Escape Images – Travel Photography, Travel Blog, Stories and Prints by Daniel Sweeney

Escape Images

Travel Photography, Stories & Prints

Escape Images – Travel Photography, Travel Blog, Stories and Prints by Daniel Sweeney

Travel Blog

11th March 2016

Thawing out in the Algarve

After a long, cold, snow laden Canadian winter, the prospect of thawing out in Portugal was pretty inviting. A change in family holiday plans meant my mother had flight tickets with no one to travel with, so I jumped at the chance.

Carvoeiro

Edinburgh to Faro takes just over three hours and, after a slight rental car mix-up, our destination of Carvoeiro was about an hours drive away. After a late night arrival, we woke up the following morning to clear skies, sun and panoramic views over the ocean. The town of Carvoeiro is small and picturesque, with narrow shop lined streets leading down to the beachfront, guarded on each side by high, sandstone cliffs.

Carvoeiro beach

This being my first trip to Portugal, the sight of white, painted buildings, terracotta tiled roofs and cobbled streets was everything I’d hoped for. The town clings to the steep coastline with plenty of vantage points to take in the expansive horizon. We soon discovered the fantastic local seafood, wine and the country’s national drink, Port, which was often offered after each meal. I feel its taste will always remind me of this place.

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Being early spring, the temperature was a mild 17-21 degrees during the day, more than welcome after an average of -10 I’d come from in Canada. I was impressed with the abundance of greenery, something I’m not so sure is quite so apparent in the height of summer. It was clearly the ‘off season’ during our stay, with empty beaches and quiet nights in the restaurants, but as a relaxing, down-tempo trip, it ticked all of the boxes.

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Sagres and Cape St. Vincent

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Cape St. Vincent and the town of Sagres are just an hours drive from Carvoeiro, and well worth the journey. The south-western point of Portugal, Cape St. Vincent (Cabo de São Vicente) juts out into the Atlantic and despite the sunshine, we were battered by high winds along with the odd shower.

Admiring the cape’s lighthouse, trying to hold my camera still against the wind, it felt like I was back on the Donegal coast. One thing it certainly shares in common is it’s popularity with surfers – Sagres was full of surf shops and the coast dotted with those brave enough to take on the powerful waves.

Sagres Pottery

Pottery can be found everywhere along the Algarve, this store in Sagres with examples covering the entire building, making for an irresistible photo opportunity. I’ve never really been too excited by plates and bowls, but the variety, colour and quality of items for sale was impressive. I had to remind my mother of our baggage allowance, for once thankful that we couldn’t carry much else home on the flight with us. I think she’d have taken half the shop if she could.

Silves

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The town of Silves lays just inland from Carvoeiro and is a site of historic importance. The town’s focal point, Silves Castle, offers panoramic views over the surrounding countryside and an insight into the local history. Exploring the castle grounds with the sound of cockerels and birdsong echoing off the walls, it was pretty easy to be transported to a different time and pace of life. 

I could have spent hours exploring the town’s narrow, cobbled streets and houses; each building showing it’s own character with painted walls and hanging baskets. 

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Portimão

One of the largest town on the Algarve, Portimão isn’t nearly as nice as the smaller spots along the coast. The town itself is built up with high rise apartments and hotels, which must be heaving in the summer months. The beachfront is however still impressive, with long, sandy beaches and sandstone stacks, slowly crumbling into the sea. 

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We were lucky with the weather on this trip; the sun shone every day, with the odd shower here and there. Hiring a car and exploring what else the Algarve has to offer is highly recommended. It would have been easy to spend each day in Carvoeiro, relaxing on the beach and sampling the local cuisine, but we managed this and so much more.

Our trip offered a great mix of culture, relaxation, fantastic food and nightlife. The off-season wouldn’t be for everyone, it wasn’t quite as hot and the bars not as full, but for my wee holiday with Ma Sweeney it was just right. 

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Additional images…

 

13th November 2015

Mountains of Inspiration

mountains
Photo: © Soren Rickards

The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival had been pencilled into my calendar for the best part of a year. It’s one of the biggest and most anticipated annual events in Banff and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

Being a ‘local’ for this year’s event gave me the opportunity to get a little more involved than simply watching films. I signed up as part of the volunteer team for the festival, which was a really worthwhile experience. Volunteering brought a unique perspective; helping visitors, working behind the scenes, meeting festival staff, exhibitors, filmmakers and adventurers; really showed what goes into such a large-scale event.

