Normal Canadian Things I Find Weird #1

Seriously been struggling with a writing block currently so forgive the ranty quality of the post!
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It’s now approaching the 6 months of living in Ottawa and I’ve started to get used to the vocabulary and the way things go but there are still things that continuously catch me off guard. I was initially planning on writing out one long blog post but I feel that some of the things that perturb me so need a whole post to themselves.

Normal Canadian Things I Find Weird #1 – Toilets

AKA the Washroom. It feels wrong referring to it as anything other than the washroom now. So apart from the name, there are many things about the Canadian washroom that causes the “anxiewees”.
In the UKadia, the bathrooms vary in style but the general overall toilet is a cubicle of its own accord, sometimes being a small room that silences the rest of the world, or its at least a cubicle with almost total privacy.
In France, I don’t know if others have been warned about their public bathrooms, they have what my family refer to as “suicide loos” that often are just a porcelain hole in the ground you have to kinda stand and pray you don’t slip and fall into the poop filled hell that is through the dark gaping vortex below. Hence the aptly given connotation from the family.
I’ve even encountered the weird German toilets that are designed so you basically have to look at what you’ve created before it flushes, something that deserves a whole post of its own I’m sure, but this post unfortunately is not about German toilets today.
Enter the Canadian answer to the humble washroom….

The Name.

Bathroom, Toilet, WC, I can get behind those names for the place designated to the defecation. Washroom is one I am willing to get behind IF it was specifically a place for you to wash. Alas, it is where you do the business and the only washing that happens really is of the hands. There are no showers or baths or bidets, there are sinks and toilets. If it was a washroom then there would be more than a sink. It is a sink room with bonus toilets.

The Cubicle itself.

The doors are almost always shut, regardless of its vacancy status. This leads to the awkward creeping up and pushing on the doors, and praying people know how to lock doors if they are occupied. And if it so happens to be the most awkward of encounters of the door swinging lethargically open and displaying someone who is engrossed in their business, what do you do? What do you say? (I am aware this can happen in multiple scenarios across the pond but this has happened to me the most in Canada.)

On approaching the cubicles, the first thing I notice is the vast gap between bottom of the  door and floor. You can’t see anything but feet and what’s on the floor which is nice, but you also only want to see one pair of feet in the cubicle. Thankfully I’ve not been in the awkward situation when there has been that time where more than one pair has existed in one cubicle, but you never know.
This is not my only qualm with the doors. The second is the height of the doors. A good majority of the time I am taller than the doors. And with the, sides of the cubicle. I want to say I am bordering on the tall scale at 5ft9″ish (on a good day) and many of my friends here are much the same when it comes to vertical measurements… It makes things awkward in a way that you have to keep your eyes forward at all times, just in case you somehow make eye contact at the neighbouring cubicle.
Once you make it to the stage of being in the cubicle, locking the door and then getting ready to do the thing you do, there is one last weird thing about the doors that is consistent to ALL washrooms I have encountered. The centimetre gap on either side of the door. Why is it there?! Is it to make extra sure you will make awkward eye contact in the slit of the cubicle with the people outside? Is it to make you extra anxious about doing the do? As it did (I confess) make me so incredibly aware and embarrassed about the whole public bathroom thing, for at least a couple of months.

The Cleanliness.

Usually you enter a public washroom with a disdain as you know it is going to be a mess. There’s going to be some disgusting stuff and it’s something you have to accept. Every other time I’ve used the facilities there has been a cleaner there. There is always toilet paper and it’s pretty much always clean and I’m definitely okay with that. The sinks are spotless and the soap is never out. You don’t even have to flush most of the time as most of the places I’ve been to are automatic. So spot on Canada. 10/10.

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Honestly did not believe I could write almost 1000 words on bathrooms of all topics! Thanks for sticking with me this long and I hope to get more weird rantyness out there in the near future! As always, have an excellent day!

 

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2 Months of Canadiana Living

To be truthful it’s been very hard to put into words the transition of Europe to North America, so apologies for the delay, and enjoy this rambling read…
As a Brit moving to Canada didn’t seem that much of a move from the U.K. Oh how I was proven wrong. Of course the normal things of knowing that the British accent is loved were expected but a few things have thrown me slightly.

