Tag Archives: holiday

Holiday packing agonies (photography style)

Friday 5 August 2022 – In a couple of days’ time, my wife and I embark on our most ambitious overseas travel – a major holiday crossing Canada from left to right and taking several weeks to do so. You can read the details in the Travel Blog pages of this site, if that’s your bag (I hope it is). But this posting is among the Photo Blog pages, since I’m using it to express my (usual) angst about the agonies of packing photo gear for such a major endeavour.

You’d have thought by now that I would be able to work out what gear to take on a holiday. After all, relatively recently we travelled to South America for 6 weeks, and gear wasn’t a problem then, was it? Not entirely a rhetorical question. Since I still chucklingly described myself as a pro photographer back then, I had a larger selection of cameras and lenses to choose from – and even then had to buy a particular lens for the trip. In the end, I took a ridiculous number of cameras with me – a DSLR with a general-purpose travel zoom lens (27-450mm equivalent), a backup compact camera, a Tough camera for snorkelling, and an Osmo – a camera-and-gimbal setup for video work. I managed to cram all of this into a MindShift 26-litre backpack, along with an Android tablet, two power banks, a sensor cleaning kit, rain sleeve, power adapters and cables. This was my carry-on bag and (whisper it) was far too heavy, even though it was within the airline carry-on size limits. No-one ever queried it, fortunately.

This was fundamentally a sound set of choices, but not perfect. For example, I had no strap or sling for the camera, as I fondly imagined that the backpack would come with me wherever I went. Good as it is, the backpack was occasionally too cumbersome, and so I had to hand carry the camera, which was also cumbersome, but less hassle than dealing with the backpack every time I wanted to take a shot. Also, I put a tripod in my main suitcase but I never used it. A little serious thought would have told me that it wasn’t appropriate for the sort of trip we were planning.

I only have one “proper” camera now:

The lens (24-200mm) is a great general-purpose travel lens. However, the actual equipment I feel I need to take with me looks like this:

Here’s what I’m going to pack

  1. Big Camera. As above., but since part of the trip will be attempting aurora photography, I need to include a wide-angle lens and a tripod.
  2. There will be wildlife opportunities, so I need a telephoto lens (see below).
  3. Video setup. I have quite low standards as to what constitutes acceptable video quality, so I will use my Samsung Galaxy phone. Experience in Jordan shows me that the Samsung’s stabilisation is really rather good, so strictly speaking I probably don’t need to take a gimbal with me. But I have a small gimbal, so I’ll take that, too.
  4. Laptop, for processing the photos and writing this blog. And a tablet, but that’s mainly for reading the papers in the copious spare time I probably won’t have any of. With luck.
  5. Other stuff. Backup drive, power bank, cables, filters, card reader, mobile hotspot(s)
  6. Oh, and a drone. This is a big change from even a year ago, when flying a drone was beset by rules and regulations that made it largely impractical without doing a huge amount of preparatory (paper)work. There have been two key recent developments: firstly regulations allowing much more flexibility if the drone in question weighs less than 250 grams; and (unsurprisingly) the arrival on the market of highly capable drones that meet that restriction. I have swapped the DJI Mavic I had for 5 years in favour of a DJI Mini Pro 3, with which it should be possible to get some really good photos and video, weather permitting. I won’t be able to fly it everywhere, particularly not near wildlife, but it’s a very capable piece of kit which I hope will give me the chance for some great aerial images.

I don’t have the option of entrusting any of this to a suitcase, as Li-Ion batteries are not allowed in hold luggage. So I have to try to get it all in a lug it about on my back.

Packed, it looks like this:

(Laptop, tablet and mains brick will go in the back pocket.)


Two stone. 28 pounds. Nearly 13Kg. Please don’t grass me up with the airline….

I’m almost certainly making my life more difficult than I need to; it may be that the general purpose lens is up to the wildlife job. But then again…..I am a little anxious about getting decent wildlife images; a 200mm focal length is not really quite powerful enough and there are bears of both grizzly and polar sorts to be photographed. I have a very good wildlife lens (200-500 f/5.6) but it is huge and weighs a ton (well, 2.3kg, anyway) which disqualifies it from coming to Canada. Reading an Amateur Photography magazine article gave me an idea for something almost as good: a Sigma 100-400 lens. It is 1 kg lighter and considerably smaller.

(it’s the one on the right, here, wearing the FTZ adapter necessary to fit it to my Z6.) Courtesy of Wex Photo, I managed to acquire one second hand. Technically, it works well and – this is of critical importance to me – my RAW processor of choice, DxO Photolab, understands it; image quality therefore is maximised and all I have to do is to nail the composition. That’s all. Wish me luck….

Cami de Cavalls day 16 – At leisure at last!

Tuesday 28 September 2021 – No more long walks in Menorca, then, since we’d completed the Cami de Cavalls. That didn’t mean no more walking, and it didn’t, today, mean lazily getting up late, either, as we had A Mission Of The Utmost Importance.

