Tabernas desert – Travel stories from Andalusia

The very beginning of my road trip in Andalusia was immediately wonderful. After landing in Alicante and made a stop in the ugly city of Torre Vieja we left the coast and the landscape started to change often becoming ever more arid and hilly. Although the final destination was Granada, I had already planned to cross and take a short break in the desert of Tabernas, province of Almeria. The way to get there is very easy, and as it approaches, I felt like I was experiencing the same beautiful travel emotions I had through the canyonland and desert in the States.


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The Andalusian desert landscapes are very similar to those in the west US. My adrenaline climbed up as soon as I felt the smell of beautiful photos.

Along the way, flat, arid land alternates with endless fields of small olive trees and then red rock and formations similar to the Arizona’s “mesa” and “butte”. We even cross a Route 66 petrol station alike. My emotion grows, along with that feeling of “wilderness” that frees the soul from all the stress accumulated in the everyday routines at work.


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 (all the pictures in this post have been taken with an iphone 6S)

My first landscapes photography in this journey. Fields of olive trees…

The road from Alicante to Tabernas

Here, the road trip in Andalusia, begins…


The desert, once upon a time in the West

The Tabernas Desert, is very famous for having been, in particular in the past, the favorite location to shoot numerous western films.

Sergio Leone, the unforgettable Italian director, one of my favourites among others, has shot masterpieces here as A Fistful of Dollars(1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

We arrived in the afternoon, around 5pm, when the sun is still high and literally burns the rocks and the ground already dry. In the area, there are several Cinemas Studios, which have become theme parks. Unfortunately, what I wanted to visit, Fort Bravo, was closed to the public because they were shooting some scenes of a movie. Ok, next time then….

But it’s not a drama, because the landscape around, rough and natural, is incredibly beautiful. Driving around a little at random, I stopped to photograph some of the nicest spots. At this hour of the day, around 17:30, the light becomes warmer and less sharp, an ideal condition when photographing landscapes

Another stop to photograph a beautiful desert landscapes

Selfie time!

Selfie also for my brand new Leica SL


The abandoned western movie set

At some point, along with the road, I spotted what is probably a part of an abandoned old western movie set: a saloon alike house, or rather just the main facade. Around, some dry whitewashed trees and agave plants. A spot I cannot ignore, so, of course, we parked and walked through this dry and pungent countryside.

The abandoned set

For a moment, we felt we were catapulted into an old village in the west and I was expecting in a moment to hear the sound of the hooves of a horse, ridden by a cowboy with old spurs boots.


Ready to finally use intensively my new Leica SL

Back to reality, I finally started using intensively my brand new Leica SL for the first time, both for landscape photos with the Summicron 28mm f2 ASPH or for nice portraits (of my wife) or details with the Summicron 50mm f2 and the Pentacon 135mm F2.8 M42, which fortunately I just put on the bag a few seconds before leaving. At the first use, without reading anything from the manual, the Leica SL results really easy and comfortable, but the most useful feature I discovered and enjoyed is digital zoom through the small button on the back, that allows you to focus precisely with ease and speed. With the small Leica M and the rangefinder focus mode, it was more difficult.

Walking in the arid field toward the movie set

Detail of the arid ground

The adapted Pentacon M42 135mm f2.8. It gives great results on the Leica SL


The city and the castle of  Tabernas

Before leaving the desert and drive through the gorgeous Sierra Nevada to get to Granada, it is well worth a visit to the ruins of the Tabernas Castle that overwhelms the sleepy town.
Access to the site is free, indeed, everything seems completely abandoned, there is no barrier or gate to cross. Just leave the car in the free parking of a small sports center and walk up to the top.
Once on the top, the ruins themselves are nothing special, but all the best offers the view of both the town, overlooked by the rocks behind it and the desert view. Unfortunately, for time issues, I could not wait for the sunset… I imagine it would have been wonderful.

Sadly, I had to leave the desert, but this short break made me discover a truly unique and spectacular area of Spain, and I promised myself to photograph It again on a dedicated trip.


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The car we used for this road trip

The way up to the castle

The city of Tabernas seen from the castle


Conclusions

I highly recommend spending a few days in the desert of Tabernas and the Sierra Nevada because they have nothing to envy to the most renowned and scenic West US deserts.

This European desert is definitely a must-see location for landscape photographers!


6 great tips to note down:

  • The distance from Alicante Airport to Tabernas is around 277 Kilometers, there are several speed limits below 100km / h during the route.
  • The highway is quite new and in perfect condition.
  • Don’t miss the view from the Castle of Tabernas at sunset!
  • Visiting the ruins and the area around is totally free
  • Main photography subjects: landscapes and textures
  • Recommended lenses for this area: wide angle for endless landscapes and telephoto (90mm or 135mm or more) to capture the beautiful patterns that form in the desert and among the rocks.

