting shells, finding rock pools and just hanging out listening to the waves crash as the sun set. The wonderful couple who run the place offer great picnics too! Stroll over to the beach with a hamper and bottle of wine or sparkling juice or reserve their little hot rock snuggle puddle pool for romantic privacy.

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Botlieksop Safari Game Lodge, located inland of Mosselbay, offers their guests an option to enjoy a luxurious picnic in the bush…with elephants!

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And after dining on quiche, salad, fruit and brownies, you get to feed the hungry elephants! They also offer a chance to ride elephants through the valley, game drives, nature walks, and a unique opportunity to walk with non-collared lion cubs in the bush!! (which was amazing…)

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The Winelands in South Africa cover 3 distinct regions: Franschhoek, Stellenbosch & Paarl. The wineries that offer gourmet picnic baskets here are seemingly endless…

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Franschoek, Winelands, South Africa

At the Holden Winery in Franschhoek, you can sit at little iron tables situated at the edge of the vineyards or near a bubbling brook.

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At the Remhoogte  Winery in Stellenbosch, you can nibble on cheeses, meats, spanakopitas, and Greek salad while sitting at a table on the veranda, or on a blanket spread out on the lawn. Their wine is delicious too! And the setting–serene! Gorgeous mountains form the backdrop to grassy fields where zebra are grazing.

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There are also a few wildebeest that every once in awhile like to chase a herd of springboks—and when they do, it’s fun to watch the springboks “pronking”–a series of high spirited jumps in the middle of their run. They also rent out one guest cottage that has 2 bedrooms, full kitchen, living room and patio covered veranda that overlooks the zebras.

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Mont Rochelle Winery is a fancy first class winery estate located in the mountains of Franschhoek. Gourmet picnics range in content and price, and guests have a variety of choices where to spread that blanket.

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We chose a scenic spot between vineyards and a serene lake. Also on offer here is the option to go mountain biking, enjoy a vinotherapy spa with products made from grapes, or go horseback riding in the mountains. We did all three!

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Rhebokskloof Winery in Paarl is a hit with families–kids are encouraged to play with bikes and toys on the grassy lawn, ride ponies or jump on inflatable castles–while parents sit back and relax with good wine. Sunday afternoons are perfect for a little bonding time. Most stayed the entire afternoon…and why not? It has wide beautiful lawns that offer lots of space for intimate moments or large family affairs–plenty of private space for eating, drinking, talking, playing, relaxing and napping…

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PaarlWinelandsPicnicI’m writing this a year later (almost to the day in March) on a Sunday afternoon in Indiana, and here it’s hailing outside with dropping temps and predictions for more snow. Oh, how I wish I were back in South Africa enjoying a family picnic instead!  Picnicking there was so great–such yummy fare, beautiful surroundings and no bugs! It’s something I rarely do at home. But I know if I lived there in the Western Cape, picnics would become a part of my lifestyle. With such variety to sample, there are soooooo many more picnic places left to explore.

So, those were my favorites so far. Where’s yours?

Carnival in Cape Town, South Africa

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South Africa is more than a melting pot of different cultures. Talk to any South African and they’ll tell you that they don’t just tolerate each other. They embrace their differences. And celebrate their diversities–whether it’s culture, language, color, gender or race. In 2010, according to their Cape Town Carnival website, a South African group decided to organize their first carnival parade to showcase a “glamorous celebration of African identity, diverse communities and cultures, and the transformative power of creativity.”

After seeing pictures of past parades, I knew that I wanted to include the parade on my itinerary when I traveled around South Africa last March. Colorful costumes, creative papier mache floats, dancers and musicians…how could I pass that up?

saf5115Checking out details on their website I saw that the parade takes place on the Fanwalk (Somerset road) a few blocks from the V & A Waterfront. It’s an expensive neighborhood where hotel rooms run around $300 a night. I didn’t want to pay big bucks but neither did I want to deal with the inevitable chaos that tends to congregate at the end of big events and try to hail a taxi and fight traffic getting back to a hotel in the city. So, I checked out hostels in the neighborhood and found an excellent solution–the Atlantic Point hostel. They were just two blocks away from the parade. And they had private ensuite rooms, yea!

