Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Planica Ski Jump

If you're daft enough to ski jump, this is your view!
More posts to come about Ljubljana, but Friday we headed up to the northwest area of Slovenia to Planica. This is in the valley region of heavy WWI fighting in the Slovenian - Italian - Austrian region where Hemingway served and inspired his "Farewell to Arms" which I now need to read. The Julian Alps (after Caesar) and the Karawanken range is all along here, along with Triglav - the highest peak in Slovenia.

Planica is the site of the Olympic Training Centre, with a hotel for athletes that Igor helped convert with hypoxic rooms on the 2nd floor for altitude training. There are many ski jumps at Planica, from baby ones that almost tempts you into thinking you too can do this, to the full 90 m jumps.

There is even an underground nordic ski facility for training throughout the year, along with a skydiving simulator! Many hiking and climbing trails abound too, along with Nordic trails.

Really, it's pretty hard to capture the scale of just how big and high ski jumps are.

Planica is a regular stop on the World Cup circuit, and apparently has been the site of several world record jumps, including the 1999 record of 239 m!

There hasn't been any notable snow, so just these jumps have artificial snow on them. Here, I was trying to capture the scale of the jump with the athlete in the foreground for perspective. Luckily they have ski lifts to haul them back up top.

From the "Better to apologize than ask permission" playbook, found the stairs and started walking up to get closer pictures of the jumping. This was my next to last stop for trying to catch action shots. I then walked up higher to an even better spot, just in time to find out this guy was the final jumper of the day. Cosmic payback I guess.

Yes, the runs are so steep that the cats need safety harnesses.

You start young in ski jumping, likely so that you catch them before sanity takes over...

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Ljubljana by Night

Here are a selection of some night time pictures I've liked from walking around the old city in Ljubljana. I deliberately packed my tripod for this trip so that I could make good use of it for night shots, especially with all the Christmas lights.

Lots of boat tours along the river. This one taken from the Three Bridges next to Prešeren Square. The building on the right has lots of open-air shops for both souvenirs and also produce, and the Dragon Bridge is in the distance. I like the blue tinge to the lights spilling onto the water, along with all the archways on the building.

Handheld shot taken at 2500 ISO or higher to enable steady shooting. Couldn't risk coming back later with the tripod. Seems the Germans have taken over the Grad.

Other members of the café party band from the last post. Hard to get a decent shot between the handheld shot at night along with the drunken patron continuously dancing and inciting the crowd in the midst of the group and constantly getting in my way. Only possibility is patience in such situations, which also gained me the accordion shot from the last post.

Sure it's -5°C or so, but that's where warm clothes and the radiant heaters come in handy. The red glow is an added bonus. Taken from one of the many bridges in the old city. This particularly one is modern and completely out of place, but it is located at the perfect geographical spot for shooting Prešeren Square if I look the other way.
So this is what happens if I turn around! Took this shot many, many ways and I think I like this one the best. Other shots were taken landscape and cut off the full glow of the lights on the river.

Tripod shot of the Grad. The café on the centre-left was where Gary and I anchored ourselves for cappuccino each afternoon.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Stephen's Academic Family

Igor the Legend and me!
One of the great things about smaller and more focused conferences such as PPTR currently and my "home" conference of ICEE (International Conference on Environmental Ergonomics) is the real family reunion feel. They are great because they are <200 delegates, the conferences are relatively long at 4-5 days, and there are no parallel session such that everyone sees each other a lot. Also, the fact that the same folks show up time after time.

For me, it's a shock that I went to my first ICEE (held every 2 years) back in 1994 as a first year Ph.D. presenting my M.Sc. research, and now I'm not just one of the more senior members, but have been the Chair of the Executive Committee for 5 years since 2011. How does time fly like that?

The EEL crew: Gary, me, & my former Ph.D. student Andreas Flouris. Can't overstate how proud I was seeing Andreas present as a highly respected and established leader in our field.

Anyway, anytime I get together with my M.Sc. advisor Igor Mekjavić is always special, and even more so when his band of brothers Nigel Taylor (Australia) and Mike Tipton (UK) join in, which they did here at PPTR and which always happens at ICEE.

