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Photography Travel

Australia: The Ruthven Kelpies

I admit it, I have a fondness for herding dogs.  I grew up with Border Collies.  My husband and I had a Border Collie with us in Texas for 15 years. When I flew across the Pacific to Australia to visit my sister Judy, I had the opportunity to spend time with their five black and tan Kelpies. It was impressive to watch my brother-in-law, Bruce, work with them on their little hobby farm. Time with the Kelpies was a part of his daily routine (he’s also an accountant). You could tell that working with these dogs was his true passion. These Kelpies are gorgeous dogs and were so attentive to Bruce’s mustering commands.

It was great fun to get to know each of their personalities.  Tia, the only female (mother to the 3 younger kelpies) is very sweet, but likes to terrorize the chooks (chickens). Max loves to hide and sneak out from behind the trees on the property. Two of the brothers enjoy taunting Charlie until he suddenly runs off at high-speed. His two brothers chase him until he stops — and the taunting and subsequent chase begins again.

I spent a morning with Bruce photographing the dogs during their exercise time as Bruce played fetch with them. Here they are, the Ruthven Kelpies in all their wonderful, playful, hard-working glory.

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Photography Travel

Borgo di Vagli – Our Medieval Casa in Tuscany

Late last year, we became fractional owners of a Tuscan medieval hamlet in the forest not far from Cortona, Italy. Here’s the story on why and how we invested in Borgo di Vagli.

My first visit to Tuscany, Italy was in early March of 2008.  I was in Hungary on a business trip, and decided to take a long weekend and hop over to Tuscany to scope it out as a possible return destination with my husband. I booked a tour with Tania von Barkenhagen, who runs a small custom tour company that specializes in wine tours of the area.  Since she is also an avid photographer, I thought we’d be a great duo running around the countryside, trying to capture as much beauty as we could in a few short days. Tania’s tour was the beginning of my love affair with Cortona and Tuscany.

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I came back in the Fall, this time with my husband, Chuck, so he could experience Tuscany and fall in love with it too. We stayed in Tania and Keith’s vacation rental near Cortona and went on various day trips to the small hill towns in the Val di Chiana. We tasted lots of terrific wine and wonderful cheeses, ate fresh pasta and Chuck savored the wonderful varieties of sausage and salumi. After this trip Chuck, despite his dislike of long flights, decided that he’d like to come back to Tuscany and discover more of what this area is about.

During two more trips we were able to attend festa celebrations with Tania and Keith, took a cooking class (from Alessandra – highly recommended!), attended wine dinners in Cortona (amazing!) and visited Assisi, Buenconvento, Creti, Firenze, Pienza and San Quirico. Chuck was also able to fulfill a fly fishing dream and went fly fishing on the Nera River in Umbria. And, of course, I photographed the area to my heart’s content.

We added Tuscany as a possible retirement destination along with Central Mexico since they both had the things we wanted — a relaxed pace, a sense of community that is centered around piazzas and jardins, access to fresh food grown locally, friendly people, a sense of culture and history, and beautiful landscapes and architecture for me to photograph.  In the summer of 2013, after my 25 years as an Information Technology manager, and after Chuck’s 30 years as a librarian at a university, we retired to our casa in Mineral de Pozos in Central Mexico (not far from San Miguel de Allende). The choice was based on proximity to our families for visits. But, Tuscany was never far from our minds.

Last year, I read a post online from Alessandra about her visit to a “paradise on earth” not far from Cortona called Borgo di Vagli, a restored hamlet that you can invest in as a fractional owner (along with other people from all over the world).  I asked her more information about it and she put me in touch with Lee Cogher. After reading about Borgo di Vagli and visiting their website, I approached my husband about the possibility of investing in Borgo di Vagli as a vacation home. We contacted Lee and arranged a “Discovery Visit” in September. We flew across the ocean, drove up the steep and curvy road deep in the Tuscan forest to the Borgo. We stayed at the Borgo for a week in a beautiful and rustic stone house with an amazing view of Pierle Castle in the valley below. The pergola outside the front door was covered in grape vines and we were able to reach up and pluck the sweet juicy grapes to enjoy with our breakfast. It was so peaceful, the views were magnificent and the air was fresh. Then there was the food, the amazing food. The delicious meals were prepared fresh by Dina at the trattoria right at the hamlet. What a great way to win over two foodies!  By the time we had been there for 4 days, we decided that we were going to buy a 15% fraction of Borgo di Vagli. The actual sales process was very simple and we were able to do it remotely. So, now we have a vacation home in Tuscany that is cared for by a terrific staff, both when we’re there and when we’re back home in Mexico. We plan to share the Borgo with our family and friends and will return at least twice a year.

