I love the Greek Island of Kos and here’s why…

Kos is one of the nicest places I have ever been in the world.

It’s fair to say that:

I-LOVE-KOS

A couple of reasons for my declaration are as follows:

I feel that the people of Kos have realised that they are an island that relies almost entirely on tourism. One of the bi-products of this realisation is you don’t get hassled all the time by people trying to get you into their shops, bars and restaurants. Don’t get me wrong it does happen a bit (mainly in the evenings) but i’m my experience they ask you once and if you politely so no they leave you alone.

I went on this trip with my fiancée Serena. Very often we’d be walking back late at night when we’d encounter large groups of teenagers hanging out near the crêpe van close to where we were staying in Lambi. Now, in most countries i’d automatically be on my guard and i’d be thinking about the martial art techniques I learnt in the Special Forces 🙂 that i’d need to deploy in case it all went bad, but the crêpe fuelled teenagers didn’t even bat an eyelid as we sauntered past.

I’m not saying that Kos is some crime free Shangri La but my time there did go some way towards restoring my faith in humanity, especially because I’m writing this just after the Orlando shootings and while watching England v Wales  in the Euro 2016 tournament that has seen it’s fair share of hooligan related violence.

ilovekos
I really am writing this while watching the footy and Wales have just scored 🙁

Where we stayed

Our trip to Kos was a bit last minute and because it was half term we were looking to find something cheap and cheerful because I really resent paying double the normal price for a trip just because you want to go away during half term.

We stayed at a hotel called Alice Springs which is a family run hotel in Lambi. Elias was our host, a very friendly man who always made a point of chatting to us every day to see what we were up to and making sure we were ok.

Our room at the Alice Springs hotel was pretty basic but it was clean and secure so I could live with the fact there was no TV and the shower was a bit piddly. The Alice Springs is no 1 out of 53 hotels in Kos Town so they must be doing something right.

What we did

  • Wandered around Kos Town, Harbour and Castle
  • Watched the world go by at Eleftherias Square
  • Hired a scooter and bombed around the island at approximately 40kms an hour!
  • Ate lots of Tzatziki, Gyros, Crepes and Waffles and drank lots of Greek beer
  • Visited several of Kos’s beautiful beaches and swam in the warm and clear Mediteraneann sea
  • Relaxed in the natural volcanic thermal spa known as Therma or Bubble Beach
  • Saw Hippocrates Tree where the famous Greek Physician is said to have taught his students
  • Bought lots of Korres shower gel because it was £2.50 a pop instead of £15 which is what you pay in the UK (in fact we bought so much of it we had to get rid of some stuff out of our suitcases on the way back)
  • Watched the sun go down while eating a lovely meal in Zia
  • Fed lot’s of stray cats
  • Generally had a great time
spa
Me trying to blend in with the locals at Therma Beach

NEWSFLASH – England have just equalised!!!!!

Getting around

I love hiring a scooter to get around, it cost 6 Euros to fill it up so it’s a very cheap mode of transport.

Because Kos is such a nice place we had no problem with leaving our helmets on the handlebars of the scooter safe in the knowledge they would be there when we returned. I even saw several scooters around town that had the keys left in the ignition.

Scooter
This 50cc beast really was a hairdryer on wheels but it got us around the island.

We also walked a fair bit because we were only 15 minutes walk from Kos Town. Most evenings we would walk into town to eat at one of the many great restaurants.

Photo’s

Here’s a selection of some of the photo’s I took on the amazing island of Kos.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 11.52.14

You can View, Buy and Instantly Download Photo’s from my Kos Online Gallery here

NEWSFLASH – England have scored in injury time and won the game!!!!!

 

Refugee Crisis

I’m sure you have seen and read in the press that Kos has experienced a few problems in the recent past with refugees arriving on their shores from Turkey but this is no longer an issue.

Conclusion

Kos is ace. Writing these blogs really allows me to solidify my memories of a place and I can honestly say I have no negative things to say about Kos.

I can’t wait to go back.

The people are great, the weather is fantastic, it’s not that far from the UK and there’s loads to see and do.

Go to Kos now, you won’t regret it.

Cheers, JV

Very happy to announce my photo has been published on new NGO site and Facebook page for ‘Sarawak HEAR’

I’m happy to announce that a photo that I took of three very happy children at a longhouse in Sarawak, Borneo has been published on the web site and Facebook page of ‘Sarawak HEAR’.

Sarawak HEAR is a society founded by people who are personally and professionally involved in work aimed at helping individuals suffering from hearing loss.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 11.58.47

To see my photo in situ and to find out more about Sarawak HEAR please visit:

http://sarawak-hear.wix.com/hear

https://www.facebook.com/Sarawak-HEAR-229364754072961

Cheers, JV

How to get accurate colours in Lightroom when importing RAW files from a Nikon D810

Have you ever noticed that when you import RAW files into Lightroom that they look a bit washed out in comparison to how they looked on your preview screen on the back of your Nikon D810?

