How to Decide if a Mirrorless Camera is Right for You – New Article

Hey folks – I have written another educational article on Photoblog about the pros and cons of mirrorless cameras. It’s a guide for anyone considering upgrading their camera (especially if you want to move up from a small compact). Of course, there’s also plenty of my photos in it too!

Check it out below, I would appreciate your feedback and would love to hear from anyone who has switched over to mirrorless from DSLR! Cheers!

How to Decide if a Mirrorless Camera is Right for You

 

 

 

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Practical Tips For Your Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Treks

The Fishtail

Without a doubt one of my travel highlights has been trekking in the Himalayas – the tallest mountains in the world. Amongst spectacular scenery and an awesome sense of scale is a mountain culture with quaint villages, temples, strings of prayer flags and friendly locals. The most popular treks in this vast mountain range are the Everest Base camp trek (in the north of Nepal) and trails around the Annapurna Himalayas (in the west of Nepal) – either the Annapurna Base Camp trek or the epic Annapurna Circuit.

I’ve recently been writing articles about trekking to Everest Base Camp and Mount Kilimanjaro for AlienAdv; an adventure holiday booking site, in conjunction with owner Kshaunish Jaini. If you’re thinking about doing Everest Base Camp or Kilimanjaro, or just interested about the mountains, check out the newest articles there, including:
The Classic Everest Base Camp Trek
Alternate Routes for the Everest Base Camp Trek
Deaths on Everest (facts, causes and precautions).

Looking down from ABC

With mountains on the brains recently I thought it would be cool to write an article sharing some of my Himalayan trekking tips, gained the best way – through my own mistakes and hardships! Of course there’s a ton of my photos from the region to enjoy too. Let’s get into it!

1 – Use a Walking Stick!

When I started mountain trekking, I scoffed at all the people using walking sticks. For the older trekkers I could understand, but I didn’t really think they were necessary for younger folk. How wrong I was! What I’d never understood about walking sticks is how much they help in every aspect of mountain trekking. Basically what they’re doing is distributing the work from just your poor overworked legs and instead sharing it out over the rest of your body.

Eat it Potter!

What does that mean? Well, when you’re going uphill, the stick is giving you a boost forward, you almost use it like a lever to propel yourself upwards. This is great, but I actually found the stick most useful when going downhill. Although you might think you’re constantly going uphill when climbing to the Himalayan Base Camps, in fact you’re going up and down steep valleys all the time. Downhill segments might seem like a god-send, but soon I started dreading them. They put a big strain on your thighs and worst of all, your knees – a lot of people on these treks get knee pain and problems as a result. My dad even wrecked his knee doing the notorious Ulleri steps at Annapurna many years ago. Using a stick really helps to reduce the impact when you’re going up and downhill and it really reduced the pain and aching for me on my trek.

On top of that, you just save energy overall using a stick. For Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp, you don’t even need a fancy expensive pole – you can often buy cheap wooden ones from stores on the trail. On one trek I simply used a bamboo pole that my guide hacked off in a bamboo forest on the trail – and I kept it for months, it was both light and strong! One final tip about sticks – using two sticks is even better than one. If you don’t mind having both your hands full, it’s really gives you a boost. Sticks for the win!

Two of my favourite things, pizza and the highest mountains in the world, together at last!

2 – Food, Food, Food!

First of all, be prepared to eat – a lot! You’d be amazed at how hungry you get when you are walking 8 or more hours a day. You burn an insane amount of calories when you’re climbing. Make sure you bring enough money for big meals and snacks throughout the day. Also be aware that prices for food and accommodation rise the further you get from civilisation, as everything is brought up via porter or mule. To give you an example, I was paying over double the amount for meals near Annapurna Base Camp as I was in the first few days of the trek!

Portions sizes are usually big, and the cheapest is the famous dahl baht – rice and lentil soup with various sides. This can be really tasty and it gives you loads of energy. My guides and porters refused to eat anything else for ten days even when I offered to pay for a change in their diet!

