Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas in London

Royal Albert Hall Christmas Eve 2013

London 22nd - 26th December, 2013

Our christmas traditions have been formed over years and years and been very family oriented including get together's for dinner or, as the case was in the later years, a lighter version of reunion with porridge (YES porridge), Finnish glögi (gluhwine), ginger cookies, sweets and other suitable horde'euvres before you hit the "kinkku" (oven baked leg of pork) and "lanttuloora" or swede casserole in the evening. We attended church for christmas carols like many other Finns because then everybody can join in including those that cannot sing, like me. The other time that I sing is during midsummer festivities. The difference is that summertime the noise is louder after consumption of suitable amounts of "firewater". Ask my late father-in-law. There are many things to do for christmas so preparations shall start minimum 2 months in advance. A letter to the Father Christmas has to be drafted and sent. You want this letter to be long and precise and in readable format. I use MSWord with a clearly visible font like "The Girl Next Door" (this reminds me of my early ages when my wife lived one floor up, unmarried). Additionally seasonal greeting cards has to be sorted out (only new ones will do). We cut the amount of cards every year but when they eventually are mailed the amount is still the same…..strange! Of course food ingredients must be carefully planned, purchased and prepared. Making marinated herrings is time consuming not to mention sienisalaatti (mushroom salad) with all that fine cutting to do. My wife is a master in this….. but she is not generally available. An important element has also been a thorough cleaning of the apartment and this is cleaning with a capital "C" that might take a week alone. So this is christmas in a typical Finnish family, like us.

 Come year 2013 all this came to a complete change. Our children had had their own homes for some time and created their own, less conventional, computer based traditions like chatting, tweeting, face booking and so on.  And when Mrs. T decided to take the big step and move abroad for an undetermined period of time to explore Andalucia and other unfamiliar regions we faced an entirely new situation. We have by now familiarized ourselves with Andalucia fairly well (read our previous blogs) and come to like it very much for many, many reasons. With christmas approaching we had to decide on how to get organized. Our son with his fiancée decided to spend their time in the Finnish Archipelago and we then felt for organizing a similarly unconventional treat for our daughter in London.  Therefore, fellow Spaniards, we spent our christmas outside of Spain.

Knightsbridge Underground Station…All passengers were found at Harrods.

Big Ben on a rainy day. Instead of Southbank Christmas Market we left for….

…….dry conditions at Covent Garden. 

Dominion Theatre same evening: "We Will Rock You"

"On a first day of christmas….."  we left the hotel for shopping. But first we enjoyed a full English Breakfast at a Taylor Walker Pub in Earls Court. The welcome was so friendly that most of the free time was spent there. A shopping plan had been drafted and marked on a map. We wanted our Ms. T to have a good time and to see as much as possible. Mr. T is notorious for detailed planning but even he is not trained to the perfection. Living in Costa del Sol means that you do not have to worry about rainfall, not really. But London is not Cost del Sol so one should consult weather forecasts before making plans. Indeed, the rainfall started in the morning and did not bother us as long as time was spent in Harrods or indoors in a shopping complex. However, in the afternoon things got worse. The rainfall was getting heavy. We purchased umbrellas, you know those cheap 5 pound sterling touristic things. A strong wind then set in, very strong indeed. As a result the 5 pound sterling umbrellas turned upside down and was of no use any longer. The other was discarded of and the other remains as a souvenir with Ms. T (the umbrella was designed with the colors of Union Jack). At this point CHANGE OF PLANS. No Southbank Christmas this time but straight into a taxi shortcutting to Covent Garden market place. Covent Garden is a BIG favorite of Mrs. T and myself since many years back. We spent considerable time in the shops and a wine cellar. Ms. T was rewarded for her patience with a delightful perfume of Penhaligon's. If you have not visited this shop, you must do so on your next visit to London and Covent Garden. In the evening we visited the Dominion Theatre that presented "We Will Rock You" with music by Queen (of course). Did we like it? YESSSSS...

Breakfast time at Taylor Walker, Earls Court.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Protection from the nearest hat shop.

A fantastic daughter in a fantastic Royal Albert Hall

On christmas eve we had reserved a Fine Dining package at the Royal Albert Hall followed with Carols "sung by Candlelight". But before that we had time to visit Hyde Park that host "Winter Wonderland" a theme park for the entire family. We particularly enjoyed the sculptures that was presented. And rain came in as showers now so we felt slightly cold. No worry! Warming caps could be found nearby as demonstrated above. As to the christmas eve I could go on writing for a week about the Royal Albert Hall or I could just let the above images speak for themselves. I think the later is appropriate. May I just tell that the hall is the dream of Prince Albert dating back to the mid 19th century. The first exhibition centre was finished by 1871, has been developed over the years and had its latest and greatest refurbishment at the end of 1990's up till 2004 with almost 70 million pounds spent to give the hall its present splendor. If you go to London do NOT miss this place. They also make tours outside performance hours.