Annoying isn’t it?

In a nutshell…

When shooting in RAW format, most camera settings like White Balance, Sharpness, Saturation, Lens Corrections and Color Profiles are irrelevant. Unless you use Nikon-provided software like Capture NX or View NX, all of those custom settings are mostly discarded by third party applications such as Lightroom and Photoshop.

Nasim Mansurov of Photographylife.com has written a great article that goes into this in great detail and explains what you can do to fix it and here it is…

How to Get Accurate Nikon Colors in Lightroom

Lightroom 6 Desktop Edition – Download Link

Today I managed to avert a crisis. I applied the latest patch to Lightroom 6 Desktop version and it stopped working!

I decided the only way around this was to reinstall the software and hope my catalog was still intact.

I contacted Adobe and chatted to three different people before they sent me the link to where you can still download the Lightroom 6 Desktop Version.

https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/lightroom-downloads.html

This link is not publicised much by Adobe as they want to push you towards the Creative Cloud plan.

TIP – Always keep your serial numbers for your software in case you need to reinstall it again!

So,

  1. I downloaded LR6 via the link above
  2. Reinstalled it
  3. And thank frik all of my photo’s were still there
  4. Crisis averted

Phew.

JV

Barcelona is a great city but are tourists really welcome?

I recently spent a few days in Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region.

I had a great time doing what I do best, just wandering around with my camera in hand, drinking it all in and hopefully getting one or two decent photo’s along the way.


Getting there

It’s only a couple of hours flight time from Bristol so it’s easily a long weekend destination. It was a fairly uneventful flight and before I knew it I was there.

Clearing security at Barcelona Airport is great if you have a new biometric e-Passport like I do. They have a snazzy new system which allows you to process yourself through security. Basically you scan your own passport and fingerprints and then let the machine scan your face, then a magic door opens up and you’re in.

I got to Barcelona – El Prat Airport which is nothing remarkable in itself and found myself walking around it like a plonker looking for the train station because it’s not particularly well signposted.

Eventually I worked out where the train station was and crossed a rather grubby overpass to reach it. I then queued up for a few minutes and bought myself a T10 transport ticket which entitles you to 10 journeys on the train and metro system. I bought a couple of these during my time in Barcelona. They are about 10 Euros so they are very good value.

T10-Barcelona-Metro-Ticket

All of the trains from the airport run via the Sants train station (Sants Estacio) which was where I was heading so I jumped on the first available train and sat on it for about 30 minutes before arriving at Sants.  I then walked about 15 minutes to my hotel.


Where I stayed

I stayed at ‘Smart Hotel Barcelona’

It’s a very clean and ‘smart’ hotel tucked down a side street near to the Metro in the Sants area of Barcelona.

This is the room I stayed in. Perfectly adequate budget room with a nice balcony, shower room and double bed.

 

view
The view from my hotel room.

I had to pay a few Euro’s for Breakfast each morning as my package didn’t include it but it was worth it. I ate a hearty continental breakfast and drank as much tea and coffee that I could without drowning.

The staff were friendly and helpful, there’s lockers and a coffee machine in the lobby. All in all it’s a great hotel to stay in for a budget price.


Getting Around

The nearest Metro station was about 5 minutes walk away. As I mentioned above, make sure you buy a T10 Travelcard, it’s well worth it.

Trust me, I did a lot of walking (about 30 miles is my estimate), it’s impossible to get around everywhere you might want to within a few days so definitely use the Metro to get around.

If like me you’ve lived in London or New York where they have underground / Metro systems then getting around Barcelona will be a doddle for you. If not it might take you a while to get to grips with it. I did notice that there were several befuddled tourists who looked as if they had just landed on a different planet staring at the map for many minutes. As i’m a helpful soul I did help out one or two people to get to their destination.

The Metro lines are colour coded so it shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone who is in possession of a handful of brain cells.

Safety

Barcelona has a bad reputation for pick pockets and petty street crime so bare that in mind while you are travelling around on the Metro and generally wandering around the streets and crowded areas.

In fact, my neighbour’s wife had her handbag stolen on the Metro last time they were there.

I generally keep my camera bag in front of me at all times when travelling on any train/metro anywhere in the world.

One piece of advice that always stuck with me was given to me by someone I was staying with in Cape Town many years ago:

“Walk with confidence not cockiness”.

I’ve always kept this in mind when travelling around the world. Believe me i’ve been to a few very dodgy places but so far so good.

If you look like a target then you very well may become one.


So what did I see and do?

I hadn’t done any research so I went with the view that I would just turn up and work it out when I got there.

