Female hiker near Kasprovy Wierch (1987m), Tatra mountains, Poland

Poland – Tatra Mountains – Part 1

Female hiker near Kasprovy Wierch (1987m), Tatra mountains, Poland

Photo: Stormy spring sky over the Polish Tatra mountains, near Kasprovy Wierch, Poland.  May 2014

My first trip to the Polish Tatra mountains was in the late autumn of 2011 when I was making was way south from Estonia, through Latvia and Lithuania, before an epic, 18 hour bus ride to visit my friend Jack in Jaroslaw, located in the south east corner of Poland, more of less closer to Ukraine than anything else.  After a few days in the nearby Bieszczady mountains, we headed west to the high peaks of the Tatra.

Being November, we weren’t sure what to expect, but 2011 happened to be an unusually warm autumn in Europe and so we had snow free travel up to the hut at the Five Lakes Valley (Dolinie Pięciu Stawów) for our first night in the mountains.  The next day we continued on towards Morskie Oko hut, thinking about hiking Poland’s highest mountain, Rysy, before deciding conditions weren’t too good.

While somewhat small compared to the Alps, the Tatra left an impression on me as a wild and rugged set of peaks with some stunning views from the high summits.

Returning to Poland this May, I made plans to meet with Jack in the mountains again.  Staying in Chorzow, near Katowice, it took half a day on Polish busses to arrive in Zakopane, where we would spend Friday night before heading further into the mountains.

The weather forecast was so-so, actually rather poor.  Arriving on Friday afternoon in Zakopane, the skies overhead were heavy and dark.  Being lazy, and with a few hours of daylight left, we took the cable car to the summit of Kasprovy Wierch to at least get a few mountain photos.

The trip was also to do a bit of scouting for the next day’s hike, as one of the possibilities was to cross from Kasprovy Wierch over into FIve Lakes Valley and stay in the hut for the night.  But from up high, it was evident that without winter gear, there was still too much snow up high for the journey to be possible.  So it was back down to Zakopane for a pizza and some beers (and a Kebab on the way back to the guesthouse).

We made plans to head to Five Lakes Valley in the morning.

 

Sprintime view over Tatra mountains, from near Kasprovy Wierch (1987 m), Poland

Photo: Spring in the Tatra mountains, Poland.  May 2014

View towards Swinica (2301 m) from Beskid (2014 m), Tatra mountains, Poland

Photo: Snow covered Swinica, Tatra mountains, Poland.  May 2014

Stormy weather over Tatra mountains, Poland/Slovakia

Photo: Dark sky over the Slovakian side of the Tatra mountains, near Kasprovy Wierch, Poland.  May 2014

Dramatic coastal mountain landscape viewed from Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Back On Dry Land – Lofoten

Dramatic coastal mountain landscape viewed from Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Summer evening view from the summit of Ryten, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2012

I will be on Lofoten now for more of less the whole of September.  Hopefully the weather is as good as the previous two years, as I have put together a pretty long ‘to-do’ list of mountains to hike.  And I have a few mountains I need to hike again, hopefully with some better weather, to add more hiking guides to this website, as it seems there is some new competition out there these days.

If you see someone (me) in an somewhat ugly bright blue jacket, come and say hello.  Or you can try and contact me via FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM if you know you’ll be around…

I want to try and remain on Lofoten as long as possible, especially as the chance for northern lights grows with the ever darkening nights of autumn – the best displays always seem to be the day after I leave, so I suggest scheduling at trip for the beginning of October! 🙂

But it will be a long trip down from the north car, and not knowing what the weather may due, I might be forced south a bit earlier than planned.  Plus, this will be my first ever opportunity to visit central Norway by car, and there is a huge list of place I want to see or re-visit from my hitchhiking days of years gone by.

Town hall and Rynek market square, Opole, Silesia, Poland

Opole – Poland

Town hall and Rynek market square, Opole, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Town Hall and Rynek Market square, Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

My first, and brief visit to Opole was in May 2013 when I visited the Polish state archives looking for a bit of my family history.  I had know the town by name, but knew little more about the place.  On the day I visited the streets were full of young students celebrating something or another, so I didn’t have the chance to take too many photos – I was mostly in the archives looking at old microfilms anyhow – but upon this first impression, I knew Opole was a place that I would like to have a chance to spend a bit more time in.

Fast forward to May of this year when I somewhat unexpectedly found myself in Poland again (for a wedding).  I wanted to do a bit more exploring of the Silesian countryside where part of my family comes from, so instead of making the usual day trip from Chorzow (my somewhat industrial home base in Poland), I decided it would be a bit nicer to spend a few nights in Opole, two to be exact.