Grazie,
a presto, Sabino

Puglia mon amour – 10 days of pure enjoyment

I have recently returned from a 10 day trip in Puglia, my homeland, where I decided to celebrate my 40 years, surrounded by my family and my loved. Waiting for a new photographic journey, this was a great opportunity to immerse me in the atmosphere, the smells, the sounds and the flavours of my homeland. This time I left home the Leica kit because I’m going to arrange a few of Food Photography sessions, to photograph a bit ‘typical Apulian food and produce new material for sale. For this reason, I have brought with me the Canon 5D Mk III, with 24-70mm f2.8 and 100mm f2.8 macro lenses, which then is that I use more ‘for this kind of photography (see below).

Home sweet home, with my “mamma”‘, the day of my 40 years bday.

Where I come from, all life revolves around food, everything is done in the function of the dinner and lunch, day by day, we discuss what to eat and prepare for the next day. My mother had asked me already for a week in advance, what I wanted to eat for this day .. 🙂

Just landed in the morning, with a Ryanair flight from Charleroi to Bari, after a couple of hours here I am sitting at a table full of wonderful flavours: fresh ricotta cheese, mozzarella, focaccia barese, stuffed artichokes, calzone and much much more, all masterfully prepared from my beautiful mother. And finally, after so many years, I tested again my favorite seafood, the sea urchins … simply delicious!
This, on March 4th, is the day of my birthday, so ‘I can not be on diet, I have to eat everything, even if you I will celebrate my birthday the next day at the restaurant.

And for dessert, the famous “Tits of the nuns”, a soft pastry filled with cream. Wonderful, but a good injection of calories.

This should be enough to convince you to come to Puglia, isn’t? 🙂

Deejay Ten in Bari, run like a “pulp” (octopus, in slang)

The first service for my 40 years now comes the day after, with a run of 10km to the Deejay Ten in Bari, in a windy and cool Sunday in March.  The event is beautiful, 10 thousand people, all with the same desire to run and have fun. Actually, I did not run all the 10km, because while running on the seaside, I was always tempted to take pictures, so ‘from time to time, I stopped to take pictures (with the iPhone), to the fishermen that proudly shows just curled octopus or open up fresh seafood.

The curl of octopus, which consists of repeatedly banging on the floor an octopus to make it more ‘tender and so curling the tentacles, is one of the most’ typical photogenic scenes that you may encounter if you walk along the waterfront of Bari, any day of the week
Tutta Bari in una foto: la birra Peroni, un uomo che apre le cozze crude, il mare.

Celebrating my 40’s

I’ll be honest, I know people use to say so, but really, I feel half, like 20 years old, not 40 certainly. But anyhow, for future reference, I am here to celebrate it in a very good restaurant in Monopoli, with my most ‘great loves: my father and my mother. What else?

Before having the cake, however, ‘we are due to go through FANTASTIC dishes, like this spaghetti with sea urchins, poetry and lust at the highest levels. LOVE

For those who may interest, I highly recommend this restaurant in the beautiful town of Monopoli:

Terrazzamare – not the usual “trattoria”, but delicate dishes and high quality food, other than a very pleasant environment and gentle staff. The owner, a Venetian, is also very friendly and competent.
https://www.tripadvisor.it/Restaurant_Review-g652003-d10210325-Reviews-Terrazzamare-Monopoli_Province_of_Bari_Puglia.html

Greetings from Salento

Small parenthesis of my stay in Puglia, a passage in Salento, the southern part of the region, home to my in-laws . The only pictures that testify this passage, concerns the wonderful seaside of San Pietro in Bevagna and a breakfast in Sant’Oronzo square in Lecce with the typical “pasticciotto” (sweet custard pastry filled with hot cream).

Two days of homemade Food Photography session

And after a few days of pure vacation, I am ready to devote myself a little ‘to my loved photography. As I had already planned, I organised a homemade Food Photography session, with two special assistants: my mother (at the lights) and my father (setting and model). 🙂

One of the subjects who I wanted to photograph since a long time and finally managed to do it are the beautiful sea urchins. Their photos are, oddly enough, very rare in the major microstock sites like Fotolia and Shutterstock, and I can not explain why. This is a very photogenic subject as well as very popular in the culinary world, not only in Italy. So much so that at the time of writing this post, after only two days from publications, I have already sold 10 pictures! Fantastic.

In the coming days I’ll post ‘the results of this two-day photoshooting. with more ‘technical details, meanwhile here is the list of your subjects: sea urchins, orobanche (Sporchia), asparagus, beans, artichokes, focaccia barese, dried figs, spring onion, zeppoline (typical Italian pastry with cream filling).

