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Nulla consequat massa quis enim. Donec pede justo, fringilla vel, aliquet nec, vulputate eget, arcu. In enim justo, rhoncus ut, imperdiet a, venenatis vitae, justo. Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim.

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Nullam dictum felis eu pede mollis pretium. Integer tincidunt. Cras dapibus. Vivamus elementum semper nisi. Aenean vulputate eleifend tellus. Aenean leo ligula, porttitor eu, consequat vitae, eleifend ac, enim. Aliquam lorem ante, dapibus in, viverra quis, feugiat a, tellus.

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The Land of the Big Sky

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Everybody knows that Montana is called the land of the Big Sky so it should have been no big surprise to see it . . . But it was still breathtakingly shocking to see in person. Words just can’t describe it and I know you’re thinking, “she is bound to have a ton of photos to describe it,” but sadly I found that impossible too. I just couldn’t capture the magnitude and greatness of it and do it any justice at all. It was awesome in the truest sense of that word. One thing is for sure, I should not have been driving because I was so distracted by the scenery that I can’t believe I didn’t crash the car!

Besides the incredible scenery, the other thing that really stood out about this place was the friendliness of the people. I’ve visited a lot of places in my life and never experienced anything like this sort of friendliness. Every single person I encountered seemed so truly happy and helpful. It was like a huge breathe of fresh air. I so enjoyed every single interaction . . . at the airport, the car rental, the school, the stores, the restaurant. Montana must be the happiest state in the country.

Another observation was how I changed just being there. Because everyone was so incredibly warm and friendly so was I. I went out of my way and had a ball striking up conversations with people everywhere I went. And here’s another interesting observation I stumbled upon as I made my way back across the country. On the plane from Montana to Colorado the older woman sitting next to me chatted with me the entire trip – about everything and anything. She even asked my name and as we parted hours later she said, “Good luck and have a safe trip home Paula.” She remembered my name! I don’t think that has ever happened to me on a flight.

Then on the flight from Colorado to North Carolina I chatted here and there with the lady (who happened to be close to my age) sitting next to me. We never got into personal stories about our lives like with the lady from Montana, but we chatted about iPad apps, airport stuff, flight details, etc. and certainly felt comfortable sitting next to each other. But on the last flight from North Carolina to Connecticut it was a completely different story. The younger woman sitting next to me to me never even looked at nor awknowledged me. It was the typical East coast coldness that I’m so used to. Not only was it typical of the East Coast, but also of the younger generations. It’s funny how I noticed the same thing at work. Most folks under the age of 30 will purposefully put their heads down and not make eye contact when you pass by them in the hall. It’s sad how we’ve become such a cold and unfriendly society. Everybody should travel to Montana in their lives to see how pleasant life could be if we were all friendly to each other.

The Joys of Travel

I knew Helena, Montana wouldn’t be an easy place to get to, but I was not prepared for what I had to endure. Nothing could have prepared me for it because I’m simply not a patient enough person. I was put to the test for sure and at this point I’m just happy that: 1) I didn’t lose it and get arrested, and 2) I got the job done that I set out to do. Here’s the story of my travel adventures. I need to warn you, when Karlo asked me to tell him the story my answer was, “There’s not enough charge on my phone to tell the whole story.” So it’s a long one . . .

Everything was going perfectly smoothly up until getting to Kansas City. Despite the air traffic control issues that were beginning on this day I managed to make two flights pretty much on time. But things went downhill quickly in Kansas City. My next flight to Denver was going to be delayed late enough to make me miss my connecting flight to Montana. This not only caused me grief, but lots of other people were in my same shoes which also caused chaos at the airport. I had to endure dreadfully long lines to see what my options were. After my long wait in line I get a United agent that was about as helpful as a dead cat. I took deep breathes and repeated my questions as slowly and clearly as I could with my hands in my pocket to make it easier to refrain from choking the woman.

