A tap on the brakes

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Sohar, Oman, early 1970s

It was late 1972, Oman. I was working there with a couple of years ahead of me in the heat and humidity of Muscat. A group of colleagues decided to go out for dinner so I managed to borrow a Land Rover for the evening. Oman had only recently moved from a land with its trade distributed by either ships of the sea (dhows and larger ocean-going vessels) and ships of the desert (camels!) to a growing number of Land Rovers, Land Cruisers and FIATs, and the vehicle I had borrowed was a long wheel-based landcover.

The journey was not a long one. Ahead of me was a narrow sinuous stretch of asphalt that carried us over the hot jagged rock of mountainside that separated Muscat from Muttrah. As we drove towards the start of the snaking road a Toyota Landcruiser came up close behind. I am not a slow driver so I presumed the driver of the vehicle behind was looking for a bit of fun as he and his passengers were laughing.

The road ahead was steep and, as I mentioned earlier, was snake-like with several bends in it. As we started our ascent the Landcruiser stayed close to my tail. Not a situation that I liked so I had to take action, without putting my colleagues at risk.

As we neared one of the last bends, still ascending steeply, I gently dropped a gear (it may have been first) then jabbed the brakes hard while accelerating. The brightness of the red brake-lights in the eyes of the Landcruisers eyes had the desired effect. He stabbed his foot on the brake as I pulled away but, having caught him wrong-footed gear-wise, he stalled his vehicle and was last seen trying to restart the Toyota on a steep incline on a tight bend.

Hopefully that was the last time he would have driven so close to another vehicle.

In those days there were few cars on the road. The asphalted road stretched from Muscat to Muttrah (walking distance) while an extension to Seeb, the site of the future new airport was still, at that time, under construction.

Oman is a beautiful country and well-worth visiting. Those that have lived there regarding it with great fondness – I know no-one that did not enjoy the country.

More driving stories to come.

Walking photo tour of Trapani

The images and text in this post provide a summary of the walking tour that I conducted last month. Greater detail may appear in specific subject articles at a later date.

In view of the really hot weather that Trapani had been “enjoying” the walking tour started at 08:30 so as to complete it before the heat of the sun got too uncomfortable.

Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II

The tour began at the statue of King Vittorio Emanuele II which sits in the square of the same name. We spent a few minutes taking photos of the statue (composition, rule of thirds, golden ratio) before crossing via Fardella, now closed to traffic, to the fountain of Triton.

Triton fountain

The fountain features two large horses in the middle of the water feature that is centred on a bronze figure of Triton (a Greek god of the sea, son of Poseidon).

Here we spent 15 minutes taking creative shots (selective depth of field, aperture control) from various points of view of the fountain before crossing via Spalti to the gardens of Villa Margherita.

A shaded boundary inside the Villa Margherita gardens

Although referred to as a “villa” the Villa Margherita is a public garden that was established in honour of Queen Margherita. It is bounded by broad tree-lined paths with colourful flowers in the central areas.

Bougainvillea, palms and exotic trees in flower in Villa Margherita

There are statues of a variety of famous people dotted around the gardens and a nice water feature at the top end. We spent 30 minutes here (histograms, manual controls).

Piazza Vittorio Veneto

Moving on, we then walked to Piazza Vittorio Veneto, named after the site of a major battle in the Venetian area that ended the Austro-Hungarian empire and contributed to the end of WWI. Around the square are a number of government buildings including the Post Office (under renovation but still operating).

Post Office interior with art deco decoration

The inside of the post office is well worth looking at. It has an art deco style in good condition (contrast, available light). The outside of the building has been partly covered for the last two years but the process of renovating this 90 year-old building seems inordinately slow, though to be fair the work has to be done to last many more years.

Just beyond the Piazza is the start of via Garibaldi.

