Outer Banks of North Carolina

I write this from a snow-covered freezing tundra (or so it feels). What I would give to be transported to the month of June, on a warm beach in the South! 

I spent a short week vacationing on the Outer Banks. For a few days our lives consisted of no more than homemade sandwiches & potato chips on sandy beach towels. Afternoon trips to the local ice cream shop. Spiral staircases inside light houses. Board games. Laughing until you’re crying. Cold beer cans blanketed in condensation. Running through sand dune mazes. Reading in a beach chair, which inevitably leads to napping in a beach chair. 

Forget Zoloft, give all of us trudging through seasonal depression a dose of the last week in June.

File the Outer Banks and barrier islands of North Carolina under “Places to Visit Before the Rising Sea Levels Bury Them”.

On our last day we finally changed out of our swimsuits and drove up to Corolla. If you haven’t ridden in an H1 Hummer on a wide Carolina beach, which everyone agrees is a 2 lane highway, you’re missing out! There are homes in Corolla and nearby neighborhoods where the beach is the only route of access. Who knew? 

Similar to the paths amongst the grasses in the sand dunes which we’d walk through to reach the beach, larger paths make up the streets here. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. It was just like any other suburban development, except for the slight difference that none of the streets were paved. They were all wide trails in the sand. Wide enough for your neighbors lifted SUV, and trailing boat to drive through. Hell, we even saw a 4x4 pizza delivery truck.

And wild horses! (which sounds nicer than the also accurate “feral horses”.) The protected population here on the Outer Banks are descendants of domesticated horses Spanish expeditions brought over in the 1500’s, and left behind… or survived shipwrecks– where’s that animated movie, Disney? Here’s a wikipedia link, should you be itching for a rabbit hole to go down. 

Ciao Ciao

In one week’s time I’ll put on my old lady compression socks, fill a bag with my weight in camera gear, and step on a plane bound for Italy. In the name of… nostalgia, I suppose… I want to finally share some of my favorite photos from the last time I was in Italy back in February. I traveled with EF Tours on a whirlwind trip of all the hits (Verona, Venice, Florence, Rome, Assisi & Pompeii). 

This time around I’ll be shooting on the island of Capri, and then exploring Bari, Monopoli & who knows where else. I’ll take any well loved recommendations you have to share!

Snapshots from Portland, Oregon

This past weekend the state of Oregon charmed my pants off. I only spent one day in Portland and a day in Hood River, but these pants are definitely not coming back on any time soon (probably because the weather is so damn hot now).

Here are snapshots I took while wandering around Portland, and below are my recommendations to a fellow visitor (not that you asked).

If time allows and weather permits, I try to visit a garden or arboretum while in another part of the world. And if there were ever a garden to see– it is Portland’s International Rose Test Garden. Hoooolyyy shit. (I mean, you kind of don’t need to because there is a glorious rose bush blooming on every single corner of this city in the summer, but still.)

Any place with 550+ varieties of roses is a sight to behold, and this one doesn’t disappoint. My favorite piece of trivia about the test garden is that during WWI it served as a safe haven for all the hybrid rose breeds that had be cultivated in Europe. Rose growers sent grafts & bushes from all over to Portland for safe keeping. Isn’t that beautiful? And today Portland is the only city in all of North America that can grant awards to roses internationally. 

How much does it cost to enter this floral dreamland you ask? $0. Admission is free! (and they have a souvenir flattened penny machine– what!)

Eat & Drink:

Pine State Biscuits - Yes the line will probably be wrapped around the corner when you arrive and YES it’s worth the wait. Here is where I ate the best biscuit I’ve ever eaten (sorry grandma). I mean, I don’t want to build your expectations up too much. It’s okay… pretty good. Get there early before the homemade pop-tarts sell out.

Expatriate (& Beast) - If you’re one to roll your eyes at the term “mixologist” please come here and be floored by the brilliant bartenders. Their cocktails are so damn good, and worth the pricetag. And if you’re able to work into your schedule a reservation across the street at Beast, please also do that.

Hat Yai - No this is not your typical Americanized Thai food take out. Yes it is ludicrously delicious. Fried Chicken! Curries! Meat skewers! You don’t need any more information– just go eat here!

Honorable mentions - Tasty N Sons, Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen, Olympia Provisions, (and the hometown heroes:) Salt & Straw, Blue Star Donuts

Have your mind blown @ The International Rose Test Garden - Need I say more? Of course a visit here is ideally made in the spring or summer. The Portland Japanese Garden is next door, and plenty of other things in Washington Park, too.

Buy more books than can fit in your suitcase @ Powell’s City of Books - This is easily on every to do list you read about Portland, and with good reason! All those hard to find books on your list that are never available on Amazon… look here.

Decide you need to remodel your home @ Schoolhouse Electric - You probably ought to go for a hike & enjoy the beautiful outdoors that Portland and the surrounding area has to offer. But if weather doesn’t permit, or you’re not the outdoorsy type (why did you come to the PNW??) take a walk around SHE’s showroom. I’m not saying it’s as beautiful as Mother Nature herself, but goooooood looooord!

