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    Products, restaurants/food, photography, recipes, travel and my orange tabby Taco - a few things that make my world go round! -N

A three-day trip to Zurich got my friend and I randomly checking out neighboring towns to go to; and as a trip to Lucerne would have been too long and too costly, we embarked on a short and random trip to the German Swiss border, Konstanz located in the southwest corner of Germany.

Konstanz was a small town and seemed very quiet.  We had no expectations or itinerary when we got there – via an hour bus ride from Zurich.  We spent most of our time in the Markstatte, the old townsquare.  I went into a camera store with a full display of Leica cameras!  Had I been needing another camera, I would have bought one.  What a good way to buy a camera in its country of origin minus my tax-free status and it it’s justified!  However, with my trusty X100T and Canon 5D Mark III in tow, I don’t think I would have had any room for another gadget in my carry on bag, as heavy as it already was!

I enjoyed our trip to Konstanz although I must admit we didn’t see much of it due to timing!  Our time was mostly spent shopping for kitchen ware!  It sounds boring but I enjoyed it in particular because I discovered the German porcelain brand Kahla, with its colorful array of stoneware Pronto collection.  I have a weakness for anything dinnerware or flatware/silverware.  It’s the first thing I notice in restaurants and I enjoy buying different types of flatware with beautiful designs and good ergonomics.  A few items of note, with Switzerland being so expensive, we hauled bags of groceries from Konstanz to bring back to our hotel!  We also had to exchange a few Francs for Euros while in the German soil.

Germans are also very pet-friendly, taking their four-legged companions everywhere even inside the malls and cafes, which I find very interesting…and their breads and pastries are to die for!

Liechtenstein – a country I have only read about in Childcraft Encyclopedia when I was eight years old.  Volume 10, Places to Know was my favorite that I kept going back to as a kid, out of the 15 volume set.  Fast foward 33 years and I stepped foot into the place I once dreamed of visiting “one day”.  It had seemed like that day had come when I decided to embark on a day trip to Vaduz, Liechtenstein’s capital, from Zurich, Switzerland.

I book all my tours through Viator when I go somewhere.  I have used them for the first time when I first traveled to Europe many years ago and I’ve used them since then.  I have had no problems as far as pick up and drop off locations, instructions, trip proper, length of tour, pricing, tour guide and the likes.  I have always had a pleasant experience.

The day trip to Heidiland and Liechtenstein was very smooth and pleasant.  It was quite therapeutic just being surrounded by breathtaking views of the Swiss alps as we explored the country.  It was calming to the senses.  We passed through Rapperswil, a small Swiss municipality and had lunch there.  The place showcased an amazing view of Lake Zurich, medieval houses and rose gardens.

Moving on to our journey, we finally arrived in the capital city of Vaduz.  What can I say…I learned Liechtenstein has the world’s lowest unemployment rate, low taxes, high literacy rate, world’s third highest GDP per capita and a tax haven for the rich!  The country does not have its own currency and uses the Swiss Francs.  The closest airport is the Zurich airport or the smaller regional St. Gallen Airport.  We have ventured the city proper in just a few hours with stops at Kunstmuseum and the Liechtenstein Postal Museum.

One notable item in my journey was the Vaduz castle, home to the Prince of Liechtenstein.  The castle has become a symbol of the country and was quite visible upon entering the municipality.  It was also towering over the city center and can be seen from the streets.  It was told that if the flag is up, it meant the prince is home.  There were no tours to the castle and I have also not been able to figure out how to get up there!  I left with a souvenir fridge magnet, which I do collect.  I find the country quite interesting as I can feel the small size of it for being a first time visitor.  There was something to the environment and the social atmosphere that made me feel like I was in a small village where everyone is so akin to its own identity.

A year has passed since my trip to Switzerland.  Arriving in Zurich from Paris, which was our first stop, my friend and I were picked up from the airport by our friend, Victoria who is Swiss-Filipino in her own right.  We immediately boarded the train to take us down to our hotel -the Hotel Krone Unterstrasse located in the heart of the city just a 2 minute tram ride from the main train station.  Immediately, we headed for some grub at Differente Restaurant below the hotel and there was one thing that struck me the most – and it was the bill, which was kindly footed by Vic!  A dinner for 3 with regular entrees + beverages costed a whopping $116 Swiss Francs, which would have been equivalent to $121 USD in today’s exchange rates!  That does not seem like that big of a difference until you are at the actual currency exchange counter and find out you are not getting the full rate for exchanging just a few hundies for 3 days worth of gallivanting!  Chaching – WELCOME TO SWITZERLAND, folks!

Indeed, this scenic country is one of THE most expensive destinations in the world.