Typically in my European travels I’m a backpacker through and through.  And while the hostel representation in eastern Europe has greatly expanded since my first travels in 2006/2007, there are still some cities that are completely off the charts for travelers.  Opole is one of those places.  It seems that for backpackers, Poland only consists of Krakow, and perhaps Warsw, Gdansk or Wrocław.  But beyond that, much Poland remains an empty zone for hostels, as the backpacker route continues on to Prague – also skipping one of my favorite cities in the Czech Republic, Olomouc.

Luckily, hotels in Poland, if you book through Polish websites, are not too hard on the budget.  We found something reasonable and just outside the city center for our two nights in in Opole.

Opole itself is a wonderful town!  While the city center is quite small and compact, it is evident that it has received a fair amount of EU funding for some revitalization, no doubt due to the strong German roots of the city and its historical importance as the capital of Upper Silesia.

For me as a photographer I found the streets wonderfully void of people standing in the way of my photos during dusk, while at the same time, the restaurants we chose for dinner filled up with a lively crowd of university students each night, which I’m sure picks up even more on the weekends (I was there mid week).  My timing was even good enough to coincide with a visit from the Polish president – who’s entourage passed me by as I was walking down one of the streets.

I’m pretty sure I’ll return again one of these days, as a base for a bit more exploration of the SIlesian countryside.  Though I think I will also have to make a visit to Wrocław a priority as well.

Town hall tower rises above old town, Opole, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Town Hall tower rises above the city center, Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Historic buildings along Rynek market square, Opole, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Colorful buildings line Rynek market square, Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Town hall and Rynek market square, Opole, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Town Hall building, Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Historic buildings along Rynek market square, Opole, Silesia, Poland

Photo: City center at night, Opole, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Kvalvika Beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Norwegian Sailing Adventure – Tromso To Lofoten

Kvalvika Beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Kvalvika Beach, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

Part two of my travels in Norway begin today: A two week sailing expedition from Tromsø along the Norwegian coast to the Lofoten Islands with Vertical Shot Expeditions.

I have only been on a sailboat once before, a week long journey out to the Channel Islands national park off the coast of my hometown of Santa Barbara, CA.  I really fell in love with everything sailing and ocean during that trip.  And even gave thought to taking some classes, something that still remains in the back of my mind should I find the time one day.  So it seems appropriate that my next trip on a sailboat will include Norway, one of my other loves in life.

I have no idea what to expect really, but I have no doubt the journey will be nothing short of epic!  I just hope no early autumn gales decided to pass our way.  I don’t want any, ‘I’m glad I’m not on a boat today!’ type weather during the trip.  But the North does what the North will do, and hopefully I’m prepared for it.

I wont be posting much from the trip until I’m off the road, but you can keep up with my journey over on FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM, where I’ll do my best too keep things updated whenever I find a wifi connection.

Norway Hiking

Tromso Norway

Norway Hiking

Photo: Hiking into the summer sun, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

My last days to enjoy the California sunshine are over and I’m once again on my way north of the arctic circle; which is really my favorite place to be anyhow.  I don’t think I will miss the sun too much!

This journey will be a couple firsts for me.  To begin with, I’m testing out the new LA – Oslo route operated by Norwegian Airlines.  With a direct flight to Oslo, as well as the cheapest price to get to Oslo overall, It seems like a good deal overall and saves a lot of layover time in Germany or the US east coast.  Though I do have to drive to LAX on a Sunday afternoon, not something I’m expecting to be an enjoyable experience.  If only America could catch up with Europe, and I could take a train.  Only a dream I’m afraid…

Unlike my normal continued journey to Bodø, the gateway to Lofoten, I’m flying further north to Tromsø; both a city and northern latitude I’ve never been to before.  I think my main reason for never visiting Tromsø is the lack of a hostel or any other cheap accommodation.  Quite strange for a city of its size, and even more rare for most Norwegian destination, a summer as well as winter tourist appeal.  Luckily, I have been kindly offered a couch to sleep on, should it so be required by inclement weather.

Otherwise, I think I will walk from airport to mountains in my typical fashion.  Though no doubt I’ll be tired, so a nice place to sleep before any big adventures will likely be my first priority.

I was thinking of maybe heading into the Lyngen Alps, of which I have heard so much about, but I think I would like a bit more time for such a trip, and so will likely save for sometime in the future.  (It’s always good to keep a long list of plans and dreams…)

Overall I will have 5 mights in/around Tromsø before I need to meet up with my sailboat for the next part of the journey: A two week sailing expedition down the Norwegian coast to the Lofoten Islands operated by Vertical Shot Expidetions.