The bottom line was that I missed the one and only flight into Helena and they couldn’t get me there until the following EVENING. I was only going for one day so that I can complete a photo shoot that I needed to do in the MORNING. I explained this, but it didn’t seem to make any difference. I got the same answer. “We can get you there tomorrow night. Or we can refund the flight.” But here’s the kicker, my first two flights were USAir and my second two flights were United so what good is half a refund when I just lost 2 days of my life and the job still didn’t get done?

I needed to make a quick decision, give up and go home or painstakingly try some alternate ideas. Like a fool I decided that I needed to do whatever it took to do my job. I requested to speak with a different agent (perhaps as helpful as a live cat this time) and I asked her to transfer me to another airline and send me to a different airport if necessary. I had to desperately search maps on my phone to figure out what other airport was within driving distance and we found an option (Bozeman) that I could get to late this same night. I would have a 2 hour drive the next morning, but that was doable. I was assured that this flight was on time and I would make it despite the fact that I had to reclaim my suitcase and boogie to the Delta terminal, God only knows where. The next thing I had to do was deal with Expedia on the phone as I tried to change my hotel and car reservations to this new city. OK, everything is on track and I thought it was a go.

I received clear instructions on where to pick up my suitcase and how to find the shuttle to the other terminal. I  had an hour to get on the next plane so it shouldn’t have been too bad. I waited and waited for my suitcase that never came. Luckily somebody saw me pacing around and came to help me. Apparently they grabbed and sent the wrong bag to the carousel. I lost 20 minutes here. Then I just missed the next shuttle and had to wait outside in the cold damp rain another 10 minutes. I made it to the checkin and had to pay my baggage fee again, which ticked me off, but not nearly as much as the next episode.

I now had to go through the security check point again. I had to throw away the $3 bottle of water that I just bought at the other gate and then I had to endure the most ridiculous thing I ever witnessed at security. Please keep in mind that me and my camera bag have been through 3 check points by this time with no issues what-so-ever, but strangely now my camera equipment was a major security threat and I needed a full body pat down. After running the bag through two times and not being satisfied, the most incompetent of all TSA agents decided to completely unpack the gear bag that took me over an hour to pack just right. She literally took out every SINGLE piece of individual equipment: camera bodies (3 of them), lenses (3 of them), microphones (3 of them), audio recorder, flash, flash modifiers, tripod attachments, every single battery (you don’t even want to know how many that was), and every little do-hicky like remote controls, cleaners, etc. that I had tucked away. Every piece had to get individually swiped and run through the machine. EVERY PIECE! I thought I would lose it right there. I asked if I would still make my flight and her answer was, “I don’t know” in the bitchiest tone I ever heard. God, I wanted to reach out and choke the life out of her. I stood there for what seemed like hours watching 3 TSA agents huddled over the screen as every piece went through the scanner. Meanwhile a fourth agent as shaking his head in disbelief and apologizing to me. He was embarrassed for their stupidity. And a fifth agent was just all too excited to see all the gear and try to help me repack my back while drilling me dozens of stupid questions like, “Do you make a lot of money?” Steam was coming out of my ears at this point. I made it to the gate with what I thought would be minutes to spare.

But no, that flight was also being delayed – severely delayed and my hopes of getting to Montana this night were dwindling. I have to say that Delta handles these situations about a million times better than United and I was impressed with everybody from Delta. In a nutshell there was no hopes of me getting out of Kansas City, Misery that night and I was able to rebook my flights back to Helena (where I wanted to go in the first place) for the next morning. At this point I had no idea if I would even be able to get into the school where my photo shoot was 5 hours late for my appointment, but I was just going for it.

Next it was the same scenario all over again with retrieving my suitcase. I had to go to the same sort of carousel and wait for them to send just my bag up. And again, I waited and and waited. I made good use of the time by booking a hotel for that night and also changed my other hotel and car reservations back to Helena. I picked a hotel that offered free shuttle service from the airport to the hotel, only they got there before I got my bag. Just perfect. I had no choice but to let him go and asked if he could come back for me. He promised to be back in 30 minutes.

