Loule, Portugal – Carnaval 2016 – Photo Essay

When I decided that I would head to the Algarve region of Portugal, I hadn’t even considered the fact that I would be visiting during Carnival festivities. About two days before departing Amsterdam for Faro, I learned that Loule, a community inland was known for hosting the oldest and largest Carnival in the Algarve region. With it being only 45 minutes or so away from Albufeira, I would have to make my way there to see the celebrations!

I walked 20 minutes to the bus terminal on the outskirts of town and arrived just in time for the 10:10am bus to Loule. I jumped on the bus behind a man toting a Canada flag on his back pack and immediately struck up a conversation with him and his three traveling companions. Turns out, one couple was from Halifax, Nova Scotia and the other from Miramichi, New Brunswick. Small world! We chatted away through the 45 minute bus ride and in no time at all we had arrived in the little city of Loule.

I headed in to the centre of town which was about a 10 minute walk from the terminal. I made the obligatory stop at the information centre to get a town map and a couple of pointers and then I wandered around taking photos of the historical old town and observing local life for the next couple of hours.

By 12:30, it had started to rain and I had seen pretty much all there was to see in the historic centre. It’s a pretty small area. I headed for lunch and wondered what I was possibly going to do with myself until 3pm when the parade would commence. After an underwhelming lunch of rice and two small chicken thighs that the restaurant ‘called’ chicken piri piri, I wandered around a bit more and then sat down for dessert at La Boehm Cafe. The warm brownie and hot chocolate warmed my spirits up and left me more satisfied than the sad little lunch I had eaten.

By 2:15pm it was raining again (or still) and I made my way to the parade route with my camera around my neck, my backpack rain protected and my umbrella above my head. I was awkward at best trying to use my camera and an umbrella at the same time. Luckily I didn’t take anyone’s eye out.

By 2:30pm the streets were lined with locals and tourists and the floats were starting to fill with participants. Media had arrived to interview and film the oldest carnival celebration in the Algarve region and bands were warming up with their samba beats. The build up of music and energy was infectious and I stood on the street tapping my feet and grinning. (Don’t mistake the ‘tapping my feet’ for anything near samba dancing though!)

Right on time, at 3pm, the music blared and the streets came alive with energy and colors.
The rain had subsided momentarily and the drummers and dancers were getting the feel for the beat as the parade began. Confetti and streamers were already dancing in the wind, filling the trees, streets and hair of everyone around with colourful reminders of the day.

Despite the chilly temperature of about 14 degrees, not to mention the wind and misty rains, lots of the performers put on radiant smiles and shared their energy and love of carnival with the crowd. Having said that, there were quite a few who couldn’t muster smiles through the rain. Some of the kids were pretty cold and not so happy to be there. I chose to focus on the excited ones though, so here’s a look at Carnaval 2016 in Loule from my perspective. Hope you enjoy!

NOTE: Click on any of the images to view full image.

 

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St. Pierre & Miquelon Photo Essay

A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Newfoundland and then St. Pierre & Miquelon with a friend for about a week. We spent a long weekend in St. Pierre & Miquelon just to check it out and officially say we had been to France.

In case you aren’t familiar, St. Pierre & Miquelon is just off the cost of Newfoundland, Canada, but is a French territory. The communities speak French, have divine French pastries and use the Euro as currency. It is indeed a tiny piece of France!

The islands are small and don’t offer a lot of tourist attractions, but we did manage to fill our time for three days. From hiking the trail to the top of a large hill to look out over the colourful community of St. Pierre, to a ferry ride and day tour of Miquelon and Langlade where we visited very friendly ‘wild’ horses.

My primary tip if you are planning to visit … make dinner reservations every single day. If you just arrive at one of the handful of restaurants, you will be disappointed as they require reservations. Also keep in mind that dinner starts at 8 or 9pm, as per the usual in France.

Interested in more information or visiting? Drop me a message. I’d be happy to help you out.

5 Questions from Elite Travel Blog

I have recently been asked to participate in a series with Elite Travel Blog where they invite travel bloggers to share their favourite memories. Below you can find my responses, but you should stop by their site and get some inspiration from many of the other bloggers who participated!