The best way to describe Ottawa is that someone has taken my memories of England and France and shifted them to the left a couple of inches. Pieces of Architecture from both cultures entwined with the modern city scape make living here easier than I expected.

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Language barriers

Unlike the conventional language barriers that are common in Europe, the Canadian Language barrier is more like a language hurdle that you can definitely have a laugh about. My usual experience with language barriers is with the complete inability to understand the noises someone is making. Over here it is as if someone wanted to make life more interesting and  just took a few words in the dictionary and switched the definitions and watch the chaos unfurl. As a Brit you could imagine my horror when I was told to come into work with no pants, as pants in Britain are underpants, not what the North Americans refer to as trousers. Again just small changes of words from mobile to cell, pavement to sidewalk and my favorite, courgette to zucchini. One of my favourite phrases of the UKadian night out that I definitely know not to ask is “Can I bum a fag?” This harmless whimsical slang of politely asking to borrow a smoke can be considered  as a bit unruly and may be seen as homophobic and not politically correct.  Many of my british english speaking friends also have encountered awkward language borders, a fun favorite is during classes; “Can I borrow a rubber?” which of course makes sense. a rubber to rub out your pencil. But alas, this does mean condom in the North Americas hence the perplexity and shock one receives from this statement.

“That’s a great British accent you have, how long have you been practicing?”
Oh my dear, if you didn’t figure out I was British from my accent I think we have an issue. My accent accentuates every little consonant to the extent that you may start to feel sorry for the letters being attacked and I have a habit of elision. However I have noticed something horrifying in the way I talk now that would make any elocution teacher shiver. My British Ts have digressed into Ds. (Send BBC Radio 4 care packages.)

But I notice some words I say are definitely different to the majority of people around me.(*Trigger Warning*)
Here is a list of words that I shall no longer say in fear of my own sanity, well being and integrity:

Aluminium
Vitamin
Schedule
Aubergine
Garage
Basil
Oregano
Corriander
Tuna
Yoghurt
Fillet
Route

One day we will be able to talk about you again.

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Shops, Pubs and Public Convenience

Shops are shops wherever you go, like you can buy your groceries in shops and markets all over the world and there is not much of  difference as the idea is ubiquitous. But lets look at our friend Ontario the province that I find myself in. Alcohol is not necessarily sold in supermarkets. There is no chance of going to the corner store to score yourself a bevvy. After living in Wales for the last 4ish years it is a bit of a surprise when you have to plan a trek to the local beer store or LCBO to buy the booze and not just pop down the road to replenish your liquor stocks. Okay, I see the pros for the government of monitoring alcoholism and things but also where is the equivalent meal for one deal you can get from M&S with microwave dauphinois potatoes and a bottle of prosecco?! I don’t think Canada has a M&S or Waitrose equivalent. (Why am I here again?!)

Lets move onto the purchasing of your groceries. I’m not sure If I am just an awkward or a rude person but in my experience of the Great British Shop, you don’t communicate unless its essential. This goes for retail and restaurants as well; there is no idle chatter. In my Canadian experience,  around 98% of the time, no matter the establishment, you’ll get someone saying “Hi” and engaging in conversation. *Panic stations* There is no way I would be prepared for this in the U.K. and usually would result in my abrupt walk away as it is an unspoken rule that this interaction is frowned upon in British society.

I would love to say Pubs are Pubs wherever you go. However, this would be a lie. Although, A bar is a bar wherever you go. If something claims to be a pub outside of Europe then I be prepared to have your idea of pub reformatted. Pubs are restaurants, and everything is on a tab. Pubs serve food always. And you usually pay at the table at the end of the night. And you tip. You tip a lot. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

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The City, The Town and Suburbia

I can’t really compare cities across the world only ones I’ve been to, so the majority European, the likes of London, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Paris, Lyon, Caen, Geneva, Salzburg, Riga, Brussels, Eindhoven and many other European Cities, and of course a smattering of cities in North America. And there is definitely a stark contrast between European Cityscape and North American.
I can’t say I hate the differences as they are just that different.