St James's Park and Buckingham Palace with our Spanish friend.


Trafalgar Square and the statue of Nelson

Leicester Square

On Christmas Day London is more or less closed and no public transportation work. This is a fact of life whatever the London Underground website promises you. Our program for this day was to join a London Walking Tour following Charles Dickens footsteps in the neighborhood of Covent Garden. We took a taxi to St. James's Park and walked through the park, passed Whitehall and ended up at Trafalgar Square with some margin left time wise. Ms. T had set up a meeting with her good friend from Sevilla. He joined us fort the whole day and brought a special flavor to our christmas this year. We very much enjoyed his company and hope to see him on our forthcoming visit to Sevilla. The two hour themed walk with a guide provided insight into the (christmas) world of Charles Dickens and was a great ending to our London experience this time. On our way home we stopped for dinner at Bella Italia by Leicester Square. A nice small restaurant to recommend. As the final picture may I present the below capture from our walk - can we sense the times of Dickens?

Following the steps of Charles Dickens

Finally to "Nuestra Senoras" Mrs. T and Ms. T  - thank you for making this journey come through and thank you once more to our Spanish friend for wanting to join us and spend his christmas with us. Who's the lucky guy here and did we miss the "kinkku"?

Friday, 20 December 2013

PhotoHiking in Montes de Málaga Nature Park

A "Space Odyssey" in Málaga Mountains

PhotoHiking in Málaga Nature Park in December

Christmas time is approaching fast and I promised myself to make one PhotoHiking trip before the holiday season sets in. I had earlier acquired a map over the Málaga Mountains Nature Park that is situated just north-east of the city. The area was unknown to me so the map came in handy. From the A7 I followed the A7000 (old C-345) until I reached the area of El Cerrado where I turned left and continued until I parked by a rural hotel. The track A137 started just behind the hotel. It is a circular route and would take a hiker only an hour and twenty minutes to complete. For a photographer you should probably reserve almost three times more time. I have not had too much time for macrophotography during our stay in Andalucia, but this day was devoted to my favorite topic.

Growth season 19th December, 2013.
Winter Season
December Blossom

Summer Colours in December

Macrophotography is very interesting and quite different from picturing landscapes etc. It takes a good eye to spot the opportunities and the right angles for it. Patience is of essence, but the interesting thing is also that in a very small area you can detect so many things that we do not normally even notice. There is another world to discover and you can spend hours on the very same area. Below another exciting photo; something left over from the previous growth season….still "hanging in the air".

A "floating tistle"

The track I had chosen climb up to a mountain top and then descend another way back to the hotel area. I had reached the top when I noticed that rainy weather was approaching. I decided to continue for as far as possible and when the raindrops started to hit me I had to pack my gear and cover myself. I had by then consumed most of the time I had allowed for my trip - promised Mrs. T to be back at an set hour. I started my descend along a rather steep mountain slope, following the track that at some point showed signs of heavy water at times forcing itself down. This more demanding part of the track made the classification "medium demanding". This Nature Park is larger than one would expect, it is obviously rich in birdlife and has a nice variations in the landscape. There is also a fantastic view from the mirador over the entire Málaga area. Springtime must be beautiful there, worth another visit. Down the last picture covering part of the hiking track that I followed.

A nice and productive day out.

If interested in my pictures feel free to visit

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Western Andalucia and Portugal

Christmas tree at Jerez de la Frontera

Western Andalucia and Algarve, Portugal

CHRISTMAS TIME IS APPROACHING and the end of the year is, as always, very busy. After a short brake we decided to set out for a new "expedition" before the holiday season truly hits us. This time the direction was towards western Andalucia (El Rocio and the Donana Nature Reserve) with a first ever visit to Algarve, Portugal. It was important for us to take our "pretend-to-be-four-wheel-drive-KIA" abroad to explore unknown paths and preserve its "identity" under a Finnish registration. With no final program in mind we gave spontaniety an opportunity and ended visiting also Isla Cristina on Spanish soil before reaching Tavira on the other side of the border. We ended up going all the way to the Atlantic coast to the Nature Park of Sao Vicente. On the return way Mrs. T wanted a sip of worlds best sherry so we decided to visit Jerez de la Frontera, too. In the main square of old town Jerez there was a christmas tree with a exciting modern design. The above picture is taken down-up so that the middle part of the picture is the top of the tree. Like it?

