Charlie and the Photography Factory

May 8, 2009

Lappland, Samis, and Reindeers Galore!

Final Lappland Hut

By far the most worthwhile and memorable experience in my first semester in Sweden was our Kiruna trip.  We voyaged for somewhere around 16 hours to Northern Sweden (called the Lappland) to a little place called Kiruna.  There I did a multitude of things, saw the Aurora Borealis (twice, second time is funny story too), cross-country skiied, snowmobiled through forests and countryside, dog-sledded, the list goes on.Sami City

But! By far the most rewarding experience was the one night we spent in the boondocks of the Lappland.  In -20ºC weather (it was actually double that the weekend prior for another group of students).  In an authentic Lappland hut the size of your family’s living room. In a Sami‘s reindeer claim.  In the North pole! 

Nothing in my life equates to this way of living. No Ozarka water cooler to get water from. It comes from the Torne river (which was frozen over. God forbid you fall in with the current rushing you under the inescapable icy surface. Great way to go, huh?).  No iHop or BK Lounge.  We gotta cook everything scratch.  What’s that? You’re cold?  Go chop some firewood, and plan to chop enough for tonight.  Need to go the restroom?  Well, haha, we won’t go there. 

Looking back, I think that experience made me a little bit more of a man.  Actually, no. I know it did.  Be it only one day of rough living in a freezing forest, I walk with a prouder stride.  It was times like those that make me envy people like Bear Grylls.  I would do anything to apprentice him for a year.

Lucky you. Today, is a double whammy.  I wanted to give a view into our Sami, Lappland boodock, village, and here it is:

 

Also, you might want to stay tuned this week.  Today, I had to do a presentation about Sweden’s Pirate Bay–in Swedish.  I luckily got it recorded, so you get the chance to see me attempt to speak this crazy language!

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May 7, 2009

The Little Ship that…Couldn’t

Filed under: Stockholm, Sweden — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — charlieprator @ 2:52 AM

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Today let’s go for another history lesson.  This is Vasa ship, and for its age I would say it looks pretty good, right?   Well, you’ll be surprised to know that as of 2009 this ship is 382 years old.  Oh, and one more thing.  It laid, forgotten, underwater, less than 1 nautical mile away from Stockholm city centre, for three hundred years!

Before we go on, I must mention how enormous this ship is.  No matter what angle, what floor, which corner of this museum/warehouse I was in I could never fit the entire ship in my camera lens.  This sucker could house roughly 450 people, while defending them with 64 guns of varying size (did I mention at least 6 middle age “howitzers”?).  It weighed 2.6 million lbs (1,200 tonnes), and stood a little less that 200 ft (52.5 meters)tall!  The enormity of this beast is not justified by this 6×5 photo.  Of course, if you’re ever in Stockholm you gotta visit it.

So, How did this happen?  This too was interesting story.  But, probably longer than yesterday’s Nazi petit histoire.  Fair warning.

It was around 1628, and Sweden, by the help of King Gustavus Adolphus, is on its way to becoming a super-power. Little known fact, before Britain ruled the shores, Sweden use to make everyone its bitch.  Anyways, King Gustav, claiming territory in Poland, has his personally commissioned ship finally completed.  Not too match anyone’s ego, nor to compensate for anything else, he has the biggest and best ship in all the waters built for glorious Sweden. 

And, thats where it all went wrong.  This over-engineered (or under-engineered depending on how you look at it) monster never made it out of its own harbor!  Whats worse, is that its shipbuilders were aware of the problems!  In a common medieval ship control test, 30 men would run on the top deck, simultaneously from side-to-side to check for capsizing.  Now, the minimum for good ship was somewhere around 15.  The Vasa ship didn’t even make 8 before they had to stop the test. Yet, they trucked on through; creating the 2 gun decks seen here.  Accordingly, on the day of its maiden voyage, the shipbuilders outfit it with ballasts to evenly distrubute weight.  Interestingly, this pre-emptive control would end up causing its own sinking.

