A Tale of Two Cities – Eradicating the Mystique of Venice and Dubrovnik

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

I have been visiting Venice for almost 20 years. It has always been a city that is overly crowded with tourists. But, up until recently it was possible to get away from the crowded parts into more quiet areas where the locals lived, shopped and worked. I didn’t worry that the Venice I love would entirely disappear. But now, I am worried.

It seems like in the past couple of years, things are changing so rapidly that every time I go to Venice now, which is usually once or twice a year, there are casualties. Some little grocery shop will have closed their doors permanently, or a favorite bar turned into a foreign-owned pizzeria complete with flashing neon sign. The Strada Nova, a busy shopping street between the Rialto Bridge and the train station, used to have all manner of shops of food and other supplies for the resident. Now, you mostly find shops selling tourist trinkets and cheap clothing. You can also find sushi and new bars selling wine by the glass – which I am not against, but these places are mainly for the tourists, not for residents.

One use to be able to use back streets to get from point A to point B without running into the hordes. Now, with google maps, people are dragging their luggage everywhere, through once quiet campos and down streets too narrow for big suitcases. Vacation rentals (of which I am a user) are increasing, pushing more Venetians to the mainland – housing costs are now too high for most locals, and they can get more bang for their buck on terra firma. This increased the average commute time to over an hour just to get into the city to work.

Venice is not the only city teetering on the edge of becoming solely a playground for the tourist. Dubrovnik has also reached the breaking point. With only three entrances into the walled city, there are sometimes waits of 30 minutes just to get inside. The locals who live and/or work inside the walls have to push their way through masses of people. There are too many restaurants, too many souvenir shops, and a totally unsustainable number of people in the old town during the season, which is long. Wages for shop and restaurant workers are low, and many young people have fled to countries that pay a decent wage, leaving those that stay a nonstop seven-month long, 7 days a week work week. How they manage to stay sane is a mystery to me.

As a traveler I have to admit that I am part of the problem. I am also guilty of bringing even more people in when I take my tours to these overrun cities. I try to give back as much as I can, but the bottom line is I am bringing more bodies into places that are already too saturated with them. All I can do is try to get the folks who come with me a little glimpse into the history and culture of the place (two things that many people pass by on the way to the gelato shop) so they can have a better understanding of an earlier existence not totally enslaved to tourism.

Venice has activists and Dubrovnik has a new mayor that promises to make changes to limit the number of visitors. What can the Slow Traveler do? We will always be guilty of staying in vacation rental apartments. It is what we do. We drink wine in bars and we eat out at restaurants lots of locals can’t afford. We help to keep the unsustainable system going. I guess we could try to visit places where tourism is not so damaging. I do, but I also happen to love Venice, and also Dubrovnik. I don’t want to stop visiting either one.  But it truly saddens me that I am part of the problem.

I pray that some changes can be made in both cities, to bring a halt to the free fall before it is too late. A friend of mine in Venice, who is a professional guide, told me last month that in five years it will be too late. It will have become a total and complete Disneyland. Dubrovnik has already become Game of Thrones land. When that show is finally over, and some other show takes over being This Years Cult Show, we will see less Winter is Coming t-shirts. One can hope. We can all hope.

Dubrovnik and Venice were both sea-powers on the Adriatic coast, both incredibly powerful forces who helped mold European history. I am sure I speak for many of us when I say I do not want to see either one of them reduced entirely to a stop for giant cruise ships and a gazillion bus tours. As Slow Travelers, what can we do? How can we help? What do you think, Slow Travelers?


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.

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


Posted in Croatia, Venice | Leave a comment

The Circular Polarizer – A Photographer’s Friend or Foe?

On the photo tours that my wife Magrit and I conduct in Europe, our participants are often uncertain about the use of polarizers.

In this article, you will learn when to use a polarizer to enhance the quality of your images, when to avoid using it and what kind of polarizer to purchase to add to your basic photographic arsenal.


zion national park utah

This is a situation where I would always use a polarizer to remove glare on wet rocks, the water and to also slow the shutter speed to add motion and silkiness to the water.
The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

By far, the most useful filter in a photographer’s kit these days is the circular polarizer. With the advent of digital cameras and digital post processing of photographs, the need for special filters is no longer required except for circular polarizers, solid neutral density and neutral density graduated filters.

A circular polarizer typically screws on to the front of your lens and is constructed so that it can be rotated 360 degrees. When rotating and looking through the camera’s viewfinder you will often see a change happen.

The positive effects of a circular polarizer

• Darkening of blue sky. This is especially noticeable if the sky also includes some clouds. You will notice an increase in contrast between the sky and the clouds. This effect is strongest when the sun is at a 90 degree angle to the subject. Be careful here, especially when using an ultra-wide lens as the darkening effect can be too strong, render the blue sky very uneven and ruin your photograph.

cut lavender fields, provence, france

This is a situation where the polarizer darkens the blue sky, perhaps a bit too much. I would rotate the effect out a bit next time.
Valensole Plateau, Provence, France

• Helps to reduce reflections and glare by filtering out light that has become polarized due to reflection from a non-metallic surface such as water, wood, rocks, plants etc. Some landscape photographers use this filter almost all the time, especially if they are photographing in a shady forest – the polarizer will take the sheen off of foliage and provide a more pleasing saturated effect.

Without polarizer. Notice the glare on the railing.

With polarizer. Notice the reduced glare on the railing.

• Clears up haze in distant landscapes and provides more saturated, vivid colors.

