Photographic Tour of Western Sicily

Segesta

After a very warm Easter in UK what better way to see out the end of Spring than to spend a few days in Sicily!

I spend a lot of time in Sicily which is an enormously fascinating country – and photogenic too. I shall be there in June / July to welcome anyone with an interest in learning more about photography to spend a day with me exploring towns like Marsala, Erice and Corleone.

Apart from the opportunity to get fresh air and see parts of the island, you will gain an understanding of how to control your camera and to see landscapes with a different point of view.

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What you will learn:

  1. Starting: Camera basics – body, lens and sensors
  2. Seeing: Composition and objective
  3. Capture: How to use the camera’s shooting modes
  4. Control: Making the most of aperture, shutter speed and ISO
  5. Lighting: Daylight and artificial light
  6. Histograms: what they tell you

What you will need:

  • A digital camera with the ability to control exposure:
    • Programmed Auto (P)
    • Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
    • Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
    • Manual (M)
  • Flash (optional) There may be a flash incorporated in the camera that you have
  • Standard/wide-angle. (Telephoto/zoom lens – optional)
  • Tripod (optional but useful)
  • Water and warm clothes

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The Tour (conducted in English)

This will be a whole day session with an early start!

We will meet at the railway station in Palermo that will enable us to get some good views, to stop and chat about what we are doing, and to discuss/answer questions.

We will stop half-way through to have lunch (cost not included in the package) and talk through any issues. There will also be time to try cannoli or ice cream.

In the afternoon we have the option of seeing either the old and infamous town of Corleone or to visit the archaeological site of Segesta and the salt pans of Marsala (where we may stay on to sample the famous fortified wine).

Total time from start to finish will be about 10 hours.

Don’t forget to ensure you have a fresh memory card and fully charged battery in the camera. If in doubt bring back-up!

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Freshly made cannoli

Price

£200.00 per person (excludes flights)

£100.00 on booking to secure place (non-refundable)

Balance to be paid on the day of the tour.

When

Date: 12JUN19 or 19JUN19

How to get there

Fly to Palermo. There are direct and indirect flights from various UK airports.

A visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

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Palm House at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

Nature was in a good mood. The day proved to be relatively sunny and mild, sandwiched by cold wet days that prompted me to think about cancelling my visit to the gardens.

I arrived at the East Gate entrance, a gate festooned with metal flowers on a wire background. After purchasing a ticket to enter the Glasshouses I bought a coffee and snack before starting my photographic tour of the gardens. The first subjects were the colourful crocuses and daffodils near the gate.

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East Gate (pedestrian) entrance to the gardens

My walk took me, with the bright winter sun in my eyes, up to the left of the entrance and among bushes at either side of the path. The gardens are, in the main, wheelchair friendly with signs indicating which paths were, or were not, accessible.

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Direction signs on path

The only real issue with photographing the gardens at this time of year is the fact that some plants are not yet in bloom, and many trees were still bare. That said there were plenty of colourful plants to see and photograph and I came away with about 400 pictures for the day.

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As I reached the Nepalese garden the clouds gathered overhead so I made haste to the Terrace Cafe for lunch. I arrived just in time as the heavens opened and it rained quite heavily for an hour. Although hot food was available I decided to have a Coronation Chicken wrap, followed by a cherry slice and a cup of hot chocolate. At £10 for this simple meal  I was not unhappy but have heard comments that the food is regarded as expensive by some people.

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    Terrace Cafe near the Nepalese Garden

The rain cleared as I finished my lunch so I then made my way towards the Glasshouses, passing the huge beech hedge and the Queen Mother’s Memorial garden, then the rockery and finally the Glasshouses themselves. I entered via the Palm House which has palm trees (obviously!) and orchids.

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One of the many species of orchids on display

One then passes (after the ticket desk) into the series of 10 huge glass houses, a couple of which are very hot and humid!. A note here to those with cameras – the lenses will steam up as the camera/lens units will have come from the cold outside ambient temperature to a hot humid environment. I had to hug my lens for about 15 minutes, to bring up its temperature, and wipe the front lens with a micro-fibre lens cloth to clear the condensation. I also had to remove my jacket as I too was suffering from the heat (ironic considering I live in Brazil where temperatures are high).