I wont be posting much from the trip until I’m off the road, but you can keep up with my journey over on FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM, where I’ll do my best too keep things updated whenever I find a wifi connection.

 

 

Northern Lights fill sky above mountains of Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Images in 2015 Geo Saison Calendar

Northern Lights fill sky above mountains of Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Northern Lights over Stamsund, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  October 2011

For any of you guys in the German speaking countries, a couple of my Lofoten Islands photos are in the GEO ‘Im Licht des Nordens’ 2015 calendar.

The first image is on the cover, a photo of the northern lights I took in October 2011.  It was my last night of a two week autumn trip to Lofoten.  Thus far, the sky had been quiet, not a hind of northern lights to be found.  Though 2011 was a turbulent autumn, so there often wasn’t much night sky to be seen.  But finally with one night left the weather calmed and the sky remained clear.  I could sense that auroras would appear.  The islands’ final gift to me; making sure I didn’t leave empty handed.  They lights were somewhat late to arrive, but when they did, wow!  I stayed on shore to photograph while Roar took the others out on the boat to gaze at the sky from the calm waters of the Vestfjord.  This was the best aurora I had seen up to that point.

The second image from from the summit of Offersøykammen.  Frustrated with my efforts for the day thus far, I decided just to hike up the small mountain and wait for sunset.  With about 40-50 minutes remaining before sunset, a layer of cloud began to develop over the summit of the mountain.  The cloud thickened, but before I was lost in a total whiteout I was given about 15 minutes of beautiful light.  I never saw the sunset, and as I descended the mountain and could see again I discovered that I hiked up the only mountain covered in cloud.  Though I think it worked out for the best in the end…

So, if you’re in Germany/Austria/Swiss and want to purchase the calendar, you can do so here: Geo – Im Licht des Nordens

geo-saison-2015

 

Geo Saison calendar 2015

 

View over Nappstraumen from summit of Offersøykammen, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Autumn light over Offersøykammen, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  October 2012

Spring storm over farm field, Opole voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Silesian Fields

Spring storm over farm field, Opole voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Dark skies over green fields, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

I stopped along the side of the road in the village of Ligota Bialska (Formerly Ellguth), deep into the southern reaches of the former region of Upper Silesia, to take a quick photo of the WW1 memorial and record the names of the fallen in search of my families distant connections.  From a farm building across the street I hear a shout and then two men begin approaching our rental car.  Though we rented the car in Katowice, the obvious ‘W’ (Warsaw) license plate of the rental agency denoted us as distant foreigners in this quiet, rural part of Poland.

We explained my interest in the memorial.  That I was looking for traces of my family.

‘Hindera? Yes, I think I knew of some Hinderas.  Over in Smicz.’  The old man muttered through his few remaining teeth.

‘Ahh, yes, the name seems familiar.’ His friend interjected.

‘Do you know of still any around?’ We asked.

‘Hmm, no.  It has been a long time.  You’ll probably find them in the cemetery by now…’ The old man replied.

And so we continued on through the Silesian countryside.  The Spring sky dark and heavy with rain.  I was in search of the dead; names now long forgotten.  Upper Silesia is a lonely part of Europe.  Formerly the eastern most expansion of the German Empire and now an empty part of Poland.  Just to the south lies the Czech border, whose mountains rise along the horizon, above fields of barley, wheat, rapeseed, and corn.  The green and yellow fields contrasted with the blue and black sky overhead.  A storm was approaching.

We passed the villages that I have only seen by name in birth, marriage, and death records of my ancestors: Grabina/Grabine, Otoki/Ottok, Ligota Bialska/Ellguth, Biala Prudnicka/Zülz, Wasilowice/Waschelwitz, Smicz/Schmitsch, Wilowice/ Mühlsdorf, Kolnowice/Kohlsdorf.  Tiny, one road towns of crumbling brick buildings and potholed streets.  You’re more likely to see tractors than cars driving along the roads.  The locals watch you out of the corner of their eye, as the rental car was far too nice to be owned by any resident.  What were we doing there?

The addition of the historic German names in 2005 to many of the villages seems to have come at the distain of some locals, and more than once, I noticed the German version of the town name covered in black spay paint.  It appears history still holds bitter memories for some.