Why do you love travel?

My love of travel was born out of a fear of planes. In 1997 I survived a plane crash in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. I got on a plane shortly after the crash, which was a horrible decision and then I did not fly again for 11 years. Eventually, I decided that the world was too amazing to be missed. From that point on, I stepped cautiously into the travel world and a few years later, here I am making my way around the world!

For me, travel is such an interesting mix of emotions. The flights are still difficult for me nearly 20 years after my plane crash and can still cause me anxiety, but to not be able to experience the world in all of it’s wonders would feel like I hadn’t really lived.

It’s like opening presents everyday of the year because there is always something new and exciting to do. For the same reasons, it can be equally as exhausting when your brain is always taking in new things and never has a routine. With all of its ups and downs, I love travel because it has opened my mind to new ways of thinking. Through travel I have overcome challenges, learned when to be independent and when not to be.

For me, travel is: empowering, frightening, overwhelming and beautiful. Travel is the air that I breathe that gives me life and purpose.

What destination is top of your bucket list? 

As with any travel blogger, narrowing it down to just one place at the top of my bucket list is very difficult. So, I’ll choose the over 7000 islands of the Philippines (I reserve the right to change my mind tomorrow!). With Chocolate hills, swimming with whale sharks, kite surfing and festivals galore, my heart beats faster just thinking about it. Yes, I think it is time for me to float, swim, eat and dance my way through the Philippines.

Where is your most favourite place you have travelled to? 

I’ve traveled to 27 countries, most of them in the past seven years. I truly have amazing memories of every single one of them. Of course, some will always stand out more than others. When I traveled to Turkey in September 2015 with Experta Tours  and The Gallipolli Artist, I expected the chaos of Istanbul but what I didn’t expect was the welcoming, friendly hospitality of the locals throughout the country. That hospitality was expanded 100% when I landed in Cappadocia, land of fairy chimneys and some of the greatest landscapes that I have ever laid eyes (and camera) on. From the charm, art and history of the family-run Sofa Hotel to the pure serenity of my sunrise hot air balloon ride over Love Valley. It was a land of dreams come true and place where a piece of my calm heart will forever reside.

What is your most favourite memory or experience whilst travelling?

My favorite memories from travel seem to be when I find serenity and learn something profound. Or is it that serenity finds me and therefore it teaches me something profound?

As a professional photographer who was interested in travel, what could be better than leading photo tours to far away places? In 2012, with the culmination of much hard work and great support from my friends at G Adventures and the Planeterra Foundation, I led my first photo tour to beautiful Peru. My small group of eight passengers made our way to a small village in the Andes mountains called Ccaccaccollo where we organized a portrait day for the families who had never had family portraits taken before. It was a heart-warming experience, despite the language challenges and primitive homes. We photographed as many children, families and elderly as we could and then arranged to have the photos sent back to them to keep. We were greeted with excitement and welcomed like family. Some people wanted their pictures taken with their favorite cat, while others proudly posed by their llama or cattle. It was a life altering experience when many of us really learned that money can not not buy happiness.

A couple of days later, we traveled together to Machu Picchu and sat in the great Lost City surrounded by thick fog. Our leader asked us to take a few moments to sit and enjoy the peacefulness. Some of my group did yoga or meditation, others just sat in awe and some continued about their business taking photos. For me, I will never forget the tears that I shed at the beauty of this magical place. I will never forget the clearness of my mind and the profound changes that Machu Picchu inspired me to make in my life. Forever, the Lost City will be where I found myself.

What is your favourite photo from your travels?

Hot air Ballooning over Love Valley in Cappadocia

Hot air Ballooning over Love Valley in Cappadocia

Fiji!

This is my dear friend (and client) Robin. I knew she was a special soul from the first time I met her when I trusted her to stay in my condo for three weeks with my beloved cat, Morgan. We’ve been friends since. She warms my heart with her travel lessons and the way she seeks beauty in the world. I hope you’ll give her blog a read. She’s a pretty amazing spirit!

tales from a wandering heart

Hello friends!