Get cozy @ Multnomah Whiskey Library - Maybe this one belongs more in the “to drink” category, but this place doesn’t feel like your average whiskey bar. It’s more of an event which requires participation. (Kind of like how Seven Grand in DTLA used to feel years ago before the college bros discovered it.)

Bye Portland! I love you. I hope it’s not another three years before I see you again.

Snapshots of New Hampshire’s ‘100 Acre Wood’ Sugar Shack

Deep in the 100 Acre Wood, you won’t find a donkey, kangaroo or pig. You might actually spot a bear, but definitely not one wearing a tee shirt. This 100 Acre Wood, sits just outside the White Mountain National Forest in Intervale (near North Conway), New Hampshire. The grove of trees feels remote, but is not even 1 mile away from a Dunkin’ Donuts. 

The sugar shack, it’s trails, and literacy foundation are busy with family friendly events on the weekends, but on a Monday afternoon it’s perfectly quiet (and a rather lovely place to forget about your hangover). No formal tours were offered on this weekday, but Craig happily opened the door, gave us a tour inside, and answered our endless stream of questions. 

We were able to see the process of where they bring in the nearly clear sap from their sugar maple trees, how the water evaporates, and after all is said done the final amber maple syrup product. Did you know the conversion rate from gallons of sap to maple syrup is 40 to 1. That’s crazy!

We walked through the snowy trails, which are lined with the pages from Maple Syrup Season, a children’s book that follows along one family’s springtime sap harvest. I know that sounds super cheesey, but it was informative & truly entertaining.

At the conclusion of our self guided tour, we drove down to the foundation’s headquarters to hear more about their reading-related programing and to buy glass jugs of syrup. I’ve been spooning Grade A Amber into my morning coffee ever since and have no interest in returning to sad old regular sugar. 

You can buy 100 Acre Wood syrup online here,  where all proceeds go to the literacy programs offered by Believe in Books Literacy Foundation. Yayyy!

Shooting with Watershot

When you’re in the market for a case to take underwater iPhone photos, there aren’t many great options. Lifeproof cases work well, but aren’t completely reliable (especially not lose your phone to water damage in a foreign country reliable). If you’re wanting to go scuba diving you need something more substantial– an actual housing. Enter Watershot

Long story short: It’s a really well constructed housing, but it’s only as good as the “camera” inside. There are definitely a few software & design flaws, which you may be able to overlook. 

Long story… long: I purchased a Watershot iPhone 6s Pro Line Housing (plus their flat lens, wide angle lens, red filter, moisture absorbers, and a floating strap) for my trip to Bermuda. I love how the actual housing feels to use. It’s incredibly sturdy. It ought to have been delivered in a lifted Tacoma, it is so damn rugged. 

The Housing – I have few complaints about the quality of the housing itself. Your phone is suspended within the casing, keeping it free from impact shock à la Bubble Boy. The ‘O’ Ring felt of quality material (it didn’t come with grease and didn’t feel like it needed any in my week of use). 

Yes, you do have to operate the phone/camera by the 6 external buttons and not via touch screen (but, how else did you think this would work?).  So if you’re wanting a waterproof case to use while you’re texting or scrolling instagram on the beach– this isn’t what you want. Actually this is probably what you want.

Lenses – If you feel the need to change lenses, don’t even think about doing that underwater! You have screw off the lens, making your phone vulnerable to water & debris. This did disappoint me, as a photographer who is used to changing lenses on the fly all the time. The housing is depth rated to 195ft/60m and I’d prefer to be able to snap on different lenses while on a dive, instead of committing to one for the entire excursion. 

Software – The housing does allow you to shoot photos in the native iOS Camera app, but you can’t switch between taking still photos & recording video within that app; You don’t have the ability to swipe with the housing buttons– and forget using apps such as Phhhoto, Boomerang or Snapchat– the buttons don’t line up with the interface of those apps– much to the viewers of your Story’s chagrin.

While I was testing it underwater I would set it up to have the Watershot app & the iOS Camera app open because you can switch between the two most recently opened apps. As you can see, the learning curve for getting all the ideal settings might be a bit too steep for some users. 

You’re encouraged to shoot in their software, which includes a very handy “Burst” mode (takes 3 photos for every time you click the “shutter”). It’s really easy to switch between video & photo modes in their software, which I really liked especially on a dive. Their software also enters a black screen sleeping mode to save battery life. 

BUT, the files you create with their software can be disappointing. They’re small PNGs, with a random naming convention. Not something like IMG0001.PNG, it’s just random non-sequential numbers & letters, which makes it a pain in the ass to sort through later, unless you have prosumer photo software. 

 Ultimately, I decided the housing wasn’t for me and got rid of it after my trip. Running at $140-230 (depending on which package/accessories), it’s pricey! For the casual (but $$$) vacationing photo taker this housing might be perfect. I was disappointed by the quality of the photos in low light & deep underwater scenarios, though I do think that’s more of a reflection on the actual iPhone camera, I couldn’t justify keeping the housing around if I wasn’t going to use it regularly. 

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