North American cities and towns seem to operate on a grid system. This is super handy to navigate and get around. It makes sense. The roads don’t have weird windy one way systems that make you want to drive off a bridge or lead you to somewhere miles away from where you need to be. The newer towns and cities seem to understand that roadways and sidewalks need to be wider for the regulation of road and foot traffic so there isn’t fear of death. *cough oxford street*.
However. There is a significant road feature that I miss. The humble roundabout. Europeans love it, the Americans don’t know how to use it, the roundabout wins hearts and eases traffic. Okay the last one was a lie, lets look at Milton Keynes and Swindon here for killing the roundabout. Yes, the roundabout is not a feature commonly use in Canada and well, it’s not exactly needed as most interactions are one road crossing another, not a knotty mess of 6+ plus roads crossing each other that seems to be a recurring feature throughout the European countries.

Onto the Suburbs. The place for commuting? I’m not quite sure why suburbs exist and how they exist and quite frankly they frighten me. Subdivisions are like council house estates in the UKadia but they seem to lack the integrated public conveniences and park space, just a twisted residential lattice with shopping centres located around it. It is definitely something I have not come across before in the Europes and something I’m not keen on trying out. I think I’ve watched too many suburban horror films.

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That’s what I make of my moving experience so far – Thanks for the read, leave me a star, a comment or a share and I’ll repay the favour.

 

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Downsizer

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. So I made the uncanny decision to drop everything and continue education (why) and also move country (even more why). In this I have moved from Aber to Shropshire, Shropshire to rural Normandy and finally Normandy to Ottawa.

Moving is always a time to downsize, filter through the things you possess and do that thing that’s often referred to as a “spring clean.” However moving to France meant that I had to downsize to a car load. So if you know me, I know a scoff of laughter is imminent as owning stuff seems to be something I would get an A grade in. But I did it.

Then from France I had the pleasure of downsizing yet again into two 23kg suitcases and a cabin suitcase. Tears of anger, joy and despair became a main feature of this move, parting with the beloved jumpers, the materialistic brocante I’d picked up over the years and of course the metric sh*t tonne of books I had procured over the years. But I did it.

How? Just How?!

I was badgered by many people to be less materialistic and care less about things such as what I look like in terms of clothes and makeup. At first this came across as a painful thing to hear as I never really thought myself as a frivolous spender in the material dimension, but taking a step back to look at me as me. I am guilty as charged. I’d like to blame the materialistic pressures of society but name me a woman that does not like to indulge in shopping and making themselves look and feel like a queen?

This coupled with my introduction to the concept of minimalism and Hygge, made things a little bit easier. It’s not a great innovation the concept of minimalism, but it has gained a ubiquitous popularity over the past decade. With companies such as IKEA innovating small living designs and the growth of little housing, tiny apartments and smaller living spaces in general, it’s not had to see where the popularity has come from.

With my love of materialism, the transition to less stuff has led me doubting my life choice of downsizing. But having 47 jumpers and 21 pairs of jeans is not a healthy clothing relationship. Something needed to change and this was maybe a premature goodbye to my tremendous cable knit collection. Now I am quite happy and settled with my selection I still have left, and honestly I may cut down more when it comes to clothes.

I must admit after a few weeks settling into my downsized life I have never been happier or more organized. Also the cost of doing laundry has definitely decreased as I don’t actually have many clothes to wash. Successes all round…

Travel Bug #2: Montreal, A Small Corner of Europe

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2010

 

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Something that is really prominent about my childhood memories are the holidays to France. From when I can remember France has been a major part of my growing up from day trips to Calais, to weekends in Paris. It wasn’t until I was 7 or 8 that we started holidays in French cottages, or Gites, that is a big part of my life and now my parents’ lives. The first place I can fully remember was next to a big Château in the Southern regions of France. I can’t remember the exact location but remember watching the Hoopoes chatting to each other on the power lines. I remember the house being a pile of unsorted rooms, with a porch that should have been a room but the wall just wasn’t there, being open to sun, but protected from the rain. The bedrooms were corridors to reach other rooms which I associate with the traditional “french vibe”. Obviously this was a 7-8 year old creating and reinforcing stereotypes in her head but nonetheless I did and still do love the French culture.