Sanctuario de Nuestra Senora de El Rocio

Off-road vehicle greet us welcome to Donana

Due to lack of official emblems for El Rocio (could not find any) I let the above two pictures represent both El Rocio and Donana. Having dug deeper into the existence of El Rocio I began to understand the sacred significance of the area now called El Rocio. It is a major site for pilgrimage (similar to Santiago de Compostela) for the catholic world throughout Spain, Europe, Americas and Asia. Once a year a million pilgrims gather in El Rocio to pay their respect to "Our Lady of Rocio" which makes it one of the most important centers of popular religious expression ( On other times the town is rather quiet and reminds of a typical town of the "Wild West"and is as such worth a visit. 

Sanctuario de Nuestra Senora de El Rocio

Detail from the interior of the church.

The following morning we got up early for our half-day excursions to the Donana National Park. The weather at this point was rather cold so we put on as much as was needed. The hostel receptionist was kind enough to also get up earlier in order to provide us with a breakfast. The Park is open all year but the activity this time of the year is low. We spotted mainly dear and birds. Interestingly the guide, very professional, took us through a cork wood area that was beautiful. Donana consists of a northern and a southern part. We did the tour in the northern part. South is covering the beaches and mobile dunes while the northern part is a wetland that gets flooded during rainy seasons. Below some pictures also from the summer period to give an idea what it is like. The cactus rose is from the Matalascanas area. Matalascanas is a major holiday resort for the Spaniards. More about DONANA e.g. on website

Deer was easily spotted this time.

Southern Donana in the summer.

Found in the Matalascanas area in the summer.

Isla Cristina 

Having looked at the map for our direction onwards to Portugal we noticed the town of Isla Cristina at the coast next to the Portuguese border. Visiting this small town would not be a large deviation to our route so we wanted to explore it and get some material for our annual book, calendar etc.  Fishing, besides tourism of course, is a key industrial contributor at Isla Cristina and its fishing port is the largest in the Huelva region so I could not wait to get a chance to picture the vessels and the harbor (below). Isla Cristina is popular especially among Sevillanos that come in the summer. Not many foreign tourists find their way here. On the seal of the town they display their main symbols; the fig tree, the water well and the sea. As for the weather the forecast was brilliant for the rest of the week but for this particular day in Isla Cristina we suffered from grey conditions making photographic work more challenging (but not impossible).

The touristic side of Isla Cristina.

with views that I have not photographed before.
The fishing harbor was superb!!!!!!
and it kept my Nikon busy, busy, busy…..YEAH!


Our first goal Tavira in southeastern Algarve.

After a short stop in Isla Cristina we crossed the border to Portugal aiming for the historic and romantic town of Tavira that we had read about. We knew that road taxes was an issue of some sort. This is quite normal also in Spain - you just need to get your (plastic) money ready. In Portugal we could spot several signs advising on the amount to be paid but we where puzzled by the fact that nobody ever collected any money. Everybody seemed to be driving ahead and we followed this manner only to later understand (on the way back) that you have to have some kind of a reader in the car that is automatically read as you pass payment zones. Guess we must be some kind of tax avoiders now. Anyway, we reached Tavira and eventually found the hotel having driven around the block more than once. We parked the car temporarily on the narrow road outside the hotel and where pleased to have arrived on time. TOO MUCH ON TIME…..because Portugal is behind Spain one hour. No big deal! We finished a package of crisps while waiting for the owner, lovely Paola, to arrive and let us in. Luckily Maria was in and we soon got in, talked with Paola over the phone; how to put heaters on, how to use the coffee pot, how to use the keys, how to find the parking place, what activities of choice we have, do we want her lovely breakfast or go independently, how does the toilet lighting work……be sure our suite worked 100% after this. Tavira has no large hotels but visitors book into smaller cosy guesthouses. Our Casa Beleza Do Sul is well known for its great service so of course we booked them. They only have 4 rooms and being off season we could afford the suite with bedroom, TV-room, kitchen and private bathroom. Thank you Paola for your excellent service!


The history of Tavira dates back to 2000 BC and the town is architecturally interesting. Fishing has had an important role but nowadays tourism has taken over. The Gilao river used to transport both salt and dried fish. Local fish dishes are still recommended and we tried out the local celebrity of a cataplana seafood dish. Cataplana is a simple pressure cooking pot and the dish we had was one of the best fish dishes we have ever had. This time of the year tourist volume is down so some restaurant owners prefer to close down before re-opening for christmas, as did one Dutch owner when we visited her place one evening. In Tavira we noticed that is easy to manage with English as everybody seemed to at least understand what we where lacking.

Twilight over river Gilao.
Charismatic owner in a charismatic house.
City gardens.
Roman bridge over river Gilao.
Some houses where left only with a facade.