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Amorphophallus konjak, also known as the Corpse Flower, in bloom

The exciting feature of the visit was the Amorphophallus konjac, also known as New Reekie or the Corpse Flower, which was in bloom for the first time in many years – a rare event. I have a poor sense of smell so did not notice the famed bad odour. Interestingly the plant is used as a source of vegan food in its native home in Indonesia. New Reekie was in the last of the 10 glass houses so I then retraced my steps back to the reception area.

I could go vegan! At least for a day!

Full vegan breakfast at Brunch & Supper, Edinburgh (vegan haggis, vegan sausage, baked beans, avocado, asparagus, broccoli, tofu, mushroom, potato bread and couscous)

I have to admit that quite a few years ago I regarded vegans as folk that were a bit off the rails. My first experience of a vegetarian (not vegan) was a lady who was on an eight-day trek with me near Machu Picchu in Peru. The cook, who seemingly forgot her dietary preferences, had prepared a rabbit stew – as far as I was concerned a very welcome and warming lunch at the end of the morning’s trek in the rain. To cut a short story shorter she had started to eat the stew before it was confirmed to be a non-veg meal. She sobbed – it was the first time in her (50+ years) life that she had strayed from her meat-free lifestyle. I had to sympathise, mistakes can happen, but was not really able to empathise.

My own life has been a meat-full one. I have been used to meat-and-two-veg meals for lunch and dinner since I was young. My mother liked to experiment in the kitchen so we had a variety of international and traditionally British meals at home with various animal parts as the core component of the meal.

I have lived for many years in Brazil where meat is a staple. The Brazilian barbecue restaurants are world famous through the health benefits of mounds of beef coated in crystals of salt are definitely negative.

The family of one of my daughters is vegan so I am now able to understand this lifestyle choice. With age comes wisdom. In recent years I have tried to limit my intake of meat. I spent a few years in India where a high percentage of the population is vegetarian, so I managed to adapt to and enjoy, local meat-less dishes interspersed with delicious, spicy non-veg meals.

More recently I have tried to eat more vegan dishes. On the most recent occasion, I tried a vegan brunch at Brunch & Supper (a restaurant in Old Town, Edinburgh).

I enjoy a Full Breakfast be it Full English, Full Scottish, Full Cornish or Full Veggie so, while lunching with my daughter and a friend of hers I opted for a Full Vegan breakfast in order to compare the food to other full breakfast meals. Such a comparison is a bit subjective as, unlike in a wine tasting, for example, I was comparing the dish to memories of previous dishes.

The plate came, nicely arranged with a pair of asparagus spears pointing out from the centre of the plate. I found the meal satisfyingly filling and tasty though I have to say, in respect of all of the Scottish breakfast that I have tried, regardless of the restaurant, that the haggis has always been disappointing. I guess I was spoilt by having haggis for the first time (and a couple of other occasions) served at top restaurants ie real deal haggis. Still, I enjoyed the meal and enjoyed the vegan experience

I honestly doubt if I will ever become a vegan, nor even wholly vegetarian, but I can say with certainty that I am reducing the amount of meat in my diet. I don’t have issues with vegan meals, good food us good food, but I would certainly recommend to any restaurant that they include vegetarian and vegan options on their menu – even non-vegetarians like to vary their diet occasionally. And I recommend Brunch & Supper as a place to eat if you happen to be visiting Edinburgh. Need to book as the place is small and popular!

Brunch & Supper

37-39 George IV Bridge,

Edinburgh,

EH1 1EL

Phone: +44 131 225 6690

Url: brunchandsupper.co.uk

ASG images library:

We have a number of nutrition-related images in stock and can shoot to order. Contact us for stock or commissioned images.

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriately registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date.

The British Egg Custard Tart

Egg custard tart (Asda)

A month ago (10th January) I posted a note about pasteis de nata. I mentioned that whenever I am in the UK I buy egg custard tarts, and I did so today!