The polarizer helped reduced haze in the distance.
St. Primoz Chapel, Slovenia

• Reduces the transmission of light by 1.5 to 2 stops. This can be useful if you wish to use a slower shutter speed to achieve a silky effect when you’re photographing moving elements such as water or clouds. It is especially useful when photographing streams and waterfalls. Often you only need about a 0.5 second exposure to achieve that pleasing silky moving water effect.

The polarizer did a few things here. Reduced glare on the wet boardwalk, rocks and foliage. It also slowed the shutter speed down to add silkiness to the water.
Plitvice National Park, Croatia

So is the circular polarizer a friend or foe?

A polarizer can achieve very useful and pleasing effects as described but it can also do just the opposite, especially with the darkening of blue sky on an ultra-wide lens. When used for reducing reflections it can do just that but it may also remove a reflection that you don’t want reduced such as a boat’s reflection in still water. You have to experiment and take several exposures at various degrees including without the effect dialed in. You don’t need to remove the filter to achieve this. Just turn it until you see no effect. Sometimes you will also put the filter on and see no change at all if the sun is not at the correct angle to produce an effect.

The bottom line is that just because the polarizer creates an effect in your photo doesn’t mean that it should be used. That is where personal and artistic judgment come into play.

The polarizer reduced the glare on the bright wood deck on the boat. I had to be careful not to dial in too much polarization as it would reduce the pleasant reflections in the water.
Venice, Italy

No polarizer.
Joshua Tree National Park

With polarizer. Too much polarization dialed in.

Way too much polarization dialed in.

Almost no polarization. Just right.

What brand of circular polarizer should you purchase?

My suggestion is to use a high quality polarizer, especially if you have invested in high quality lenses. You don’t want to put a piece on inferior glass in front of your good optics. I like B&W or Hoya.

If you are using an ultra-wide lens such as 16mm on a full frame camera you may experience some vignetting with the polarizer on. You can avoid this by zooming in a bit to 17 or 18mm. The B&W listed above is a thinner filter and should not cause vignetting.

With polarizer. Reduced most of the glare on the stairs.
Kutna Hora, Czech Republic

Do not stack the polarizer on top of another filter such as a UV protective filter. This can reduce image quality and the two filters can easily get stuck together, requiring a special filter wrench to get them apart.

As a high quality circular polarizer is somewhat expensive, many photographers will purchase one polarizer for their largest lens, for example an 82 mm and then use a step-down ring to allow it to also fit on a 77 mm filter thread. This works but you again run the risk of the filter getting stuck on the ring. It is a real pain out in the field to take time to fix this. Sometimes it just does not work. So I suggest that you bite the bullet and get a polarizer for each filter thread size in your kit. Luckily for me, at the moment, my lenses are all 77 mm but I may soon be purchasing a lens with a 82 mm filter thread ( and I will purchase another polarizer ).

Also, when rotating the polarizer it is a good idea to rotate the filter clockwise (as if you were screwing it on). I was rotating my polarizer one time counter-clockwise and I accidentally unscrewed it from the lens and lost it in the Soca River in Slovenia.

Another situation where I would always use a polarizer to reduce glare on wet rocks, green foliage and water. Also slows the shutter speed to achieve silky water.
Columbia River Gorge, Washington

I encourage you to experiment with a polarizer next time you’re out photographing and notice the positive and negative effects it can have on the quality of your images, effects that really cannot be produced or replicated in post-processing.

If you are thinking about participating in one of our 2018 Photography Travel Tours, it is not too early to do so. Some of the tours have already filled.


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.

Posted in Croatia, European Travel, France, Italy, Jim and Magrit Nilsen, Photography, Plitvice, Prague, Provence, Slow Travel Tours, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A day on the Canal du Nivernais

Chartering the Randle means enjoying the easy pace of life on the river with all the logistics taken care of. An expert captain to guide the vessel, a gourmet chef to prepare delicious breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and a knowledgeable guide to reveal the secrets of rural Burgundy.

Construction of the Canal du Nivernais commenced in 1784 and it is still operated much the same way today as it was then, each lock is attended by a lock keeper whose job it is to smooth the passage of passing vessels. The locks are manually operated, with hand cranks to open and close the doors, and all locks are in communication with one another therefore once under way it is a remarkably efficient system.

Once a busy waterway life on the canal is a much more relaxed affair now that it is just a pleasure route. The canal opens at a leisurely 9 am, therefore after breakfast the Randle chugs up to the first lock of the day. The lock keeper beckons a friendly bonjour as we enter and the doors close behind. Water is either let in or let out depending on whether the boat is going up or down, and et vola! 50 tonnes of Randle lifts or descends solely by the aid of gravity.

On average we pass eight locks a day, which sets the rhythm of our cruise, our guests step off and on at the locks too, to walk or cycle along the tow path, or help with the lock doors. Before engines horses and men would manually tow barge along the path which runs the entire route.
Everything stops for Midi! The canal closes for lunch and during the morning our chef Gael has been preparing a delicious lunch from fresh local ingredients. A French lunch is a proper affair, for instance; caramelised red onion tart, red cabbage salad with Roquefort & walnuts, marinated aubergines with peppers capers & olives, plateau de fromage, paired with a premier wine of the region.

The afternoon cruise takes us to a village mooring where our car is waiting to take a tour to the local vineyards, and after either dine on-board or at a cosy restaurant nearby.

Posted in Canals, European Travel, France, Holidays in Europe, Tim Harrold, Uncategorized | Comments Off on A day on the Canal du Nivernais