After dinner we strolled the city.  Tram is seemed to be the best form of transportation around.  It’s very accessible anywhere and we got around the city in it.  Our first stroll was all about food.  In fact, I think all my travels are about food.  I must say I travel for food!  Switzerland equals Swiss chocolates and all other delectable delights!  Ahhh Sprungli, the makers of the Luxemburgerli macarons and Laderach, another Swiss chocolatier.  I bought a box of macarons, chocolates, milk, ice cream, you name it!  Vic recommended we tried Swiss milk and of course the Swiss ice cream Movenpick, which to me is the best tasting ice cream in the world.  Too bad I couldn’t find them anywhere in the 50 corners of the States!  Another notable food item I really liked was the curry wurst.  Oh, Swiss sausages…German sausages…they are all flavorful and have a good texture.  They are a MUST try.

Switzerland has the most beautiful, picturesque and dreamy landscapes.  The Swiss alps alone look as beautiful as they do in photos and even better!  Being there was another dream come true.  In addition, I always wanted to visit the small and very rich country of Liechtenstein so I had to make sure I’m not leaving Switzerland without a sidetrip to Vaduz, the country’s capital.  I’m going to put that journey on a separate post.  All in all, the trip was a very relaxing, very peaceful and what one must call -a vacation.  Would I go back?  Hell yeah!  Although I would probably hit different Swiss cities next time, pack less and bring twice as much money!

What makes a good photo?  Good lighting.  Light light light and plenty of it!  I am a big fan of natural light photography.  Being a hobbyist I practice much of it more than using external and artificial lighting.  The reason for this approach is because I find natural light more effective in conveying the natural emotion behind a photograph.  To me external lighting must only be used for artistic purposes to enhance a photo but not necessarily to be the main source to create it.  Some people prefer flash while some prefer natural light and I definitely belong in the latter category!

I go by a few basic lighting and composition rules when shooting and here they are:

  1. Golden Hour – shoot at the time of day when light is softer and less harsh, which is basically that period right after sunrise or right before sunset.  Now you will have to apply some common sense here and know that you don’t have to necessarily shoot ONLY at these times during the day!  Of course you can take photos at ANY TIME of day as you please!  This rule only applies when the sun is out.  When Mr. Sun is hiding and it’s cloudy you have to go by a different rule called The Sunny 16 rule.
  2. Rule of Thirds – basic composition rule where you  divide your image into 9 equal parts by drawing two imaginary vertical lines and two imaginary horizontal lines, creating 4 intersections and putting your subject along these lines or intersections creates a more balanced photograph than by simply placing them in the center.  Again common sense will tell you that you don’t always have to follow this rule.  You can always break it and be creative to compose your image any way you want!
  3. Sunny 16 Rule – this is for people like me who shoot manual, which means I get to choose how I want to expose my photo and a good guide to follow is the Sunny 16 rule. Basically all we have to do is set our aperture to f/16 on bright sunny days, and only worry about shutter speed and ISO while shooting.  Your shutter speed will depend on whether you’re shooting still subjects or moving subjects.  Simply keep in mind the general rule of thumb is to use 1/125 for stills and 1/160 for mobile.  For ISO, also keep in mind the general rule of thumb is to use the reciprocal of your shutter speed.  For 1/125, ISO should be 125 and for 1/160 ISO should be 160.
  4. Backlight – this is where you are shooting into the sun (against the sun) and position it behind your subject instead of having the light directly hit your subject.  This is my favorite.  It produces the most beautiful lens flares.  I love the dreamy, airy effect of shooting into the sun.
  5. Fast Lenses – I prefer lenses that are fast due to its superb lowlight capabilities.  This can be determined by the f/ value found around the lens barrel.  The inverse analogy should be kept in mind when reading aperture or depth of field (DOF) values on lenses.  A bigger f/ number corresponds to a deep depth of field and a smaller f/ number corresponds to a shallow depth of field.  A lens with shallow DOF capabilities are known as ‘fast lenses.’
  6. White Balance – aside from correct exposure this is another element where I get very particular.   I shoot with a manual white balance setting.  Not preset white balance settings but actual manual Kelvin temperature selection.  I change this setting throughout the day as I shoot, just as I do with the each of the elements within the Exposure Triangle (Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO).   Fortunately us ‘Canonians’ have the luxury of changing the K value manually.  A feature that is unique to Canon DSLR’s only.

Overall, I think photography is a skill that can be acquired via constant practice.  I think there are two types of photographers.  Those that shoot semi-manual i.e., the ones that shoot using one of the modes in the shooting mode dial, and those that shoot full-manual.  This entry is for those who intend to conquer their own equipment in order to exploit its full potential.  It is VERY important to grasp the basic concept of Exposure, at the least, before you can dream of buying the most expensive gear believing it will create beautiful images on its own!

My advise for beginners would be to understand all the elements in the Exposure Triangle -Shutter, Aperture and ISO.  These three always go hand in hand in full-manual shooting.  A properly exposed photo can go a long way even with lackluster composition.  Of course, it is our own prerogative to make anything into art with any amount of knowledge that we have!