I am very happy to be writing to you all from my hostel in Sydney. I flew from Nadi to Sydney last night, and now that I have wifi at my fingertips again, I wanted to update you on what’s been going on with me right away!

I don’t know how to tell you about Fiji… There are so many aspects to consider. The most important thing that I can tell you is that I went there in search of beauty – and I found it. Fijian people have wonderfully warm hearts that have moved mine, and the place that they call home is one of the most beautiful I have ever had the privilege of laying my eyes upon.

I was island hopping for my entire time in Fiji. I flew into Nadi and got on a ferry right away to my first island. I spent 2…

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Working my way around the world

Working my way around the world.

By now, most of you know that I’m in Europe. Some people understand what I’m doing … others have no clue … so here it is, all spelled out for you … The who, what, where, when, why of my current world.

WHO: Me – traveling all alone and happy about it

WHAT: Working my way around the world. This is not a vacation

WHERE: Europe / South America / Caribbean

WHEN: September 19 – unknown (anticipating returning in March / April 2015)

WHY: I am passionate about traveling, trying new things, being outdoors, discovering new foods and cultures. I have no commitments and no home, so I can live a free life … at least for this point in time.

Although I have my sister and my parents, I have not made a family of my own. Therefore, if I’m going to travel I need to do it sooner rather than later as I might be having a baby later (or not … who knows!) I can only live in the present, I can’t predict the future, so I have to do what’s right for me right now.

Pretty simple isn’t it?

Now, on to the work part of all of this travel …

Contrary to popular belief, I am not rich. I did sell my condo to pay off bills and become debt free, but the profit did not go into an account to ‘fund’ my extended travels. I am not lucky. Luck is not planned and I have planned how to make this all happen.

When I say I’m working my way around the world, I truly mean it. I am a full time travel agent, but also an entrepreneur. I work TPI (Travel Professionals International), a Canadian based travel agency, but I manage my own clients and own hours. This has given me the full capability to work from anywhere in the world … so I’m doing just that! If you give me a call, shoot me an email or care to skype with me, you’ll still be able to reach me … I just might be eating delicious gelato in Dubrovnik or sitting at a café in Kotor. It doesn’t stop me from being able to work … it’s just a different environment.

The goal for me is to travel a lot over the next year, but continue to sell travel to my clients who are mostly in Nova Scotia (although they don’t have to be!). How does that work you ask? Well, just about all of my research, planning and consulting is done via internet. I only have a few clients who I meet face to face regularly. So I still offer the exact same services as I did when I was working 9-5 in office, but now I do it from a café when I’m in Halifax, or I could be in a European café, an Argentinian estancia or a hotel wherever I may be at that time.

I know it is hard for people to understand, but I am exploring the world, seeing as much as I can, but also balancing it with enough work to keep my clients happy and food in my tummy.

My travel agent colleagues on the ship keep telling me I work too much. Even they can’t seem to understand that I’m not on vacation. And, I’m actually not working that much. And really, if I wasn’t working right now, what would they expect me to do? Drink? Well … we all know that’s not going to get too far as I’m not much of a drinker. Maybe when they ask me if I’m a workaholic, I’ll ask them if they are an alcoholic? Ha ha

Because I am not rich and I do not have a travel fund to keep me going for 6 months, I absolutely must continue to work as a travel agent. I don’t mind; I love my job. I know you are all thinking that’s fantastic, and it is, but it has its downfalls too!

