Monday, November 1, 2010

Dogs of Santa Fe - The Great Furmonsters of the Southwest

I have quite a few updates to do about our recent trip to Santa Fe.  I am going to try and do one per day, maybe more, perhaps less.  Santa Fe blew us away.  So much so in fact, we have already looked at apartments and scouted jobs in the region.  Some recurring themes such as great food, unique architecture, art, nice people, lots of dogs, and gorgeous surroundings planted Santa Fe as one of our favorite places in the world.  For this entry though, I will speak only of dogs.

With, it is a common theme for me to include a daily picture of a dog that is crowned "Furmonster of the Day."  Through this feature, a diverse array of four legged furmonsters have been appointed champion in countries all over the world.  In Santa Fe, the sheer magnitude of canine personalities moved me to include an entire entry about the friends we met while in Santa Fe.

 After walking around the plaza and seeing all stripe and badge of dog, we knew Santa Fe was a great dog town, but it was not until Friday evening that we stumbled upon the motherlode.  While footing it to a nearby restaurant for dinner, we walked passed a shop called Zoe and Guido's, a very chic and fun pet boutique.  We saw a sign in the window, "Small dog Halloween Party 6-9."  After basking in the splendor of this serendipity, we pulled open the door and waltzed into a haven filled with small costumed dogs.  We had missed the rush, which was disappointing, but had a great time visiting with the remaining party animals.  We were also informed of a costume contest to be held the following afternoon.  We were so there.

 The contest the following day was a great time.  A giant named Hugo (Saint Bernard) wont the costume contest, but all applicants seemed to shine in their own way.  There was Maggie the poodle dressed up as a skeleton and Coco the devil.  The owner of the boutique, dressed as Ms. Havisham, presided over the contest with several other human admirers.  It was a great time. Below are pictures from all over Santa Fe. 

 A distant cousin of Libby's searched for scraps in Chimayo

 This fella in Taos gave my camera the eye 

 One of our favorite furmonsters of the trip was Ella, this gray poodle named after Ella Fitzgerald 

 She was big girl and just loved attention 

 Great smile and check out her eyelashes

 Hard not to love this face 

 One moment you are sitting around staring at humans 

The next you are meeting similar friends in Santa Fe plaza

 A goldendoodle or "dood" saunters up and shows off his golden locks

 This papillon looking Chihuahua was traveling with its owners through Santa Fe.  He was really curious about the camera.

 A Welsh Corgi suspiciously glances back

 I love this little Pomeranian's markings 

 He looks like he has a head of hair!

 A poodle apprehensively looks on at the festivities, from the outskirts

 This is precious Maggie dressed up as a skeleton 

 A smiling poodle with a silver party hat 
 The canine handshake 

 This little one was having a great time at the little dog party party

 I believe this guy placed in the top 3 at the costume contest 

 The owner of Zoe and Guido's, dressed as Ms. Havisham 

 A little rescue poodle with her owner 

 Hugo, the St. Bernard, getting dressed up for a convincing run at the championship 

 Spiderman and a lizard 

 A firefighter trots by 

 Saying hello
 There were two Spiderdogs, this one 

 And this shy cute pup

 Coco defiantly wearing her horns around her neck 
 The full costume, with a little help 

 Hugo is crowned champion.   He basks in the afterglow of his accomplishment with this massive bonety.  He sat like this in the middle of the store for several minutes; his prize laid out for all to admire.

 Hugo is a managing partner of "Fido's Bed and Biscuit," a bed and breakfast for dogs in Santa Fe

 Peaking through his ghost holes 

 The little poodle finally warmed up to me 

 The poodles bodyguard sniffed at me suspiciously, finally letting me pass 

 I was granted an awkward handshake from her highness

Maggie and her owner say goodbye to us 

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bert's Burger Bowl - Santa Fe, New Mexico

As with most travel days, the morning came to soon.  We rose a little passed 3am, and slowly zombied our way through the morning operations:  breakfast, grumbling, cups of orange juice, cold shoulders, commuting, removing shoes, veiled sarcasm, waiting, boarding flights, fighting for the elbow rest with portly grey strangers, landing, and thrashing onto the open road northbound in a wimpy little Chevy Cobalt - care of the Albuquerque Budget Rental Car.  With 2 flights and a robust morning of happenings behind us, the devil was in the detail of the time - 9:45am.  As we tore through the desertish shrublands towards Santa Fe, I resented the amount of life we had already crammed into this extended morning.  Our accomplishments were worn with a grimace and a our growling stomachs spoke tales of malnourishment.  