Via Garibaldi

Via Garibaldi, named after Giuseppe Garibaldi who was instrumental in the unification of Italy and subsequent creation of the Kingdom of Italy, is part of the old town of Trapani. It is closed to traffic other than delivery vehicles. Along the road are a number of historic buildings and churches though the narrowness of via Garibaldi means it is not entirely photogenic.

Bar Il Salotto, via Garibaldi

At the end of via Garibaldi, more specifically at the bar Il Salotto, we took a short rest to have a cooling and healthy pomegranate juice while discussing progress so far and what was to come.

Fish Market Square

Around the corner from the bar is the old fish market square, now used for cultural events.

The square is bounded on two sides by a colonnade atop the sea wall with the sea behind. It features a bronze statue of Venus/Aphrodite near the road.

We left the square, taking the narrow path of via Mura di Tramontana West, along the top if the sea wall. From here we had views of part of the old town fortification towards the Bastione Conca and the beach below it.

Bastione Conca, Mura di Tramontana, Trapani

After visiting the Bastion we took the steps down from via Mura di Tramontana and along the road before entering viale delle Sirene (Avenue of the Sirens) and back onto the Mura di Tramontana.

Beach view, Mura di Tramontana, Trapani

View of Torre di Ligny from Mura di Tramontana, Trapani

Yellow-legged Gull

Torre de Ligny

We left Torre de Ligny, heading back towards town on Corso Vittorio Emanuele (the Rua Grande, built in the 13th century) passing the Cathedral of San Lorenzo (St Lawrence) towards the famous astronomical clock tower on via Torrearsa.

Porta Oscura

Porta Oscura, the dark gate, is one of the four historic entrances to the old town. Above and adjacent to the gate is the clock tower.

Torre del Orologio

The astronomical clock, built in 1596, is one of the oldest of its kind and still functions.

We were now on via Torrearsa.

Via Torrearsa

At one end of via Torrearsa is the fish market square that we had passed earlier, and were now returning to, while at the other end is the port. This makes the road, with its shops, bars, restaurants and points of interest, a busy place for tourists especially those on cruise liners that frequent Trapani.

Fontana de Saturno

While walking along via Torrearsa we stopped at the Saturn Fountain that was built to commemorate the opening of the aqueduct built in 1342.

We then made our way back to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele to conclude the walking photo tour.

Apart from learning a little bit about Trapani, participants on the tour receive practical instruction on camera usage including:

Starting: Camera basics – body, lens and sensors

Seeing: Composition and objective

Capture: How to use the camera’s shooting modes

Control: Making the most of aperture, shutter speed and ISO

Lighting: Daylight and artificial light

Histograms: what they tell you

A Taste of Trapanese History

Entrance to the Pepoli Museum (facing out towards the gardens of the Santuary of the Madonna of Trapani)

In my teens, while visiting relatives in Rome, I was given a choice of spending a day visiting the Vatican etc or going to the beach. I chose beach! I guess, as a younger man, I always preferred sun and sand to old relics though I now like art galleries and museums more than beaches. Or as my daughters might say “You like old relics because you are one!”

In spite of having spent many weeks or months in Sicily over the past 10 years I had never visited a museum on the island. Last week, while returning from a photo project, I passed through the gardens adjacent to the Agostino Pepoli Regional Museum, took a few pictures and decided that I should return.

Considering the history of the region I am surprised that there aren’t more museums in Trapani. I suppose it’s because the majority of tourists come here for the sun, sea and sand as I would have done years ago.

The Pepoli museum covers a wide range of aspects of Trapani’s history and I was happy to see a group of young school children with their teachers apparently conducting a history lesson there.

View from the gate of the museum, separating from the Sanctuary gardens, towards the entrance to the museum.

The entrance to the Museum is behind the Santuary of the Madonna of Trapani, one of the principal churches in the town, and is reached by passing through the gardens that seem to attract a daily quota of both pensioners that enjoy the coolness and tranquility of the setting and young children, whose laughter as they play under the watchful eye of their mothers in the shade of the trees, echos off the front of the Sanctuary.