Our holidays took us around France and I have fond memories of cycling around Mount Ventou, Provence’s fields of lavender and seas of sunflowers, La Rochelle’s stunning blues of the sea and Île Noirmoutier, Hidden monasteries in dense forests, to name but a few. Each place had it’s only character that added to my Continental fascination as well as adding to my French vocabulary. (If somehow Mrs Tominey is reading this, I can conjugate Etre and Avoir now….)

 I could go on and on – probably write a book on my french holidays growing up and the shenanigans my family and I got up to, but thats not what I’m meaning to write about today. (You can see from the very questionable pictures above, I didn’t take many photos back then and the quality isn’t great…)

Save the images of cobbled streets, small narrow roads aligned with shops, cafés and bakeries. Think of the squares that open out that are hemmed in by restaurants and cafes, the square littered with small market stands, and artisans selling their profession. For me this is the artisan quarter of Paris by Montmartre. This is where I remember eating chips with my Mum, throwing them up in the air for small sparrows to catch, overlooking the city sprawled out below. Or the copious times my Mother and I visited Bruges, huddled up in winter in the main square with a hot chocolate, after walking around the many wooden stalls of the Christmas market. It’s very old buildings and street ways that don’t particularly make much sense but brought together is my traditional view of Europe.

Keep that image we will get back to it. 

If you have ever visited America, its very quick to understand that their perception of old is not in the same realm as European old. In Europe we have towns dating back thousands of years with buildings dating back hundreds. I grew up in a house originally built in the 17th century. European old is old old. American old is 1800s, maybe 1700s at a push. We can’t mock them for this, as technically speaking, they are Europeans too. And although we don’t see the exact copy of continent to continent, there is still small corners of Europe.

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Even after being told by friends, I did not believe that there would be anything like my small French towns in North America, and well I was proved wrong. You can see influences in certain buildings, as I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting to find myself transported back across the Atlantic to a weird combination of French and Germanic streets and squares. Montreal did this.

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Being so far from “home” it did make me feel a bit homesick for my childhood holidays with my family. Additionally it made me realise how much stress my parents must be under in their big move to Normandy fulltime. It’s funny how much memories can make you realise your future. Studying the past does help the present. (Something like that…)

Back to Montreal!
I only had the pleasure to visit the place for a day, and that was enough for me. (Nothing to do with falling over on Mount Royal in the morning…) The mash up of old and new just made it a bit crazy for my European brain, and to fully appreciate the place I would definitely need more time and more confidence in my french. (I’ll come to that in a later post I am sure.) 

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From super modern metropolis, with colourful walls, high rises and concrete, to just round the corner that takes you back to Europe. Pretty strange for me, but it’s just another one of those places that makes you stop and think.

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In my last post I talked about Places I will Miss – the small bits of England that I know aren’t going anywhere but I hold dear to me, mainly due to fond memories and friends. If anything moving somewhere else is just going to expand my feelings and memories and urge me to go to places, I as a small person would never have thought about outside the confines of Europe. That is exciting.

I will always have a fond place for my french holidays with my parents and I hope I can continue the French tradition, especially in helping with the final move to Normandy. Fingers crossed, this time next year I’ll have more French fancies to share!

Thanks for reading and have a Great Day.

If you feel like it, leave a comment about your favourite childhood holiday/memories as I would love to hear from you! 

Café Culture and the Continent

What warms a cold winters day than that of the promise of a hot beverage?
If you’re more comfortable at home with your tea, out and about with your coffee on the go or taking a break from it all in your favourite café, hot drinks are a pinnacle of our culture and we can’t escape it.

The liberalisation of the workplace with more and more jobs becoming work from home, and the increased amount of students, café’s have arisen in great numbers to accommodate this new phenomenon. Only a few decades ago, coffee and tea were classified as exotic drinks, with only the higher tier of society having them as a normal day-to-day beverage. Snap to 2016 and the global brands of Starbucks, Lavazza and Costa dominating the international coffee scene, and the newer chains branching across the UK it’s easy to see that today, coffee and tea are a staple to our culture.

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Café Allongé

As an avid tea and coffee drinker myself I can not complain with the new expansion of hot drinks with new and exciting flavourings and creations appearing almost weekly. Yet i can’t help notice how tea and coffee are no longer valued for their original tastes and pleasures. It’s only when I go back to France I realise how commercialised our British Coffee and Tea tastes have become. Along with the “normalities” of italian coffee, the lattes, cappuccino and americanos, we seem to forget the humble filter coffee and builder’s tea that our projected culture roots us Brits as.

