Gone Fishin’

Sant’Antioco is a small island off the southwest coast of the large island of Sardinia, an island squared you might say. Sant’Antioco is afflicted by two winds: the maestrale from the northwest and the levante from the east. One or the other blows nearly every day, but since they take turns, there’s always a calm sea for fishermen on the leeward side of the island.

Blowing from the northwest

On a bright spring morning the fishing boats are tied up to the quay, squeezed in side by side. Too many fishermen chasing too few fish.

A fisherman patiently removes fish from his net while waiting for customers to arrive and buy them.

Many of them augment their income by offering pescaturismo, fishing excursions for tourists. I’m excited. For years I’ve wanted to learn about fishing in the Mediterranean, but it took a long time to find the right place and fisherman.

A fishing boat doubling as a tourist attraction.

We arrive at our boat the ‘Alessandro P.’ and the live Alessandro, son of fisherman Mauro Pintus with whom we’re going fishing. Soon Mauro, his wife Roberta and their 14-year-old daughter arrive all lugging groceries. We climb aboard from the stern onto the working deck.

Mauro checks out the engine.

We proceed along a narrow corridor past the engine room and the galley and climb out onto the prow and onto the upper deck where lounge chairs await the non-fishermen in the group.

With Mauro at the helm we chug out into the lagoon to find the nets Mauro and Alessandro set last night. This must be travel at its slowest, apart from crawling. The distance we covered by mini-van in five minutes takes at least thirty in the boat. I thought it might be boring, but at this speed there’s an infinite variety of detail to observe: birds overhead, features on the shore and especially the changing colour of the sea.

19th-century tower

Green, aquamarine, purple…

After a while we stop seemingly at a random spot in the sea, and the action begins on the working deck. We’ve reached one end of Mauro’s net which he laid the night before. He marks the end by tying an empty plastic container to it which floats on the surface of the sea. Now we learn what the strange wheel on the port side of the boat is for.

Pulley to reel in the net

Mauro begins to reel in the net.

Alessandro is still learning from his dad, who shouts instructions to stop or go, always following the line of the net.

The net isn’t anything like I’d imagined. I guess I’d been thinking about illustrations in children’s books of a large square net that gets filled with fish and you pull it up from the four corners. Instead this is a very long, narrow net, about a metre in width and a kilometre long with a thick rope running along each side.

It takes a long time to reel in a kilometre of net.

At first there aren’t any fish. Then a couple of sea cucumbers. Not edible, says Mauro. He uses them as bait.

Finally a seppia (cuttle fish) looking very cross at having got himself into this predicament

I feel sorry for this creature, but I’m also a carnivore and am sure our ecosystem wouldn’t work if we all lived as herbivores at the bottom of the food chain with no one at the top eating meat. But I also want to be aware of what is being killed and how.

A pretty verdolino. He’s edible.

A razza (ray), also good to eat

Mauro invites us to help take the fish from the net as he continues to reel it in.

Claudia attempts to untangle a fish from the net.

This fish is bigger than the holes in the net and its fins keep getting caught.

Even though we follow Mauro’s instructions to extract the fish head first, it’s not easy. If lunch relied on us, we might starve.

Still reeling. It’s beginning to seem as if it’s an infinity net.

Claudia still working on that fish.

Roberta comes to see what fish she’ll have to cook for lunch. We’ve managed to free a couple of seppie.

Finally we come to the end of the net which is piled in a heap on the working deck. Mauro joins us at the task of untangling fish from the net. We soon tire and go look at the scenery from the upper deck.

Isola della Vacca (Cow Island) and the tiny Isola del Tauro (Bull Island) in the distance. Surely too far away to have produced the rock called Vitello (calf).

Good smells waft up from the galley.

Roberta is working on several dishes at once. There’s no fishy smell from fish straight from the sea.

When we’re called to lunch, we find the working deck transformed into a cheerful dining room.

Marilyn is wondering what’s on the menu?

Tuna salad

I ask Mauro about tuna. We all believe that tuna is fished out. I’ve been avoiding eating tuna for several years, but will have to be polite. Mauro states that there are too many tuna. That’s why the catch is so small. Tuna are at the top of the food chain, and if there are too many, like the wolves eating my shepherd friends’ lambs, they decimate the populations of smaller fish. So why are we always hearing that there are no tuna left? He says it’s mainly due to the politics of fishing. Who’s allowed to fish where and how much. He presents it as a war between fishermen and politicians with marine scientists and environmentalists somewhere in between. Clearly some more research is in order.

