Category Archives: life

La Palma Sky

Okay, life was going crazy fast lately and still is, but I just wanted to share some images I’ve taken not-so recently, during the trip to La Palma (September 2013). The daily ones are still to come, but the mission was to take pictures of the night sky of La Palma, one of the best ones in the world (yes, I mean comparable with Chile and Hawaii).

I’ve actually learned quite a few things during that trip: apparently I don’t mind heavy backpack, as long as it’s full of my photo stuff and I can freeze down for a picture. Anyway, one of the more painful things I’ve learned is that I’ve hit the limitations of my camera. If I take my Canon 7D & 15 mm Fisheye lens, the result will never reach the quality of Canon 5D Mark III with essentially the same settings. Hence whomever wants to send me the note saying ‘your image’s noisy’, buy me a better camera and I’ll prove you I can do better.

la_palma_MW

So picture above, from Roque de Los Muchachos observatory. It’s a single shot, 20s exposure @f/2.8 and ISO 4000. Which I think is pretty impressive. The yellow spot on the lower left side is lights from Santa Cruz, the bright spot over the horizon, casting shadow on the water is Venus. Actually you can even see  Zodiacal light going through Venus, pointing to the Milky way (brighter area going above the horizon). The red and green glow is a natural glow of our atmosphere, called airglow. And the bright bridge is the Milky way… looking into the galactic center in Scorpius.

milky_way

 

Since combining the images with a foreground is tricky, I’ve combined only one image of the milky way with no foreground (that’s to come in the future). It’s a combination of 15 images, ISO 4000 and using dark frame. As in the previous pic, the red glow is our own atmosphere.

_MG_9599

Okay, with this picture, I’ve learned how ‘bad’ is my camera compared to the 5D MIII, since we were shooting from the same spot and guess what, I have the noise… But anyway MAGIC telescope and Milky way is a cool combination, worth of almost spraining my ankle in the dark :)

I also got into experimenting with time-lapse. So if you want to check my super short one, go fot it on vimeo.

Traveling around Sri Lanka

I’ve spent two amazing weeks on Sri Lanka, visiting as many places as possible and I just want to write little feedback on the places… for the future reference I guess. Overall impression was really cool. It’s the kind of place you have to like. It reminded me of India, but of the good things from India – like good food and ridiculous ways to get around. On the other hand, people are not so pushy as in India and usually it took only one ‘no thanks’ to the tuk-tuk driver to go away. The whole island provides an unique opportunity to jump from jungle to highlands and to dry tropics in the next moment. And I loved that diversity. We also tried very diverse attractions, so if you’re interested, read ahead…

Kandy
Kandy is essentially a gate to the region called in tourist guides as the Hill country. The city itself is quite big, easily reachable from pretty much everywhere by bus (one arrives on rather chaotic bus station) or train (from Colombo or from other towns in Hill country). The lake itself is nice and the Temple of Tooth is well… I wasn’t very excited about that, since in my opinion I saw much more beautiful buddhist temples (for free) and this was simply overpriced tourist attraction (1000Rs). Plus you don’t get to see the relic anyway. Much more interesting was Peradeniya botanical garden. Lots of flowers, trees and fruit bats. Walking through there is like walking through the calm oasis, totally cut out from the world outside. But one has to take the bus there from Kandy, it’d be rather long walk along the main road, which is with local drivers skills really risky.

Sigiriya
Also called Lion’s rock. The signature place of Sri Lanka, protected by UNESCO with entrance priced accordingly. $35!!! It’s worth going in the afternoon, since by the evening, you see all the amazing colors the Sun draws on the rock. If you’re aiming for the stunning ancient ruins, you might be disappointed. The murals are very impressive though. The rock ascent is not hard, but the vertigo can be annoying. The views are simply stunning. All in all I still think it’s little bit pricey for what you see, but a place not to miss.

Polonnaruwa
Here goes the place for impressive ruins. The old city is hidden in the forest, which makes it a nice walk, I kind of don’t understand why both Rough guide and Lonely Planet suggest renting a bike. With bike you’ll have hard time access some of the cool but more hidden places. And some of the nicest views. I was deeply impressed by Gal Vihara, statues of Buddha carved into the big rock. Especially the reclining Buddha has a very serene face… and all the texture of the rocks. Simply breathtaking. Also the dagobas were impressive, mostly in size. I really liked the snow white appearnce of Kiri Vihara. While the entrance to the ruins is also quite pricey ($30), it’s totally worth it. Also, don’t forget the ruins by the lake. They’re for free and very nice too.