We are now swamped with the choices of extra syrups to cover the coffee flavour, caramel macchiatos, vanilla cappuccinos and various toppings of cinnamon, vanilla and chopped nuts, whipped cream and sauces. Let’s not forget the whole, semi skimmed, skimmed, soya, almond milk that gives “Freedom” to the coffee drinker. Do not get me wrong, I do love a vanilla cappuccino every so often, but the recent years has taken coffee to new extremes, drowning it in hot milk and sugar, taking anything good of the coffee away and replace it with sweet fatness that appeals to everyone and not the real coffee enthusiast.

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Usual French Hot Chocolate

Cafés in Britain are open to everyone in society, with a self-service feel. One forms an orderly line and queues at the counter to request the desired beverage, pays and either stays or leaves. The slow shuffle and wait of these lines is almost chore like, laborious for a once luxury occasion. You receive a cup of the drink and that is that.

On the continent, cafés operate differently. In France particularly you rarely find a chain coffee store as the streets are dotted with bars that function as cafés. It’s easy to compare the two cultures, the French still traditional on waiting tables, bringing over your order usually with a couple of sugars and a sweet treat and then on request “l’addition.” There is no need for queue, it’s instantaneous finding a seating area and being served by the waiter. In most of my café – bar experiences it’s been quicker than any lumbering British Queue.

The coffee culture is different in France, the usual order being coffee at its best as an espresso. Theses are usually quick pick me ups throughout the busy morning. On the opposite end, orders of a grand café or allongé, means that the coffee will last for almost hours on end, an excuse to stay in residence of the café and have a catch up.
At home there is more focus on coffee than tea, with supermarkets stocking more coffee and coffee products than that of tea. Regardless of this, French supermarkets have a remarkable selection of tea, much larger in size and variety than any British supermarkets. Shame on the tea drinking nation we are!

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Espresso

Tea has become increasingly popular over the last few years as well with the demand for flavoured and herbal teas on the rise putting companies like PG tips and typhoo under pressure for more than just black tea. Green tea has been proven to be good for your health, but so has black tea and coffee, but the green tea fad is the one that health bloggers and writers favour.

Tea and coffee as a social lubricant means the demand for all things hot drinks has increased hence the rapid expansion of flavours and establishment for teas and coffees. Both have become a staple personalities, with being a tea drinker a point almost worth writing on your CV.

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Whatever the world of Café’s throws at us next, I’ll be waiting, but for now I think it’s time for us to revisit the basics and get back knowing the proper tea and coffee and appreciating them for what they’ve become. And definitely throw more tea parties. As who doesn’t like a good party?!

Thanks for reading and have a great Holiday Season!

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Photography Tips #8: Golden Landscapes

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Gold Beach stretches along the Normandy coast line, famously harbouring Port Winston in the Second World War and also of course being a British Landing Beach for D-Day. I love these beaches not just because of their incredible history, but also of their eerie stillness, flatness and their failure to not shine golden in the sun, all year round.

In these series of photos I was focusing on using a 16×9 ratio instead of the traditional as shot crop to emphasise the colour bands of sun, sand, sea, hills and town. Fortune seems to shine upon me like the sun when I visit this particular beach giving me the beautiful light for my landscapes. The beach’s remains of the mulberry temporary harbour gives a brutalistic shipwreck to the traditionally french coastline, scattering the sea and the beaches with the memory of the conflict 70 years ago.

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As all landscape photography I usually pump up my aperture to a minimum of f/8.0 and try and keep my ISO shut down to 100 and adjusting the shutter to around 1/250 or higher. The above shot is set at f/9.0, ISO 100 and shutter of 1/400.

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f/11.0 ISO 100 shutter 1/400

With using the 16×9 ratio, it gives a cinema effect of the film or that of a postcard you may receive from an aunt or uncle on their travels. As I personally read a photo from left to right it also gives the effect that the photo is bigger than it is and in essence, more intense.

I can’t wait to see what this area has to offer in the oncoming wintery months and if I’ll get the luck of seeing snow on the beach.