It’s two days until we fly home, and so we have to prove that we haven’t picked up the dreaded lurgy while we’re here.  Similarly to Iceland, the procedure is very well organised, straightforward and swift. Having booked the test slots online before we left the UK, on the day you present the paperwork for your requested test slot; take a tube with a barcode on it; wait a few seconds to be called in to the test room; suffer the indignity of a swab being inserted into your nose so far it feels like it’s come out of the back of your head; say “thank you” (for that?); and leave.  We are promised an e-mail in 24 hours telling us the result.

Fingers crossed.

The walking bit we had to do today was to visit the Cami360 office here in Ciutadella, since the Spanish idea of what size L T shirt means and mine are somewhat at odds.  Both Jane and I wanted to swap, and the lass in their office was very helpful without actually being able to speak a word of English.  I came away with an XXL cycling shirt, which is actually pretty tight; and Jane also swapped her T-shirt for a different size, too (although she had to go back again later because of a misunderstanding about the difference between Women’s and Unisex sizing).  Suffice it to say that by the end of the day, we were both happy with our commemorative clothing to mark the successful completion of the Cami.

Since we had a day of leisure and I believe in draining the cup of life to its dregs, I did  a spreadsheet analysis of the various mileages and ascents entailed during the Cami.  I used my phone’s GPS to provide location information to three applications and we had the Official Cami360 Booklet, giving the Official Version of length and ascent, section by section.

Long story short: Garmin Connect over-reports mileage and altitude gained by an average of around 10%, if you accept that the Official Version is probably correct, so I’m using Relive figures, as they seem to agree with the official version better.  The official length of the Cami is 185km (115 miles), and we walked 210.9km (131 miles), according to Relive; the extra kilometrage(mileage) was due to diversions and/or having to walk to get to the start or from the end of a stage for a drop off or pick up.  We ascended 3,224m, slightly more than the 3072m specified in the booklet.

Peripherally, Garmin has recorded that we have walked 256km (159 miles) in total, which includes our searching out Nice Lunches, etc.

We spent more of the day’s leisure walking around reacquainting ourselves with Ciutadella, which is a very attractive city.  Here are some photos I took as we walked.

Above is the municipal market, quite busy today

Above are municipal offices, and below are photos taken around the ridiculously pretty harbour.

I also tried my hand at a couple of candid street scenes, with which I’m not unhappy.

(Hmmmm….this last picture has just given me an idea….)

We  took lunch at a fish-specialist restaurant we knew from our previous visit, a harbourside place called S’Amarador. It’s really very good, even though they had run out of the razor clams Jane was looking forward to.

And now we’re back at the hotel, where the birds have been twittering away like mad as they joust for roosting space in the trees in the hotel courtyard.



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Of such lovely laziness is a day of leisure on holiday best constituted, particularly when set against the hard, hard labour of the previous fortnight.  We have another lazy day tomorrow, for which our Plan A involves eating at the Moli des Comte that I mentioned a week or so ago. Come back tomorrow to find out what we really  got up to.

So, Iceland, eh? Final thoughts

Thursday 15th July 2021. We’ve been home a couple of days now and are gradually easing ourselves back into all the home-based routines that had dominated, well, the last 18 months, really. The number and intensity of the seriously unfamiliar sights we’ve been treated to for two weeks have overlaid the mundanity of our return to domestic routine with a patina of unreality.  Before this fades, I thought it would be an idea to pull together some thoughts into a sort of valediction whilst things are still reasonably fresh in our minds.  All of the following should be read in the context that we had an excellent holiday experience which it would be difficult to improve upon.