Adam’s peak – Sri Pada 
One advice here – don’t go out of the season. While the weather in most parts of Sri Lanka might work even out of the season, this is not the place to be during the monsoon.  When it rains, it pours. That pretty much ruined our chance of night ascent. And unfortunately we didn’t have extra day for another try and the guest house (White house) was a nightmare to stay in (don’t go there unless you’re mold lover). I hiked one third up in the morning, but the humidity was killing me. So yeah, next time in the season.

Lake on the way from Dalhouse to Hatton

Horton Plains
National park, hence the entrance is annoyingly expensive. Including the tuk-tuk ride from Haputale, we paid 4500Rs for the whole trip, per person. Be sure to go very early in the morning, since the weather sucks in the afternoon. The main attraction is 9 km hike, mostly on flat surface with an easily visible trail. There you encounter Baker’s falls – quite nice waterfalls, and two major viewpoints – Poor Man’s World’s End and World’s End. One smaller and one bigger. Both of them are pretty impressive. Prepare for the chilly weather and mist. The guide book said it’s a cool place for bird watching, but honestly, we were glad that the mist was not much thicker 😉 In general, very nice place which I’d recommend.

Haputale – Lipton’s seat
Essentialy a viewpoint which is not that easy to reach. You can walk, but the asphalt road is just not ‘the’ hiking surface. One can also go by tuk-tuk, I have no idea about the price, since for us, it was included in the Horton Plains trip. The views are incredible. Tea is stretching everywhere and in the distance, one can see Udawalawe lake. There’s also a small tea shop on the top. The place itself is for free, which is nice.

Haputale – Dambatenne Tea Factory
Only tea factory opened for tourists. If you go too early in the morning, you won’t see anything, if you go to late, same story… The entrance fee is moderate, 250Rs and officially one can’t take pictures inside. Well, officially. It’s really cool to see how the cup of tea I drink every morning, is made. It takes surprisingly long time. But don’t buy local tea there, buy it anywhere else, here it’s ridiculously overpriced – around 1000Rs for the same stuff which costs 100Rs in Haputale.

Bambarakanda Falls
Well, we stopped here on the way from Haputale to Udawalawe. I don’t think it’s worth the trip solely on purpose of seeing this waterfall. I mean, it’s nice and tall. You can ‘swim’ there, in the tiny lake for a moment and you can take a picture of you standing under the waterfall. And that’s it. Also they apparently started to build some stairs there which might mean that at some point, there’s gonna be an entrance fee.

Udawalawe National Park safari
Prepare to spend a lot of money here. Jeep safari costs around 6000Rs per person (all taxes included) and you can’t go in without the jeep. For a good reason – there are wild animals running around. There are a lots of elephants, so those are sure thing when you go there. Also herds of water buffalos. But don’t rise your hopes for leopard. They’re in Yala. Here in Udawalawe, there are some, but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll see them. But there’s a lot of bird species and crocodiles, monitor lizards… And no matter what, hire a guide. They can point out animals you would miss in a blink of an eye. I think this safari was worth the price.

Rekawa 
Rekawa is ‘the place’ for turtle watching. Well, people are usually staying in Tangalla and then pay like 2000Rs per person to go to Rekawa to watch turtles lay eggs. The deal is, if you go to Rekawa on your own, the beach is public, so are the turtles… and it’s not very hard to find them, since they’re surrounded by tourists paying to get there with the agency. The problem is, for whatever reason, the agency wants to charge you, if you just walk around. Strange huh? And from what we saw, people in big group waiting for turtle and taking pictures. Well I’d say I pass.

Galle
The Fort is the major tourist attraction in Galle. Tourists concentrate there which means high prices of everything. Though the accommodation is doable on a budget. If you aim for souvenirs, just go outside the Fort and there is Lakana (or what’s the name) store, which essentially provides goods to the stores in Fort. They have bargain prices. If you’re into shopping, one of the builings in Fort harbors factory outlet. You can get Gap, Tommy Hilfiger etc. on ridiculous prices (10 euros per pants and remember, the outlet still makes money!!!). But the outfits for chicks are scarce, guys are more likely to be lucky there. The tags on the clothes are simply cut, co nobody can really resell it in a brand store. In Galle, we found an amazing restaurant called Crepeology. We paid 4000Rs for two people, including the desert, but the place was superb. I wouldn’t stay in Galle for more than a day, since it seemed little bit boring.

And that’s it. Anybody interested in the accommodation rating from me, check Trip Advisor. Also a good advice. While moving around he coast etc, buses are nice cheap alternatives for everything. But once you go to hill country, getting from one spot to another might take the whole day, so think about renting a tuk-tuk. We got one for 7000Rs (40 euro) for two days and if you think about that, it’s not a lot of money. And you got the freedom of stopping anywhere you want…

100+1 reasons to dislike Iberia

Okay, to be fair, I don’t have 100+1 reasons, but I have couple of very good reasons. And it piled up a lot from the beginning of the year.