Thanks to this photoshooting, I produced the beauty of almost 600 new images already on sale on the major microstockstock sites!

Chilling in Mola di Bari, my village.

When I’m in Mola, the thing I love the most to do is to walk through the alleys, parks and markets, with no in particular goal, but only to observe everything going on around, the flow of the sluggish and noisy life in southern Italy. Walking in the morning, I come wrapped by the sweet scent of warm croissants and coffee coming out of the doors of the bars, always full and crowded, because here the day always starts in a bar. When I pass I slow down to listen to the speeches of the men sitting at the tables or at the counter: they are 90% on the football, 10% about the local political problems.

Among the alleys instead, I meet mostly women who go to the grocery store, while the little doors send out the scents of what they will have for lunch, and hunger will come already much earlier. And then I have fun chasing all these smells and try to guess the origin, which pasta or vegetables are brewing. When I see two or three women whispering, then I slow down to listen to their speeches that are 90% gossip about family facts or people, 10% of health problems.

In the late morning then, happens inevitably to pass by a local bakery from which comes the scent of the typical focaccia Barese: no one can resist buying a slice, strictly triangular, still smoking, and then eating it despite the opulent lunch you expect to have just a little later …

And finally, in the afternoon, my ritual is always just the same: wait for the boats to come back and bring the fresh fish at the fish market. And here is an explosion of colours, sounds and smells, a familiar music to me, that awakens every sense of my body.

Before leaving, a last greeting to the sea

The last day, I do what I always do before every departure: a solitary walk along the marina bay, to recharge with positive energy that only my sea can give me. I stop for a little to read a few lines of the book by Claudio Pellizzeni, “L’orizzonte, ogni giorno, un po’ più in là” which recounts his amazing journey around the world without taking any flight, after abandoning his comfortable but flat office work. A book full of excitement and interesting stories, the tale of a long journey that I hope I can do it too, soon, very soon…

 

Arrivederci Mola, arrivederci Puglia!

Sabino

Vietnam – Day 12 – Morning boat in Trang An, fresh seafood dinner in Cat Ba island

The day began very early and at last the sky was clean as every cloud. Dzung Buna made us a breakfast of fried eggs and orange smoothie while outside, already by 6, around the village, playing the high notes of the local news.

In Vietnam, the news is disseminated in the early morning, via radio, to ato fiodiffusione volume in the streets of the villages or the city.

The beautiful boat ride in Trang An

Discovered more recently, Trang An is taking more and more attention to the more touristy and known Tam Coc. And indeed there is more than one reason in favour. The boat ride, always on a small tin boat, but slightly larger, lasts about 2h30 and is much more scenographic and varied. It goes through several caves and the route is circular, does not return through the same path, except for the very last part.

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The boats can accommodate from 2 to 4 people (and they wait to fill them before leaving), so, the only way to have the boat all for you, is buying the empty seats, which we have done, given the still low costs (see below ), in order to be able to better enjoy the ride and to allow me to take pictures without interference or obstacles.

From Ninh Binh to Cat Ba, a journey in stages along 5 hours

After the hike, we returned by bike at the hotel where, at about 11 am, our dear Dzung, arranged a private car transfer, up to Ha Phuong, from where we take the speedboat to the island of Cat Ba.

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Goodbye my friend, Dzung!

So we got to Hai Phuong, an ugly and chaotic port city, and from there, we are transported on a scooter before, then by bus, then speedboat, then again by bus to finally get on the island, on the seafront in Cat Ba city, at 16: 30, hungry and without even an accommodation for the following two nights.

Cat Ba Ventures, a $ 15 hotel and an excellent dinner of fresh seafood at Quan Ba Cat Family

As often happens with unplanned and last minute things, we managed, in about 15 minutes, to book a day trip to Halong Bay for the next day (with the great agency, Cat Ba Ventures) and found a room in a good hotel at a ridiculous price!

Arranged all our things and blinded by hunger, we finished the evening in style with a fantastic dinner in the family driven restaurant, Quan Ca Ba Family. This place is really good and highly recommended. Grilled calamari and shrimp, served in a lemon sauce and garlic; grilled crab sautéed with butter and garlic, spring rolls, boiled rice and, of course, two very good and fresh bottles of Vietnamese beers. The perfect end of a long tough day!

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About my photography

My photographic activity was concentrated all in the boat trip in Trang An. Again, as it was mainly landscapes, I alternated the Summicron 28mm to the Voigtlander Skopar 21mm. The result was simply postcard style pictures, good for my stock photo portfolio, nothing original, but very sellable.