My three biggest struggles at the moment are:

  1. Lack of reliable internet. Although I was very confident internet would be easy to find and accessible on my cruise, it isn’t as easy as I expected. I can purchase internet on the ship (which I don’t mind), but it is intermittent which means if I’m in the middle of something important and it cuts out I have to start over. That’s not particularly productive.
  2. I could go in to shore each day and access internet, but often it is a 15 – 20 minute tender each way from the ship to shore. If I go in to the city to work in the morning I have to take all of my camera gear and both laptops and then take them walking around or on tour with me. Not only is it cumbersome, but heavy too!
  3. Balance (which is funny to write about as I sit in the piano lounge of the bar on board the Royal Clipper with it listing). Now, I knew this was going to be a difficult one and it would take some practice, but I somehow thought it would be easier. It is incredibly difficult to balance wanting to see and do everything in all of these new amazing countries (Croatia & Montenegro so far) with needing to attend to work clients. I suspect it will get much better once I’m settled in one spot for a few days, but for now, this first few days have been very unbalanced. Having said that, I have had a fantastic time exploring Croatia & Montenegro so far and it just makes me more determined to catch up on work as soon as I can.

Now that you know what it is that I’m doing, I hope you’ll follow along for the upcoming blogs about each of my destinations … the fun times and interesting conversations I’ve had and reviews about many of the suppliers and products that I’ve been involved with.

At this point (Sept 25), I only have two days left on the ship and then I’m heading through Italy for 12 days. Posts will hopefully be more regular from here on out and photos coming soon too!

Air France Strike

Air France Strike

With my flight originally scheduled from Halifax to Venice on Sept 18th, when Air France pilots officially went on strike on Sept 15th it was devastating. I had been so incredibly busy with finishing up work files and trying to plan my own trip that I already felt maxed.

Air France had a release out that said they would be operating at 48% of flights. For those affected by cancellations, they could reschedule free of charge within specific date ranges (and within their original class of service or they could get a full refund.

Being only four days from departure, I knew that changing my flights would be nearly impossible because everything would be sold out and even if I found new flights with Air France that fit the restrictions, it was possible that those flights could be cancelled too seeing as they weren’t announcing cancellations until 24 hours in advance.

I got busy making phone calls as soon as the strike was confirmed. I started by calling my insurance company to see what the procedure would be and when I could officially make a claim. After much discussion, I was advised that my plan actually wouldn’t cover anything to do with strike action even though I had booked the flights months before the strike was announced. So, in this particular case I was SOL because insurance wasn’t going to help me out with the cost of new flights or with the money lost for and expensive hotel in Venice that was non-refundable.

Right then and there I was super frustrated. I looked my insurance policy up, but sadly, with the lower package that I had purchased, strike was not included.

Next up, I called my credit card company as I have insurance with them as well … good news … I had medical and baggage coverage with my credit card. Bad news, I did not have interruption insurance. So …. No luck with the credit card.

What does all of that mean?

If my flight was cancelled I could get my money back from the airline (about $1200). I could then use that money to buy a brand new ticket (on short notice), which was going to cost closer to $4000. Hmmm … see the disconnect here?

I started searching for new flight options on my own to see what I could get for the cheapest and still reach Venice on time. I came up with an Air Canada itinerary departing on Sept 19 (a day later), but arriving on Sept 20th, in time for my embarkation. And it even had better routing – Halifax / Toronto / Venice. It would mean forfeiting a night in Venice at a non-refundable hotel and paying about $500 extra for my flight. It sucked, but it was certainly better than not going at all.

Tuesday I tried to forget about it. After all it was possible that my flights might be on the ‘fly’ list instead of cancellation list. Then I’d be all set, nothing would change and I’d arrive in Venice one day early, as planned.

Wednesday the 17th came and I checked for flight updates as soon as I woke up. Sadly, mine was one of the cancelled ones.

I got on the phone to Air France right away. First I tried their public reservations number, which wasn’t open that early in the morning. I was not impressed. In the middle of a strike and customer service / reservations weren’t even taking calls?

Then I found our agent line to Air France and not only did someone answer, but he was super helpful and nice. I went through the situation with him and he began looking for new routing options with me. Finally he found one that would still leave on Sept 18th, but routing would be Halifax / Montreal / Paris … then I would overnight in Paris before heading on to Venice the next morning … still in time for my embarkation. I told him to put those on hold.

A couple of problems though …

No change in flight price, but it would cost me an extra hotel in Paris, as well as transportation. No way I could visit Paris for 24 hours and stay in a hotel room the whole time!