He and Roberta and two other fisher families have formed a cooperative to bottle tuna and two fish salads, octopus and mixed seafood. The men fish and the wives work in the bottling plant which we visit when we’re back in Sant’Antioco.

Roberta explains how they do the processing.

Whatever the truth about tuna, this is the best tuna salad I’ve ever eaten.

Marilyn dishes up the next course which is a zuppetta.

The zuppetta is a rich tomatoey fish broth ladled over toasted bread.

A stunning spaghetti in seppie ink with gamberi (prawns) comes next.

Finally a frittura: deep-fried fish.

By now we were struggling, but the fried fish is light and not at all greasy. A joy to eat. But this isn’t the end after all.

Some biscuits appear along with a bottle of mirto, the typical Sardinian digestivo.

Mauro disappears for a moment and returns with his guitar. We hadn’t been expecting entertainment. It turns out Neil Young is one of his favourites, and he’s delighted that Claudia knows a few songs.

We won’t win the Eurovision Song Contest, but it’s a lot of fun.

With the sun setting we head back to Sant’Antioco.

The end of a perfect day at sea.

Come fishing with us next April http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/small_group_tours/celebrating-sardinia/

Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won’t find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.


Posted in Erica Jarman, Food, Italy, Sardinia | Leave a comment

A Cave Visit for People Scared of Caves – the Postojna Caves in Slovenia

I have a cave phobia. Snakes, spiders, no problem – but caves freak me out. I’ve been into the bowels of the earth twice in the past few years, both times in Spain, and both times I tried to tell myself that I would be OK once I got inside. But then once in, I’d have to hold on to something, seriously afraid I would have a nervous breakdown.

So when I brought my last group to Slovenia in April, of course we had to go to the Postojna caves. Besides Lake Bled, the Postojna caves are probably the biggest tourist attraction in Slovenia. I knew there would be a lot of people there, and generally I like to take my groups to more off the beaten track places, but one can’t visit wineries 100% of the time, right? I told myself – you can do this.

When we arrived at the ticket office, I started to get a little worried. I asked our driver and guide, Sanjin, if there were any really narrow passages I would have to squeeze through. “Why,” he asked. “Are you scared?” I had to admit to him I was afraid of caves, but he assured me that the Postojna caves are huge, and there was nothing to worry about.

I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t just a tiny bit freaked out at times during the two hour tour, but he was right, there was plenty of space inside. I didn’t have to squeeze through any narrow passageways or climb through any holes deep inside the earth. And I am happy that I made it, because it really is incredibly beautiful down there.

I won’t go into all the major details about this 24 kilometer series of underground rooms; just a little bit about the experience, to hopefully relax the other folks out there who are as freaked out about caves as I am.

Once you have your ticket with your allotted entry time in hand, you proceed to an area organized by language (the English language gathering spot was very busy on our visit – the Slovenian, not so much.)  You are then guided in, to an open air train that takes you the first few kilometers into the cave. The crafty Slovenians installed this train no less than 140 years ago – can you imagine the thrill in the early 19th century? The train goes pretty fast, too. I loved it.

Once off the train, there is a guide who explains some of the history and phenomena of the cave, at various parts of a somewhat long walk. The walkways are wide enough that even if there are people stopping to take photos, you can still get by easily.

It can get a little slick in spots, but for the most part, I found it to be the least slime-free cave I have even been in.

Once in, you are treated to many fantastic stalagmites that often take the shape of recognizable objects. While the guide urges not to stay too far back from the group, there really is no pressure to rush.

They space the groups out enough so that while there is a bit of a crowd at the beginning, it soon spreads out and you can have plenty of room to breathe.

At the end of the walk, there are some restrooms and a gift shop. Then you get back on another train to get out. On that train, you pass through a cave room with a chandelier in it. I would have loved a picture of that, but we went through too fast and I did not have my camera ready. But when you go, you will!

So, I survived the Postojna cave, and will not be afraid of this one anymore. Which is good, because now I can breathe easy the next time I bring a group to Slovenia.

You can read more about Postojna cave and its unique features here – Postojna Cave Park.

A visit to the caves is one of the many wonderful excursions on GrapeHops A Wine & Food Journey Through Slovenia tour.

Shannon Essa leads small-group tours focusing on wine, food, and local culture in Croatia, Slovenia, Northern Italy and Northern Spain & Portugal.

Discover the backstreets of Venice or the wine, craft beer, and slow food of Piedmont, Italy. In Spain, experience the rustic foods and low-key lifestyle in beautiful Galicia, the wineries along the Camino de Santiago in the Bierzo region, or the justifiably famous wine regions and local food traditions of Catalonia. See many of Croatia’s most beautiful sights and learn about the rebirth of one of Europe’s oldest wine areas. And see all this with Shannon, who loves unique and out of the way wine and food experiences.