Four generations on the academic tree: my M.Sc. advisor Igor, me, my former student Andreas, and three of his own students!
I can't tell you what a wonderful and generous gift it is from these three in that they've known me since I was an academic baby, and they've since always just treated me as their equal and peer, to the point that I'm usually the 4th "constant" in the shenanigans and "outings." I've tried to pay it forward myself, always making sure I show students at conferences that they have strong contributions of their own.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Ljubljana Cafe Life

Travelling party band in full swing at a café at night
Nothing like finding a rut and digging deep. The three days so far (update - all 4 days!), Gary and I have ended up at the same outdoor café by the Ljubaniča river for our afternoon cappuccino at 1500h, just the perfect time of still above freezing temps, sun, amazing evening light in wintertime, and the entire rest of the city seems out and about too.

Really, there are few places that tops Ljubljana for café life. The old city is beautiful yet really compact, with all the cafés just about 5-6 blocks along 1-2 streets on either side of the river, so all the action is close by.

The terrific thing with coffee culture in Slovenia is that it is all about the social aspect of it. There is no such thing as takeout coffee in big travel mugs that people walk (run) down the street with. Indeed, my first time here on sabbatical in 2005 and even now, I have yet to see a N. American style travel mug. What you do instead is go walk down to the local café with your friends or your work colleagues, and you actually take a true break and enjoy sitting there with your coffee together. That relaxed attitude is SOOOO nice!

Of course, it also helps that your sidewalk café is on beautiful pedestrian-only cobbled streets next to a beautiful little river, not a Starbucks outdoor patio next to a busy street with noise and pollution from traffic roaring by!

And the wonderful cherry on top is that coffee and the general cost of dining is beyond ridiculously cheap. A really nice sit-down cappuccino on prime real estate in the heart of the old city in the capital city? All of 1.70 Euros all-in, or about $2.50! And tonight, 9 of us went out for pizza and beer(ssss) at another pub right next to Prešeren Square for all of 127.50 Euros, or about $21 each all-in!

The other thing that can't be beat is people watching, which you can just do for hours on end.

In addition to the actual cafés, there are all these kiosks selling "glauwein" or mulled wine, along with other drinks. Bulk discount of buy 5 get 1 free, or buy 10 get 3 free. That'll keep the blood from freezing!
The action definitely does NOT stop or even slow down once the sun and the temperatures go down.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The Doors of Ljubljana Cathedral

Halfway walking down from the Castle, climbed up on the railing to catch this shot of the Cathedral with the snowcapped Alps beyond.
The Ljubljana Cathedral right underneath the "Grad" (Castle) has two doors that are massive and cast from bronze, then cut into doors. They were installed in 1996 for the 1250th anniversary of Christianity's arrival in Slovenia, and also to celebrate Pope John Paul II's visit.

To say that they're stunning is quite the understatement. The "front" door is called the Slovene Door, and recounts the history of Christianity's arrival to Slovenia. There is so much detail in the door. One of the things I'm learning from photography is to slow down and really pay attention to both my surroundings, the neat little details I otherwise usually overlook, and of course the intricacies of light.

The door is even sculpted in a way that the woman's head on the right picture is perfectly placed as a door handle, as you can tell from the shininess. The priest's hands have obviously been rubbed quite a bit for luck. Notice the faint relief of the Grad too to the left of the priest? That's the kind of cool detail you don't notice until you really pay attention for a while. I pretty much spent 30 minutes or so just admiring the doors and taking pictures, of course regularly interrupted by old ladies coming and going from prayer.
The side "Bishops Door" has these massive 3D reliefs of different Bishops of the area from the 20th Century.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

St. Nick's Day

December 5th and it's Sinterklass or St. Nick's Day. Also Happy Anniversary to my in-laws Betty and Charlie! So being little devils (see below), Gary and I skipped the last scientific session of the day and caught the arrival of St. Nick instead. We managed to get a good perch at one of the side bridges of the three bridges leading into the main square (Prešeren Square - named after the famous poet whose birthday of December 3 is a national cultural day with most museums free), and camped there expecting a massive Macy's style parade. Probably should've clued in that Prešeren Square is pretty tiny and therefore doesn't leave much space for floats to congregate, but we still somehow became massively surprised when there was exactly ONE float and it was St. Nick himself!

Good Old St. Nick

Prešeren Square, with St. Nick towing along a children's choir dressed in white.

Things are of infinitely smaller scale here in Europe than in North America. Besides the one-float parade, the choir did all of two short carols and that was it (one was Jingle Bells), as in the entire parade and concert! The entire thing lasted less than 45 minutes!