Useful information

  • Tam Coc or Trang An: much more beautiful and interesting the second one.
  • Trang An tour costs: 100.000VND per person, plus 50.000VND for entrance fee
  • Bicycle parking in Trang An: 15.000VND
  • From Hai Phong to Cat Ba with Huang Long bus”: Bus-Speedboat-Bus. Ticket price, 180.000VDN. Takes about 2 hours.
  • Sleeping in Cat Ba: Hotel White House, new, clean and spacious, just 15 USD the double room. Highly recommended
  • Eating in Cat Ba: fresh fish, shrimp and squid, i recommend the restaurant “Quan Cat Ba Family“.

The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 11 – Tam Coc and local market in Ninh Binh

Finally rested, thanks to a nice long sleep in the comfortable bed of Limestone View Homestay, and after a good breakfast prepared by Dzung (Black coffee and pancakes with bananas), we went immediately riding our bikes in the direction of Tam Coc, for a first boat trip of the day.

On the tin boat, rowing with the feet

Getting early to Tam Coc (around 8:30), allows you to better enjoy the place without the crowds and bustle of tourists that invade it from 10:00 onwards. Parked the bikes and bought the tickets, we immediately embarked in the thin and small boat made of tin, for only two people, plus the driver, a Vietnamese woman.

The special feature of this navigation is definitely the woman who drives the rowing boat with her feet. The tour lasts around about 1h30 ‘and it is very relaxing, especially thanks to the fact that there were few tourists, but unfortunately not very scenic as presented in the promotional brochure. As we are not in the right season, the rice fields are not prosperous and green, but  they are bare and empty. Also, with the sky mostly cloudy, the overall look of the place was even less interesting from a photographic point of view.

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The tour is not circular, so we reached a certain point and came back doing the exact same path. On the return journey, there were already much more boats of tourists and also many boats of Vietnamese photographers who chase tourists trying to snap a photo and then sell them. This makes the whole experience of a lot less relaxing and annoying. Add to this, our boat driver was trying to sell fruit or drinks at all costs. At the end, the final judgment on this excursion is basically negative.

Cloudy sky, let’s go to Ninh Binh

The grey and flat sky and the positive weather forecast for the following day they convinced us to a fortunate change in plans. In fact, we decided to postpone the second boat trip, in Trang An, to the next morning, and to dedicate the afternoon to explore the village of Xuan Ang Noi and later the city of Ninh Binh.

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The collection of sea snails in the mud fields

On the road to Ninh Binh, we are fascinated by different women bent with their feet immersed in a huge muddy field, intent on picking up something. We ask a local guy who told us they were collecting “fish” but as soon as we approach we find out that the women were collecting small sea snails.

The scene was very photogenic, so we got off the bikes and spend an hour or so, on photographing these women and observing their movements.

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At one point a man with a child in his arms asked me to take a picture of him and invites us to come to his house. Here, he asked us to sit at a table in the courtyard and prepared a cup of Vietnamese tea (very bitter). I was honoured by this strong and unique sense of hospitality and touched by his tender kindness. Obviously, he did not speak a single word of English and, at some point, he went away and comes back with a plastic globe. He asked us to show him where we are from so we indicated on the globe our land, Italy, and how we got to Vietnam from there. Right after, he pointed the finger on Cuba and pronounced the name of Fidel Castro, an iconic symbol of a country with the same political and social ideals as well as Vietnam. I wonder if it was already aware of Fidel’s death, but to do not disappoint him, I decide not to tell anything.

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Ninh Binh, anonymous city but with a nice local market

Continuing our ride on fancy bicycles, we arrived in the city of Ninh Binh, quite anonymous and ugly, but we headed by chance, in a small local market. After the first stalls with the usual fruit and meat, there were a lot of other fishmongers and seafood, in a very rustic setting and so, photogenic. Moreover, the quality of the seafood was really good: prawns, squid, fish of different sizes, almost like in our country, in Italy. Indeed, there were also the mantis shrimp, for which I go really mad. For a moment, I thought to buy them to make a nice spaghetti with tomatoes, but then I remember that no one there sells spaghetti or pasta neither cherry tomatoes and not even olive oil. Ok, I gave up.

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The woman and the grave

During the cycling route, I attended a very special and touching scene: a Vietnamese woman, with the typical hat, sitting beside a family grave. I could not miss this opportunity, so I stop, get down from the bicycle and mount the Elmarit 90 mm on my Leica. I try always to be not intrusive and disrespectful to other people’s feelings, but at the same time, I wanted to get this shoot home. So, approaching very slowly, I’ve made a couple of shots. The woman then turned to me and showed me a smile, despite the moment so intimate. I blessed her with the typical bow with hands clapsed and I went away, glad having captured a moment of life so ‘intense and unusual.