Typical trekking snack shop

If, like most trekkers, you’re going to be eating at the village teahouses, be aware that the meal variety is going to be quite basic, although some larger places have German bakeries and other niceties. Expect a lot of Nepalese basics, Italian and Chinese dishes. The biggest thing to note is that you will be ingesting a ton of carbohydrates and protein such as rice, bread, pasta and meat. What does this mean? It means it’s really easy for your digestive system to get clogged up, especially if you don’t usually eat that many carbs! Ok, you don’t want to hear this, but it’s important – I’m not joking when I say I was constipated for over 5 days during one of these treks. That was a total nightmare. I couldn’t even sleep properly because of it. So how do you deal with this? Make sure to mix up your diet with plenty of fruit or dried fruit, which you can usually buy in the villages. Try not to eat too much meat and drink lots of fluids (you should be anyway). If you can’t go to the loo, speak to a local or a guide, it’s a common problem and they should be able to point you in the right direction for good food or medicine to take. Don’t be embarrassed, they’ve heard it all before!

I decided to stick with tradition and ate veggy only from this point.

Finally, be aware of the local mountain culture and their attitude towards meat. This is similar on both the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna treks. They believe that eating certain meats above a certain height is a religious offense, essentially angering the mountain spirits. You will see signs warning you of this. Of course, in the reality of commercial tourism, you can still buy meat above these altitudes, but really, it’s in poor taste to do so. Respect local custom and go without for a few days. There’s other reasons for forgoing meat the higher up you get – often it has been brought up by porter/mule from lower climbs and its quality/safety can’t be guaranteed. I’ve heard some nasty food poisoning tales from mountain meat, and you really don’t want that when you’re so close to your final goal! Also, meat gets super expensive the higher you get. Stick to dahl baht and eat like the locals!

3 – Drink and Heat

On the subject of drink, make sure you drink lots of water, often. It’s very easy to become dehydrated through sweating from all the hard work you’re doing, and also the often hot mountain days. The thing about dehydration is that it’s easy to not realise it – you get tired, then when you’ve had a big drink you suddenly get a burst of energy – that’s why! Refill your bottle where-ever possible and always try to reuse your own bottles. It’s heartbreaking to see the amount of plastic bottles that either get burned or buried up there, or even ferried back down the mountain on porter’s backs.

Be aware it’s quite possible to get heat exhaustion up on in the mountains too, even if it feels cold. The wind can deceive you about hot you are getting under the intense sun in these exposed environments. Keep drinking, bring a hat, t-shirts, sunglasses and sunscreen. Many of the villages have communal taps that you can use for free water – most are fine to drink from, but check if it’s safe with a guide or local first, and that it’s ok for you to use it. If you are unsure about the water quality, use purification tablets or a purifying device – a few tablets is always a good idea to put in your pack and they weigh nothing..

4 – Get your Beauty Sleep

This sounds like common sense but there’s some specific things worth knowing about sleep on your trek. If you’re doing long days, make sure to get a good night’s sleep. You usually start trekking early, 6-8am, to get good distance before the punishing midday sun arrives. Get to bed early if you can, you aren’t guaranteed a great sleep – hotel/teahouse beds can be hard and uncomfortable in Nepal and your body will probably be aching from the phsyical work. I usually bring some Paracetamol or Ibuprofen to take at night to ease muscle aches and pains. Once you get to higher altitudes, it gets very cold at night, so be sure to bring thermal under-layers you can wear to bed. On the plus side, many lodges have huge woolen or feather blankets at these heights, and don’t be afraid to ask for another if you’re getting cold. Sometimes you may even want to downgrade your blanket, as the huge ones can get so hot!

Earplugs are a good idea to protect against noisy late-coming trekkers and the inevitable morning barking, rooster crowing and general bustle. Sometimes interior walls are no more than the thickness of plywood. I also recommend an eye mask as sometime blinds or curtains are thin or ineffective, and the sun rises early. Bear in mind that many lodges are right on the trail, so even if you want a lie-in, you’ll often be hearing porters, mule bells and trek groups passing as early as 6am in the morning! So, go to bed early, and allow yourself extra sleeping time in case you have a restless night. Nothing hurts a trek day more than a poor night’s sleep beforehand!