The flights were still with Air France which means they could still be cancelled and then I would be back to square 1.

Once the rep had them on hold I tried to find a later flight from Halifax to Montreal so that I wouldn’t have an 8 hour layover in Montreal. The rep wasn’t able to make changes to that particular portion of the trip as he was only able to change the Air France segments. He put me through to their booking department and I had a nice chat with a rep there who went above and beyond to get me exactly what I needed.

She checked Air France, KLM and Delta flighs again, but everything was sold out. This is what happens when one company cancels half of their flights, the other airlines fill up very quickly. Having not found anything suitable, she asked if it would be ok if I checked with other airlines. Hell yes! I don’t have any particular loyalties to airline companies. I just wanted to get to Venice on time for my Star Clippers cruise. I was not prepared to miss that!

As soon as she asked me that, I told her about the good Air Canada flights that I had found and I just thought she wasn’t able to switch me to them. After about 20 – 30 minutes on the phone with her, she had cancelled the ‘on hold’ flights with the overnight in Paris, rounded up my new request for flights and had sent it off to get confirmation.

Phew! Was I ever happy when she told me that Air Canada approved the change and she sent me a new eticket.

What does that mean? It meant that I didn’t have to pay to reroute or change my date, I didn’t have to get a refund and then pay a crazy amount more for flights with another airline, I got better routing and got to collect Aeroplan points for the flight which I wouldn’t have been able to do with the other routing. It still left me missing out on a night in Venice and a $300 hotel, but in the grand scheme of things, that was pretty minor and I was thrilled to have it taken care of.

Besides, I barely made it to the airport on time on Friday because I was still packing and doing errands. There’s no way that I would have gotten it all done to leave on Thursday!

The lesson here for all of you is two fold:

  1. Check all of your insurance policies (work / credit card / purchased through an agent) to see if your policy covers airline strike.
  2. Use a travel agent to book your trip. I spent an hour and a half on the phone with Air France plus a couple of hours looking at new routing myself. And, if I hadn’t had access to the travel agent emergency line I have no idea how long it would have taken to get it all settled and how frustrated I would have been as a regular customer not knowing what all of my options were.

Despite the incredible number of customers from that 52% of flights that were cancelled, the staff that I spoke to both gave wonderful customer service despite working over time and likely having to deal with a lot of agents (or customers) looking for miracle solutions.

Although I was happy to gain my Aeroplan points and have better routing, I mostly was just pleased with the knowledge and friendliness of the Air France staff who did exactly what I needed.

Renovations – Part 3

Feb 22nd – Renovation Update

Three weeks ago I was calling contractors and having them in to quote on doing renovations with the goal of having everything complete in early March. I guess that was a little ambitious of me. Both in the matter that I had a lot of decisions to make (I’m a slow decider) and in that contractors have their own way of dealing with time and deadlines.

Here’s what has been accomplished, along with approximate working hours to complete.

Carpet removal from upstairs – 8 hours
Staple pulling & clean up – 9+ hours
Taking carpet to recycle depot – 1.5 hours

Removing cabinet doors in kitchen (hinges & handles) – 2.5 hours
Removing wallpaper in kitchen & clean up – 10 hours

Cleaning out kitchen cupboards & boxing items – 3 hours (only 1/2 done)

Removing face plates, switch covers & hand rails – 1 hour (1/2 done)

Researching & Buying supplies:
Flooring – Home Depot / Kent / Happy Harry’s / Floors Plus
Paint – Home Depot / Kent / Color Your World / Sherwin Williams

6 hours meeting with friends and contractors for quotes & discussing plan of action
3.5 hours meeting with real estate agents

4 hours (2 separate evenings) – researching paint colours in general
6 – 8 hours (with my sister on a Saturday) – Happy Harry’s / Floors Plus / Kent – Bought flooring / handles / hinges / backsplash tile and carted everything from the car to the house. Had to make two trips to Kent to get the flooring. Looked at kitchen lighting.
1 hour (lunch break) – researching paint colour

Random other things that needed to be done.
4 hours – sorting items, donating to Value Village, putting items on kijiji
2 hours – emailing Photo Tour participants & Young & Fearless participants about photo pick ups.
Undetermined amount of time for kijiji & photo pick ups.
2 hours Financial Planner
1 hour finding out exact debt amounts (Line of credit / vehicle / mortgage)

That appears to be a total of approximately 64 hours in the last 3 weeks. Geeze, no wonder I’m exhausted! And, that doesn’t count the 10 – 15 hours of overtime I’ve done at work in the last two weeks.