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About my photography

In the first part of the day, during the boat ride, having mostly landscapes, I’ve almost always used the Summicron 28 f2.8 ASPH (at f5.6 or 8) and Skopar Voigtlander 21mm f4. With the latter, I managed to make even some interesting shots photographing the woman who rowed with their feet, from the bottom up, with the background of the karst rocks. Not bad…
During the trip to the market instead, I alternated the Summicron 28mm and the 50mm Summicron, to focus attention more ‘on the single subject rather than on the complete scene.


Useful information

  • Tam Coc boat ride lasts 1h30 and costs 120.000VDN per person for the tour, plus 50.000VDN of entrance fees
  • Bicycle parking in Tam Coc costs 10.000VND
  • For a more relaxed boat ride, try to arrive on site before 9:00.
  • During the boat ride, the woman will probably ask you to pay 100.000VDN more to extend the ride. You don’t have to, and we didn’t.

The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 10 – Tai Chi in Hanoi, cycling in Ninh Binh

After the long night in the VIP cabin of the King Express train, we arrived in Hanoi at 4:30 am, when the city, still in the dark ( there are no public lighting in the streets), was slowly to waking up.

Fitness for everyone in Hanoi

At first light, we walked from the station to the city old district (20-minute walk), and we began to notice more and more people, stretching and doing small physical exercises.

Arrived at the Hoam Kiem Lake, the heart of the city, at about 6am, the spectacle in front of us was surreal, almost comical: everyone, absolutely everyone, old and young, was doing a physical activity of all kinds: group dance, running, tai chi. There were those who merely moved his leg, who only its head, who only one arm, curious movements that I later discovered to correspond to Tai Chi, a Chinese martial art, very popular in Asia.

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A generic hyperactivity situation, already at 6 am, never seen before!

Still asleep from the uncomfortable night on the train, we felt literally stunned by all this movement and hyperactivity all around.

Time for an Egg Coffee

The stop at the bar, to try the typical Hanoian Egg Coffee, helped to wake up before taking another train, this time for Ninh Binh. The Egg Coffee, is one of the most popular drinks of Hanoi, also called “the liquid tiramisu”. It is actually a cream made from egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk, which is then poured over the hot Robusta coffee, making it very very tasty and delicious.

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Train to Ninh Binh

The final destination of this tenth day of traveling is Ninh Binh, famous for boat trips to Tam Coc and Trang An, among the karst rock formations and caves, and so called, the terrestrial Halong Bay.

So we arrived in Ninh Binh, Hanoi, at 11:30, two hours and a half away, and then take a taxi in ten minutes took us into the village of Xuan Ang Noi, where we expect that will be the best home stay of the whole trip: the Limestone view of the homestay likeable Mr. Dzung who welcomed us with so much joy.

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A quiet evening stroll by bike among the spectacular karst rocks

Once placed the luggage in the large and clean room with a panoramic view of one of the rocks, we immediately took the bikes (free) and started to explore the village and surroundings.

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Suggestive the visit to a Buddhist temple where a century-old monk, was celebrating a ritual reading from an old book and beating time with a wooden stick on a small bell. I wanted to see his face and photograph him, but we didn’t know when would the prayer last .

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We continue cycling among the beautiful large karst rocks surrounded by rivers, houses and ducks. That was a magnificent setting and so relaxing tour!


About my photography

Just a day of rest, only a few photos made during the bike ride in the small village and the nearby countryside.


Useful information

  • The local train from Hanoi to Ninh Binh (carriage SE5), costs only 80.000VND and the ride takes 2: 30h approx.
  • Where to sleep: “Limestone view homestay” in the village of Xuan Ang Noi, is a great accommodation, perfect for exploring, in a very short distance, Trang An (2km) and Tam Coc (5km). Rooms are very spacious and clean.

The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 9 – Sapa by motorbike, unforgettable moments and sadness goodbye.

The best way to explore the province of Sapa, admire the landscapes and learn about their tribes, it is with the motorbike, although the roads are in poor condition and full of stones, potholes, buffalo, dogs and chickens. All this, however, makes the guide fun and allows you to reach more villages in a day.

Refueling in Sapa

Before starting the scooter riding, we went from our village to the town of Sapa, to fill up with petrol. But to reach it, we have taken so cold, drizzle and fog, and a path not so easy because of the many holes also. Arrived at the station, there was obviously a ragged line of scooters served in turn by a man and, with 30.000VND, I’ve had fully refilled my scooter.