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We feel very fortunate to be truly “living the dream” — we live in a casa in a former ghost town in Central Mexico and now have a vacation casa in a restored medieval hamlet in Tuscany!

 

 

Photography Travel

Las Fallas: The Sights and Sounds at Night

The Las Fallas festival in Valencia, Spain is filled with activity all day and is especially colorful, loud and bright at night. Every neighborhood comes alive with street parties, music, processions, loud firecrackers and crowds milling around the fallas monuments while eating buñelos or churros dunked in hot chocolate. The atmosphere at night was very festive!  Here’s some night shots I took during the 2016 Las Fallas festival in March.

The fallas monuments are lit up and take on a new mood after dark.

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The beautiful “Illuminations” shine brilliantly and light shows are choreographed to music. These huge lighting structures take up an entire city block and are several stories tall. So beautiful!!

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The massive fireworks display during Nit de Foc is well worth staying up until 1:00am to watch among the massive crowd near the Alameda.

nit de foc 01 nit de foc 02The grand finale, on March 19th, is the night of La Crema, when more than 700 fallas monuments scattered throughout Valencia are set ablaze surrounded by millions of spectators. There are a large number of firefighters carefully watching these massive structures burn and shoot flames high into the air, readily spraying water on them to make sure the fires stay under control and don’t damage nearby buildings. It was spectacular!

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Here’s a few videos of La Crema taken by people who had a much better vantage point to film than I did:

Falla Convento (the one on the corner of the street where we stayed):

The Main Falla in Plaza del Ayuntamiento:

Falla L’Antiga de Campanar:

 

Beauty Photography

An Enchanted Evening: Prom Night

I’d have to say, this was one of my favorite portrait sessions yet. Capable Kids, a non-profit organization in the Rio Grande Valley, is dedicated to planning events and activities for special needs kids and their families. They organized their first Prom for special needs teens and young adults and I volunteered to be the portrait photographer for this event.

It is not surprising that the Prom was a huge success! All the planning and hard work by my daughter (President of Capable Kids) and the team of organizers and sponsors made this a very special evening for these young people. You could see it in their faces as I photographed them — they felt beautiful. I took the approach to provide very basic direction and let each of them decide how they wanted to pose. I wanted the final portrait to be an extension of their personalities. Here’s a small sample of the portraits from this memorable evening, which still makes me a little teary-eyed.

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Photography Travel

Valencia: Ofrendas and Falleras

For two days during the Las Fallas festival, the city of Valencia, Spain was abundant with parades of falleras and falleros in traditional costumes accompanied by musicians and bands.  Over 100,000 people from Valencia and surrounding regions brought offerings of flowers to the centre of Old Town Valencia to pay homage to La Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken), the Kingdom of Valencia’s patron saint.

During the week leading up to the event, Valencians constructed a huge wooden monument of the La Virgen in the Plaza de la Virgen.  On March 17th and 18th, this wooden framework was soon filled in with thousands of bouquets of carnations during La Ofrenda de Flores. I became captivated with this amazing tradition: one by one, each of the hundreds of falla communities, dressed up in their best and most colorful traditional costumes, passed by the Virgin bringing their flower offerings. The flowers were gathered up and placed into the framework “cloak” by teams of volunteers. These processions lasted for two days, 9 hours each day from 4:00 pm to 1:00 am. The parades were quite joyful as the beautifully costumed groups danced and sang to folk music as they passed by the crowds who responded with shouts of “guapa”!  These processions were also quite emotional — I noticed many women wiping away tears upon reaching La Virgen and presenting their flowers.

La Ofrenda de Flores was a very inclusive tradition, with people of all ages participating — from babies, to the elderly, to the mobility challenged. It was an amazing event to witness and to photograph. My eyes fill with tears just thinking about how memorable it was to watch.