Hate to cut the post “shorter” than it is, but it’s getting late.  To be continued…

May 6, 2009

“Don’t Touch My Heine”

Filed under: Amsterdam, Holland — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — charlieprator @ 1:11 AM

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Another wonderful part of Amsterdam. The Heineken brewery.  Now, I was never really a fan of Heineken until I ventured into their brewery.  But, something with their taste test made me give them a second chance–that and their tour!

Upon our free day, Vinicius, Drew, and I decided to split for 2 hours–and, understandably so. They know I work at a slower pace, so we decided to head to our chosen destinations separately.  On my venture I wanted to get some “free” beer, so off I went to Heineken-land.  Fortunately, the free beer started right from the beginning.  I struck up a conversation with the ticket attendant, and, either because I was flying solo or the interesting conversation,  I got extra beer tickets for my tour!

It actually ended up being a pretty good tour, with fun stuff to do and learn about. Ironically, they had group activities, but I had no partners in crime!  In the middle of the tour, I stumbled upon this room.  An eloquently decorated storeroom with bright copper vats.  The room echoed as you walked through it, and the vats echoed the tour-goer’s chatter.   In this room, they explained how reach wort. A liquid gruel of boiled grain and water.  Luckily, I actually got to try it! However, it wasn’t the first time.  This specific experience, the smell of boiled grain, steam rising from metal pots, fire, and cloudy premature beer, brought back memories of my childhood.  Haha! 

Sidetopic time: No, I never crash and burned my life in the 4th grade from alcoholism.  For a large part of my youngster days my father use to labor long hours preparing wort, fermenting it, and brewing imitation Trappist beer.  Something that, cue the beer connoisseur in you, cannot be done.  I read somehere that their yeast is 400 year-old closely kept secret.  Oh yea, he also installed a kegerator too.  I shouldn’t poke fun though. So far, many of my hobbys and passions fall in line with his.  I probably will try to brew some beer with my son some day.

Anyways,  I started a long conversation with the fellow running this area, and I remember one interesting peice of history about these vats.  Somewhere prior to the time the Netherlands was invaded by the Nazis, the then owner of Heineken came into this room and was disgusted with the sight of their tanks. Why? Well, we all know what happens to copper.  It turns green and brown.  Well, the next day he orders his workers to polish the vats probably to the state you see now. 

Time goes by. And, Mr. CEO is happy. 

Next, come in the Nazis who take over Holland.  Mr. CEO, realizing the value of copper in wartime Europe, orders the vats painted to conceal their bronze color.  Nazis roll through the Heineken brewery, and are never the wiser.  Years later they forget about the vats and their brilliant bronze color. Finally, when the brewery turns into a museum they somehow chip away at the paint and realize they’re made of copper. Thus, polishing them to what we see now. 

Cool story, huh?

May 4, 2009

“It’s Peanut Butter Jelly Time”

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Ah, my favorite meal of all time: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I honestly think I could survive on PB&Js for months at a time.  I know this because of my days living on a spartan student budget  between clients and finally independent.  There’s nothing like the sweet taste of strawberry jam juxtaposed with smooth peanut butter, all packed neatly into two slices of soft wheat bread. And, to top it off, a splash of cold milk.

Lately, due to my  impatience in cooking full-fledged meals, I have stuck to a pretty strict PB&J diet.  This beaut was created today, and satiated my morning appetite.

Bench Relaxing

Filed under: Malmö, Sweden — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — charlieprator @ 1:31 AM

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Have you ever been walking along, talking to your friends, only to catch a glimpse of something extraordinary? Something photographic? Something you can put a frame around? Only to have it  escape your eye when you venture to look back at it.  Minutes later, you regret not enjoying it? 

Well, this picture was one of those occasions where that didn’t happen.

