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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Christmas Music

Stephanie sings as part of the University of Azuay choir

Cuenca is a city filled with music, as I have said several times.  Now that Christmas is around the corner, there are several music festivals every week.  We were invited to Stephanie's birthday party last May.  When we heard she was be performing today as part of the University of Azuay choir, we went to hear her. The performance was outdoors. Fortunately the performers were under some heavy trees, as it rained during much of the afternoon.  Portable canopies were erected quickly for the audience.

There were also a series of children's choirs from local schools performing more Christmas music, both "standards" and new music we had not heard before.


Singing The Blues

If you love music, Cuenca is the place to be.  There are musical performances pretty much every week.  Many are free, or have a small cover charge.  Tonight we had dinner at La Parola, and listened to Bobcat Jack perform his style of Blues.  He popped up on the Cuenca scene while we were on our recent Iceland / New York vacation and seems to be playing every restaurant in town with a stage.  Jack is primarily a Blues musician, though he mixes in some Jazz. He is known for his interaction with the audience and modifying the standard tunes on-the-fly to reference local places and events ("I've got the blues in Cuenca").

Unfortunately it was too dark for me to record any video of him, but you can go here to see his official videos.

As we left Bobcat Jack's show, we discovered there was a free street show going on right outside the restaurant.  We stopped for awhile to listen to them too.

UFO Vans

The Cuenca futball game had just concluded at the Stadium a couple blocks away, so that is where all the people walking through my video were coming from.  Cuenca won their game tonight, but are in 6th place, so not really in contention for the national playoffs.

Wrapping Up New York Again

Our time in New York City is coming to a close. Today we walked more of downtown, came across a kid's skating rink, a small park devoted to gay & lesbian couples, and went to the Mecca of Apple Users everywhere -- the 5th Ave Apple store. We were glad we didn't actually have anything to buy there though, as it was a packed madhouse and would have been near impossible to actually make a purchase.

Last night we went to the Cornelia Street Cafe to listen to the Rhythm Future Quartet, a talented gypsy jazz group.

Tonight we listened to a jazz vocalist named Roz Corral at the 55 Bar. Below is a portion of her Anyone Can Whistle performance. A night of "bar hopping" for us means going to two different bars in one night, so we then ventured over to a piano bar called Mezzrows.

Roz Corral singing Anyone Can Whistle on Vimeo.

White Thanksgiving

Finally! The snow we have been expecting for the past two weeks in Iceland!  Only one problem... we are now in New Jersey rather than Iceland... :)

We returned to New Jersey to spend Thanksgiving with our long-time friends again, only to discover it snowing here, and much colder than it was in Iceland during the last two weeks.  Evelyn had been saying she would like a white Christmas -- well at least she got a white Thanksgiving...

We spent an enjoyable afternoon at Radio City Music Hall in New York City with Zoya and Alice (Vladimir had kitchen duty making dinner), watching their Christmas Spectacular show.  It is always amazing to see so many dancers with such split-second choreography and synchronization.  Almost doesn't seem possible.  There were also a couple of "engineering feats" in the show that got me scratching my head.  How did that teddy bear blink his eyes, and how did those orbs fly in a controlled manner with no visible wires or manner of locomotion??

We returned and stuffed ourselves on a full traditional turkey dinner, then retired into the media room (yep, they have one!  I am so jealous... :) ) to watch a slideshow of our Iceland photos.

Iceland 11 – Wrap-up With Thermal Vents

Today was a fairly short shooting session in the Reykjanes Peninsula located 45 minutes west of Reykjavik.  They say that weather changes rapidly in Iceland,so you have to be prepared. The cold wind was gusting, and we were repeatedly struck by rain, hail, then more rain, however there was wonderful low angle light.  I got soaked through to the skin, and was shivering so badly I had to return to the car while Evelyn continued shooting.

We visited one of the thermal power plants, but went around behind it to an area very hard to find.  You can see the plant in the background of these images.  We then came across a newly formed geyser of hot mud, presenting an unexpected opportunity.

We are now done photographing Iceland and ready to pack up and head back to New Jersey to spend Thanksgiving with some long-time friends.  Was Iceland all we expected?  Not really.  We had not expected such foul warm weather (it felt cold because of the wind, but was actually in the 40's F) and constant overcast.  We had expected to see aurora displays every night, and only saw a tiny one once then a better display on a single night.