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Province of Ban Ho, rice fields, waterfalls and children

Finally, come out of the freezing cold and chaotic Sapa, our guide and now friend, Zi, has led us to Ban Ho, to discovery the Tay minorities. In addition to beautiful scenery covered with rice fields terraces, we treated ourselves to a short trek on foot along the river bed, to admire a small waterfall.

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The most fun and exciting part, however, came when Zi took us to a couple of elementary schools. So we played with the kids, first shy, then friendly and overwhelming, drawn doodles on the blackboard, attended classes in mathematics and English. When I find myself in these situations, I am literally hypnotized by the eyes and the smiles of the children and I want to stay all the time with them.

Then, when it’s time to go away, they look at you deeply, with those big eyes, a little happy, a little sad, as if they’re trying to tell you “do not go, stay with us a little longer.”

In fact, I go always with a touch of melancholy and sadness, because I know I’ll never see them again, and I rather greedily stole their emotions to show them to the world.

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Goodbye Sapa, goodbye Zi, with tears in my heart

It was tough to leave Sapa, even tougher greet the small and strong Zi, little mother of three children, but only 23 years. Zi, introduced us to Sapa, introduced and welcomed us into her family, took us around and told her country in a complicated English, almost cartoonish. Every day, at the end of the tour, she left us to our homestay, and then go home on foot, through the mountains, through a journey longer than an hour!

Before departure, she brought us yet to another school, one of her sons. It seemed to want us to see as much as possible in the last minute.

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Zi, then, she come with us in Sapa, to accompany us to the bus to Lao Cai. Before taking the bus, we showed us where to eat something, like a grasshopper hopped on the steps or on the streets, preceding our slow, tired and melancholy steps.

Upon boarding the small local bus, surprisingly, with a tender shyness, she pulled out from her pocket, two small metal bracelets, hinting a few words and saying it was her gift to us. Her gesture has sunk me literally, I hugged her, feeling her body so small and seemingly fragile. I sat on the bus and she was still there, on the other side of the glass, to look and smile at us, like a mother, indeed.

A final farewell, the bus started, in the cold darkness of Sapa.

Thanks, great little Zi. I have stolen your smiles and those of your beautiful people, but in return you took our hearts. I know that we will never see each other again, but I wish you all the good of this world!

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Back to Hanoi, within the King Express night train, VIP cabin

Arrived in Lao Cai, after a pleasant dinner with a nice Indian boy met on the bus, we got on the night train that would take us to Hanoi, arriving at 4:30 the next morning.

This time, out of curiosity, and to be able to rest without thoughts, I booked a private VIPcabin for two on King Express train. Certainly more touristy and expensive solution, but sometimes It is fun to try. The King Express, however, unlike the excellent Fanxipan, turned out to be a real disappointment: bad and very poor service!

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About my photography

This has been a day of outdoor portraits, especially of children. To catch it while making lesson or as they played, I used the Leica 28mm f2 Summicron, while to photograph their faces, I mainly used the Leica Elmarit 90mm with an aperture between 2 and 2.8, in order to detach them from the background.

I hope I’ve been able to capture all the emotions I felt in this busy day.

Usefull information

  • Repairing a flat tire costs only 10.000VND  ( happened to us too!)
  • From Sapa to Lao Cai, take the local bus, yellow and red, from the main square, near the church: it costs only 28,000 VND! Runs every hour with last run at 18:30
  • Night train to Hanoi: avoid the King Express, chose, if you can, thr Fanxipan!

The day in pictures

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Vietnam – Day 7 – Sapa and the Can Cau local market

 

The long night along the railways in northern Vietnam has gone very well, the comfortable cabin and pleasant conversations with our new Polish friends have relaxed to the point of having slept the whole time.

Lao Cai, arrival at the station

Once at this small station, we realized how touristic is this destination: just got off the train we were continuously bothered by people who wanted us to take a taxi or minibus to Sapa, an hour’s drive from here. Large groups of tourists driven on command by tour guides. All caged. Fortunately we had found a local guide, the gorgeous Zi, which together with the driver and the cousin, Thao, took us up to Can Cau Market, less known and truest of the famous Bac Ha. But we had to drve four hours more.

Can Cau market and the buffalo sale

Arriving in this market, we were the only tourists, and this immediately made me happy. As always happens to me, in these chaotic places full of photo opportunities, I took first a little ‘time to acclimate and to understand its dynamics. This allows me to take pictures with much more tranquility and quality. In the past, i start shooting right away, taken by the excitement and euphoria, but then I made disasters.

Every new place has to be breathed in and savored before taking the first pictures

In addition to classic products, from fruit to meat or fish, clothes, shoes and accessories, the most beautiful and most exciting part, photographically speaking, was definitely the buy and sale of buffalos. The view from the top was fantastic: the valley was full of these mammals and men, creating an almost surreal landscape.