We were famished.  Food was needed and fast.  As our car alighted with Santa Fe proper, we began scanning buildings for a den of sustenance.  We happened upon a ramshackle abode with promise and a heady "as seen on tv" endorsement.  One of those shows, with one of those guys, that talks about food, had gone ahead and extended to the world a recommendation that we accepted as we peeled open the weathered teal door.  It was going to be chili burgers.  My god, it had to be.

This restaurant, Bert's Burger Bowl, is one of those hole in the wall establishments that locals adore and travelers embrace.  Using the locally sourced chilies, Berts has created a burger concoction that bears a familiar badge - chili burger, yet it is not the usual sloppy concoction.  No sir, this chili burger is made using green hatch chilies and a familiar cast of characters - cheese, beef, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles, a slightly charred structural bun, and a little bit of mustard.  The whole experience is unbelievably balanced, each ingredient is noticeable with nothing overpowering.  The burger is humble, simple, and perfect.  The meat is thin and tender, a part of the whole.  The green chilies are the true star, and they add a kick that takes this burger to addictive new heights.  I dipped my burger in the Bert's red chili sauce, and that took the taste up a glorious notch.  All in Bert's is a fantastic hole in the wall, and if you find yourself in Santa Fe, find yourself a Bert's burger.   

Bert's burger bowl is in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The green chili burger is about 3 bucks.  Open 8am - 7pm, Monday-Friday and 10:30am - 5pm on Sunday.   

Buns and green chili

More behind the scenes with the stars 

Bert's has no indoor seating, just a little counter to munch at.  There are plenty of outdoor tables, but it was too cold for us to sit out there.

Damn good fries with spicy Bert's red sauce 

The burger 

 Happiness is this right here

Monday, October 25, 2010

Nikon d700 vs. Nikon D7000 - The Verdict

I wanted to keep both cameras.  I told myself that the (d7000) Dx chip will be great for extending my 70-200, that I needed a backup camera for shoots, that I could use the video function for exciting endeavors, and that the cameras could possibly keep each other company in the dark confines of my think tank bag.  Alas, my justifications were burst asunder and I had to choose.  In a perfect world, I keep both.  But the shortage of the d7000 along with my complete lack of necessity for two expensive cameras led me to a hasty conclusion.  The d7000 had to go.

The Nikon d700 is a better camera.  While the colors seem to pop a little more in the d7000, and at low light, they perform similar, when I wrapped my hand around the d700, I knew it was meant to be.  I really like the bigger sensor on the 700, and the viewfinder is like looking into a massive cave with floor to ceiling windows.  These are the reasons that I chose the Nikon d700.  Also, having the big glass now, I did not like shooting on the DX chip.  I dislike the magnification, especially wide.  Sure, having the extra 100 focal length is great on the 70-200, but it just wasn't a strong enough justification for the $1400 I sold the used camera for on Ebay($200 over retail, must be a shortage).  

Without even testing anything from Canon, I am comfortable asserting that the d7000 is the best prosumer camera today.  I am the type of idiot that makes these sort of grandiose claims.  I used a Nikon d300s last year, and it cannot compare to the d7000 except in speed.  The 7000 takes wonderful pictures, and like an aapl earnings call, it beats expectations.  That is probably the coolest thing about it.  I opened it up and expected a better version of the Nikon d90, but it was a different beast entirely.  The Nikon d700 just happens to (still) be a class above the rest.

Here are some d7000 shots I took last weekend during my brief tryst with the camera at Andy and Kim's nuptials.  All natural light, unedited, no flash.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Photography - Nikon d700 versus Nikon d7000 Review Part 1

Okay, so I have, in my possession, the $1200 Nikon d7000 and the $2400 Nikon d700.  I purchased the d7000 last Friday from Best Buy, and moving up from the Nikon d90, it is a massive leap.  But I will get into that later.