Then of course there were the films; inspiration for the mind and soul. From a 5 minute short about a Welsh woman who swims naked in mountain lakes to 40 epic minutes of death-defying alpine climbing, this year’s line up included something for everyone.

I’ve previously sat for hours in cinemas, watching drivel that someone spent tens of millions producing, and here I am rejoicing at films that are more engaging, thought-provoking and potentially life-changing, produced by relatively unknown filmmakers, often on shoe-string budgets. I really cannot recommend this festival enough, so isn’t it great that they have a world tour bringing the best films to over 40 countries – make sure you check it out.

Intro video from the 2014/2015 World Tour

The films were the main draw of the festival, but there was a lot more on offer besides, including book signings, talks and debate, art exhibitions, presentations by Google and workshops hosted by National Geographic. Krystle Wright and Cory Richards also led a photo tour along the Bow River, accompanied by photo editors from the National Geographic Your Shot team.

The result of all this? A ton of great ideas, creative inspiration and who knows what next – this is my first post in six months, but hey, it’s a start!

Festival Highlights


 

20th May 2015

Under Boreal Lights

Aurora Borealis over Banff National Park

We had barely been in Banff a week before hearing stories of how spectacular the northern lights are here. Because the entire expanse of Banff National Park to the north is uninhabited, the night sky is very dark indeed; perfect for stargazers. Our first trip to Lake Minnewanka, a local’s favourite and probably one of the most accessible locations for aurora watching, came after a few weeks…

Anne Marie receives a call at half eleven on a Tuesday night; our Australian friends David and Katrina are blaring down the line something about flares and are on their way to pick us up immediately. I think the worst; there’s no way I’m going to a fancy dress party at this hour, but gladly I’m informed they’re talking about flares of the solar variety. Solar Flares can cause highly charged particles from the sun to erupt in huge plumes, racing the 92 million miles through space to earth, where they interact with our upper atmosphere. Who cares if you have work the next day when there’s a solar storm on the loose!

We excitedly throw on our thermals, wrap up warm and prepare the camera gear, unsure quite what to expect, but already buzzing at the prospect of a late night adventure.

Twenty minutes drive through dark, windy forest road later and we arrive along the ice bound lake shore, along with what seems to be half the town. I can’t believe just how many people are already here, with plenty more still arriving. Some are clearly well prepared, set up in groups down by the water’s edge, snuggled up in camping chairs.

Being new to the whole scene we make do with our parking spot along the roadside and eagerly set up our gear, all the while gazing skyward, waiting for our eyes to adjust to the dark. With such a throng of spectators arriving, spurred on I’m told by aurora forecast text and email alerts, it takes a while for the car lights to settle down and for us to fully take in the night sky.

Slowly but surely a myriad of stars appear above our heads, the familiar band of the Milky Way only barely visible, but for the haze of light emanating from behind the mountains in front of us. The light, ghostly, with only the faintest suggestion of green, sweeps across the northern sky in a huge arc, as though reflected from the far distant pole.

We fiddle with the settings on our cameras; ISO, Shutter Speed, Focus, waiting with baited breath between the closing of the shutter and revelation of the image on the camera LCD. A camera’s eye is so much better than ours in some ways, particularly for night photography. Imagine if with every second you gazed skyward, the light of the stars was multiplied again and again. That’s what happens with a camera’s sensor, and after ten, twenty, thirty seconds or more, what it reveals is truly breathtaking.

“Oh yeah… it kinda looks like a giant green blob”, remarks Aussie David, insightfully.

Northern Lights over Banff

Indeed, the great arc of light is rather green and blob like. But we needn’t speak so soon. After half an hour or so in ‘warm up mode’, the aurora, sensing our collective anticipation, bursts into life. There’s an audible gasp and an echo of hoots from along the lake front as huge pillars of light slice through the sky above. Appearing slowly, fading, shifting and dancing across the night sky like an ancient ritual of the heavens as old as the Earth itself.