How will you see the world through your lens?

Every year that I take photographers on a photo tour I am absolutely amazed and inspired by each of them. It is unbelievable how a group of people can stand in the same place and capture so many different perspectives. It truly gives you a feel for what other people are seeing, through their eyes … through their lens.

The Vietnam: Through the Lens Photo Tour will be no different. It offers a variety of classroom workshops, hands on practice and loads of camaraderie that will leave participants inspired and sometimes overwhelmed by the world and the beauty around them.

If you are interested in improving your photography skills while discovering the culture and beauty of Vietnam, now is the time to get in touch.

I’m looking for four more people to join us on this next amazing journey.
Final deadline to book your spot is December 31st, but please contact me ASAP to confirm space is available.

VIETNAM: Through the Lens
April 6 – 19th, 2014

$2780 (land based)

Tour Highlights will include:

Two photo workshops including a variety of classroom learning & a lot of hands on practice.

City tours of Hanoi, Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh

One night on a beautiful junk boat in Halong Bay – visits to floating villages / sunset & sunrise from the boat

Hoi An Volunteering by taking photos for STREETS International to help end the cycle of poverty through education and work opportunities.

Hoi An Full Moon Festival – where the city closes its streets to traffic and stores are adorned with beautiful coloured lanterns.

Mekong Delta Homestay – 1 night

Traveling by boat along the Mekong Delta

If you are interested in more information, please send me an email – info@sharitucker.com

South East Asia – Chapter 16 – Shwedagon Pagoda

Probably the biggest tourist attraction in Yangon is the enormous Shwedagon Pagoda. Nearly 25 000 people visit it per day on the weekend. Although, most of this is actually locals, not tourists.

We only spent about an hour wandering around the inside area of the Pagoda, but I could have spent much longer! Thankfully, our local guide took us to have our astrology reading done where we sat in the coolness of one of the buildings, out of the scorching mid-day sun. After our astrology readings, we bought the flowers as per each of our readings and then used them as an offering to the shrine for our day of birth, where we also poured an uneven number of cups of water on our symbols.

Here’s a quick little photo essay. Put your sunglasses on and get ready for a whirlwind of gold!

South East Asia – Chapter 10 – The Streets of Yangon

I woke up at 4:30am on August 17th and couldn’t seem to get back to sleep. I guess jet lag had me on weird hours. Could have been worse though. I dilly dallied around until about 6:00am when I decided to get out of bed and get my day pack ready to go exploring.

At 7am I headed down to the lobby for breakfast. While I was waiting for my food, we heard a bit of commotion outside and I could see a row of young monks walking by in their pink and orange robes, each carrying their silver container. I ran outside to see what was going on (typical tourist).

The row of monks stopped about two doors down from the hotel and stood in a line while someone from a nearby truck did some announcements. I really wasn’t sure if I should be photographing them or not, so I didn’t. When they didn’t leave right away, I went back inside my hotel to ask at the front desk if it was ok to photograph them and they told me yes. So, I walked to the front of the line of young monks and moments later, they started walking again. I turned my go-pro toward them and recorded them while they walked by. (or not, apparently I didn’t have it set on video so I got Nothing! boo me).

I went back into the lobby to eat my breakfast which consisted of three pieces of toast, two large slices of delicious watermelon and two barely cooked eggs.

Then, I headed out on a mission to find the Sule Pagoda which was only a few blocks away.

Here’s a quick video of what the streets in Yangon are like at around 8am on a Saturday morning. This was after I had gone to photograph the Pagoda and I was on my way back to the hotel.