As always, thanks for reading and have another fantastic day and night!

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Snapshots #5: Break from the Bubble

Aberystwyth is often portrayed as a Bubble, being a small community with all your needs on the edge of the world, a windy way from any larger towns or cities that are inland. Luckily for me I took a break and went over to see my parents in the beautiful Normandy. After posting about it before as my summer holiday, Normandy’s beauty only increases with the turn of the season and cooling climate.

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Getting out, walking and having mini adventures are fantastic and I wish I could make more time for them back in Wales, but with my busy uni life it seems just out of reach. Fortunately I got the opportunity to in France, with a sunset walk around La Petite Chapelle in Mortain with my better half. This Chapel and Coppice also is a memorial for American servicemen who died in protecting the town in the final counterattack in the Battle of Normandy in 1945. As it’s position on the top of a hill, it also offers an incredible view looking out towards Brittany and La Manche.

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As I’m still pretty much new to landscape photography and still playing around with HDR modes, serial exposures and more fancy settings, I really enjoyed seeing how this images turned out from the Chapel.
For these images I used an L series 24-105mm lens, using settings: 1/1600, f/8.0, ISO 1600 and framing it at 24mm. In Lightroom I warmed the colours more giving it the yellowy glow. For landscape photos, I try and use a narrower aperture of f/8.0 or smaller to get the whole landscape in focus, if not I’ve tried focus stacking as well but that is a technique that I need more practise on.

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Of course I put my camera down for a few minutes and Tom becomes a professional when my back is turned. Saying that, I think this perfectly sums up our 5 day adventure in Normandy with the clear view, the sunset and the beautiful autumnal colours.

As always, thanks for reading and have another fantastic day!

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Snapshots #1: Holding onto the Holidays

Over the last few weeks nothing really has happened on Horse and Sport as I’ve been living it up in the beautiful French countryside. Due to the nature of my holiday I didn’t really take many horse or sport related photos but plenty of landscapes.

I am fortunate to have access to such a beautiful part of France, thanks to my parents who are in the process of moving out there. Over the last two weeks I’ve been exploring the more touristic scenes in my area including beautiful viewpoints, waterfalls, beaches and old buildings.

Usually I am expecting to spend my time in Normandy under my umbrella or huddled up in a thick jacket, alike to the weather I find back in Wales, but this summer seems to be an exception with temperatures soaring into the 30s, and the sky being marbled by fluffy white clouds.

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This first shot is from the top of the hill of La Petite Chapelle looking out towards the East. Used as a vantage point during World War II, it is easy to see how flat and green the landscape is, even seeing out to Le-Mont-Saint-Michel on the left hand side of the photo.
Not being a landscape or nature photographer, I’ve always had a difficulty of finding the best settings for these scenes. For this I used ISO 100 f9.0 and shutter of 1/320. Working with subjects all summer, it was a nice alternative to relax into my photography and draw in the colours and shapes around me. In this photo particularly, the lines of the horizon, trees and road really grasp my attention and make the photo in my opinion.

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The most photographed monument in Northern France, and world heritage site Le-Mont-Saint-Michel sits in an estuary between Normandy and Brittany. This medieval abbey attracts an incredible amount of people, tourists, locals and monks alike. This photo happens to be my favourite landscape photo I’ve taken to date. Again I shot with a ISO 100 f9.0 and shutter of 1/320. I love how the abbey seamlessly rises up from the fields of sheep and the winding sand of the estuary to the towering spire of the golden Saint-Michel perched in the azure sky.

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Last photo I wanted to share is another blue beauty, this time of the harbour wall of Port-le-Bessin. Another beautiful French Port town famous for its shellfish and its beach that is made up of scallop shells. I think I spent an hour taking pictures of the shells and the small town, and would definitely recommend spending half a day there. Again I was blessed with beautiful weather and a crystal clear sea that stretched into a beautiful aquamarine, broken up by boats and the odd seabird. If you look down the coast from this town to the west you’ll be able to see Arromanche-les-Bains and Gold Beach with the iconic Mulberry harbour still visible 70 years from its creation. Just another one of the reasons to visit Normandy!

Alas, until next time, keep snapping and enjoy the warm weather while it lasts!

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

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