In addition to the buffalo, then they were sellers of dogs, pigs, chickens, goats and scenes that had appeared before my eyes were beautiful, so real and so strange.

Night at Zizi homestay in the village of Hau Thau

With the eyes and camera full of unforgettable images, we put back on the road to reach the house (called homestay) of the family with whom we will sleep in the small village of Hau Thau. In between, a stop for a local lunch and a ride to the small but staggering Sapa market. Disconcerting because, for the first time in my life, I have seen on a counter, the dog meat and a dog’s cut head.

Obviously, I respect all cultures and obviously I will not post any pictures of it. Bad scene for us europeans.

Arrived by Zizi, they accommodated in a very basic and humid room. In the afternoon we had a taste of the surrounding countryside and villages. Mountains covered by rice fields, children everywhere, beauty at every turn. Already I could not wait to begin the long trek of tomorrow.

Later on, we had a nice dinner with the family and other guests, all travelers, who for two weeks, some for months. It is impressive to see how many more people decide to drop everything off, to begin to tr the world.


About my photography

Well, that is, the Can Cau market experience will always remain among my favorites. I love the markets, and this is, for sure, one of the most beautiful and spectacular I’ve ever seen. Even here, I have used most of the time, the Summicron 28mm f2, magnificent when it comes to capturing street scenes.

For the first time, however, I held onto the Voigtlander Skopar 21mm f4, from the moment I wanted to capture the valley full of buffalo and people. This lens is really high quality, and I enjoyed using it in the market where they sold animals, to capture the whole atmosphere of the place.

Details with 90mm Elmarit

At one point, trying to change the style of the pictures, I decided to put up the Elmarit 90mm to try to describe the place even through the details. The hands of the elderly ladies, the decorations of the Hmong clothes, feet and special shoes, hands through the baskets of vegetables or while they exchange the money. I must say, it was a great idea.

when you have no more inspiration, the best thing to do is to change the focal length and see the world with a new vision.


Useful information

  • From Lao Cai to Sapa, if you have not arranged a pickup, don’t surrend to the drivers in the station. Look for a lot cheaper and peaceful Local Bus, yellow and red colors. It only costs 28.000VND!
  • Sapa is pretty ugly, I do not recommend taking an accommodation there. Go to the villages around, you will enjoy a very different atmosphere and landscape.
  • Homestay Near Sapa, Hau Thau. Just search on google “Zizi Mekhoo homestay”, it’s two different ho,estays actually and they are both excellent, Mekhoo is a little bit cleaner and cozy tha Zi Zi and her house is just below it.

 


The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 8 – Trekking between rice paddies and Zhao tribes

Finally, this morning, we woke up with the sun and the blue sky’ and the scenery in front of us was just womderful: green mountains covered by rice fields, clouds blocked by the high peaks.

15km trekking, among the rice paddies and the Zhao minority tribes

The trek was long but very funny. During the walk, was alternating stunning landscape and local tribes, in a relaxed atmosphere, typical Sunday. We even attended a religious celebration in the church of one of these villages.

I really enjoyed photographing children, carrying with me some red air balloons that swelled and give away as presents along the way. Most of them are very shy and reserved, but when you get close and try to play with them, then they show you a wonderful smile.

Photo shoot at the Zi family

At the end of the trail, we had a wonderful surprise. The day before, I had photographed my guide, Zi, and then printed the photo with the Fuji Instax SP-1, in the little polaroid format.

Zi, he liked it so much that he asked me to do the same with his children. So, we went to the house of the mother and, in a fun and surreal athnosphere, I began to photograph all the family members and then print a copy for each.

This is where I took the most beautiful pictures of this trip. I sat on the ground and suddendly all children have surrounded me with their smiles and their overwhelming joy.


About my photography

During the trek we saw mostly landscapes and people. For landscapes, trying to always include the human element, I used the wide angle Skopar Voigtlander 21mm f4.

For the many portraits, today I finally used a lot, the Summicron 50mm f2, always trying to tighten on the subject but showing a bit of the background.

For the first time I have never used the Summicron 28 F2: this lens now, I feel perfect for streetphotography, where something happens and when I want to capture a moment of life.


The day in pictures

Vietnam – Day 8 – Trekking among the rice fields Sapa

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Vietnam – Day 6 – The train to Sapa

Left behind the wonderful Hoi An, in a gray, rainy morning, with Vietnam Airlinesflight (always excellent), we arrived in Hanoi. Here begins the third part of the journey that will lead us to explore the north of the country.

