A photographer’s paradise: Botanical Gardens

If you love the outdoor and want to improve your photography skills, botanical gardens can be the perfect place to go! Usually containing hundreds or even thousands of different plants’ species, they give you a good window of the plant diversity across the world.

As a wildlife photographer, I also love them because they are host to many species: from colorful butterflies to weird-looking monkeys, you never know what you will stumble upon. Local species such as squirrels and ducks usually thrive in those gardens and are easier to approach that in the wild, making it a good photography training.

img_6824

Botanical gardens for me are places where I can completely lose track of time and let go of whatever I have in mind. For a good photography trip, I would advise to save a couple of hours to enjoy the garden at its fullest. Flowers can change really fast depending on sunlight so you want to make sure you get different perspectives in your photos.

I usually try to bring a range of different lenses with me when I go explore botanical gardens. Zoom lenses are great for snapping wildlife shots especially of birds and mammals, macro ones are amazing for insects, and I absolutely love taking my 50mm f1.8 to take flower portraits.

My top 3 so far:
1. Jardin des Plantes, Paris: This botanical garden is perfect to combine with a visit to the Museum of Natural History located next door. Great to take a green break from the busy capital.
2. Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro: Beautiful and huge, this garden even has a portion of preserved Atlantic Rainforest! Great to spot squirrels and capuchin monkeys.
3. Old Botanical Garden, Kiel: Very spacious with an amazing diversity of plants. Great for flower portraits and relaxing on a sunny day.

Advertisements

Aberaeron: Wales Best Place

Seaside resort located on the West coast, Aberaeron, elected Best Place in Wales, is definitely charming and colorful!

img_9329

The contest, ran by the Royal Town Planning Institute Cymru, is meant to celebrate Wales most protected, carefully planned or improved places. The cute village of Aberaeron came in first position, followed by the picturesque Tenby and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is Gower.

IMG_9333.jpg

Visiting Aberystwyth last weekend with a friend, we decided out of curiosity to stop by Aberaeron to check what made the place so special. We took the bus T1 at destination of Carmarthen. After a 40 minutes ride in the Welsh countryside, we arrived in the charming village.

Tiny, is probably the first adjective that came to my mind when looking around. In this season, a day is definitely enough to enjoy the town and see all the main landmarks. My second observations was that almost all the houses around us were painted in bright colors, giving the town an interesting vibe.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Heading first to the harbour, we enjoyed a nice view of the church connected to the port by a woody bridge. Few sailing boats were patiently waiting for a chance to get back to the sea and the sun was just high enough to give the scene a perfect lighting.

Crossing the bridge and heading to the church, we ended up in the Craft Centre. There, we found a patchwork of different shops (which unfortunately were mostly closed on Mondays). An antique shop, neighbouring a tattoo studio, was filled with tick tocking noises and exhibited amazing  clocks.

Despite my deep hatred for any ticking sounds, I have to say that I always enjoy watching old clocks. In one corner of the room laid a beautiful one, called the Skeleton Clock, its mechanism fully exposed to the public eye hanging in all its beauty.

Continuing our bucolic wander, we reached the river and a hiking path leading to Lampeter. Probably busy during the summer, the path was then pretty quiet. After visiting the Tourist Information Centre and wondering in front of the local artists’ paintings and photographies, we decided to go have a walk along the coast.

Curious about the possibility to spot marine wildlife, I asked the receptionist before leaving if dolphin sightings were common around Aberaeron. She explained that dolphins could often be seen in the nearby town of New Quay but rarely around the village. I guess that provides me with a good reason to come back explore this region of Wales next summer!

img_9348

Hungry?
Located right in front of the T1 and T5 bus stops, the Ambassadors cafe is based on the first floor of a souvenir shop. From sandwiches to panini and even crepes, the large choice of lunch items will make everyone happy.  Deliciously fresh smoothies and incredibly big slice of cakes are also on the menu, making the Ambassadors Cafe a perfect place for tea time as well.

How to get there? 
T1 from Aberystwyth, Lampeter, and Carmarthen
T5 from Aberystwyth, New Quay, Cardigan, Fishguard and Haverfordwest

Eat, Drink, Wander

While traveling or living abroad, I always try to do things the way local people do. Sometimes it involves discovering local transports like matatus in Kenya, other times it can mean learning the basics of a new language.

However, considering myself a foodie, there is nothing I love more than trying typical food or drinks! So I decided to list here some of my best or more surprising discoveries of the past few years.