Was it worth the trip? Yep! We did end up with that aurora display I coveted, though only one real night instead of the dozen I had expected.  We saw an ice cave and glacier ice lagoon that presented photo opportunities I have never had before.  Yes, I would shoot them a bit different if given another chance, but that is almost always true after any first session in a new environment.

Will we return to Iceland soon?  Probably not.  I am glad we went this time, but there is so much left in the world to see that we will almost certainly be moving on to other adventures, and keep this blog as a memory jog to keep this trip fresh.

This was our 55th country we have visited or lived in.  The UN says there are 193 recognized countries (more than I realized...), so there is still a lot of the world to be explored!

Iceland 10 – Waterfalls

After a late night editing aurora photos, we got off to a leisurely start today.  We began by visiting the same mountain and waterfall (Kirkjufellsfoss) where we had been the night before for the aurora session.  The place looked so different in the day that we didn't even realize it was the same place until we had moved into the shooting position.  (Yes, Johnathan had told us we were going there, but somehow we thought it must be later in the day because it didn't look familiar from the parking lot.)


Iceland 9 – Major Aurora!

Success! We really came to Iceland to see a good aurora borealis show. After 11 days of solid overcast and frequent rain, we were beginning to think we would have to settle with that little distant bit of Northern Lights color we saw on Nov 15.  The forecast for tonight was clear from 10PM to 2AM in the Snaelfellsnes Peninsula, with solid cloud cover before and after that window.  We decided to drive out to Kirkjufell mountain and  waterfall that Johnathan knew of and try our luck. It turns out that there are several NASA aurora forecast sites in addition to http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/ to forecast both aurora activity as well as cloud cover on an hourly basis.

The clouds cleared and the wind died down (the wind had been blowing strong for the past 11 days too).  Suddenly the light show started, and we had ringside seats.  The still winds meant that we even had rare reflections in the lake below the falls. We had four hours of excellent viewing.  Just as the show was dying out around 2AM, the clouds came in again and the wind began blowing.  Time to go home and edit what we captured!

Earlier in the day we had visited a lighthouse and the surrounding beach.  It was a nice day of exploring, but couldn't hold a candle to that aurora display later that night...

Iceland 8 – Icelandic Horses

After the original photo tour with Iurie was complete, we hired Johnathan Esper for a private 3 day tour extension.  He had been the co-leader of the initial tour, and is an excellent photographer and leader, so we decided hiring him would be better than blundering around the island on our own.  A few hours into the private tour, we saw a field of horses and stopped for some photographs. As we saw before, the horses gravitate to people, and the problem is getting enough distance to be able to photograph the entire animal. Apparently, the Icelandic horses have 5 different gaits, and are like children who are curious and are very playful with the visitors.

We then visited some waterfalls and a tiny crevice with interesting images around it that we would have never found on our own.  Score one for Johnathan!

Iceland 7 – Geyser and Waterfalls

We started today at a geyser field on the Golden Circle,  which were reminiscent of Yellowstone in the US, though much smaller.  There were busloads of people wandering through, making the photography a bit tricky.  From the parking lot markings though, I am glad I am not here in the summer, when there were spots for 50 buses to park, in addition to the cars.

Their is only one erupting geyser in the park. Similar to "Old Faithful" in Yellowstone, this one erupts every 5 to 7 minutes.  A gas bubble first forms (lower right), then the gas proceeds to force an upward rush of steaming water.  The time from the first bubble to the full eruption is roughly one tenth of a second, so it takes quick reflexes to catch the stages. :)

We next drove to Gullfoss Waterfall, which is the second largest falls in Iceland (the largest is far up North, where we did not reach on this trip).  This is an impressive display of multiple drop levels, carved from a glacier flood roughly 8700 years ago.

There are waterfalls at almost every turn in Iceland.  Many farms have multiple falls on their property.  Our last stop of the day was also the last stop of the originally arranged photo tour with Iurie.  One more waterfall before we headed back to our own barn (hotel) in Reykjavik.

Iceland 6 – More Ice and Churches

Today was our third and last visit to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.  As we saw yesterday, the ice blocks here change constantly. There was so much ice here today that it was hard to find isolated chunks to make the kind of photos I had envisioned (as seen in the two lower left images above).

We then stopped at a couple of church locations, one in Vik and the other in Hof.  The first was a traditional "turf church" that was built partly buried in the ground, then covered with turf to form natural insulation, and surrounded by a mounded, ancient grave site.  The second church down the road was a more modern version.  Unfortunately, I neglected to catch the name of either -- the names are so long and complex that they are silicon to my memory, slipping away as soon as they are voiced.

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