Wandering and Wondering

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Championships

My month long stay in London has luckily coincided with the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Today I decided to take a chance against the weather and queue up to try and get tickets. After getting up at just after 5am, I eventually made it to the end of the queue by around 6.40am. As soon as I arrived I received a "queue card" as proof of my position in the queue. Mine was numbered 889. Since there are two queues, this means that there were approximately 1600 people infront of me in the queue, many of who had camped overnight.

Queuing for Wimbledon tickets


After about an hour they started handing out wristbands to the people in the front of the queue, meaning that they could get tickets for the centre court or show courts 1 and 2. They ran out of wristbands for show court number 2 about 30 people in front of me in the queue, meaning that I would have to settle for a ground pass.

I finally made it inside the gates at a little after 10am, and then had to wait until 10.30am before the rest of the grounds actually opened. At first I was a little disappointed at having missed out on show court tickets by such a narrow margin, but in the end it didn't really matter because I got to see a couple of Australian matches on court 6, so I was pretty happy. By the time the game started at 12pm, all of the seating around the court was packed with lots of Australian supporters, which made for a nice atmosphere. To give you an idea, the court only had 4 rows of seats on one side, and one row of seats on the other side, so it could only accommodate 100-200 people. The advantage was that you were right up close to the action.

Aussie supporters


The first match was between the Australian player Samantha Stosur and the Puerto Rican player Kristina Brandi. After losing the first set, Sam came back to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 in an entertaining match.

Samantha Stosur


The next match was between the Australian veteran Wayne Arthurs and the young rising star Thiemo De Bakker from the Netherlands (who won the junior competition at Wimbledon last year). The first two sets both went to tie-breaks, with Arthurs losing both to find himself two sets down. At this point he looked pretty despondant, and some people started leaving the court to watch other matches.

Wayne Arthurs looking a little despondent


The third set again went to a tie-breaker, but this time Arthurs managed to win it with a little help from the net cord. After he won the fourth set, the game had well and truly turned around, and a big crowd had gathered to watch the fifth and final set. In addition to the 100-200 seated spectators, there were at least another 100 or so standing, and some even climbed on the back of the stand to get a view. Needless to say it was a great atmosphere. There were three Dutch supporters in orange, but they were well and truly outnumbered by the Australian supporters, who were chanting and singing songs throughout the entire fifth set.

Dutch supporters


Aussie supporter


Aussie supporters


The fifth set was in the balance until Arthurs broke the Dutchman's serve to go ahead 5-4. With the crowd behind him, he went on to serve out the match. The final score was 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Victory for Wayne Arthurs


With the news of Lleyton Hewitt winning his match, it turned out to be a great day for Aussie fans at Wimbledon. After the Arthurs match was over, I headed to the big-screen on the hill to watch the end of the game between Venus Williams and Alla Kudryavtseva before calling it a night.

The Big Screen at Wimbledon


So, that's Wimbledon and the French Open crossed off my list of grand-slams. Hopefully I'll be lucky enough to find myself in New York around the time of the US Open sometime in the next few years, and then I'll only have the Australian Open to go to complete my grand-slam!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Kew Gardens

Yesterday I visited Kew Gardens for a one day Landscape and Nature photography course. It was a very practical course, so there wasn't much talking by our instructors. They gave us a few general tips and tricks and then we just wandered around the gardens taking photographs and asking questions when necessary. We concentrated mainly on macro photography of the various flowers and plants in the gardens, but we also did some landscape and architectural photography. The best part of the course was the fact that we could borrow different lenses from the instructors to try out. The first lense I borrowed was an EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens, which I used to get the following close-ups (amongst others):

Busy bee


Natural beauty


Daisies


Pollen stems


I then borrowed an EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 wide-angle lens and used it together with my own EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 lens for some architectural/landscape photos:

Temperate House


Spiral staircase


Some other interesting stuff we were shown on the day were the benefits of using a polarising filter to cut out unwanted reflections from your photos, and how you can use an extension tube on an existing lens as an alternative to buying a dedicated macro lens. I also discovered a host of features on my camera such as automatic exposure bracketing and program mode which up until now I hadn't been using (mainly due to the fact that I haven't yet read the instruction manual).

After the course finished, I wandered around the gardens a bit longer and used my EF 70-300mm telephoto lens to get some more close-up photos:

Mr Duck


Prickly!


Overall, I learned quite a bit from the day, so it was worth it even if it was a little pricey. Then again, everything in London is pricey - something I haven't quite gotten used to yet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Card Games in London

Yesterday I headed to Trafalgar Square to have a look at the Korean Festival. When I arrived, however, I noticed a bunch of people dressed up as playing cards:

Queens


Intrigued, I asked what they were doing, and they mentioned that they were doing a promotion for the Secret Garden Party. They were a few people short of a full deck or cards, so they asked if I wanted to join in. Having nothing better to do, I thought why not and donned an "8 of clubs" outfit:

8 of Clubs


Shortly afterwards we started a game of "Higher or Lower" with the crowd who had gathered to watch. All of the cards lined up with our backs to the contestant, and after shuffling the deck the contestant had to turn around each card in turn and guess whether the next card would be higher or lower. With a little help from the audience he managed to make his way through the entire deck without making a mistake, and was awarded a group hug:

Group hug by a pack of cards


Once the game was over, we started our march through the streets towards Hyde Park where we had been promised free entry to the O2 Wireless Festival. Considering that tickets cost £40 (AU$100), I was pretty happy. On the way to the festival, we played "chase the ace" through the park:

Chase the Ace


We also stopped to build a house of cards:

House of Cards


When it was finally time to enter the festival, we used the following "secret" entrance:

Cards using the secret entrance to the festival


Once inside, it was time for some refreshments:

Jack of Hearts


Next up, we played a couple of games of snap. The cards shuffled themselves and dealt themselves out on the grass (face down of course):

Cards dealt out on the grass for a game of "snap"


As each pair of cards rolled over, it was then up to the two teams of contestants to call "snap" when they saw a matching pair of cards, like the following pair of queens:

Snap!