It was Easter weekend, and I was bike riding with the Wendts (see the blurb about them from my last post).  We had been through Malmö’s beach, enjoying the perfect weather.  Then, on our bike ride back home, in a somewhat bland neighborhood (void of any photo opportunities), in the corner of my eye I saw this shot flash by.

Now, in my more amateur days of photography, I would have started a mental-battle questioning whether I should stop the caravan to take the picture. Probably, second guess the quality of the photo.  Then, decide to just move on, and lose a potential opportunity.   But, I said, “No! Not this time.”  I stopped our moving caravan, and set up shop taking many many pictures of this single scene.  All the while, pleading in my mind that this old lady stay put in her spot.  Fortunately, she never did as I moved all around the trees, walkway, and grass behind her.  Like a sneaky paparazzi I snapped photos unbeknownst to her. 

This picture was among the best.  And, a reaffirming lesson in photography. Never ever second guess yourself on a shot.  It may be spectacular, and it may never happen again.

Just as a teaser for future stories,  I got a hold of a camera in Valborg, and took pictures of the many vackra flickorna (beautiful girls) around.  Why, you ask?  To prove to you that, Sweden, has by far the most gorgeous women in the world. Stay tuned if you don’t believe me.

May 2, 2009

Öresundsbron (The Sound Bridge)

Filed under: Malmö, Sweden — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — charlieprator @ 2:48 PM

oresund

This weekend I ventured to Lund for one of Sweden’s biggest festivals, Valborg, a celebration for the coming of Spring/Summer.  It is celebrated bygrabbing a lawn chair, a 24  pack of your favorite beer, a blanket, food, and friends.  As you can probably imagine, it’s quite a fun time.  Roughly 10-15,000 Swedes gather in a park in Lund, and, literally, sit and enjoy the sun with beer in hand. 

Sidenote, everything in Sweden takes the sun seriously.  Aside, from everyone looking for any reason to be caught in the 6-month-absent sun, flowers are sprouting everywhere, and the grass is sprinkled with more floral decoratives.  In short,  when the sun comes out–everything is in full swing.

But, back to this picture.  This is Öresundsbron. A special bridge that symbolizes my first entry into beloved Sweden. On January 9th, I arrived into Copenhagen, and took a train into Malmö, where Rasmus and Jonas Wendt would pick me up and stay a night with the Wendts. I remember riding on that train, thinking to myself, “I am finally here. I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time.”   But, as I look outside,  all was depressing, clouds hung close to the sea,  the water was a cold, uninviting, gray, and it was frigid.  Ironically, I remember thinking for a split second, “Wow, this is bleak!”  But, I kept my chin up, remembering that you never know what your future holds for you. 

Now, on the eve of celebrating my 4 month sojourn, I am in Malmö again relaxing with Wendts .  And, I could do it every weekend.  Even if Bo Wendt, (the Wendt paterfamilias), loves to put me to work. I gotta pay for my meals, bed, and internet somehow. For example, today was the first day I have ever mowed any lawn in life.  I know, I know!  I just never got the chance as a teenager. 

All in all, staying with the Wendts is always fun.  They’re always sarcastic (keeps you on your toes).  Always quirky: Ask them what they do at 22:22. Or, ask Hélène Wendt what her fake-out is in a family game of beer pong. One word:  “Schicka-doo!” And, finally, always hospitable. 

Here’s another treat for you: (courtesy of Rasmus’s photo-taking abilities and Emil’s naming convention) Charlie Shows Some Lawn-Mowing Skills!

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Vackra Stockholm (Beautiful Stockholm)

Filed under: Stockholm — Tags: , , , , , , — charlieprator @ 12:18 AM

 

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Ah, Sweden. The land of lagom.  The land of Jante’s Law. The land of neutrality.  What does Sweden have to offer against the tourist capitals (Paris, London, Rome, Vienna) of the world coupled with people so concerned about being in line and reserved?