When not in Europe, Shannon does her eating and drinking in San Diego, California.

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Photographing the Elegant Spiral Staircases of the Czech Republic

Prague Stairwell 3

House of the Black Madonna, Prague, using tripod, ISO 200, 20 seconds

Magrit and I just finished conducting a 9-day photo tour in the Czech Republic and are now recharging our batteries (internal as well as camera) in the Val d’Orcia region of Tuscany before our next photo tour begins in the Cinque Terre.

Kutna Hora Stairwell, Czech Republic

Stairwell in Kutna Hora, handheld, ISO 1600, 1/30th seconds

One highlight for us and our clients when photographing in the Czech Republic are spiral staircases. I was trying to think of the perfect adjective to describe these stairwells and “elegant” was the clear winner.

Prague Stairwell 5

Detail of stairwell in the House of the Black Madonna, handheld, ISO 1600, 1/50th second

The archetypal form of a spiral seems to be pleasing to all of us humans and draws us in, just as doors and windows (what might be hiding behind?) or perfectly rounded pebbles on a beach. And with so much perfection and grace in their architectural shapes, capturing them with our cameras is incredibly compelling. Plus there are so many different angles one can approach them from: below, above and from all sides.

A tripod is useful if you are allowed to use one as the light can be low in many of these situations. Sometimes, even if a tripod is allowed, it is impossible to use it such as when photographing from above and leaning out over the railing to capture the perfect composition. Make sure to have your camera strap secured around your neck!

If you’re interested in my review of a sturdy and light-weight tripod for travel, click here. »

Kutna Hora Stairwell, Czech Republic, Photography Travel Tours

Kutna Hora stairwell from above, handheld, ISO 2500, 1/20th seconds

There are some situations when tripods are not allowed, such as in this wonderful church in Kutna Hora, 1.5 hours east of Prague. In the photo below we shot straight up, laying on our backs with the camera resting on our faces for stability. If you use the self-timer, you have a few seconds after pressing the shutter release to really try to achieve stillness before the exposure. This approach was necessary as the light was low and we had to raise the ISO to 1600 to allow for the relatively slow shutter speed of 1/30 of a second. Be sure to use the Image Stabilizing (Canon) or Vibration Reduction (Nikon) when hand-holding at slow shutter speeds.

Kutna Hora Stairwell, Czech Republic, Photography Travel Tours

Kutna Hora Stairwell from below, handheld, ISO 1600, 1/30th seconds

Kutna Hora Stairwell, Czech Republic

Handheld technique resting cameras on cheekbone for stability. Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Magrit captured the wonderful image shown below from the top of the spiral staircase in the House of the Black Madonna in Prague looking down. How can you not want to check out a place with an intriguing name like that?

A tripod was out of the question as she had to lean over the railing and point the camera straight down. The light was really low so she used an ISO of 16,000 (!) to achieve a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second. The challenge when using such high ISOs is the unsightly noise it produces. To combat this, she converted the image to black & white which made the noise look more like graininess and actually added to the overall effect. It’s called “making lemonade.”

House of the Black Madonna, Prague. Looking down, handheld, ISO 16,000, 1/50th seconds

The classic view of the spiral staircase in the House of the Black Madonna is from below and in this situation we were able to use a tripod and therefore an optimal ISO of 100. You have to be a bit of a contortionist to get your tripod and camera and your head and eye in the correct position as the camera is pointing straight up.

Prague Stairwell 2

House of the Black Madonna, Prague. Looking up, using tripod, ISO 100, 20 seconds

We love photographing these elegant staircases on our Photography Travel Tours. Focusing on such a unique photographic theme in an interior location is not just very gratifying but it also helps to get off to the beaten path and away from the tourist crowds. It invites us to slow down and really lose ourselves in the process of photography and also challenges us to make use of  many different photographic techniques.

We hope that you can put some of these tips to good use. Next stop, Cinque Terre!

Happy shooting!

Jim + Magrit

J_M_150x150(1)Jim and Magrit have been photographing professionally and traveling in Europe for the past 20 years.

They started Photography Travel Tours in 2011 with the goal of educating and guiding photographers to some of the most beautiful and iconic scenes in Europe.

The tours are not just about getting great photographs but also have the side benefits of doing so in wonderful environments. Great food, wine, people, and ambiance.

Read more about Jim & Magrit and their wonderful photo tours here: (http://photographytraveltours.com/about/).

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

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