It is funny, really.  I had just bought a Nikon rebate bundle with a Nikon d700 and the 24-70 2.8 and 70-200 2.8 before I went to Best Buy.  That was going to be my camera.  I waited for an entire year for Nikon to announce the d800 or d700x or d700s or d700xs or the D70,457.  I got impatient.  I gave up.  I filled my cart just as I had done 50 times before at B&H, except this time, I made the purchase.  So, when I brought home the d7000, it was supposed to be an eBay sale. I had no room for two new purchases in my stable.  First I put it up on eBay.  I started the auction at 1500 and placed the reserve at 2000.  I waited about 15 minutes before I started getting fidgety.  I got real curious about the d7000 as it sat there on my desk.  Just a peak I told myself...

The auction did not last an hour.  I first moved the buy it now to 2500, and than pulled it completely.  You see, when I peaked at the pristine Magnesium alloy d7000 body, my heart filled with lust.  I took it for a spin with my 35mm 1.8.  Wow.  Before I knew it, my d90 was up on eBay, the 18-105 kits lens (bundled with the d7000) was on eBay, and I was making absurd justifications.  Having just dropped quite a bit of money on the d700 bundle, I had no place having eyes for another camera body, but I did.  I would sell the kit lens, sell the d90, and keep the d7000 as a back up camera.  It was done.

The d7000 is a magnificent camera.  Much much better than a Nikon d90 and much better than a Nikon d300s, the d7000 is a low light monster, a 1080p shooting maniac, and a stunner that feels just so right in your hand.  I took it with me everywhere last weekend like a trophy wife.  Weddings, friend's houses, Quizno's.  Always buckling it in to the passenger side seat, and opening the door for it at destinations, I was in love.  But something kept nagging at me.  Something I had done the week before.  Like proposing to an old 7 before falling deeply in love with a young 10, I had made a commitment to the Nikon d700, albeit a rocky one.  Would I keep both?  Does that even make sense?

Well, the Nikon d700 finally arrived.  It was in full entourage mode, flanked by a 70-200vrII 2.8 and a 24-70 2.8.  It looked crazy, sitting there on my living room floor.  Me, 3 boxes, and a Nikon d7000.  It was an odd love triangle, me with these 2 phenomenal machines.  I slowly unboxed the d700 while holy choral music played triumphantly in my mind.

(To be continued)

In the mean time, here are two ISO 6400 pictures, one with each camera.
Nikon d700 ISO 6400 24-70 2.8

Nikon d7000 ISO 6400 24-70 2.8

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Beaches - Phi Phi Islands

So I am experimenting with different features for this here blog and I have thus far added hotel reviews and a feature discussing strange animals.  Today I am going to try my hand at a different type of feature that I would like to incorporate into the site, "Beaches."  I love beaches.  You probably love beaches.  They are one of the most appreciated naturally occurring  features on the planet, and have a way of defining the regions that possess them.  

The Phi Phi Islands are rocky palm swept islands surrounded by aquamarine waters.  All in, there are 6 islands that bear the Phi Phi moniker, with Phi Phi Don and Phi Phi Leh headlining.  Phi Phi Don possesses the only village and population in the Phi Phis, while Phi Phi Leh is uninhabited national parkland made famous by "The Beach" starring Leo DiCaprio.  "The Beach" is the infamous Maya Bay, a partially protected bay surrounded by rock with a white sand beach in the center looking out to sea.  At night, plankton glow in the bay, lighting it up from beneath the water.    

The islands fulfill the basic requisites for tropical paradise with white sand, clear water, and great reefs to poke your mask into.  From a standpoint of natural beauty, they are perfect.  While the setting could not be more idyllic, it has an also ran type of feel with young backpackers everywhere.  Ever since "The Beach" was released, droves of young adventurers have boarded boats bound for these small islands like pop culture pilgrims.   The Phi Phi experience is lessened by these hard charging party monsters, as they have come to define the culture of the island.  If you are looking to party of course, then you have found a great spot.  The rest of us can find quiet respite fairly easily, but there will be bros.

Phi Phi Don has a very laid back island vibe.  The village is the main area for commerce in the Phi Phis, and you can buy necessities, arrange tours/dive trips, or find a place to stay while in the village. The island has many resorts and hotels, several of which can only be reached by dragon tail boat taxi from the village.  The village is fairly crowded, and during the high season, expect to brush elbows with the international party crowd.  During my time in the village, it felt like a Bizzarro Spring Break.  I stayed on the north side of the island away from the crowds.