We drove further south to Prudnik, now just 5 kilometers north of the Czech border.  After driving in a few circles we next headed west towards Nysa. Just outside of town the sky erupted.  Lightning cracked and thunder rumbled all around us.  I made a quick turn off onto a farmer’s dirt road and into a field where I attempted to photograph the action.  I was just on the edge of the storm but soon that cold breeze picked up and a bolt of lightning hit a little to close for comfort.  Heavy drops of rain began to fall.  I thought of my ancestors, leaving these fields for a new home in Nebraska in the 1880’s and 90’s.  They may have moved a content away, but still they remained in a familiar land.

The storm passed and as we reached Nysa a bit of sun was beginning to shine.  The cities cathedral, beautiful and imposing, rose high above the city center.  But the place overall was a bit too busy for my liking.  And so we took the narrow country roads back north to Opole.  The rain caught up to use once again.  This time without any drama, just grey, liquid skies which lasted into the night.

If it weren’t for an historic family connection, then there is little doubt that I never would have heard of, much less visited, Polish Silesia.  And while you wont ever see any of these town names appearing in guide books or magazine articles, there is still a wealth of history and a lifetime of stories to be discovered in this lonely corner of Europe.  I have little doubt that I’ll be back again.

Abandoned building, Grabine - Grabina, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Abandoned house in the village of Grabina/Grabine, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

 

Abandoned building, Grabine - Grabina, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Wind and Curtain, Grabina/Grabine, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

 

Bales of hay stacked in field, Grabine - Grabina, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Bales of hay, Grabina/Grabine, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

 

Spring thunderstom over Rapeseed field, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Spring thunderstorm over field, near Laskowiec, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

 

Spring thunderstom over fields, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Approaching storm over field, near Prudnik, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

 

Nysa cathedral, Opole Voivodship, Poland

Photo: Nysa Cathedral, Nysa, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

 

Old barn in farm field, Prudnik County, Opole Voivodship, Silesia, Poland

Photo: Lone barn in field, Opole Voivodship, Upper Silesia, Poland.  May 2014

Rainbow at Sunrise over mountains from Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten – Norway Travel Plans – Summer/Autumn 2014

Rainbow at Sunrise over mountains from Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Sunrise rainbow at Bunes beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  August 2013

A couple days ago I booked two sets of plane tickets for Norway!  As many times as I’ve been to Lofoten now, I still get excited once I commit to a plan and get things rolling.  Only seven weeks of waiting left – well, I’ll hopefully keep quite busy at work to be able to pay for it all.  If not, I’ll be selling off some gear that doesn’t see much use anymore.

I was actually getting a little stressed, as I waited a little too long and prices were getting expensive!  But for some reason I remembered that Norwegian Airlines now has a Los Angeles – Oslo flight (direct).  Checking prices, it was about 1/2 price of anything else I could find (as I write this today, July 2rd, you can fly LA – Oslo (via Stockholm) on September 10th for $347 one way. Some cheaper prices if you go out a few more months).  Even more so in that I need to fly to Norway, but return home from the UK – which they also have London-Gatwick – LA direct as well.

I’ve flown with Norwegian plenty of times on inter-Europe trips to Norway, but haven’t ever taken one of their long haul flights before.  Knowing they are a bit ‘spartan,’ (ie: you need to pay for anything extra, even food) I’m not 100% sure what to expect, but for the price, I think I’ll be happy.  And hell, even half the United flights I seem to end up on don’t even have personal TV screens.  It worked out as the most convenient connection to get me to Tromsø anyhow.

Sorry to sound like an advertisement for Norwegian.  Though unfortunately for me, I don’t get to write one of those ‘This post was brought to you by Blah Blah Blah, opinions my own etc…’ at the bottom of this post – which would mean I got something for free.  I didn’t.  I just think this is a good deal for us Americans heading to Norway, and elsewhere in Europe.  Especially for us California folk.  And I really like Norwegian’s system of more or less considering every flight as one-way, which means it’s not any extra cost to fly to one destination and leave from another as you can easily book two separate one-way flights.

Now I just need to talk my brother into driving me to LA on a Sunday afternoon…

AUGUST – Sailing Trip to Lofoten

As I mentioned a little while back, I’m going sailing around Lofoten with Vertical Shot Expeditions.  I can’t really write how excited I am about this, but I am!  It is the first time I have ever signed up for any sort of tour – I’m normally quite a firm DIY type person; but there’s not really a way I could put a sailing trip together myself – well, maybe if I won the lottery or found some heavy duty sponsorship – so the opportunity to participate in this trip was too good to pass up.  Hopefully I’ll return with lots of new images for this site.