It was so convenient to walk from the hostel down the hill to the parade. Most of the people that drove ended up parking far away and walking much further than me. I left about 45 minutes before the 7:30pm start of the parade to scout out a good spot. I found a place where barriers angled into the street, allowing a surprisingly great view of the dancers as they came down the street. (Little did I know that the barriers jutting out into the street were there for a television crew who showed up right as the parade started.) Upbeat music blasted from speakers nearby.

I was impressed watching people around me as we waited for the parade to begin. There was certainly diversity in the crowd but everyone seemed, well, gracious, even polite. I saw people squish together to make room for others to watch. Or invite others to step in front of them. Nobody was elbowing or shoving people out of their token space. And I didn’t hear one terse word. Everyone seemed to get along. Even the film crew was tolerant of me standing on the opposite side of the barrier, inching toward them in the street. They gestured me to step out farther from the sidelines, nearer them!

At last the vibrant dancers approached…

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Was I ready? What equipment was I using? I had decided to go with one camera: my full frame Sony A99 with a Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lens. Using a fixed lens would restrict me from zooming in on details or capturing the full scene from a wide angle perspective, but I didn’t want the hassle of changing lenses or banging around a second camera at a crowded parade. In spot meter mode, I determined the correct exposure for the dancers in the dim light, and began shooting at f/4.5, 1/125 SS and 1000 ISO. Yes, noise would be introduced at the high ISO, but could be minimized later in processing. As the night darkened, I increased the ISO to 1250, decreased the f/stop to 2.4, but kept the SS 1/125 to freeze the motion of the dancers. On a few frames I dropped the SS to 1/60 or increased the ISO to 1600.

Shooting motion, at night, in a crowded setting is obviously challenging. Focus alone is trying! The autofocus hunts a bit, then locks on to your moving subject… but in the nanosecond that the shutter clicks your dancer keeps moving forward and right out of focus. Which is why I couldn’t shoot wide open.

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With my 85mm, I was still able to focus in on individual dancers when they were at a distance. And captured elements of the masses in closer proximity.

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The most difficult thing to photograph was the floats. When they were at the correct distance–pretty far away–there were groups of dancers or musicians in front of them, obstructing the view. And there were some amazing floats! Acrobatic dancers hanging from bars inside giant green spheres. A ghost ship with skeleton dancers in atmospheric smoke. Neon chameleons that were changing colors. Giant papier mache elephants.

saf5172Most of the time I could only fit parts of the float in my frame.

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saf5174Rare luck here to fit most of it in!

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A family next to me had young children, including an adorable little 7 year old that took a liking to me. She was all smiles, and easily talked to me about the parade. At one point I was out in the street (having stepped over the barrier to shoot from behind the film crew). Peering through my camera, I felt someone tap my leg. I cringed thinking an official was gonna force me off the street! Nope. It was the little girl smiling up at me, holding out a cup, eager to share her orange drink with me. I put the camera aside and enjoyed a drink with this thoughtful sweetie (pic below).

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It was easy to get caught up in the excitement and fun. Even alone, I felt part of Carnival in the company of strangers.

saf5310But my still shots of the parade thus far weren’t capturing the fun.

So I decided to slow down the shutter speed to show the movement of the parade–the grooving of the dancers, drummers, and groups of costumed participants moving to the beat. I dialed down the SS, dropping from 1/125 to 1/4 sec and increased the f/stop to 13. (Don’t ask me why f13. Had I not been so caught up in the moment I should’ve decreased the ISO (to lower noise) and dialed down the f/stop to 5.6 or 8.) I shot the rest of the parade this way, moving with the rhythm, letting my camera tilt and move as I followed the dancers and pressed the shutter.

saf5319saf5321saf5332Shooting in preset manual focus, with a constant f/13 and SS1/4 sec, the only thing I attempted to think about was the composition. I tried to frame compositions that had at least one person’s face, or repeated patterns, in the viewfinder. Other than that I let the resulting image happen on its own.saf5339saf5344saf5357

I didn’t know what I was capturing until I looked at them back at the hostel. Certainly experimental, and not all hits–weird eyes appearing in strange places or street signs popping out of someone’s head in a colorful clouded blur. But I almost prefer the blurry motion shots to the stills. They certainly convey a sense of fun those people were having at Carnival!