The English egg custard tart looks similar to the Portuguese pastel de nata but the origin of this product is much older than its Iberian cousin. The pastry is different – the English version is made from a traditional pie pastry while the Portuguese version is based on puff pastry. The flavouring of the custard is different too: the English version is nutmeg flavoured while the Portuguese version has a touch of cinnamon. The Portuguese pastel has less custard and is harder on the bite while the English version has a soft pastry and more custard in the filling.

Pasteis de nata

There is a difference between the Portuguese cream pastry and the British custard tart both visually and, more so, in the taste and texture. I like both and will post recipes in a few weeks time.

I prefer the freshly produced egg custards from a small bakery or cake shop but I have no issues with getting the industrial supermarket version off the shelf if there is no fresh stock. I like both varieties!

ASG images library:

We have a number of nutrition-related images in stock and can shoot to order. Contact us for stock or commissioned images.

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition and has provided opinions in this post it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriately registered practitioners. The opinions provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete or out of date

A Casual Birder

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A speeding blur of black and yellow (* see note at end of post)

A flash of colour. The call of a bird as it flies into the safety of a bush. What was it? A bird obviously. But what sort of bird?

I became keen on birds when I was about 6 years old. I lived on a farm in a rural part of Yorkshire and saw plenty of wild birds. The farm had chickens and ducks, and pigs, but they didn’t interest me much. I liked the small colourful birds of the area and even managed to find birds nests, though how I managed to reach up into hedgerows at that age is a mystery to me now.

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European Robin (Erithacus rubecula) on a fence post, East Sussex, England

My mother was also keen on birds, spending much time in her kitchen looking out into the garden, so she bought a small book of British birds (I think it was one of the Observers series) that she still has to this day – the book must be at least 50 years old. It wasn’t till I was older that I started using the book to identify species that I didn’t recognise.

Now I have a collection of books covering birds of Africa, Asia (including Australia and India), Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America.

 

A few bird books from my collection

While I was always keen to see, and where possible to photograph, birds I was never one for documenting what I saw, where I saw them or what the birds were doing. I have friends that keep copious records, their life lists and country lists, and some that do so in contribution to ecology. I do it for me, pure and simple. I bird-watch for the delight and experience of seeing birds in the wild. If I had wanted to spend hours or longer searching for new species in a rainforest I would have chosen ecology as a career.

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Tour vehicle on the Trans-Pantanal Highway, Mato Grosso, Brazil

Having said that I do keep lists while I am “on safari” especially when jungle-bashing (I run intermittent trips into the Amazon and Pantanal – refer to my post of 7th June 2017) so that if I am lucky enough to get a saleable photograph I have the information available in respect of where and when. I use the term safari in the original arabic/swahili context – that is, when travelling to European city destinations.

So while I regard myself as a keen birder I would certainly not call myself an ornithologist (amateur or otherwise). Casual, that’s me.

Clockwise: Amazon Kingfisher, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Golden-chevroned Parakeet, Hyacinth Macaw, Hoatzin, Green Bee-eater.

 

* The bird was later identified as a Yellow-hooded Blackbird but, although I managed to get a better picture of it the image was blurred by the rocking boat that I was on before I could get a decent shot. 

 

 

Photographic Tour of Edinburgh

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It’s as cold as it will get in Edinburgh at this time of year. Best to stay indoors near a warm fireplace, drinking hot chocolate. Or not!

Why not venture out? If you had a New Year resolution to take up or improve your photography then why not wrap up warm and take a photo tour of the beautiful city of Edinburgh with an experienced professional photographer to guide you in a practical walking workshop.

Apart from the opportunity to get fresh air and see parts of the city, you will gain an understanding of how to control your camera and to see the city with a different point of view.

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What you will learn:

  1. Starting: Camera basics – the camera body, interchangeable lenses and camera sensors
  2. Seeing: Composition and objective
  3. Capture: How to use the camera’s shooting modes*
  4. Control: Making the most of aperture, shutter speed and ISO
  5. Lighting: Daylight and artificial light
  6. Histograms*: what they tell you

* If your camera doesn’t have these features, let me know in advance of the tour.