Strikes!!! yes, everybody has the right to strike, cool. But I have a very strong opinion, when airlines go on strikes and practically use their customers as hostages. I mean, okay, you go and cancel you’r domestic flights, fair enough, people still have trains etc. But if you cancel long haul flight, you might cause serious troubles. But whatever… I was flying on the day of strike, and till the last moment, I had no idea if my flight is cancelled or not. And when I called the customer service, the lady practically laughed saying that she has no clue. For god’s sake, if Lufthansa is on strike, they immediately start rebooking people on different flights, Iberia is just on holidays and customer service is useless. And honestly, if you take your work so lightly, I’m pretty sure there’s plenty of people in Spain, who would take your job and would not go on strike!

Cancellations… in March, I’ve learned, that my flight to Tenerife Norte was cancelled. Well not only my flight, they just decided to cut that line on work days. Instead they offered my flight to Tenerife Sur. Not a big deal if you’re living on the island? Oh it is, if you arrive at 11 p.m. to airport 80km from your home and there’s no decent transportation… you’re screwed. And guess what, Iberia is unable to pay for your transport. When I asked if they can pay for my taxi, they declined, saying that I agreed with the change. What the hell I was supposed to do? I asked if they would pay for my hotel in Madrid, if I was waiting for the flight to Tenerife Norte next day. No they wouldn’t. This has no excuse whatsoever.

Poor inflight service here’s the fun comparison. Flight between Munich and Madrid takes 2:05 hours, Flight between Madrid and Tenerife Norte takes 2:50 hours. From Munich, I fly Lufthansa and I got full warm meal, selection of drinks including wine and beer and smiling staff. From Madrid, I fly Iberia, I got nothing, if I manage to catch the flight attendant during the flight, I can ask for a glass of water, but I have to be specific, glass, not just water, since just water, you get a bottle, which you have to pay.  On top of that, the flight attendants are often acting as they’re not there, which is really charming in the case when the plane is full of some school trip full of yelling kids, while the rest of plane somewhat feels like sleeping. I’m not saying they should be giving full meals, but for Gods sake, something to drink, or even active offering of the water would not hurt the company!!! And okay, i.e. Air Europa doesn’t give you meal or drinks either, but their approach is much nicer.

Customer service… I’m honestly suspecting that they know how bad they are, hence they don’t have any contact e-mail on the web page. Or it is so hidden that I haven’t discovered it. You have to call. If you call, it takes them a while to catch somebody who speaks English (how the hell is that possible, if you can sort of guess you might have international clientele) and then, the person is usually completely unable to solve you’r problem. Fun right? So far, I’ve needed to deal only with customer services of Iberia, Lufthansa, British Airways and KLM. Guess which one is the winner of the ‘most useless’ trophy.

And I’m pretty sure that there are people who have flown with Iberia on long haul flights who would have a lots of comments on how bad they are.

Here’s the thing, I don’t care only about getting from point A to point B. I travel a lot, so I also want to be treated nicely. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like low-costs. But with Iberia, I feel like I’m getting really shitty value for a lot of money. I guess, yesterday’s flight was the last one on their board (if I can help it). And so far, I have at least three trips ahead of me, none of them will be with Iberia, which makes me feel good. And yes, I’m biased towards Lufthansa… but considering I’ve tried (almost, just to be on a safe side) every major european airline, I think my preference is based on some significant experience. KLM is right behind them, though they’re funny with the new charged for check-in luggage. So if you fly frequently… just avoid Iberia.

 

Teide hike for sunrise

Okay, here is the deal. I love mountains. The older I get the more I like them. I’m not sure when did this transition happen but it did. I’m lucky enough to live close to 3.718 m peak – Pico del Teide, which is one of the bigest volcanos on the Earth (third after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea). I finally managed to climb it with couple of friends at the beginning of April. We decided to star overnight in Refugio Altavista and hike up early in the morning to see the sunrise.

As for the hike, it’s easier than I thought it’d be. The road to Montaña Blanca is easy and from there to Refugio, it’s just little bit steeper, and the altitude eventually starts to call for your attention, but we’re reached Refugio surprisingly quickly. The only downfall of Refugio is that the water is not good for drinking and the beds are singing their annoying song through the whole night. The second part of the hike is not bad either. We had full moon so no need for flashlights, except for couple of parts in shade. We even had snow, which is quite impressive here.  If you keep slow and continuous pace, it takes an hour and half to get on top.