That’s a good question.  Even three months (about to be four on May 9th) of residence in Sweden I still am not use to the lack of corinthian architecture and fulfilling local interactions so commonly found elsewhere in Europe. However, roughly a month ago I finally got the chance to sojourn for a weekend in Stockholm, and I must say it was a city the exceeded my expectations.  Stockholm is situated in an archipelago of rolling hills. Each building nestled on a cliff or incline, leaving the city jam-packed.  Contrary to my currenlty formed standards, I got my fix of European architecture in Gamla Stan (Swedish for Old Town), where our hostel was situated in.  Grayish-blue cobble-stone streets intervene between rusty yellow and decaying 18th century buildings that encroach on your walk-way overhead.  As people chatter in their native Swedish tongue, strolling through the alley-ways, their shoes’ heels “clop” on the stone floor creating an atmosphere reminiscent of Stockholm in the 1700s (even if you had never been alive during then).

Aside from the price, Stockholm, well-known for its strain on your wallet, is a must see if you ever take a hiatus in Europe.  Sure, you can go to the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Coliseum, etc, but Stockholm, by nature of its people, stands independent of the same old seen everywhere else. I mean, how many people do you know that have been to Stockholm? And, trust me there are things to entertain your interests (be it night-life, museums, or food).  More on that later.

Drew and I ventured to Stockholm with some of our very good friends here in Jönköping. Only two out of three are pictured here: Julie (French) and Falcão (Brazil). Our third friend, and chaffeur extraordinaire, Gabriel (France), decided to take a nap during this picture to rest up for the pending three hour trip home.  All three of them are very good friends, and definitely deserve a reunion should we find ourselves in their countries.

April 28, 2009

“Hold Your Breath. Make a Wish. Count to Three.”

Filed under: Amsterdam, Holland — Tags: , , , , , , — charlieprator @ 2:51 AM

keukenhof-final-22

Last Tuesday I arrived back from one of the best vacations I have ever been on: Amsterdam.  Now we all know what Amsterdam is infamous for (see article link below), but, surprisingly, this college student fell in love with Amsterdam for many other reasons. 

I had the luxury of staying for free in our wonderful friend’s, Falcão, ex-girlfriend’s flat in the university located in Haarlem.  Even though Haarlem lies 25 minutes away from Amsterdam Central, I am grateful for seeing other parts of Holland that other tourists may not have passed through.  First, Haarlem, and the cities/towns that lie around Amsterdam have some of the most beautiful neighborhoods, streets, houses, sidewalks, front-lawns, etc I have ever toured through.  It was like walking through “Pleasantville”.  Everything was perfect!  There were trees in full bloom casting shadows over roads, lawns perfectly trimmed, verdant foliage growing from every crevice of the neighborhood.  At first glance, a perfect place to bring a family.

Now, I thought I had fallen in love with Amsterdam because of its great night-life, its suburbia, its food (can get I shout out for bitterballen and hamkaassouffle?), its canals, and its beach (Zandvoort aan Zee). But, I had not yet stepped foot in the most serene and beautiful place on Earth (That’s my take for now. We’ll see where my future takes me):  The Keukenhof Gardens. 

To put it into perspective, whatever garden your parents made you take photos in as a child, the Keukenhof makes that garden look like a garbage landfill.  This is because Keukenhof  is world renowned for their endless and endless patches of tulips (approximately 7,000,000). You can imagine the beauty, as well as the work involved. 

I had heard about the Keukenhof gardens, so I, being the avid photographer, told Drew and Falcão that I was, “…going to be in the zone!”  They graciously understood, so I put on my iPod and went to work.  I snapped photos left and right taking approximiately 70 individual photos (In reality, think HDR and multiply that by 3). But, this picture was the pinnacle of the Keukenhof experience.