What you will need:

  • A digital camera with the ability to control exposure:
    • Programmed Auto (P)
    • Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
    • Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
    • Manual (M)
  • Flash (optional) There may be a flash incorporated in the camera that you have
  • Standard/wide-angle. (Telephoto/zoom lens – optional)
  • Tripod (optional but useful)
  • Water and warm clothes

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The 9th March, 2019 Tour – Royal Botanical Garden

It will be a slow walking tour, not a long trek, but one that will enable us to get some good views, to stop and chat about what we are doing, and to discuss/answer questions.

We will stop half-way through to have a light lunch (cost not included in the package)  which will give us time to talk through any issues.

Total time from start to finish will be about 5-6 hours.

Meet: East Gate 10.00am

Don’t forget to ensure you have a fresh memory card and fully charged battery in the camera. If in doubt bring back-up!

Note: This tour assumes that images captured will NOT be used for commercial gain, solely for personal use. In order to use images captured in the gardens commercially it is necessary to obtain prior approval from the RBGE press office.

Please note that entrance to the Gardens is free but there will be a charge of £7.00 to enter the Glasshouses – well worth the visit if only to warm up on a cold day – where we can photograph exotic flowers, cacti and orchids.

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Price

£90.00  £60.00 per person (Winter Special!)

£30.00 on booking to secure place (non-refundable)

Balance to be paid on the day of the tour.

 

Gaúcho

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A pair of mounted Gauchos leading a horse

The Pampas of Argentina and the grassy granges extending into Uruguay, the southern states of  Brazil (principally Rio Grande do Sul, but also Santa Catarina and Parana) and Paraguay are home to the fabled “Gaúchos”.

Gaúchos were skilled nomadic horsemen, or cowboys, that roamed the grasslands in the process of raising cattle and horses. While there are still some that work as cowboys they tend to do so now on cattle farms, though the term “Gaúcho” still applies to the people of the region.

Having visited a couple of cattle ranches in Argentina I took a few photographs that I have now used to to make a collection of monochrome prints that will go on sale at the end of this year as limited edition prints. A small selection is replicated below.

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Gaucho on horseback

 

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Gaúcho boot in stirrup

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Gaúcho boots

 

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Gaúchos leading a group of horses

 

For further information on any of the above or related images (24 images in the whole collection) please send me an email.

 

A Traveller’s Thoughts

 

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When we are born our minds are a blank canvas. The more we experience, the more colour we add to that canvas. At the end of our days, we hopefully leave with a masterpiece of hues and values that have helped shape our character along the journey.

A solitary person may explore the earth and find countless treasures. Their life, to them, will be richer in respect of the experiences collected. On the other hand, those experiences are worth nothing if they cannot be passed on to others.

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A great part of the enjoyment of travel, be it alone or with a companion, is in returning and sharing stories with others. Those stories serve to enlighten and inspire others, to educate and entertain them so that one day they too may do the same. On a dull day, remembering those experiences can lift spirits and fill the emotional darkness with light.

I was born into a nomadic lifestyle. My father, a Brightonian by birth, had fought during WW2 in North Africa (among other locations) and returned to work in Tripoli after the war ended. He was responsible for Public Works ie in the rebuilding of Libya’s infrastructure. It was there that he met my mother. She was Italian and her father had been in the Italian Diplomatic Service in Libya before the war. My mother had been living with her grandparents who had moved to Libya from Tunisia before the war and had returned there after the dust had settled. Her grandfather was in the construction business.

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The first 2 to 3 years of my life were based in a villa set between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara desert before we moved, temporarily to Brighton and then to Baghdad where my brother was born during our stay there.

Once I hit schooling age we moved back to England. My father worked for a civil engineering company so we lived in several places around England. My earliest memories were, as a 6-year-old, exploring the farm where we lived. It was there that I developed my love of nature.

On completion of my secondary schooling, I had the choice of following in my father’s footsteps by studying for a degree in civil engineering or joining an international bank. I must admit a few things here: I had wanted to study architecture but girls distracted me from getting the grades I needed; I would have liked to have gone to art college but couldn’t see a future in art (though art was in my future); and one significant reason for selecting a career in the bank that I joined was purely to travel to the Middle East.