Now I’m stuck. There’s no bag and nobody around to ask for assistance. After standing there looking like a dope forever, somebody finally walked by. I explained my situation and they were to check. Sure enough, they were not able to get my bag and it was being sent to Minneapolis and then on to Bozeman the next day. Sigh. I give up. They handed me a toothbrush and off I went to wait for the shuttle . . . . that never came back. Holy cow by this point it felt like midnight. I couldn’t take one more minute and I called a taxi.

The taxi arrived and I jumped in, told the driver the name of the hotel and he doesn’t know where it is. Not only that, but he can barely speak English. I tried to help him spell “Holiday Inn” to plug it into his GPS, but he literally didn’t know the difference between an “l” and and “i”. It was hopeless. I was never getting out of this godforsaken airport. I was on the phone with Karlo in tears.

Luckily another guy needed a taxi and asked if he could share mine. I agreed and this kind soul used his phone to find my hotel and guide the driver turn-by-turn to get me there. Sleep did not happen this night and before I knew it it was 4:30am. Time to get up and go back to the airport to do it all over again.

I checked in and made it a point to go back to that same exact security machine. I think part of me just wanted more things to go wrong. I think I wanted to miss my flight so I could, once and for all, just give up and go home. But sure as shit, my camera bag sailed through the machine without the slightest hiccup. This just made me want to hunt down that TSA agent and beat her silly.

My next two flights were uneventful (thank God) and I got to Helena as scheduled. I was promised my suitcase would be there waiting for me, the only problem was that there wasn’t a soul at the ticket counter to talk to. This is what the airport looked like:

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I just couldn’t spare the time so I took off. I had no make up on, unwashed hair, wearing the same clothes as the day before and with no tripods, but I was determined to get the job done. As it turns out I was 5 hours late for the shoot, but I still managed to pull it off. What a relief to walk out of that school with the ridiculous amount of stress and pressure behind me.

Flight Training Complete

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I just got back from three long days at Photoshop World. This was my 4th time attending this big conference and sadly the thrill and excitement lessens each time I go. I was especially looking forward to this event because it was going to be the first time that I was attending as “a photographer” rather than a “graphic designer.” In all the previous years I yearned to sit in on the photography sessions, but always felt guilty because “work” was sending me and, at that time, photography wasn't a big part of my job. But that has since changed and now I need to become a better photographer for work-related reasons. After all, the company is sending me out to Montana next week just to shoot pictures. I better do a good job.

So here I was, as a photographer, ready to soak in all the knowledge that I could . . . but I soon realized that I've spent so much time over the past 3 years trying to learn as much as I could from books, videos, workshops, etc, that there is simply nothing more that I can hear about the subject that I don't already know. I think I'm maxed out on photography knowledge. I got the theories and techniques down pat. I get it all. The only thing that is going to make me a better photographer at this point is practice, practice, and more practice and sadly sitting through lectures isn't going to do the trick.

But with all that said, it was still a good time. I enjoyed watching all the presentations given by some very famous photographers. I enjoyed my lunch breaks by the pool.

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And I especially liked walking around the trade show full of photography related stuff. I used my next trip as a good excuse to buy a new professional camera bag. I figured with the amount of crap that I need to haul around now, I must be a professional.

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I just hope that I stick with my determination to try to some new things and practice what I already know. Fingers crossed that my next trip goes smoothly and I do a good job. I at least have to earn the new bag I bought.

9 Greek Islands in 7 Days (Part 1)

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What a great experience it was to visit 9 different islands in one week. We sailed what is known as the Cyclades Islands in the heart of Greece on a 150 ft. wooden sailboat called the Panagiota. The name “Cyclades” refers to the islands forming a circle (the name in English means: “circular islands”) around the sacred island of Delos. According to the Greek mythology, Poseidon, God of the sea, furious at the Cyclades nymphs turned them into islands.