The Sanctuary viewed from within the gardens

A gate separates the museum from the gardens, with a pair of white stone column heads positioned as if to welcome visitors. A wide path leads between an area littered with ancient masonry and a large anchor on one side, and a bust of Sr Agostino Pepoli on the other.

One of a pair of white stone column heads outside the museum gate

Once inside the shaded entrance of the Museum one can see the cloisters that borders the museum garden.

Cloisters with garden

I paid €6.00 to enter the museum and was given a brochure in English. I believe they offer French and German versions too (in addition to Italian, of course).

Brochure and entrance ticket

Museum staff are on hand as one enters the building and throughout the museum in various rooms to ensure you follow the appropriate flow of the exhibition areas. Anyone with questions or seeking clarification on any aspect can of course approach the staff who are happy to provide the benefit of their knowledge.

One of the first exhibition areas in the museum is that of religious artefacts

Ceramic tiles depicting the town of Trapani

Garden with the bell tower of the Sanctuary above and behind the museum walls

A number of stone decorations on loose display under the cloisters

View of the cloisters and shaded part of the garden

What to see

Paintings of historical figures linked to Trapani

Paintings and sculptures of religious subjects

Example of clothes and jewellery of the Baroque era

Painted wall and floor tiles

Roman and Greek pottery, metal and glassware dating back over 2,500 years

Fascinating finely detailed carvings and dioramas of historic scenes eg views of life, of nativity, and horrific images of the Massacre of the Innocents.

How to get there

via Conte Agostino Pepoli, 180

By bus, taxi or car, but there is only street parking


weekdays 9 am – 1 pm and 3 pm – 7.30 pm Sundays and holidays from 9 am to 12.30 pm


weekdays: Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 5.30pm

Sunday and public holidays: from 9.00 to 12.30

This is a great place to see so much history in one place. A visit to this museum is highly recommended.

A day trip to Dundee (part 2)

As mentioned in my last post, I went to Dundee for a day trip at the end of last month which took about 90 minutes by train from Edinburgh. It was a cold grey day with a light rainfall starting as we crossed the road from the station. We first visited the newly built V&A Museum on the Riverside Esplanade, where we had lunch, before moving on to visit to the SS Discovery, now known as (Royal Research Ship) RRS Discovery, an exploration ship built about 115 years ago to undertake research in Antarctica.

Discovery Point, in which the history of the Discovery is exhibited, is located in an octagonal building on the Riverside Esplanade, across the road from Dundee railway station, with the ship itself moored between the museum entrance and the V&A Dundee.

After paying the entrance fee, which entitles visitors to unlimited return visits for a year, one follows the history of the Discovery via a series of multi-media exhibits that include films, pictures, models and relics that illustrate aspects of the construction of the boat, its crew and the research voyage.

The exhibition is well organised and informative.

Life-size diorama of the ship’s construction

Once through the final display area, one exits the building to board the Discovery, crossing via a gangplank.

Helm of the Discovery

Full-size diorama of the biologist, Thomas Vere Hodgson, “fishing” for marine specimens through the Antarctic ice

Tour guide providing information about living conditions in the dining area if the Discovery

The route takes one around the main deck of the ship, onto the upper deck, and through various sections below deck, including the coal store, food store, galley and sleeping quarters. In the dining space, bounded by senior staff quarters, was a long table surrounded by comfortable wood and leather chairs. The guide, who was in this area, explained that many of these furnishings were upgraded after the first World War since the vessel was partially stripped for action during the war.

On returning to the building we entered the souvenir area. Plenty on offer in respect of mementoes relating to the ship, the town, and Scotland. Across the lobby is a cafe (Cafe at the Point) that serves refreshments.

The visit was educational and informative – well worth visiting.

How to get there

Train from Edinburgh to Dundee. Exit the station and cross the road. The Discovery and the V&A are immediately visible from the station.

When disaster strike again

At the end of 2015 news broke of a mining disaster in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais that sadly took the lives of 19 people and destroyed the village of Bento Rodrigues near the town of Mariana, and not far from the picturesque and historic town of Ouro Preto.