And then… you’re there. On the highest peak around and all you see is wonderfully colored sky and islands peeking from the clouds. The new day is born in a blink of an eye and everything is suddenly colored in the warm tones of orange. And you stand there, overlooking the world and feeling free. Feels like you can just spread your arms and fly… yes maybe that’s why I like mountains.

The spine of Tenerife just moments before the sunrise

Shadow of Teide, cast on the ocean

Shadow of Teide, cast on the ocean

Deviously artistic

Okay, here’s the deal. It’s not that I can’t pick a page where to keep my photos, it’s just complicated :) Here, I tend to upload galleries from the trips I made. I want to document the places a little bit, selecting the best shots, but sometimes keeping ones just for ‘informative values’. The single shots are fun thing, since those I usually play with a little more, but I fail to keep them in some organized gallery. So thinking about this for quite same time, I remembered that a while ago, I created an account on deviantArt. Turns out, this is the perfect thing. So feel free to visit my profile http://janapka.deviantart.com/ to check out my gallery, which consist of the shots I’m particularly proud of :) It’s mostly landscape photographies since it’s my favorite. Feel free to comment, criticize etc.

 

Save the world… online

Okay, let’s be honest here. I don’t believe in ‘like this picture and facebook will donate…’ crap. That’s nonsense. But recently I’ve stumbled upon couple of web pages with very simple philosophy. You donate a small amount of money (starting i.e. at $2) and support some cause. For this, you usually get something nice, color, tree… you name it. You can even donate in the name of somebody and this person will receive a gift. Personally I like giving  a color to somebody way more than any of the traditional gifts. Why I like this much more than any of the ‘adopt a kid’ and stuff like that? That’s easy. If I have to pay let’s say 300 euro per year for school for some kid, I’ll notice that on my account. Being a student, I really cannot throw the money out of the window. But 4 euros or similar amount will go unnoticed on most people’s account and it might help somebody. So below I list couple of projects I liked or supported. If you also like them, please don’t stop at only liking and support them. It’ll make the world a little bit better.

 

Reforesting Patagonia

Patagonia is a gorgeous piece of land in the southern part of South America. There’s an amazing national park with really beautiful moutains, called Torres del Paine. Unfortunately due to wildfire, lots of beautiful trees which grew there burned down. Reforest Patagonia is raising money for planting new trees in the region. Price for one tree is $4 and you can give it as a gift. You’ll receive a certificate with the GPS coordinations of your tree, so in couple of years, if you’ll travel there, you might find a tree planted under your name.

More info can be found at this webpage.

 

Own a color

There are millions of colors and even our smartphones and laptops can display more than 16 millions of them!!!  And not every of them has a name. So buy a color and name it. You can own a color for little over 1 euro, which will be a donation to UNICEF, organizations helping protect kids’ and young people’s rights. You’ll get a certificate of color ownership and the name of your color will appear on the spectrum they put on the webpage. You can also give the color to somebody, which makes a nice gift.

More info can be found at this webpage.

 

Free rice

Here, it get’s even better. You don’t even need to pay, just play and educate yourself. My personal favorite are english synonyms, around level 35 it get’s really hard :) Webpage get’s money from the ads displayed on it so the more you click on it, the more money they get. Don’t forget to turn off your adblock. The organizations provides free rice for people suffering from the food shortage. For every right answer, you donate 10 grains of rice.  It goes mostly to asian countries like Nepal, Bangladesh… I’m not sure how the banner moneymaking works, but the game is fun.

You can play and procrastinate for long hours with it here.

 

Adopt a star

This one goes little bit beyond saving the world, but it’s still nice. If you feel like you want to give somebody a piece of sky, don’t go for the land on the Moon, adopt a star and support research. The stars you can adopt are from the Kepler satellite field and might harbor planets. But to find out if they do, you need to carry on long research, which is not for free. Adopting a star is $10 and goes exactly for this research. If you want to be sure that your star had a planet, you can adopt one with confirmed planet, but that’d cost you $100. And of course, this can be a gift, since you receive a certificate with star coordinations, brightness and identification number.

Adopt your Kepler star on this link.

Kiva microloans

I haven’t tried this one, but after reading about it, I think I’ll give it a try. Kiva’s a microloan service. You make $25 loan to some little business you can even choose. If the business is viable, you’ll get your money back from the profit. Those go to your kiva account and you can relocate them to another little business and over and over. Or you can withdraw the money and spend it on something completely different. The return rate is supposed to be 98% which is pretty good. I really like the idea. The people who need donations are mostly from central America, Africa and India.

More info can be found on kiva project website.