I had my iPod jamming to some Coldplay, and I quaintly tuned it to Amsterdam. I then wandered. Snap, goes the camera…

Next, I  found myself walking on a clean and trimmed asphalt path meandering through small hills covered with tulips in every color of the spectrum.  Smoothly, the path veers to the right where the sun is spreading its light through the forest in front of me.  I squint to see the sun illuminating tall dark forest trees with vivid green moss growing on their trunks.  Strong crepuscular rays  jet through the openings in the trees casting a golden tint to everything green.  In front of me is a placid fountain quietly burbling, as if it were never man-made and apart of the serene environment it’s surrounded in.  An alabaster swan glides over the still water venturing to explore the fountain.  And, sealing this imagery of tranquility are small tid-bits of pollen slowly swaying and descending to the forest floor. They too becoming golden green from the rays crossing their paths. All around, tulips, nourishing the landscape and my visual experience with bright colors.

I stood there amazed.  Taking it in. Breathing–slowly.  It was if I had died, and had gone to heaven.

Then, I was immediately reminded of Willy Wonka’s revealing of his Chocolate Factory to the lucky families.  All of them in a calm shock from an overload of sensory stimuli. If only that Chocolate Factory were real.  Or, if Keukenhof were an edible paradise.   This is what Keukenhof was like.  A paradise here on earth.

In any case, I wanted to closely recreate that paradise for you as best I can.  Thank you HDR!

Endnotes:

  • If you’re Dutch and haven’t been to Keukenhof, you should be ashamed of yourself (you know who you are).  I mean c’mon 7,000,000 flowers, and I think it’s around 42 hectares!
  • Apparently, Amsterdam is not the “liberalized drug capital” we all think it is. Portugal takes first place.  For an interesting read on drugs and the question of legalization: Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work?.

April 27, 2009

Sunrise in Jönköping

Filed under: Jönköping, Sweden — Tags: , , , , , — charlieprator @ 2:59 AM

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To fully enjoy this picture in larger sizes click the image for the Flickr host.

 

Welcome to Charlie Prator’s first post.  Thank you for visiting! 

I plan to post 1 photo a day, and will try my best to keep up with that requirement.    Although, I am not much of a routine-guy. We will see.  Please post comments, critiques, points of improvement, anything! 

As for this first photo, it should’ve been posted last Friday.  However, in my post-zero-sleep state at 6:00AM I found I couldn’t write more coherent than ex-President Bush could speak his speeches. So, I decided to wait.  But, this photo has a little specialty about it for two reasons.  One, I can freely see this view almost anytime because it happens to be on the cliff literally 50 feet behind our house.  And, it was the first sunrise I had ever seen in Sweden.   

Incidentally, when trying to write this post last Friday morning I was almost forced to post the picture. Let me paint a picture.

It’s 4:00AM in Jönköping.  I, laying in my bed for the last 2 hours, have been trying to get shut eye with zero success. And, wonderful Scandanavia, being located so far North, has the sun rise at 4:00AM nowadays (yea, and it’s only going to get worse).  So, what begins at sunrise? Birds chirping! Loudly, outside my window.  At this point, I felt it was a sign to just quit and get some work done. Cue my sleep-deprived blog post. And, as I am writing it the sun, 93 million miles away, is shining gloriously through the balcony window to the right of me. It slowly warms my right side. Drenching  my desk and face with light and warmth, and I think to my deslusional self, “How crazy that this star being so far away is, still, toasting the skin of my arm?”   To cherry the top, I am jamming to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” (Shout-out to Kristin!) by Otis Redding, which begins “Sitting in the morning sun…”

At this point, I knew I had to post this as my first picture.  Fits the situation just right, huh?

This photo is an HDR.  And, if you’ve talked to me recently you’ve heard me ramble on about it.  Hope you enjoy it, and, again, thanks for visiting.

 

P.S. To see more awesome HDR photos, and follow one of my idols in photography (also, a native Texan): www.stuckincustoms.com – Trey Ratcliff

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