Apart from the clunk of camera shutters and excited gasps from those around us, the aurora, now visibly green with a hint of red, performs its art in eerie silence.

Northern Lights over Banff

I feel a shiver trickle down my spine and glance over my shoulder into the blackened trees behind. It’s only now that I think about where we are, in the heart of Banff National Park, home to wolf, cougar, lynx and bear, and I sense other eyes watching from the forest beyond, perhaps sharing in our awe and wonderment of the boreal lights of the North.

 

15th March 2015

To The Rockies!

It took well over a year of planning – making sure we secured visas, saving and getting our lives in order – but Anne Marie and I have finally made it back to Canada. After a quick stop over in Toronto visiting relatives, we hopped over to the west coast and Vancouver to catch up with friends and enjoy some more of the city. It felt like we’d never left; street pizza, Granville Island, hipster restaurants, beer served in jam jars and of course city views with that awesome mountain backdrop.

Rocky Mountains Banff

We could have spent this year living in Vancouver, but the call of the mountains was just too strong. Why just look at them when you can live IN them? So we took the bus for fifteen hours through the Rockies to the small town of Banff. If we had any reservations about venturing into the ‘wilderness’ they were soon quashed as dawn broke to mountains of snow. I can honestly say that I’ve never seen so much of the white stuff; the conifers in some places were completely loaded, barely a green branch visible. Drifts piled down mountainsides and covered everything below in fluffy plumes. We craned our necks to look up at the peaks overhead and I kept bugging Anne Marie to ‘look’, ‘look!’ out the window like an excited child.

The snow seemed to peak just north of Lake Louise and by the time we reached Banff town there was not quite as much on the ground, perhaps a few inches. Still, we arrived with a sense of adventure and the prospect of a fresh start.

Anne Marie walking across The Bow River, Banff

As I write this now we’re well settled in. In just over six weeks we have both secured work and a small rental apartment in the heart of town. Although we’ve spent a few days hiking, snowboarding and exploring, our focus has been on ‘setting up’ and now that we’re getting over the necessary life chores we can concentrate on really enjoying what Banff National Park has to offer.

Tipi and Blackfoot Member Treffry Deerfoot

Thankfully the snow is currently falling again; the season hasn’t been great so far really. In fact, it’s well reported that the west coast of Canada is experiencing its worst snow season in over 100 years, forcing most of the ski fields to close early. On the other hand, the east coast has been snowbound for months, with minus 20 and below temperatures. Global warming is certainly starting to have a real affect on the ski industry. If the balance can return, we might still have a couple months of snowboarding here in Banff so fingers crossed X.

Sleigh Ride Banff

Some highlights in Banff so far include a romantic day spent on a horse-drawn sleigh ride, going up the Banff Gondola to the peak of Sulphur Mountain, then soaking in the warm waters of Banff Hot Springs. Several walks along the Bow River have seen encounters with the local Elk or Mule Deer, and just last week we spotted a group of Coyotes howling on the shore of Vermillion Lakes. You don’t have to venture far out of town before you start encountering the wildlife of the park.

Bull Elk Banff

Another draw to Banff is that it is home to the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival, which tours the world annually, showcasing the very best in mountain cinema and literature. Our first special viewing of short films at the Banff Centre was an emotional one, with the main feature ‘Mending the Line’ causing the whole theatre to choke up! The tale of Frank Moore, a 90 year old World War Two veteran returning to fish a river he stopped at during the invasion of Normandy, is as heart warming and life affirming as anything you’ll ever watch.

 

Needless to say that Banff has already made a great impression, and we have only scratched the surface. There’s a whole mountain range out there just waiting to be explored. Watch this space for updates!

 

14th March 2015

The Okanagan, true wine country

From the Diary: June 2013

We’re all set for a two week long road-trip around British Columbia and Alberta. Our hire car is jam packed, the route is mapped out and every single battery device is fully suped. No sooner than the key is in the ignition however, the heavens open to a biblical scale rainstorm. You can’t plan everything I guess.

Fortunately though we are heading for The Okanagan Valley, which is considerably warmer, sunnier and receives less rainfall than the rest of BC. The climate makes it the ideal location for fruit growing, and where there’s fruit, there follows wine!