The Phi Phi Islands are worth the trek.  Phuket is over developed, but Phi Phi provides the island feel that made Phuket an international destination to begin with. I give the Phi Phi Island beaches a 8.5 out of 10.

Getting to Phi Phi
The easiest way to get to Phi Phi is to fly into Phuket and take a boat onward to the islands.  Phuket is serviced by a number of southeast Asian hubs, with flights on AirAsia from Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore being the best bargains.  From Phuket, you can grab the boat from Rassada Pier at 8:30 or 1:30.  A return ticket costs 1100 Baht at most.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Spendthrift: Saving Money on Food in Europe

1.  If they have an English menu, then you will be paying a tourist price  (if it is butchered English and hand written, this is okay). For this, buy a translator book with a decent food section.

2.  If you can see a relevant landmark from the restaurant, then you will pay a tourist price.

3.  If you are sitting down, and it is not dinner, then you need to find somewhere else or stand up (We thought we were getting a cheap 8 euro pizza for lunch in Venice, but we were each charged 4 euros to sit down, meaning our pizza was 16 euros.  Almost every place will charge you to sit down, save the money for dinner.  You will want to sit down by that point.)

4.  For lunch, always grab something in a bar, like a slice of pizza or sandwich, and eat it standing if they charge to sit.  You can get a large cheese and salami baguette sandwich or a mozz, tomato, and lettuce (MLT) for around 2-3 Euros pretty much everywhere.  Pizza is cheaper.  If you are in Spain, then it is possible to be a complete hamitarian, eating small delicious ham sandwiches for next to nothing.

5.  When you are booking your room, always include breakfast, unless it is just ridiculously expensive (in this case, change hotels).  Breakfast is a damn near impossible meal to track down outside of Germany and the U.K. Most hotels will charge a princely sum if you did not include it when booking.  For example, I paid 5 extra Euros total per night for breakfast at a hotel in Rome.  If we were paying day of, it would be 18 each, 36 Euro total, Ouch.

6.  Bring Peanut Butter.  Buy bread, pretzels, or sesame sticks.  I also bring a box of Clif bars for emergency snacks.  They have saved my ass so many times from Barenhunger.     

7.  Find a nearby grocery store (best) or market your first night, and buy water, sodas, beer, or wine for the trip.  I paid .84 (yes, under one euro) Euros for a 6 pack of 1.5 Liter bottled water that should last me 3 days.  At a bar, this would cost 15 Euros or about 2.5 each.  These bottles cost up to 4 Euros each in a restaurant.  I know soda is usually around 2-3 euros at a restaurant, though I cannot quote the grocer price.  It is probably about the same price for 6 at a grocery store.  We saw numerous bottles of wine for under 2 euros at a grocer in the Trastevere area of Rome.

8.  Never let yourself get so hungry that you settle for the next restaurant.  This is a recipe for a 30 Euro lunch disaster.

9.  Do not tip like an American, but eat bread like one.

10.  Splitting meals is a surefire way to bring down costs across the board. 

Beasts - The Cassowary

The Cassowary is a bird in classification.  It has a bird head and feather like frock, though its blatant associations with the Aves Class end there.  If a few dinosaurs survived whatever ice age meteorite mess that took place, then they probably look a lot like the Cassowary.  It sulks around in the deep tropical forests of Papua New Guinea, evading human contact as it patrols for food in the dark shadows.

These creatures have plied a reputation as being extremely reclusive and dangerous.  Their massive legs, which look quite reptilian with razor sharp claws at the business end, have been known to disembowel unfortunate beings that infringe too deeply into Cassowary territory.  During World War 2, western troops stationed in PNG were ordered to steer clear of these odd monsters, as they posed a legitimate threat to their safety.

They are omnivorous, eating everything from fruits to invertebrates.  Their lifespan is about 50 years, meaning they live about as long as their human contemporaries in Papua New Guinea.  Their Mohawk like crest has prompted more theory than discovery, but many concur that it has something to do with protecting their brains while speeding through the forests with their heads lowered.  Other theories range from sexual pomp to sound amplification - the Cassowary is known to produce the lowest frequency bird call known to man. 

The Cassowary has 4 different species, of which only 3 are extant.  The Northern Cassowary, Southern Cassowary, and Dwarf Cassowary all exist in a range from north central Papua to Northeastern Australia, and on surrounding islands such as Yapen and the Aru Islands.