A dam that formed part of the mining operations owned by Samarco (jointly owned by Brazil’s Vale and Australia’s BHP Billiton) had ruptured sending tons of toxic sludge down the valley, into the Rio Doce, destroying all in its path.

In that incident, 19 people, considered a high and unacceptable number, lost their lives while the toxic water eventually spilled out into the sea causing devastation for hundreds of miles up to the Atlantic Ocean.

Costly investigations ensued. A significant penalty was imposed on the companies involved.

Just a few days ago another dam, at Vale’s Brumadinho mine in Minas Gerais, ruptured in a similar fashion. The death toll is already five times higher than that of the Mariana incident, about 110 confirmed so far, with 238 as yet unaccounted for. Fortunately, some survivors have been found or rescued. The numbers change as the clock ticks but the likelihood of finding anyone alive now after a week is sadly very low.

TV reports had shown staff on the dam running panic-stricken to reach safely – not all were lucky. The majority of those that died were employees of Vale.

The bank accounts of the company have been frozen while several employees have been arrested. Investigations are underway and while the environmental damage may not be as bad as that of the Mariana incident, the human impact is significantly worse. This is clearly an enormous tragedy but one that, it seems, could have been averted by taking action years ago.

There are several thousand dams throughout Brazil and the lack of maintenance on many of these is of concern.

These two cases (as well as the collapse of a Sao Paulo bridge at the end of last year) highlight the true cost of failing to conduct proper maintenance. All entities, be they small local municipalities or major corporations, with engineering structures under their responsibility, will doubtless wrestle with the financial decisions associated with fixing issues. Costs are costs, but some can be deferred while others need to be dealt with urgently.

As the adage goes “A stitch in time saves nine”. If applied in these cases a million dollars or more spent earlier would have averted a significantly bigger cost: in lives, in fines, in share price and reputation, and in cleaning up the environment. Risk management clearly failed on these occasions. Perhaps on the part of the government as well as the companies involved. The investigation will shed light on the matter – hopefully, faster than in the Mariana case. In the meantime, the families of those who died, or who have yet to be found, are suffering.

Nikon is 100!

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Nikon is 100!

Happy birthday Nikon.

I find it extremely hard to believe that I have been using Nikon camera equipment for almost half of that time. I bought my first Nikon F (the Photomic FTn with the boxy viewfinder) in 1973. I still have the camera together with the F2 that I bought a few years later. The last film cameras that I bought were the F5 and F6 – both still with me though the F6 was hardly used.

The digital cameras I acquired are the D1x, D2x, D3x, D200 and D810. I was, to be honest, not particularly keen on the D200 but all of them are really fine cameras.

The best part of it is that they all, film and digital alike, use the F mount so in theory all of my lenses work with all of the cameras. In reality some lenses are so old, battered and scratched that they have been retired from use. I have fallen off rocks, mountains and waterfalls on so many occasions that I am surprised that the cameras did not break. In fact only one lens needed repair.

The rugged build of Nikon equipment is one reason why I chose my first one, and I have never been disappointed in nearly 45 years.

Fontana delle Tette

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Image: 1989 version of the Fontana delle Tette


In the centre of Treviso (Veneto, Italy) are two versions of a statue known as the Fontana delle Tette (literally translates to the Fountain of the Tits). The original was carved in 1559 by order of the mayor of the Republic of Venice. Wine flowed through the statue with red wine coming out of one breast and white wine from the other. The locals were permitted to drink the wine during a three day period whenever a new mayor was elected.

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 Image: The original 1559 version of the Fontana delle Tette


The original statue is damaged but can be seen under the shelter of the “Palazzo dei Trecento” in Piazza dei Signori. A new statue, with water pouring from the breasts, now sits is a small alley off via Calmaggiore near the Piazza.

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Image: Marble plaque describing the Fontana dele Tette