But first, catapulted into the chaotic vortex of Hanoi

You know the feeling of being suddenly woke up with a bucket of icy water, screaming in your face and shoving? Here, that’s what I felt when the taxi left us right in the middle of Hanoi.

Already the initial impact was totally different from what we had in Ho Chi Minh. Hanoi occurred immediately as a real big city, more mature and structured than the spartan and rough Saigon. Hanoi has a lot more stressful and busy traffic of Ho Chi Minh, not only rivers of scooters, but also many cars and therefore a swirl of sounds, noises and smells. A crazy chaos. The streets of downtown are iperaffollate of shops and restaurants: an explosion of life, light and sound to make you dizzy.

Hanoi street food paradise

Although only stayed for a few hours (but we’ll get back to it, for a couple of days), Hanoi seemed a haven of street food. Along the streets Vietnamese restaurants of all kinds, many people eat on the street, grill, sizzling rice that cooks in the wok, crazy scents surround you at every step.
Shocked by all this mixture of emotions and sensations, and starving, we stopped to dine by a local resto named “My Pho”, a nice family-run place, spartan, but with very delicious dishes. And very cheap!

The train to Sapa (Lao Cai)

Once made our stomach happier, we headed towards the train station, to finally take the famous night train that, in ten hours, will take us to Sapa, to the north on the border with China.

The train that we have chosen is the Fanxipan, and the 4 berth cabin are quite good, clean and quiet. We then had the good luck to share a cabin with a Polish adult couple, very nice and cute and with them we spent the first hour of the trip talking a bit ‘of our lives and travel experiences.

This will be a long night, the sixth of this wonderful journey.


My photography

Transition day due to the various transfers. Nothing especially then, a little rest even for my Leica M.

Useful information

  • Book a taxi in a few clicks! Grab a taxi, it is similar to Huber service, and allows you to find a taxi or a car to any transfer at much cheaper prices. We have discovered and used (through the official app) to Hanoi airport. While the hotel proposed to us, for the taxi to the center, about 550,000 VND, with Grab, we spent 280.000VDN! Really useful and consigliatissima!
  • My Pho, great local restaurant in the central area. delicious food and very low prices. A command of 3 dishes (pho and two rice-based) and two drinks, for a total of 155,000 VND.
  • Train to Lao Cai: Although a little more expensive, the Fanxipan is a good choice, the price of 36USD per person

The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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Vietnam – Day 5 – Hoi An, elegant and frivolous

If there is a place that you really must not miss on your trip to Vietnam, this is Hoi An. Despite being heavily tourist, with all faults resulting from it, its beauty, elegance and frivolity, make it unique and special however. Colorful, lively and full of locals, here you will find perhaps the best food and you will be overwhelmed by its vibrant and romantic atmosphere.

And why not, do yourself a nice dress tailored

One of a kind, also tailoring offering, that invades every street outside the historic center. Although it would seem not, I can assure you that if you choose the right one (see my reccomandation below), the service and quality are really top level. And all in less than 24 hours!

But hey, at 21:30 the lanterns along the river are off!

What a disappointment! I arrived in the old town at 21:15 and I had just the time to take 3-4 photos in the nicer viewpoints when, suddenly, all those wonderful lanterns in the trees and along the river, were off. I wanted to cry … my last night in Hoi An, I will not have another chance to photograph it as well. Patience.

How was my photography?

Great day! Hoi An is very photogenic and colorful, with very interesting views. In addition, cycling out of town, it allowed me to make a couple of wonderful portraits and scenes of local life. Today I used a lot the Leica Elmarit 90mm f2.8, because I made several portraits that i look forward to show you. In Vietnam, people can be photographed with no problem, sometimes they ask for money, it is then up to your good heart if you give them or not. In the evening, with the streets decorated with beautiful lanterns, I used a tripod and a Leica Summicron 28 f2 ASPH.

Useful information

  • WARNING! When you enter the Japanese bridge, a guard will stop and tell you that to cross it, you require a ticket that then gives you free access to all museums: NOT TRUE! If you are not interested in museums, but want to visit the part of Hoi An over the bridge, simply walk around and take the small side streets. Do not need any ticket!
  • WARNING 2! At 21:30, the lanterns in the trees along the river and the lights on the Japanese bridge, are switched off and after a few minutes, the rest of the shops and bars close. At 22 everything is almost finished!
  • Take a bike and go out of town, toward the “Pottery Village”. Along the way you will find many magnificent scenes of local life, as well as a small fish market! During this journey I made some beautiful portraits.
  • Tailoring: go to Kimmy, impeccable service and excellent quality. I guarantee!
  • For a drink and a small but very nice environment, go to Mot cafe, downtown.

The day in pictures (iphone 6s)

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