SEPTEMBER – Lofoten

I have been a little on the fence about what to do after the sailing trip, which ends September 6.  I have received a couple requests for some small private group tours – workshops around Lofoten for the Autumn, but so far none of these have come to fruition.  I also thought about going back to Sweden for another try at Sarek national park.  But I think it will be better if I put this off another year.   Luckily, life sometimes as a way of making decisions for you.

Without going into to much detail, I will be spending the whole of September on Lofoten.  I’ve already spent several hours looking at the topo maps at UT.NO, planning for the next series of mountain hikes to add to this website.  I think I’m gathering a pretty good list of peaks that I’m trying to sort out into various priority levels.  Though I’m not overly optimistic that the mostly calm, dry weather of the last two years will repeat itself again, so we’ll see how many mountain days I actually get.  There are also a few peaks I would like to revisit, like Himmeltindene, where I didn’t have the best Photography weather on my previous trip.  And there are a few seldom photographed valleys full of birch trees that will hopefully turn a brilliant gold come the second half of the month, with vertical walls of granite rising above.  So that might requite a few nights out in the tent, waiting for the light.

OCTOBER – Norway Road Trip

I’ll probably leave Lofoten around the first of October, although I’m a little hesitant to leave right as the northern light season is beginning, hopefully I’ll see something decent by the end of September.  From Lofoten, I’ll have two weeks to travel through central Norway, and visit some places that have been on my ‘to photograph’ list for a while.  Though I fear I might be a little late in the year for some places.  In mid October I need to be in the Netherlands to catch a ferry to the UK.  Which is probably for the better, as the car wont have snow tires.

By the beginning of November I’ll be home in California again, counting down the days until January 2015 when I head back to Lofoten to help guide a Photography workshop by Muench Workshops.

View over Nappstraumen from summit of Offersøykammen, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Lofoten Islands Travel Podcast Interview – Kuadrant Podscast

View over Nappstraumen from summit of Offersøykammen, Vestvågøya, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Autumn view from Offersøykammen, Vestvågøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  October 2012

I was recently interviewed for a new Travel podcast – Kuadrant Podcast.  It was the first time I’ve ever done a ‘live’ interview, or basically any sort of interview for that matter, so I’m not sure how much to tell you to expect from me.  But if you’re interested in spending 30 minutes of your life to hear me talk about Lofoten, travel, and photography, you can do so…

KUADRANT PODCAST – Episode 11 – Capturing Seasons In Lofoten

Without going into too much detail, I talk a bit about my early visits to Lofoten (2001/2006 – I’m getting old!) and why I was drawn to the islands and have returned so many times over the years.  Give it a listen and let me know what you think.  Maybe I will try and do more of these things! (ha!)

Two people enjoy campfire at Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Recent Published Works – Norway and Lofoten

Two people enjoy campfire at Bunes Beach, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Campfire at Bunes beach, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  April 2013

Lofoten Islands in National Geographic Traveler Poland – February 2014

A couple of my Lofoten images were published in the February edition of the Polish version of National Geographic Traveler magazine in an article about the world’s most spectacular islands, in which Lofoten rightly was included.

As someone who would loosely be described as a landscape photographer; I would rather be an adventure photographer, but I don’t have enough friends to travel with, so am forced to go alone and merely take landscape photos of my travels – or stay at home, the question is often asked: ‘ Would you like to shoot for National Geographic?’

While the answer is an obvious ‘YES!’  Life is not so simple as based upon the opinions of friends and family.  But now I’m proud to announce I now have some humble beginnings within the famed yellow borders.

Evening twilight over Reine from summit of Reinebringen, Moskenesoy, Lofoten Islands, Norway

Photo: Autumn twilight over Reine from summit of Reinebringen, Moskenesøy, Lofoten Islands, Norway.  September 2013

Lofoten national geographic traveler poland

Photo: Lofoten – National Geographic Traveler (Poland), February 2014

lofoten-nat-geo-traveler-02

Photo: Lofoten – National Geographic Traveler (Poland), February 2014

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Hurtigruten and Geirangerfjord, Norway in Men’s Journal – June 2014

One of my Images of the Hurtigruten traveling through the Geirangerfjord in central Norway is in June’s issue of Men’s Journal magazine (US).  I took the image while on a multi-day hitchhiking trip between Bergen and Trondheim (and back) in the summer of 2006 – when I had a lot more free time than money – which is pretty much my same situation today.  I haven’t been to Geirangerfjord since that trip, but my fortune of good timing and weather has made the series of images I took there some of my best selling ones over the last years.

Hurtigruten Norway Mens Journal Magazine

Photo: Hurtigruten and Geirangerfjord, Norway – Men’s Journal Magazine, June 2014