The team with the most cards at the end celebrated victory:

Cards celebrating victory


After another game of "Higher or Lower", it was then time to "throw in the cards" and go and watch the festival:

Deck of cards


I headed straight to the main stage in time to watch performances by "The Cribs", the "Editors" and the "Kaiser Chiefs":

Follow the leader


A great day overall, all the more so due to the fact that it was totally unplanned on my behalf. Just goes to show you what the rewards are for a bit of curiosity.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Africa Dreaming

My trip to Africa is now finalized. I'll be starting in Cape Town on the 21st July and then travelling overland for 8 weeks up through Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and finishing up in Nairobi on the 15th September:


You can read more details about the trip here:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Toscana

I've just arrived in London after spending my final couple of weeks in Italy travelling around Tuscany with my parents. Keeping with the Italian spirit, we hired an Alpha Romeo 166 as our means of transportation. Our first stop was a little town called Panzano, midway between Florence and Sienna in the heart of Chianti country. We stayed for 4 nights at a nice little bed and breakfast with a view over the rolling hills full of vineyards. The following photo was taken from a vineyard looking back towards Panzano in the distance:

Chianti


Using Panzano as a base, we did a couple of day trips around the area. On the first day we visited the hilltop towns of San Gimignano and Volterra. San Gimignano is famous for its many medieval towers, the tallest of which we climbed to get the following view over the rooftops to the fields in the background:

View from one of the towers in San Gimignano


Volterra was also an interesting little town to visit, and is surrounded by some beautiful countryside:

Tuscany


The next day we did a day trip to Sienna. The Duomo in Sienna has some of the nicest artwork that I've seen in all of the churches in Italy:

Painting inside the Duomo of Siena


We were also lucky enough to see a free exhibition in the Children's Art Museum, which is located just underneath the clock tower in Piazza del Campo. The museum was hosting an exhibition of African art featured in children's story books. Made a nice change after all of the renaissance art that I've seen in Florence, and was all the more interesting given that I'll be travelling to Africa in a month or so.

For our final day in Chianti, we went for a drive to some of the smaller towns and villages near Panzano, including Rada in Chianti and Volpaia. At a winery just outside Rada in Chianti I saw the following cat who had just recently given birth to kittens:

Mother cat and kittens


On the drive back to Panzano we came upon a herd of goats that was wandering on the roadside. I was about to get out of the car to take some photos but there were a number of guard dogs who started bearing their teeth as a warning. I had stopped the car and had the window down, and one of the dogs jumped up and put his front two paws on the door, so that my face was only a couple of feet away from his teeth. I took that as a sign to quickly put up the window and drive off. It was only later that I realised how dangerous the situation could have become, because the dog could have easily jumped in through the window, and I would have been in quite a bit of trouble. The thing which put me off guard was that initially the dogs looked quite friendly, because they were wagging their tails and weren't growling. I think I'll have to be a bit more careful in Africa.

After "Chianti Classico", the next most famous wine in Italy is probably "Brunello", which is produced in the region around Montepulciano and Montalcino. We found a bed and breakfast about 8km from Montalcino near the small village of San Angello in Colle. Here is the view from my room:

View from the window


After checking in we spent the afternoon lazing by the pool which was situated in the middle of an olive grove:

Sunbaking in the Olive Grove


The next day we did a trip out to Montepulciano and Cortona, another couple of hill towns. Perhaps it was the rainy weather and the long drive, but I was a little bit disappointed by Cortona, and I think that San Gimignano, Volterra and Montalcino are more worthwhile places to visit. On the drive back, however, the weather started to clear up and a nice rainbow appeared:

Tuscan Rainbow


We spent the following day exploring Montalcino and the small town of Castelnuovo dell'Abate, which is where the Abbey of Sant'Antimo is located:

Abbey of Sant'Antimo


At our Bed and Breakfast there was a family of robins nesting in the rafters above the door. When we arrived back after the day's outing, all 6 chicks were in the nest while their mother was out searching for food. When she found some, she would fly back and deliver it straight into the mouths of the waiting chicks:

Robin Opera


Feeding Time


After another day of rest in Montalcino, we headed down to the southern-most part of Tuscany near Pitigliano where the gentle rolling hills give way to more mountanous scenery. The town of Sorano is perched above a cliff:

Clifftop town of Sorano


The Bed and Breakfast we stayed at in Pitigliano wasn't all that good (especially when compared to the place we stayed at in Montalcino), so we only spent one night there before driving to Piombino on the coast and catching the ferry to the island of Elba. As well as lots of nice beaches, Elba has some quite big mountains. At around 1km above sea level, the tallest is Mt Capanne and has a cable car to the top:

At the top of Mt Capanne


We were hoping for some sunny weather so that we could spend some time lazing on the beach, but the cloudy skies made us decide to head back to the mainland and spend an extra couple of nights in Volterra. Our Bed and Breakfast was just on the outskirts of town, so we could go for a walk along a small farm track through the fields of wheat:

Wheat Field


After Volterra we dropped the car back in Florence where I said my goodbyes to my parents who headed down to Rome and then back to Australia. I then had 3 days in Florence to say my final goodbyes to the city I'd called home for 4 months before catching the train up to Milan and then catching my flight to London. At the moment I don't have any fixed plans about how I'm going to spend my next month or so here, but I've been looking into a few photography courses. Other than that, I'll probably just take it easy, catch up with a few friends and enjoy the city.