In a nutshell I……

  • Walked up and down La Rambla more times than I can remember *
  • Did the hop on and off bus tour (which I can highly recommend)**
  • Ate lots of tapas
  • Drank lot’s of Estrelle (a very fine beer brewed in Barcelona)
  • Walked all around the harbour area and beaches
  • Wandered around ‘Barri Gotic’
  • Went to Mercado de La Boqueria a fantastic indoor market off La Rambla
  • Spent a few hours wandering around Plaça de Catalunya and Plaça d’Espanya
  • Saw several of Gaudi’s buildings
  • Ended up with very sore feet

In my humble opinion Barcelona has got the lot.

I like any city that is near the coast. Comparable cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Cape Town spring to mind.

*You might be surprised to see prostitutes plying there trade in broad daylight at the southern end of La Rambla. I was most surprised to see a more mature lady sitting there legs akimbo showing off her wares to all how cared to look. 

** If a hop on hop off tourist bus is available I will always take a ride on it. It’s a brilliant way to see everything worth seeing in a day. I generally do the whole tour without getting off and then work out which places I want to go back to and explore later on.


Photo’s

I took about 600 photo’s while I was in Barcelona which isn’t bad going.

I generally don’t bother taking loads of photo’s of tourist attractions because they’ve been photographed millions of times and it’s unlikely you can compete with photographers who live there who have plenty of time to think about what they are doing and can also keep going back to a location if they need to.

My motto is “Going to the places you know, taking the photo’s you’ve never seen”

So generally I’m gonna walk down side streets off the beaten track, go to places that the locals frequent and live and look for new angles if i’m taking photo’s of touristy stuff.

Here’s a screenshot of a selection of photo’s I took in Barcelona. You can view and buy them here. BTW you can also order framed photo’s through my online gallery.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 20.29.41

View my Barcelona Gallery here


Are tourists welcome in Barcelona?

One of the things I will always do with this blog is provide you with a completely honest account of my travels and experiences. I will never sugar coat anything, I will always tell it as it is.

On the whole my experience in Barcelona was a positive one but I did get the impression that in certain places I may not have been very welcome.

I did a general search on Google and found this story, i’ve highlighted the bits about Barcelona and provided a link to the rest of the story below.

‘Tourist go home’: Why you’re no longer welcome in Spain

Last year, just as Barcelona earned the title of the third most visited city in Europe, it got a new mayor, Ada Colau — an outspoken critic of tourists in the city.

After being elected to office in June 2015, Colau threatened to put a cap on the number of visitors to Barcelona, fearing it would “end up like Venice”, a city in which tourism has been blamed for driving locals away.

The number of annual visitors to Barcelona — about 7.5 million in 2013 — grossly overwhelms the number of actual residents, of which there are about 1.6 million.

Concerned about a growing inequality between tourists and locals, especially with regard to the rise of tourist apartments, Colau put a one-year moratorium on new licences for hotel and tourist apartments in the city.

Barcelona also recently introduced a restriction on tourists visiting the famous La Boqueria markets, banning groups of more than 15 tourists from entering the market during peak hours.

Residents in Barcelona’s beachfront areas have previously been vocal against drunk and disorderly tourists.

Read the full story here…..

A couple of times when walking in less populated areas I experienced young men spitting (not at me) but just after they passed me on the street. This happened three times if I recall correctly. I doubt this was a coincidence.

I also heard a few mumbles of “Americano” followed by what sounded like fairly derogatory words. I probably do look like an American while I’m wandering around because I very often wear a baseball cap to cover my ever expanding bald spot and I also wear my favourite blue checked shirt which to the untrained local obviously makes me look like an American.

If only they knew I was English but to be honest I don’t think it would have made any difference. I was a tourist and obviously not welcome.

I came across the following graffiti while I was wandering around:

Touristgohome

And this on a toilet door at the airport on my way back.

barcelonahatesyou

This image was lifted from the story below:

Read the rest of this story here.

To be honest I wasn’t aware of this anti-tourist sentiment before I went. I doubt it would have put me off going though.

Here’s the thing. There must be thousands and thousands of businesses that rely entirely on tourism in Barcelona so they need to be a bit careful about putting tourists off visiting. If all tourists stopped going to Barcelona completely i’m sure in time it would have a fairly devastating affect on jobs and the local economy.


Conclusion

On the whole I did enjoy my time in Barcelona. I covered a lot of ground, saw a lot, ate and drank a lot and had some fairly decent weather, apart from the first day when it absolutely pissed down with rain and I got drenched.

I like the fact that it is a city with a coastline which i’m generally a big fan of. You can eat as cheaply or expensively as you like. It’s got history and modernity which is always good for a photographer. It’s also got a big street art scene going on which is another bonus for someone like me.

Would I go back? Yes, but I probably wouldn’t rush to go back. When I compare how welcome I was made to feel in the Greek island of Kos recently going back to Barcelona would be fairly low down on my list of places to revisit.


Top Travel tips

Cheers, JV