Lagos, Aljezur and Sagres

After three nights at Paola's we decided to head further west towards the Atlantic coast, first we visited a small market town called Aljezur with almost unspoiled beaches and a decorative lava formation. Perfect location, perfect weather for photographic action…..then onwards to Arrifana and still during this very same day all the way to Cabo de Sao Vicente, the southwesternmost part of Portugal. This is going to be a demanding day for the co-pilot, Mrs. T.

Aljezur beaches in western Algarve by the Atlantic coast.
Next viewpoint; the lava formations. Beautiful isn't it?
And more Atlantic seas.
What can we do but admire!

After a refreshing drink we drove back to the main road and down to Arrifana that has a small fishing harbor and offer more extraordinary views.

Arrifana fishing harbor.
For catching the catch.
Atlantic ocean eroding the landmass.
Getting late in the evening.

Now, time to start KIA and move south to Cabo de Sao Vicente in Sagres and the sunset. Need to drive fast, very little traffic…GOOD. Nice weather and a 100% performance of the co-pilot takes us there not one minute too early. Mr. T jumps the car leaving Mrs. T to shut down and close the doors. Need to find the perfect settings for sunset Nikon. Struggle when Mrs. T arrives, picks up pocket camera and starts shooting…..great pictures!!!  Why are mine so blurry????  MORE STRUGGLE! When the end is well, all is well!

Cabo de Sao Vicente at sunset (southwestern corner of Algarve).

The day is almost over and when we need to drive the last 50 km to our hotel in Lagos. We stop by at a supermarket to replenish our exhausted stocks. It is dark when we reach Lagos and try to find our hotel. Boy! Road works and BADLY SIGNED route deviations….where now?  We follow signs (what signs), turn left, turn right and turn the wrong way until by some miracle we stumble over the hotel - tired but very satisfied over a busy days work. Next day is the final day in Portugal. The morning hours are spent photographing Lagos Costa d'Oro.

Costa d'Oro
Rather demanding this one.
This reminds me of the Seven Sisters in Sussex.
Guardian of Lagos Costa d'Oro

Before our expedition to Portugal is over a few words of Lagos that used to be an international meeting point for Portuguese discoverers since the times of Henry the Navigator. The location was perfect for the ships to depart for their long voyages. Today Lagos is an international tourist centre with a big C. They offer a variety of water sports and nautical activities besides offering the photographic scenes. Our mission to Portugal has been a success and it is with good spirits that we return back to Costa del Sol via Jerez de la Frontera to taste worlds best sherries.

Flag of Spain

Flag of Jerez de la Frontera
Seal of Jerez de la Frontera

When we earlier visited Cadiz we had not reserved enough time to also visit Jerez and it was therefore a specific wish of Mrs. T to correct this matter. Jerez is a large city with some 210 000 inhabitants and it is famous for its wineries and also e.g. the formula one races. Our intention was mainly to get to know some of the bodegas and try their products. And also, Mrs. T had a longing for good quality pasta so finding an Italian restaurant was a must. We checked in, left the KIA in an underground parking lot, went for a walk to the old centre of Jerez, noticed the christmas lights and the tree. We also found items to be sent to our children in Finland. Then we walked past the Alcazaba and the Cathedral before taking a weighted guess for the direction to the Italian restaurant. At point we had to find the Spanish words for checking directions with two ladies. We finally arrived as the only quests in the restaurant and got all the attention from the staff. Having finished the meal and after a fine glass of Solera sherry we asked for a taxi to take us back to the hotel. During our stay in Jerez there was no time for historical or cultural activities this time but we thoroughly enjoyed our short stay and want to return soon again.

The Cathedral of Jerez
The bodega of Gonzales Byass.
Where celebrities have their named casks.
Checking the air conditioning.
The tour ended at the Visitor Centre. (This reminds me that also Steven Spielberg has a named cask in the cellars of the bodega). Finally exit through the Tio Pepe shop where helpful shopkeepers help us load the bags with wine, sherry, vinegar and the lot.

Dear readers 

In short - our exploration of western Andalucia and Algarve, Portugal has been a tremendous success. We have learned about El Rocio, Tavira and Algarve coast line and Jerez de la Frontera. We have tasted the famous and delicious cataplana and the worlds finest sherry. Mrs. T has again proven herself as copilot and the KIA is still doing strong having served well for quite a distance one more time. The driver has taken hundreds of photographs that will help producing a Year Book 2013, a Calendar 2014, a post for the blog that you are now reading, another book on our Andalucian Year and a contribute towards a more professional photographic website. We will now prepare for the forthcoming holiday season and meet up with Ms. T in London and then return to F for the New Years Celebration at restaurant Valparaiso. See you there and if you cannot come - do read the next post.


Teija and Thomas