The climatic claims are thankfully proven as, after a four hour drive through thundering rain and hail, the skies clear on our descent into the Okanagan Basin. I’m immediately reminded of Central Otago in New Zealand as the mountains give way to rolling hills and lush fields of vines.

Inniskillin Okanagan Winery

There are currently over 120 wineries in the Okanagan, so we would be crazy not to sample a few of them. With a little bartering Anne Marie agrees to be the designated driver on our self-drive wine tour. I meanwhile make a firm promise not to enjoy the wine too much (I wouldn’t dare). Starting from our base in Penticton, we drive south along the eastern side of Skaha Lake towards Osoyoos.

The first winery on our list is Inniskillin, named after the Irish Inniskilling Fusiliers. With so many great vineyards to choose from, liking their name isn’t a bad start to planning a tour. As it turns out the wines we try are also excellent, in particular the ice wine, which is the first we’ve tasted. Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of Icewine, with most of  it being grown in Ontario.

Anne Marie in the vineyard

With our tastebuds sizzling we head to the next winery on our list, Nk’Mip (pronounced in-Ka-meep), which is North America’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery. The vineyard is set on a vast stretch of land which also includes a holiday resort and cultural centre. Wine is clearly big business here in the Okanagan.

Poplar Grove Winery

Poplar Grove Winery

The rain is held back by the surrounding mountains as our tour continues to Stoneboat, Jackston Triggs, Elephant Island (some very different fruit wines) and Poplar Grove (above). Unfortunately I’m no wine critic so I’ll spare you the detailed sensory analysis. All you need to know is the wines are all of a very high standard, which seems to improve as the day wears on. Anne Marie can only handle so much so it’s back to our campsite for dinner and an evening stroll along the lakeshore in Penticton to clear my fuzzy head.

White-tailed Deer, Okanagan Valley

The next day takes us further up the valley towards Kelowna and along the way we stop in at some seriously plush wineries. Mission Hill is more like a castle than a winery with very modern architecture and expansive views over the lake.

Mission Hill Winery

Mission Hill Winery

After sampling so many fantastic wines I can’t believe Canada doesn’t export more product to the rest of the world. As said before I’m no critic, but I have tasted my fair share of wines over the years and the Okanagan certainly makes an impression. Perhaps I’ll have to do some more research just to be sure…

Quails Gate

 

27th April 2014

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

When most people think of Croatia, they probably imagine a rugged mediterranean coastline, drenched in sun. They wouldn’t be wrong of course, but our visit to Croatia took in a different landscape entirely. Plitvice National Park; a hidden gem of Europe, with an almost fairytale landscape of lakes, waterfalls and dense forest…

The flight from Dublin to Zadar takes barely three hours and within another hour Anne Marie and I are driving down the motorway in a zippy new rental car. Excited to be on our first ‘summer holiday’, we are a little disheartened at the weather forecast for the weekend; Rain with a chance of heavy downpours. Why did we bother leaving Ireland? As we are to discover, the rain is rather fitting for the location.

Our drive inland from Zadar is a quiet one – it seems that no one uses the motorway in Croatia. Perhaps this is due to the tolls or simply because everyone is at work, which certainly seems to be the case. Leaving the motorway we detour through a few small towns and villages, which to our surprise appear completely deserted. Maybe the locals spotted our hire car from a distance and are eyeing us through their curtains, but it’s rather eerie to drive through a whole town and only see a little old lady, wrapped in her shawl, selling jam at the roadside.

Croatian Army Base and Tank

As we approach Plitvice National Park the landscape grows ever more rural and the skies dark and heavy. Passing an army base I can’t resist stopping for a quick snap of some old tanks, remnants from the war of the early 90s. I honestly never noticed the four foot sign that reads ‘No Photos’.

Our accommodation for the weekend is a beautiful wooden guest house in Prijeboj on the outskirts of the National Park. The decor is brand new, the rooms cosy and the owners are very accommodating, despite our lack of Croatian lingo. We spend the evening scouting out the National Park, purchase our tickets and make a plan for the following two days.

From Tanks to Tourism

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Rising early we feast on a continental breakfast before heading to Plitvice Lakes. Despite the forecast we have a bright start to the day so make the most of it by getting on the trail quickly. A flotilla of small boats is on hand to take visitors to various points on the lakes, which are criss-crossed by a network of trails and sections of wooden boardwalk.