1. France: Brittany

  • Winner: Kouign-Amann

Photo Credit: momo go/Flickr
Photo Credit: momo go/Flickr

Think of the most buttery thing you can imagine. Multiply the amount of butter by a hundred and you’ll get the Kouign-Amann. I never found anything so buttery anywhere in the world but that pastry is so amazingly delicious that who would care about counting calories?!

To be honest, if you speak Breton the name by itself is saying it all: Kouign meaning cake and Amann meaning butter. Rumor has it than this pastry was invented by Yves-René Scordia in the 1860s. At the time flour was scarce but butter abundant and so that would explains the unusual proportions used to make the delicious pastry.

My best memory of Kouign-Amann is linked to the beautiful city of Saint-Malo. After having spent the day exploring the Mont St-Michel in a freezing cold, my parents decided to head in Saint-Malo to have a break. Passing in front of many bakeries, I finally managed to convince them to stop for some cake and hot chocolate and that’s how I discovered the Kouign-Amann for the very first time!

  • Runner-up: Galette-saucisse

Photo Credit: the LEAF Project/Flickr
Photo Credit: the LEAF Project/Flickr

Brittany is famous around the world for its savoury buckwheat flour pancakes, known in the region as galettes. Be aware if you ever go to Brittany that you should never refer to the galettes as crepes in front of the locals. I did many times and my Britons friends always quickly corrected me, putting an emphasis on how drastically different the two things are.

But there is something even more symbolic than the simple galette for people inhabiting the Ille et Vilaine department and that is the galette-saucisse! Even though I found it pretty boring, the fact that it has a song dedicated to it makes it relevant to this list.

So if you ever go around Rennes and see people eating a sausage inside a galette in the street as they would eat a hot dog, don’t be surprise and give it a try!

2. Great Britain: England

  • Winner: Full English Breakfast

Photo Credit: Magnus D/Flickr
Photo Credit: Magnus D/Flickr

Somehow I got very attached to the full English breakfast after spending six months as an Erasmus student in Manchester. Honestly, there is no better comfort food and hangover cure than this. After an agitated night out, you just head to the pub on the next day with your friends to watch a football game while having a nice and heavy breakfast.

Usually around £4 or £5, the most typical ones includes hashbrowns (my favourite part), sausages, bacon, beans and tomato sauce, eggs, and black pudding which at my complete astonishment appeared not to be a pudding at all but a blood sausage!

You can also find versions with mushrooms, toasts, and even in some places, personalise it as much as you want. In all Britishness, I always accompany this heavy breakfast with a cup of milky tea.

  • Runner-up: Yorkshire Pudding

yorshire-pudding-england-food-blog-explore
Photo Credit: Sam Greenhalgh/Flickr

I associate Yorkshire puddings with Christmas and happy times so I just love them. One of my flatmate in Manchester was from Yorkshire and I had the priviledge of eating home-made ones as my very first ones.

These puddings are also often served on roast days with meat and vegetables. Their fluffiness and squichiness make them amazing but add a bit of gravy on top and you’ll be heading for pure deliciousness!

3. Ecuador

  • Winner: Popcorn Soup

Photo Credit: Lee Davenport/Flickr
Photo Credit: Lee Davenport/Flickr

Soup is a very important part of Ecuadorian meals. I was initially quite surprised to see that soup was almost always part of the menu. Even on the Galapagos Islands where temperatures were close to 40°C, restaurants were all serving soups as a starter.

But that was nothing in comparison with my amazement when I discovered the popcorn soup! I already had soup with bread, croutons or cheese in the past but with popcorn?! Of course my curiosity was instantly titillated and I had to try it.

I looked at the bowl of soup in front of me and took a handful of popcorn in my hands. Slowly dropping them in my soup, I could hear them drown and drift making an effervescent sound which reminded me of the sound of snow.

I could see the popcorn slowly softening and decided it was soft enough for me to give it a try. I have to say that even though what I love the most about popcorn is its crunchiness, this squishy version was just delicious and it definitely added something to the soup. So if you ever see Ecuadorian people adding popcorn in their soup, follow their leads and give a try!

  • Runner-up: Plantain

    plantain-ecuador-food-travel
    Photo Credit: protogarrett/Flickr

In term of taste, plantain would actually be my winner but the popcorn soup was so surprising that I thought it deserved the spotlight.

