Friday, 30 January 2009

"Lord of the Stone" Chapel.

Nikon D80, Manfrotto Tripod, IS0 250, f 13, 1/5 sec. December 2008.

"Lord of the Stone" or "Senhor da Pedra" in Portuguese, is a small rococo style chapel from the X VII century located by the Atlantic ocean in Madalena, Portugal.

The cult of Christ the Lord of the Stone may have originated as a ancient pre-Christian pagan worship of the Lord of the Sea.

In the back of the chapel appears a strange marking on the rock in the shape of horseshoe. The legend says that the mark was left or by the donkey that transported a Virgin Mary or by the horse of D. Sebastião I, one of the Portuguese kings.

Nikon 80, ISO 100, HDR post-processing. November 2006.

The Chapel is an "icon" for photographers in Northern Portugal. Winter is an exceptionally good time to take pictures there: it´s cold what makes the air more transparent and clear, we have normally some clouds in the sky and the chapel is partially surrounded by water. Avoid times with strong winds - the moisture from the sea can damage your photos.

UNESCO heritage site Porto, Portugal - medivial district of Sé.

Not too many people including residents of Porto have a courage to wander around narrow streets of old Sé district. Most of the tourists stay close to the Sé cathedral and its square. Looking down from the cathedral hill to the narrow streets of Sé, with locals standing at every corner doing nothing, with almost every building partially or totally ruined, one can be very reluctant to enter and visit.

Number of Sé habitants went down almost 50% in the last decade. Living conditions must be horrible there. Some part of Sé does not have running water. Houses are abandoned, ruined, with dirty, tiny rooms, no central heating and lot of humidity. Police raids searching for drugs are not uncommon. Welcome to UE forgotten regions.

I myself like to walk around those small and dirty streets with my Nikon turned on. Faded colours of the ruined buildings, its strangly behaving locals, no straight arquitecture lines or 90 degrees angles make Sé so unique. Photos must be taken in winter or early spring, with cloudy skies making a perfect background and dimmed light reducing high contrasts. It´s especially beautiful after rainor early in the morning, when the Sé is covered in mist from the nearby Douro river.

Most of the pictures above are made using the HDR or DRI tecnique between 2005 and 2008.
Nikon D80.


Thursday, 29 January 2009

Alsace wine trail

In December, just before Christmas we visited Alsace. Our main goal was to visit famous Christkindlmarik ( Infant Jesus Xmas Fair )in Strasbourg. OBut on out way we spent a couple of days cruising through Alsace famous vineyards and tasting some local wines.
At that time of the year, patches embedded with vines
unfortunately look sad and colorless, not just like in summer or autumn. But the foothills of Vosges mountains were now covered with mist from the nearby Rhine river and this also had some subtle charm.

On the wine trail in Alsace: Zelleberg seen from the village przedgórza Vosges, church and vineyards in Hunawihr Riesling, Grand Cru vineyard Schoenenbourg.

Alsace, as everyone probably knows, is very famous for its white wines. Precious grapes like Riesling, Pinot Gris ( once called Tokay-pinot gris until Hungary, does not applied to Alsatian court wine ), Gewurtztraminer and Muscat d'Alsace ( quite different from the common grape of the same name from the south of France - because that gives completely dry wine, without any sweetness ). Only those types of vines can be used for the production of top quality wines called grands crus. To received this honorable title of grands cru, the vineyards have to be located in some specific areas with exeptional soil structure and should meet the highest quality criteria.
There are also other grape varieties there. Popular Edelzwicker table wine is just quite a successful mixture of such less noble species.

Dopff et Irion - Riquewihr main street. Beautifully decorated Alsace advent window.