We started our journey from the mainland port of Pireaus outside of Athens. From there we sailed to Kythnos which is famous for its cheese and honey. Unfortunately we didn't sample any of the cheese, but fortunately we also didn't get stung by any bees. On this island we biked up to the village of Chora which was your typical Greek setting. All the houses were glistening white with pretty blue doors and shutters and connected by tight alleyways that were painted with flowers on the ground. Here we learned that the locals repaint those flowers and their houses every year before Easter keeping everything looking fresh and clean.

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Our next stop was Seriphos Island and again the village was on the top of the mountain and again the views were unreal.

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Seriphos-3  Seriphos

One of the highlights of this day was visiting the Byzantine monastery of the Archangel Michael. The resident monk greeted us at the door and gave everyone some kind of special candy that we had to eat before entering. Way better than the Catholic wafers!

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This was the tiny door leading into the monastery.

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After Seriphos came Siphnos and you can already see how it was hard to keep track of the island names. Rarely did we remember where we were. Siphnos was again, in a word . . . spectacular. Another big serpentine climb to the cliff side village offering the most incredible views of the ocean and an adorable little church on the water. I wonder how many Greek girls dream of getting married there.

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From Siphnos we sailed to Syros. It's main town is the capital of the Cyclades and this was the biggest port town of all the islands we visited. It was like a little clean city with lots of good shopping.

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Syros

Luckily we had an easier time finding dinner and enjoyed strolling all the alleyways. The biking was a bit easier here and our big destination attraction was a beach rather than a hilltop village. Unfortunately the water was way too cold for me, but my hearty Canadian didn't seem to mind. I amused myself taking photos of the fishing boats while he swam.

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Please stay tuned for Part 2 of our Greek adventure . . .

It's All Greek To Me

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And I thought Hungarian was a difficult language. Greek makes it look easy! Still not sure how we managed to get ourselves from the airport to the hotel via public transportation, but it was smooth sailing the entire way. We later found out that there was indeed a demonstration in Athens later that same day that stopped the buses and trains. Boy did we luck out arriving early in the day and missing all that excitement.

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The port city of Pireas was really just a big (mostly ugly) city. I guess it’s a mini Athens and we are just not too keen on big cities. Luckily we didn’t have to spend too much time there . . . just enough to get our bearings, adjust to the 8 hour time difference, and have a couple of meals. I thought it would be a great opportunity to try improve my “street photography” skills. Street photography has to be one of the biggest challenges for me. I suck at it – even with a 300mm lens. I’m just so not comfortable pointing my camera at strangers. I think this was my best shot because my subject actually looked at me.

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Here’s another (sort of bad photo) of my subjects looking at me, but we had to cheat and tip them for it so it doesn’t really count as “street photography.”Greece_-4-2

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this store and it seems everywhere I go in Europe I always find a store or restaurant with this name.

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It seems eating is always a challenge in foreign lands (for various reasons) and we had our share of difficulties eating here. It was like flashbacks to Spain where we never wanted to eat at the appropriate times. Eating on the customary Spain schedule was impossible and apparently just finding an appropriate restaurant in Greece was impossible too. We literally walked the city for an hour with the sole intent of finding dinner. How is it possible to walk through a city for that long without finding food? Mind boggling, but the good news is that we got extra exercise, didn’t go hungry, and the beer was always good.

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We found our boat in the marina with no problems and were very happy to hop aboard our new floating home – where the dining room was very easy to find. It was a pleasant surprise to find that most of the other guests were Americans. This was very rare on these trips and I was thrilled. It was like meeting 18 instant new friends.

It’s very unlike me, but I did zero research prior to booking or traveling to this destination. I was not aware that Greece was “the mountains” nor did I know that the Aegean Sea is notoriously windy. Due to the high winds and the rough seas we set sail the first night to try to beat some of the upcoming rougher seas. Nobody was prepared for that, but off we went for the start of our adventure. Might as well start off with a bang. It was a bit of a challenging dinner, this time for different reasons, and I’m just thrilled that I was among the lucky ones that didn’t get sea sick. And there began our week of sailing the Cyclades Islands.