Plantain is a banana type that needs to be cooked before eating. My favourite ways of eating it was either fried or as crips. It is commonly served as a side for main dish and is easily found in any restaurants.

4. Portugal

Winner: Pastéis

pasteis-portugal-foodI always had a sweet tooth so living in Portugal was pretty much heaven for me! Pastéis refers most often to sweet pastries that you can find in every bakery. If you ever go to Brazil, you might be surprised to discover that there, pastéis are most often salty snacks.

The great thing about Portuguese pastéis is that it seemed to me that almost each city had its traditional one so that was the perfect excuse to eat pastries every time I was traveling somewhere!

The most famous are probably the pastel de nata, and the pastel de Belem, which you should absolutely try at the Antigua Confeitaria in Lisbon. However, my personal favourite is the traveissero (which is the one at the bottom of the photo).

A great place to taste as many pastéis as you can handle is the Piriquita bakery located in the fairyland-like city of Sintra.

  • Runner-up: Requeijão

Requeijão is a inbetween of yogurt and cheese in term of texture. Salted, I loved to have it for breakfast on bread coated with honey. Some people compare it to the Italian ricotta but the taste is stronger and more characteristic. Requeijão can also be found in Brazil but there it is more of a spreadable artificial flavored cheese.

5. Brazil: Rio Grande do Sul

  • Winner: Chimarrão

chimarrao-drink-brazil-gaucho-mate

There is nothing more typical of Rio Grande do Sul than chimarrão. I was in Porto Alegre for less than a hour that I had already been handed a cuia (name of the wood recipient) to try it. My first impression of it, to be fully honest, was that I was drinking some very bitter boiled grass but it is an acquired taste and I quickly became addicted to it.

Chimarrão, also known as mate, is typical of the Gaucho regions so you can also find people drinking it in Argentina and Uruguay.

However, the cuias found in other countries are much smaller than the Brazilian ones. That is due to the fact that in the South Brazilian culture, the Chimarrão is meant to be shared.

Invited at someone’s place, in class, or at a conference, you will see cuias and thermos of hot water passing from hands to hands. The way you prepare it is that you first put the erva mate in the cuia, then you level it by putting the cuia upside down on your hand and create an empty space of one side (as you can see on the photo), finally you add the boiling water and the straw. Once it’s ready, you just keep topping it up with warm water without adding any mate.

If  you ever live in Rio Grande do Sul and want to make friends easily, just buy a cuia and some erva mate and you will be adopted instantaneously!

  • Runner-up: Churrasco

    churrasco-brazil-food-discoery

Another important cultural tradition in the region is the churrasco. This Brazilian barbecue is serious business and if you live in Rio Grande do Sul, you will often be invited to come for a churrasco.

A typical churrasco usually includes big piece of beef slowly cooked on giant sticks, chicken hearts, garlic bread. and a kind of potato salad called maionese.

Usually lasting for entire afternoons, there is nothing more friendly and fun than a good churrasco. Plus, I never ever tasted any better meat than the one I had in Rio Grande do Sul!

Autumnal Errands

Autumn is officially here, bringing its grey mornings and cold days. It’s easy to feel a bit low while reminiscing summer memories, beach vibes and picnic parties. For most people, Autumn is bad news: shorter days, cold breeze, trees being stripped of their leaves, and precursor of the winter blues.

Even though all of these are surely true, I somehow always had a special kind of love for Autumn. Spring probably have more fans being all about new beginnings but how can you have new beginnings without proper endings?

Leaves in all their poetry are not leaving without a fight. They showcase their most amazing and intense colors, waving us goodbyes. Look around you and you will notice all possible shades of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. So aren’t trees at their best during this season?

Lights in Autumn can be fantastic to take outdoor photos. Wait for the rain to stop and grab your camera and rain jacket, you’ll be amazed by what you’ll find. Flowers dripping with water will appear in all their glory. Try to play with your settings to blur the background and you will obtain beautiful flower portraits!

If you look well enough during your autumnal walks, you will probably find out that Autumn is not just about endings after all! Indeed, mushrooms are quickly appearing all over the forest, some ready to pamper your taste buds while others are colorfully warning you not to eat them.

In term of wildlife, Autumn is one of the most hectic seasons. While some animals are changing their fur colors to adapt to the future snowy landscapes, others are busy storing enough food to survive the cold days. If you live in a city, squirrels can be great Autumnal models to train your wildlife photography skills.

So what are you waiting for? Go out now and explore this wonderful season!