Aside from the choir, St. Nick was accompanied by a troupe of devils, who handed out clementines to the children in the crowd afterwards. I managed to get a picture of one such devil, along with that dude in the red suit...
My artistic shot of Prešeren Square. Looks like all these phasers or blasters beams hurtling towards the building. Achieved this effect by setting to a 1/2" shutter speed and zooming in slightly during the long exposure. Thanks to Peter Ferguson from the Welland Camera Club for the inspiration!

Monday, 5 December 2016

Faces of Koper

I really need to get more confident with street photography and taking photos of people in their natural living. That's a new photography challenge for me, especially important here in Slovenia because the people have such fascinating character in their faces! Some of my attempts so far in Koper:
An old produce seller at the fruit market on Saturday. The years she's lived and the things she must've seen in her life.

I was drawn to this cheese vendor's wild hat, and I was lucky enough to catch this wonderful smile he gave to a customer.

A new young family walking down a quiet street. I was drawn to their holding hands and the fact that they were doing so with the stroller to one side. To me it's a beautiful demonstration that they're still a loving couple despite the joys and stress of a new addition.

Three ladies waiting for a bus by the old city walls. I crouched down a bit far away and pretended to take pictures of the walls, all the while practicing and perfecting exposure and focus. Then I switched and quickly took this shot. This ended up being nearly with the 105 focal length limit to my lens.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Christmas Month in Slovenia!

OK, 2.5 years off the blog but back at last with new adventures. Dec 1 I flew out to my favourite European country of Slovenia for the PPTR (Physiology & Pharmacology of Temperature Regulation) conference that Igor Mekjavić is organizing in Ljubljana. Never ever miss a chance to visit Slovenia!

The first weekend, I travelled down to Koper on the coast to visit my former student Shawnda Morrison, Aljosa and their brand new baby girl Dana. Was great to connect with Shawnda again, celebrating with some mulled wine in the town square and otherwise enjoying a terrific weekend.

Mulled wine with Shawnda Morrison because it's Christmas Month!

The whole December is celebrated with Christmas and year-end festivities. Took this picture below with my tripod at night in Koper by the cathedral. Can't wait to see Ljubljana all lit up, as it's supposed to be fantastic.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Zachary's Grade 8 Grad

We celebrated Zachary's Grade 8 Graduation on June 20th, 2014. There were 9  Grade 8 homeschool grads and 1 Grade 12 grad.  It seems hard to believe that we have been homeschooling for 9 years already.
The graduation was held at Rice Road Community Church with a dessert reception afterwards.  All the grads looked splendid.  Zachary was cheered on by Jacob and Grandma and Grandpa Hoffele

Monday, 30 June 2014

Mont Ventoux!

In between Ph.D. defences and my upcoming cycling conference in the UK, I've been hanging out with my friends Eric and Astrid in Bilthoven, especially for Eric's 50th birthday cycling trip that he planned for Provence and the famous Mont Ventoux. 5 other Dutch friends along with Eric and I headed 1200 km south to the base town of Bedoin. Monday June 23 was D-Day, and here are some pics from the climb.

Basic stats: start 309 m, summit 1912 m, 22 km.

Nickname: "Le Geant de Provence"

After a gentle 3-5% first 4 km, you hit the forest and it's a relentless 10%+ for about 9 km to Chalet Reynard. From there, it's a moonscape rocky bald top 6 km due to clear-cutting. Strong winds and crazy weather can play havoc up top.
The memorial to British rider Tom Simpson is about 3 km from the summit, and is placed where he collapsed and died during the 1967 Tour from a combo of heat stroke and tons of drugs and alcohol in his system. It's a pilgrimage shrine for cyclists today.

Summit pic that Eric took of me around the final steep switchback. I rather like the composition and my leaning into the switchback. 

The tower is enormous, and makes the bald giant even more imposing from every direction. Those of you from Brock, just think how Schmon Tower sticks out from everywhere around St. Catharines and magnify the 100 m Niagara Escarpment by 19 times!

Total climbing time was 1:40 at a pretty comfortable 225W average. But with the howling winds up top combined with the long wait for the rest of the group, not to mention minimal body fat and Asian heritage, I was completely freezing as we started the descent. To the point that I had a pretty wicked case of top tube shimmy the whole way down the first 6 km to Chalet Reynard due to the combination of my shaking and the strong crosswind. Luckily I'm a decent bike handler and managed it by clamping the top tube with my knees along the straightaways.