Walking the boardwalk trails of Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes National Park

The boardwalk, although slippy at times is the perfect way to explore the hundreds of waterfalls which thunder throughout the park. I’ve seen plenty of waterfalls on my travels, but the sheer number of cascades as you walk through the park is pretty astonishing. It really is a little waterworld, with a fairy tale quality to the landscape, the likes of which I have never seen before.

The rainy waterworld of Plitvice Lakes

Visitors hide under raincoast and umbrellas at Plitvice Lakes National Park

We do well to see most of the trails around the lakes by early afternoon which is just as well as the heavens open, driving everyone to cover. Being outwith the summer season visitor numbers are thankfully small, meaning we can explore wherever we wanted unimpeded. Visitors swell over the summer months and with over 1.2 million visiting annually that means for crowded walkways.

After a while plodding through the mud and rain we accept defeat and retreat to the park restaurant for a warm feed and an ice cold Karlovacko.

Into the Wild

Having most of the lakes already explored, day two is a more casual affair and we decide to venture deeper into the National Park. A more extensive network of trails takes you away from the lakes, through dense woodland higher up the valley. On the trail we pass red brick and wooden houses, which have a half finished look about them. An elderly man is so hard at work with his scythe, cutting his lawn that he doesn’t notice us gawping at him. We conclude his lawnmower must be broken.

Fog drenched woodland in Plitvice Lakes National Park

Half way into our hike, we’re deep in the trees and fog hangs in the air, giving the forest a mysterious quality. I catch a glimpse of an owl peering at us from high in the canopy, before disappearing into the mist. There are bears in these here woods. And wolf, lynx, deer and wild boar to name a few. The thought of it is freaking Anne Marie out and she insists that I walk in front, but not too far ahead. I personally love that feeling; that there is something out there, potentially watching us, and we’re not necessarily the highest on the food chain. Not that I’m tempting fate, I just think there’s something refreshingly primal about being out in ‘true’ wilderness.

Just as things are getting wild, the rain starts, but thankfully we’re not too far from the end of our route. Within an hour we’re back in our guest house for a cup of coffee and a warm shower.

Bosnia for Dinner

Bosnia? For Dinner? What would our mothers think? We laugh as we drive towards the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is only a fifteen minute drive from our accommodation. We are heading there after a recommendation by our hosts; apparently the next town over the border has a few nice restaurants, although the drive there has us wondering. We pass a few shells of buildings and others riddled with bullet holes, reminding us that the war wasn’t too long ago.

Being outside the European Union we must cross a border checkpoint to gain entry to Bosnia so it’s a good thing we brought our passports on the drive. The Bosnian side of the border seems a lot more populated and the villages are busy with people, doing whatever they do on a Sunday evening. It seems like for a few at least that means enjoying a drink or two.

The town of Bihać is small enough; we drive through it before realising then turning back. There is a small University, a Casino and some shops and restaurants, which don’t strike us as being open. Even if they were, it doesn’t look like we’ll be having Dinner in Bosnia after all. Still it was worth the drive to see a little glimpse of another country. We drive back to Croatia and find a lovely restaurant just north of the national park and order the biggest pizza we’ve ever seen. Plus chips.

To the coast!

Our last day in Croatia involves a lot of driving. We are heading to the coast and driving north towards Pula from which we’ll fly. As we join the empty expanse of the motorway and approach the Mediterranean the clouds part to reveal the glorious sunshine we’ve been dreaming of. To our delight the road winds high along the coast, offering stunning views of the sea, offshore islands and glimpses of perfect, terracotta roofed villages hugging the cliffs below. This is an entirely different Croatia to what lies inland, with a purely Mediterranean feel.

We don’t have much time, but a quick pit stop down by the coast is a must. Within minutes we find a tiny cafe offering fresh coffee and delicious ice cream. Tables and chairs spill out onto the street where the locals soak up the sun, alive with chatter. It’s all too brief, but there is one last thing I must do before heading to the airport; we pull over by the sea and I jump into the cool Med. It’s a fitting end to our wet and watery weekend.