I have been very, very long time a great lover of Gewurtztraminer, in my opinion, simply irreplaceable comrade of any intense flavor cheese. Its delicate sweetness and surprising flavor of honey, flowers and exotic fruits excellent balance any sharp taste of salty cheeses such as roquefort, São Jorge from the Azores islands or the Alsatian Munster cheese. Moreover, if I have to choose a wine to the accompany severaldifferent kinds of cheese, the choice is often Gewurtztraminer. Although one must be careful since this wine may slightly change the taste of soft cheeses. In our home it is not a big problem, since we are fans of old, strong and hard cheeses. The Gewurtztraminer is also a great aperitif and the French also recommend it to serve with desserts and dishes of exotic cuisine ( andone can not easily find a good wine to complement specialties such as Asian ). In contrast to herds of sommeliers and wine experts of all sorts, we rarely feel any dominant aroma in wine, but the Gewurtztraminer is definitely a mango fruit flavor ( at least IMHO ).

Panorama of Andlau town. Kastelberg Grand Cru vineyards.

Sparkling wine crémant d'Alsace has a great reputation in France. Always dry, usually white, occasionally pink. French like it so much that they export only 10% of its production, the rest drinking locally. Crémant makes up to 30% of the French market for sparkling wines.

I could not end this post without mentioning vendanges tardives and Sélection de Grains nobles wines. The late harvest wines, produced only in exceptionally good years, when the grapes are left to mature on the bushes untill the first freezing temperatures of late November in order to obtain a high concentration of sugar. Wines from these collections are usually of exceptional quality and can be stored for a long time ( up to 10-15 years ).

Map of vineyards in Alsace. One of the wine cellars in Riquewihr. Brand Grand Cru Gewurztraminer from Turckheim . Shop of Dopff & IrionCompany in Christmas decorations.

Our travel started from small Riquewihr village. Apart from tasting wines, we were welcomed by a beautiful Christmas decorations and atmosphere. We went to the shop of a very well-known company in the Alsace wine market: Dopff & Irion. To ensure a particularly high quality of the vineyards, the use of pesticides and fertilizers is very limited only to exceptional cases with a natural grass growing in between. We left the store with Gewurtztraminer'em Vendage Tardiva, Crémant d'Alsace Pinot gris and Rieslingiem Murailles Blanc 2005 .

Winter rain in Porto

Porto’s cathedral started with a small 12th-century Romanesque building and 14th-century Gothic cloister. Completely rebuilt in the 17th–18th century.

That was last Sunday. I took a bike ride to the old district of Porto: Sé. Looking for shelter from the falling rain, I entered the main city basilica: Sé Cathedral. As I suspected in this laicizied country, the church was completely empty. Most churches in Portugal are almost permanently closed. Only these considered tourist attractions stay open from morning to early evening hours, but frequently close at lunch time.

The external appearance of the Cathedral was greatly altered during Baroque times.

The South part of the basilica gives access to the
Gothic cloister ( see picture above ), which is decorated with baroque azulejos ( typical Portuguese ceramic tile work ) made between 1729 and 1731. They depict the life of Saint Mary. This is definitely the most picturesque part of the cloister.
I put my tripod and start shooting photos. The light was great: dimmed and homogeneous. It was so quiet. The hall was completely empty. "Few tourists at that time of the year" I thought.

Then for a few seconds the sun has showed up. Took another series of photos.
The results were great.

Camera: Nikon D80, Sigma 10-20mm, Manfrotto tripod, shooting with remote control, 6 images RAW, 11 mm, 1/3, 1/6 and 1 sec, f 16, ISO 100.

Home photo post-processing: sharp, white balance, high dynamic range, dark vignetting.

Back at home I opened a bottle of Montes Claros Reserva 2006, a very nice red wine from Alentejo, region the center-south of Portugal, to accompany a table of some hard Spanish goat cheeses, so called "grating cheeses".

Montes Claros is a wine produced by the Adega Cooperativa Borba ( Borba Group of wine producers ) from the heart of Alentejo region, not far from the Spanish border. Its complex structure went very well with 6 month old chesses. Got 16 out of 20 points in Guia de Compras 2008. Made of some typical grapes of the region: Trincadeira, Aragonês, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tinta Caiada. Nice, complex and with tanines. Liked it very much.

Photo above: Montes Claros 2006. Old district of Sé, Porto, still without good sanitation conditions, rays of sun at the Cloister.

Porto Cathedral Wikipedia Link