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Photography Travel

Las Fallas: Preparing the Fallas

Las Fallas is one of those large and wild festivals in Spain that should be on any festival-goers bucket list. What started as a feast day for St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, has evolved into a 5-day, multifaceted celebration involving fire and fireworks. Valencia, a quiet city with a population of just over 1 million, swells to an estimated three million flame-loving revelers during Las Fallas celebrations. I’m one of those millions of people currently in Valencia to take part in this festival.

During Las Fallas, hundreds of exquisitely-crafted monuments called “fallas” are set up throughout Valencia. Each neighborhood’s falla can cost hundreds of thousands of euros and teams of artists have work on these for an entire year.  Valencians create these fallas, which are incredible works of art as unique, funny, satirical and thoughtful tributes to past year.

The fallas have been getting set up over the last few days using cranes, workers to assemble each piece and craftsmen to touch them up with paint.   They must be completely assembled by tomorrow morning and then the judging will begin. The best fallas will receive rewards. They will be on display until March 19th, La Crema, when (you might have guessed) they set them all on fire!

As I’ve strolled around the neighborhoods near me and in Old Town Valencia, I’ve been photographing some of the fallas as they are being assembled to give you an idea of the amount of work and the scale of the fallas.

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Photography Travel

Valencia: City of Arts and Sciences

Any visitor to Valencia, Spain, who is interested in cool architecture must visit the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. The Cuidad covers 2 kilometers and contains complexes dedicated to arts, culture, science and leisure. The architects were  Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela and the project was completed in the late 1990’s.

After visiting it a few years ago when I came to Valencia the first time, I knew I would do a return visit so I could photograph it again. Here are some color infrared images as well as some monochrome images I shot in an afternoon at the Cuidad.

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Photography Travel

Valencia: Soldaditos

Valencia has a great museum dedicated to re-creations of historic scenes featuring over a million toy soldiers.  If you’re an avid toy soldier collector, this would be your Mecca.  I enjoyed photographing all the miniature diaoramas which where elaborately displayed throughout the museum.  The building itself is a very cool Gothic style palace that was the residence of the Marquis of Malferit and is well preserved. It was a nice little side trip as I strolled around a pretty part of old town Valencia.

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Photography Travel

Valencia: My first Mascletá!

I’m reporting in from Valencia, Spain where I am currently documenting an amazing festival called Las Fallas.

The famous Fallas is Valencia’s most anticipated annual festival, featuring the ear-splitting Mascletá celebration which happens every day from the beginning of March until the end of the festival on the 19th of March. Each day, strings of hundreds of large firecrackers are hung by local groups in the town square. At 2pm sharp each day, thousands of onlookers and party-goers gather in the main square, Plaza del Ayuntamiento, to enjoy the explosive choreography of the petardos, the lighting of hundreds of firecrackers in all of their cadenced power and glory. Fireworks artists are allowed to use a maximum of half a metric tonne of black powder in their show as they compete for the best Mascletá.

mascleta 027 Las Falleras Mayores on the balcony of city hall getting ready to announce the lighting of the fuse.

mascleta 025 The crowd gathers at the Plaza. The barricaded area behind the tall fence is filled with fireworks.

mascleta 029-6 mascleta 029-12It was amazingly loud during those 6 minutes of non-stop explosions in the sky. I captured it on video while holding my camera over everyone’s heads.

La Mascletá in Valencia, Spain from Carol Watson on Vimeo.

I’ll be back again tomorrow to see what the next team of pyrotechnic freaks offers up to compete with today! My goal is to get to the plaza early and get in closer.

Photography Travel

Zion in Color Infrared

Yesterday, I posted a series of color landscape images from my day in Zion. I also had my converted Nikon D300 color infrared camera with me and captured Zion in infrared too. You’ll notice the different color spectrum when you compare them to the natural color images I posted yesterday. Welcome to Planet Infrared. zion ir b02 zion IR 112-Edit zion ir b03 zion IR 087-Edit zion ir b05 zion2 IR 026-Edit zion2 IR 034-Edit zion2 IR 028-Edit zion2 IR 038-Edit-2 zion2 IR 047-Edit zion2 IR 058-Edit zion2 IR 082-Edit zion2 IR 067-Edit zion2 IR 091-Edit zion ir b06 zion2 IR 114-Edit zion IR 040-Edit zion ir b01 zion IR 047-Edit