  1. Is Iceland expensive, as is reputed?  It’s certainly not cheap.  For lunch, dinner and a couple of drinks daily, the total cost for fifteen days ran out at over £2,000 for the two of us. A large gin & tonic could be around £12, for example, and a glass of wine with dinner around £10.  This may seem steep, but then again I don’t know how these compare with, say, London prices.  However, this was a holiday, and the exchange rate made it difficult to do the necessary mental arithmetic to establish how much things translated to in English money, so we firmly turned our face against worrying about it.
  2. The gin. There is a good variety of Icelandic gins.  We found that the flavour of many brands, such as Himbrimi, while tasting perfectly gin-like neat, seemed to disappear when tonic was added.  An exception to this is Icelandic Angelica gin, which we only really discovered on the flight home, but which was very nice in a G&T.
  3. The diet. As we travelled around in Iceland, it seemed that every restaurant menu featured the same items – cod and/or arctic char, lamb, beef, occasionally chicken. Of course Iceland  is an island and has more sheep than natives so the presence of fish and lamb is not a surprise. Generally, menus seemed to prioritise fish/meat and potatoes over vegetables; and the fruit typically available at breakfast tended (rather counter-intuitively) to be melon,  watermelon and pineapple.  But then the island’s climate isn’t really a fruit-growing one and its ecology isn’t particularly vegetable-friendly.  So, Friðheimar apart, many things have to be imported; Dagur told us that a large proportion of this is centrally-managed, hence the uniformity of produce across our travels.
  4. It’s very easy to pay in Iceland. Everywhere, absolutely everywhere, enabled contactless payment and we used our phones for this.  Terrifically convenient and well-organised. You don’t even need to be connected for Google Pay to work.
  5. Talking of which, Iceland’s connectivity is generally excellent.  There were a couple of remote places where the mobile signal didn’t reach, but I could almost always get online if I needed to; and – at the moment. at least – calls and data go against my UK quota, so I could do the utterly critical tasks, like Instagram, at any time. Such a relief, you can’t even guess.
  6. Iceland is a large island, certainly larger than we had realised.  To see what we saw round the island took 13 days of relentless tourism.  Even then, we really only skimmed the surface; the country would repay a deeper. slower visit; or, of course, several shorter ones. In our case, having a knowledgeable guide like Dagur was a key ingredient to the success of the holiday.
  7. And, of course, it’s vastly different between summer and winter.  We have only experienced the former, and certainly want to go back during the winter time to experience the difference.  While we spent a fortnight exploring the whole coastline during the summer, our guide reckoned that one can experience most of what Iceland has to offer in the winter  (ice caves, geothermal hot pools, northern lights) in just a few days whilst staying within striking distance of Reykjavik and thus avoiding having to travel in what might well be rather problematical road conditions.
  8. The light.  We travelled near midsummer, which meant that although the sun officially set (we were just below the arctic circle), it never got really dark.  A photo example can be found in an earlier post. For me the practical upshot was that I tended to lose track of time whilst writing the blog every evening since I didn’t have the cue of it going dark; so I sometimes looked up to find that it was after midnight.  All the hotels had blackout curtains, but all let in a certain amount of light. My advice to travellers that find it difficult to sleep in the light is to bring a sleep mask if your time there is in summer.  (Of course, at midwinter, it barely gets light, particularly in gloomy weather.)
  9. The weather. Ah, the weather!  As far as we could determine, the only predictable thing about the weather is that it will be windy (Chris Foster, Jane’s friend in Reykjavik, commented that Iceland is the fourth windiest place in the world – and no-one lives in the other three).  Anything else can change very rapidly. We packed for cold and rain but were lucky, by and large, to get cloudy or sunny weather. We should have packed sunscreen, but didn’t.
  10. The lupins. This is a contentious issue among Icelandic people; some appreciate their environmental benefits and some hate their invasiveness.  But one thing is certain: during their brief flowering period, around mid-June to mid-July, they are a colourful addition to the countryside.  For the rest of the year, they’re just green, apparently.
  11. The scenery. It’s anything from attractively scenic to jaw-dropping.  In a way, it’s a shame that so much good scenery is concentrated in a single island.  Pretty much every mile brings a fresh sight that, anywhere else, would have you stopping the car to take a photo; but in Iceland it’s commonplace and after a while, I wonder if one gets a bit inured to the passing landscape unless it’s a massive waterfall, a geothermal hotspot or a panorama over a fjord.
  12. The birdsong. It was a practically ubiquitous and continuous soundtrack to our holiday, with the drumming of snipe and calls of curlew, kittiwake and other birds ever-present. Jane said that it reminded her of her childhood in darkest Somerset, with a level of birdsong you rarely if ever hear today. The same idea applies to insects; Dagur had to clean the Land Rover’s windscreen of splatted invertebrates on several occasions, an activity that is no longer so common in England.
  13. The roads. The major roads are very well tarmacked; less major roads are hard and (largely) level, without a tarmac surface but easily navigable in a normal car; and below that are large numbers of very bumpy tracks which may be found on a map but which really require a serious 4×4, such as the Land Rover Defender that we were in, to be sure of getting along without problems; and the highland mass in the middle, with bridgeless river crossings and rough tracks, should be avoided unless you have serious overland capability, local knowledge and at least one backup car.
  14. Whilst on the topic of roads, the wildlife. Or, more accurately, the sheep.  They’re not strictly wild, but are free to roam wherever they want, which is quite often on the road.  The sensible ones know to get off the road as a car approaches, but they’re not always sensible, and ceaseless vigilance behind the wheel is necessary.
  15. The language.  It’s a bastard.  It has several of its own characters, plus a lot of diacritical marks so even the letters you recognise aren’t necessarily pronounced the way you might think.  Both Jane and I really struggled with understanding and pronouncing place names. I have a favourite sight, the canyon at Fjaðrárgljúfur, but I’m buggered if I can retain the name in my head for more than a few seconds at a time.
  16. The people.  All the Icelanders we met were very smiley, happy-looking, friendly people.  This may, of course, be a side effect of the long days of summer, and the reverse may be the case during the winter, but we left with a positive view of the natives.  Given that the population is about 350,000 and the tourist industry in a good year brings in two million visitors, it’s  unsurprising to find other nationalities at work in the hospitality industry as well. Generally, we got excellent service wherever we went.  In these post-Covid times, though, one has to be a little careful when out in the wilds of the Icelandic countryside to establish what’s open and what isn’t.

Should you visit? Unless you want a fly-and-flop, sunshine-and-beach holiday, the answer is yes. It’s an astonishing, remarkable, unique place. We feel very lucky that we have been able to visit and look forward to going again.