 

5 – Showers and Toilets

Be prepared to accept that once you get into the mountains, the “luxuries” you take for granted at home don’t really apply up here. First of all, showers are not that common. If you can find them, you usually have to pay, and the water supply is limited. And your shower might well be a freezing cold one! You can find hot showers in a few lodges, but they cost extra. After days of trekking though, sometimes you’ll want to splash out! Get used to being smelly – don’t worry, everyone else is too! Don’t waste your valuable weight limits on unnecessary toiletries like shower gel and beauty products. Village stores on the mountains sell little shampoo and soap sachets which are great. Do some research though into environmentally friendly options that you could bring – remember that in a lot of places, your soap goes right into a drain and then straight out into one of those lovely mountain rivers!

Toilets are a mixed bag on these treks. Western toilets are present in many places, but in others you will find the classic Asian squat toilet. Cleanliness varies and be prepared for some smelly ones! Do your homework so you know how to use a squat toilet, and be prepared for aching thighs – it really kills, especially for guys! Usually you flush and clean using a bucket of water you can fill from a tap inside the booth. Bring your own toilet paper, biodegradable if possible, though you can also buy it in the stores along the way. Or wipe Nepalese style, with your hand (you better wash it well)! Always the left though – read up on it! Because toilet hygiene can be quite poor in Nepal, always wash your hands thoroughly before handling food, and I also recommend a little bottle of antibiotic hand gel – if you get sick up there, it’s really not fun!

Every Little Helps

I hope these have been handy for you, it’s these little things you won’t learn about in the guide books which can make a big difference in the quality of your trek – so now you know what to expect. If you’re heading to Annapurna or Everest Base Camp, I wish you safe and happy trekking! Check out the AlienAdv blog for more practical mountain info articles, and until next time, folks!

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5 Unmissable Melbourne Highlights

The bustling metropolis of Melbourne sits on Australia’s south east coast in Victoria. Although in Ozzy terms it’s close to Sydney – only a few hours away by train or flight – Melbourne is very different to the capital. It’s a vibrant hub with a lot more architectural character than Australia’s other cities. A place where culture thrives, coffee shops abound, artists and musicians throng and is full of green spaces. Melbourne’s also the stepping stone to the South Coast, home of the famous Great Ocean Road, Phillip island and Tazmania. In this article we’re going at my favourite Melbourne attractions, the best things you definitely should check out if you have a few days in the city.

1 – Melbourne Street Art Trails

Melbourne is famous for its great street art. Rather than a kid’s spray can scrawlings on the odd sign, these are true works of art covering entire building walls and covering every inch of alleyways. The street art is such a big attraction that you can even find free tourist leaflets with walking trails so you don’t miss anything. It comes in all shapes and styles and best of all is always changing and new pieces are added all the time. It transforms grotty alleys and dull buildings into interesting focal points, and few cities in the world have it on this scale and quality.

The art is mainly concentrated around the CBD (city center) and the district of Fitzroy, and is found in well populated areas just meters away from banks and shops. It’s a great way to spend half a day and it’ll also lead you around much of the city. I actually split it over two days as we getting distracted by other things we found during our wanderings! Or, treat it like a treasure hunt and just explore all the side streets and alleyways that you find as you explore Melbourne (keeping safety in mind, although the city centre is pretty safe).

2 – Eureka Skydeck 88

This sky tower right in the city centre offers amazing 360 panoramas of the city and the landscape for many miles around – right out to the coast. Because Melbourne has such interesting architecture it makes for an interesting view below as you watch the tiny ants (people) below you and the streams of traffic as you sit in peace almost 300 meters about the city. Check the weather and try to time your visit when it’s clear.

The best time to come to the Melbourne Skydeck is shortly before sunset, which is when I did it – see the daytime view, enjoy a gorgeous Australian sunset and then see the city from above in a whole different light at nighttime, it’s fantastic. Look out for discount vouchers in the free tourist brochures available from Tourist Information offices.