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March 15th, 2014 is the date of this year’s carnival parade. New this year is the opportunity for professional and amateur photographers to apply for media permits allowing special platforms for photographing the event. Hurry! Deadline for applying is March 7th. Click here.

Winter camping in a snow igloo

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Such a cold winter everywhere… Up in Minnesota, temps have been dropping to -15 F with windchills of -40 to -60 below zero. It’s been so cold that schools have been cancelled this week, according to my family who lives there. Luckily when I visited last month, it was not quite so cold, and people were still doing plenty of outdoor activities for fun.

My nephew, Brandon, for one, decided to build a snow igloo for a little winter camping in his parent’s backyard. (And Bailey, the family’s Golden Retriever mix, didn’t seem to mind…)

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Years ago when Brandon was in high school, building a snow igloo was a required part of phys educ class. And they had to spend the night in it for completion of the grade. Guess knowing how to build one would come in handy living there… I’ve never built one. Nor even knew that you could build a fire in one!

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But you do need to be careful that it doesn’t melt the ceiling! A chimney and air vents were all part of the construction…

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This particular day was not that cold…was around 6 or 8 F degrees…

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Yet, Brandon’s thermos of hot water still turned chilly in record time…

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Freeze frame at f8, SS 1/500

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What to do when temps dip below freezing? Ice Skating…? You betcha.

It’s all over the news, Facebook, and twitter…people sharing funny, strange and incredulous anecdotes about how the cold weather is affecting them. Record lows have been dropping below zero all over the country, as far south as Florida. No doubt most not accustomed to the chilly air are hiding inside. But what about those who live up north? What do they do?

Well, at least some still enjoy activities outside. We were back in my home state, Minnesota, over the holidays. Our chilliest day was the 2nd when the temp was -15 F in Minneapolis. But it didn’t stop locals at the Landmark Center who laced up their skates in the warming hut and hit the outdoor rink in St. Paul’s Rice Park. Later that afternoon, I watched my daughter attempt to drink from a water bottle that literally froze in her hands.

The day before, on New Year’s Day, it dropped from 2 degrees at noon to minus -8 F. And my niece went ice skating.

 

Here she is walking in her skates to a frozen pond near her home  (there’s no bench or anywhere to sit at the pond to lace your skates).  And since it wasn’t a hockey rink or a commercial place to skate, her father had shoveled off the snow for her that morning.

In case you’re wondering…lake or pond ice should be a minimum of 4 inches thick to ensure you won’t fall in! (Snowmobiles require 5 inches, cars 8-12 inches.) It was plenty thick, thus “safe,” but I cringed when it cracked as we walked across it…


Yes, it was cold… but Jenny, in her new Christmas skates, was still smiling…:)

 

 

 

 

 

  • Foto clipping - So nice and graceful…..the beautiful natural view is captured very nicely……a brilliant combination like all in all…

Winter Solstice

 

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Winter solstice, December 21, is here–the shortest day and longest night of the year.

 

Although it does not mark the official beginning of winter–good thing cauz we’ve already had lots of snow!–it does seem to herald the beginning of Christmas and soon after another new year.

 

My father snowshoeing with his grandkids in a snowy forest in southwestern Minnesota

Some people hate winter, some love it. It happens to be one of my favorite times for photography. Exposure isn’t that tricky when using spot metering to make sure whites are white and not gray. And the weather isn’t so daunting when you dress for it. When I was in Yellowstone the temps were -20 below, yet I never experienced frost bite or discomfort (except for the wind in my face while snowmobiling!).

A lone tree in a tranquil winter scene, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Evening shot taken on the Old Faithful trail during winter.

Wishing you all quality time with your families and a very Merry Christmas!!

 

  • Foto clipping - From beginning to end….the portraits are just mind blowing and perfectly executed :)