Exploring the Earth and Sky of the West

London

Four Years in the Making: A European Adventure

Catholic Church in Theth, Albania. To me, this photo perfectly embodies the allure of eastern Europe: spectacular culture embedded in majestic natural landscapes.

Almost four years ago, my wife and I started to plan a trip through Europe that we intended to take in the summer of 2019. My term job with the National Park Service was coming to an end, and we were staring at a summer of unemployment anyways, so it seemed like a good time to go on the sort of extended trip we had long desired. I ended up getting a new job sooner than expected, so after a quick 2-week trip to Alaska, we spent the summer visiting family and then schlepping our belongings back to Washington instead. Given that our new jobs included the prospect of time off in the summer, we figured we’d just go the following year. The following summer, of course, turned out to be the summer of 2020, when travel to most countries wasn’t just a bad idea, but actually impossible due to COVID border restrictions. Summer 2021 wasn’t much better.

After biding our time watching travel videos on YouTube for the past several years, sometime this past winter we decided to give it a go in summer 2022. To be honest, for most of this past spring I was skeptical it would actually happen. Even after we booked plane tickets in February, between the ever-evolving COVID-situation, news story after news story about travel chaos in European airports, and a horrible war breaking out just a few countries away from our intended destination, it seemed like it would take a minor miracle to pull off this trip successfully.

In the end though, we completed a fabulous four-week trip through five eastern European countries (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania) and the worst thing that happened was a bout of food poisoning in Albania. We didn’t get stranded anywhere, no flights got cancelled, no one got COVID…heck, even the food poisoning happened on the just-in-case “cushion day” we had built into the end of our trip. Everything went as according to plan as we could have hoped for, and for that we are very thankful. It was so exciting to finally make this trip happen!

I’m planning to share photos and insights from our travels in a series of posts over the coming weeks (months? years? who knows…). It was a blast to photograph a natural and cultural environment so different from that of the American West. I anguished over what photo equipment to pack in advance. Our goal was to pack light and my normal kit is…well…not so light. For the last several years I’ve taken most of my photos with a Nikon 24-70 mm f/2.8 zoom lens. It is incredibly versatile, sharp, and excellent in low light, but weighing in at over 2 pounds, I knew it wouldn’t be fun to lug around the streets and trails of Europe for a month.

After much deliberation, I ended up buying a used Nikon 28-200 mm lens off eBay as my primary lens for the trip. While it was a noticeable step-down in quality from the 24-70 mm, it performed adequately in the daytime and replaced nearly the entire focal range of what, for me, is normally four pounds of lens…all in just 12 ounces! I also brought two small, lightweight prime lenses, a 20mm f/1.8 and a 50mm f/1.8, for times when I needed better low-light performance or just better all-around image quality. I was pretty happy with how things turned out. In hindsight, the only thing I might have done differently was bring along a small lightweight tripod.

We utilized almost every possible form of transportation on this trip: plane, train, car, taxi, bus, tram, ferry, kayak, cable car, bike…and LOTS of walking! To get to Europe we flew from Seattle to Calgary to London to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia. We gave ourselves a full 24 hour layover in London in case of flight delays. Fortunately, we arrived right on schedule and had a fun day exploring London. While I had flown through London-Heathrow on a previous trip to Italy, this was the first time I had left the airport in the UK. London was fun, though extremely crowded and a little overwhelming. We basically just walked around for 24 hours in a jet-lagged state. The highlight for me was finding a hole-in-the-wall craft brewery on the south side of the Thames where I got to enjoy a few authentic British cask ales. It was a rather drab and gray (ahem, “grey”) day (we missed the record-breaking heatwave by 24 hours) so not the best environment for photos, but I did get a few nice shots of Tower Bridge in the evening as we meandered back to our hotel:

Early evening along the Thames River near Tower Bridge. Recently I saw a photo online of the queue to see Queen Elizabeth’s coffin that was taken from almost exactly this same spot. Having been here just a few weeks earlier put the length of that line into perspective, given that it took us well over an hour to walk from here back to our hotel not far from Westminster Abbey.

After our one night stopover in London, it was on to Slovenia and the Julian Alps!