3 – National Gallery of Victoria

Australia’s largest national gallery is a real treasure. Not just full of old paintings (although it has those), there’s art of every size and description you can think of here, from photography to modern art and wild sculptures. You can easily spend half a day or longer exploring here. There’s plenty of limited exhibitions, interactive art and fun kids areas which adults will secretly enjoy too! I’m not usually a big gallery fan but I found plenty to interest me here.

The National Gallery of Victoria also sits on the edge of a huge parkland, made up of Queen Victoria gardens, King’s Domain and the Royal Botanic gardens, all of which are very nice and a great place to wander around or sit and relax when you need a break from taking in art!

 

4 – Fitzroy

Fitzroy, the hipster epicentre of Melbourne is just a short tram or bus ride from the CBD. Be sure to pick up a pre-paid myki transport card beforehand to make hopping on and off public transport super simple. Fitzroy was a quite a dilapidated, poor area of the city, and still retains a lot of gritty and griminess, with a mixture of dubious characters interspersed amongst an astonishingly diverse mixture of people including students, hipsters, artists and white collar workers who live or hang out in this redeveloping area. Why do people come to Fitzroy? It’s full of great coffee shops, unique stores, boutiques and galleries, little pubs, bars and restaurants with loads of character.

 

Art is big here, street art and sculpture can be found everywhere. Many of the shops have elaborate or sculptured fronts. Upmarket independent fashion stores sit alongside trendy organic restaurants. At night the streets are full of a mixed crowd coming for Fitzroys great nightlife, with lots of live music at many venues and homely craft beer bars or trendy pubs. It’s a joy to just wander around Fitzroy, browsing its many outlets and galleries, stopping for a top notch coffee, grabbing some tasty lunch, discovering some street art, and redefining how skinny a hipster’s jeans can get! Also don’t forget to check out the excellent Melbourne Museum on the outskirts of the area, which you can easily spend a day in as well.

5 – St Kilda

Hop on the tram and head out to the beach! St. Kilda’s a thriving Melbourne suburb on the coast. Although there’s a tackier vibe here than Fitzroy, you’ll still find a lot of good bars, restaurants and a big arts scene including a number of theatres to choose from. The main part of St Kilda has gone a bit upmarket but the rest is still home to copious amounts of British and Irish ex-pats, and backpackers who frequent the suburb’s many bars and hostels, and there’s still a bit of a seedy atmosphere about the place. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time here – St Kilda’s well known for it’s boisterous night-life and many people choose go out here for a big party.

Out at the long beach, the main attraction, sit back and relax. Don’t expect the water to be too warm but if you’re feeling a bit more energetic it’s a nice walk along the beachfront with good views of the city, and some long piers to wander. It can be pretty windy so bring your jacket! The most iconic place in St Kilda is Luna Park (which has a sister in Sydney). This fun fair has a huge evil gaping mouth luring visitors within. Inside, there’s not much to get excited about, some small rides and stalls, but it’s all stylised in a cool way. There’s also a number of distinctive old buildings of various styles in the area, such as the Esplanade hotel. St Kilda is a great place to come for sunset, followed by a meal and a beer in one of the copious number of establishments on the waterfront. Keep an eye out on upcoming events, as St Kilda hosts a lot of big festivals throughout the year.

Ah, Melbourne, how I love thee

Of course there’s plenty more to do in Melbourne. There’s some great parks and gardens, more museums and galleries to explore. There’s a huge amount of shopping to be done with arcades everywhere in the CBD. The city is full of great bars, coffee shops and restaurants and there’s other trendy and historic districts to check out. The nightlife here is renowned, catering for every taste (a lot of people have told me it’s better than Sydney’s). And if you’re short on time during your Australian holiday, you can also arrange day or multi-day tours from Melbourne to places like the Great Ocean Road, The 12 Apostles and Phillip Island. This is a true city of culture, so be sure to give yourself at least a few days to see Melbourne’s highlights. It was definitely a highlight of my Australian trip!

Check out more of my Melbourne photos in the gallery below. There are shots from all around the city including Fitzroy, the CBD, St Kilda, the Sea Life Melbourne Aquarium and various museums and parks. Click to enlarge, enjoy!

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