In a career of over 35 years I had lived in 10 or 12 countries, travelled to over 30 more (split 50/50 work and pleasure) and I have to say I never really tired of seeing new places, meeting new people and experiencing new foods and drinks. Travelling itself is not often fun, being reliant on airlines and hotels and sometimes food that one would prefer not to eat, but being in a new location is.

In my new life I have continued to travel, perhaps not as far, but certainly as often. Sometimes I am asked which was my favourite place to visit. My answer is always qualified: for example, I may like Dubai as it was in 1975, but I do not like Dubai as it is today! When in another country or city one absorbs all aspects of the environment: sights, sounds, smells and tastes and it remains in and changes a person. But it is the environment of a particular time.

Paradise is where your eyes, heart and soul decide on where your body should stay, at least for a while.

 

Alan Skyrme is a Travel writer and food photographer based in Brazil.

Acerola (Shoot Froot)

Acerola (Malpighia glabra) or Acerolla

Name:                   Acerola

Scientific name:  Malpighia emarginata

Other names:      Acerola cherry, Barbados cherry, West Indian cherry and wild crepe myrtle

 

Description:

Evergreen shrub originally from Yucatan, Mexico.

The cherry-sized drupes are juicy and a rich source of vitamin C. It can be eaten ripe, prepared as a juice, or preserved in the form of jam, jelly or syrup. Taste is quite sharp, so many people add sugar or honey.

Nutritional Benefits:

Acerola fruit is rich in vitamin C and is a good source of nutrients, minerals and vitamins.

Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)                   1644 mg (1826.67%)

Copper, Cu                                             0.084 mg (9.33%)

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)          0.303 mg (6.06%)

Carbohydrate                                       7.54 g (5.80%)

Vitamin A                                              37 µg (5.29%)

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)                     0.059 mg (4.54%)

 

Health benefits:

Antioxidant benefits, prevents liver damage, treats diarrhoea and dysentery, acts as a cold and cough remedy. Also used to prevent diabetes and obesity.

 

ASG images library:

We have a number of images in stock and can shoot to order

NB: While Alan Skyrme has a number of diplomas in Nutrition it is strongly recommended that the latest available analyses of the nutritional contents and benefits are obtained from appropriate sources. Those provided here are indicative only and may be incomplete.

Erice – by the sea (final part of the Erice series)

The lower part of Erice, known as Casa Santa, is bounded by the beach and Mount Erice, and by the town of Trapani and rural countryside beyond San Cusumano. The lower cable-car station sits under Mount Erice not far from the Trapani boundary.

The area has new and old houses and apartments that form the core of the modern residential area of Erice. There are also certain Regional services under management by the Trapani government. These include a small prison, a couple of hospitals and a sports stadium.

Erice’s San Giuliano beach runs along the bay between San Cusumano and the Parco Urbano* in which are the ruins of the old San Giuliano tuna cannery. The beach is divided, during the summer months, into a number of “lidos” which provide facilities in the form of beach beds, umbrellas, and snacks. The Sun Club, on the junction of Lunghomare Dante Alighieri and via Lido di Venere, is open all year, though in winter the services are limited to dining.

Lower Erice is principally a beach town so there is not much to do there for visitors unless one is keen on general exploration.

In the heart of the lower town is San Giuliano village with its tradional grocery stores, wine shops, butchers and bakeries. Close by numerous churches including Erice’s new, modern parochial church.

Getting to Erice

By plane to either Palermo or Trapani airports.

Car, taxi or bus from the airport to the town. Taxi fares are high – about 140 euros from Palermo airport to Trapani/Erice.

The journey time from Palermo airport to Erice, via the autostrada, is about an hour. Trapani airport to Erice is about half that time.

What to do and see

The beach, the ruins of the old tuna cannery in Parco Urbano* (actually on the Erice/Trapani border), a number of churches and a few restaurants and bars, including enotecas – wine bars where one can taste and buy local wines.

Nature: birds and flowers for those interested in the wild stuff!

More posts to follow about Trapani, Marsala and the region’s food and drink!

Published from my iPhone

* Post script: although labelled as Parque Urbana this area is in reality derelict. A pity since the municipality could create a nice park with simple barbecue / picnic facilities, a place to walk, trees and flowers etc. But the town fails on many counts. A pity.