How To Create Your Own Blog

By Meng Tay

There are many reasons why you want to write a blog. Sure, you can share stories and pictures of your travels, family, friends, and what you are doing on Facebook, Instagram and a myriad of other social media websites.  A blog, however, allows you to write a longer story, enhanced it with photographs and videos, design how it looks, and even make money for you if you do it right.

One of the easiest ways to create your own blog is using Blogger.com.  There are other blogging websites, of course, but Blogger.com is free and easy to create your own blog.  Here are the steps:

  1. Create a Google account (because it is owned by Google).  This means creating a Gmail account.  If you are already using Gmail, then you are all set.  Even if you don’t plan to use Gmail, you need to create this account.
  2. Go to the blogger.com website. Click on “Create Your Blog” orange box in the middle.
  3. The next screen you’ll see is asking you to “Create a Blog”.  Here you need to pick a Title, which can be changed; a Blog address, which cannot be changed; and a Theme that can be changed anytime.  You can have your blog Title and blog Address to be the same.  Pick a title that expresses what your blog is all about.  For example, if it’s about travel, you can call it “TravelWithJoe”.

Finish this step by clicking on “Create blog!” at the bottom of the screen.

4. You will see the screen below.  This is like your Home screen when you are logged into blogger. The next step is to start writing a New Post.  A Post is an entry in a blog.  Click on “New Post” at the top of the screen.

Now you will see a screen like this below.  First, you need to give your Post a title that reflects what this post is all about. Something like, “How to pack for a safari”.  Next, you need to pick the type of font you want for the body of your post.  In the middle of the top menu bar are three important functions:

  • Link: this allows you to add a link to an external article or website to your post.  For example, instead of writing a long explanation about a city, you can add a link to Wikipedia about the city.  It saves you a lot of time having to repeat what’s already out there on the internet.
  • Photos:  a blog without photographs is like eating bagels without cream cheese.  By clicking on the photos icon, you bring up a screen giving you the choice of where you want your photos to be uploaded from.  It basically brings up the Finder (on a Mac) or Folder (on your Windows PC).

The following screen says “Add Images”.  Click on Choose Files and it will bring up the next screen.

This screen asks you to select the images to be loaded.  It can be a file or a picture from the Photos album.  I like to put my processed pictures in my Photos album (on Mac) so that it’s easy to see and upload to a blog, Facebook, or any other media. You can select multiples pictures or files at a time to upload.  To select multiple pictures/files at a time, use the Select and Command key together.

This is what it looks like when a picture is uploaded.  To add it to the blog, click on the picture to highlight it, then click on the “Add selected” button at the bottom.

The following screen shows what the post looks like when a picture is added.  You can change the size of the picture and also add a caption by selecting it

  • Videos – the process to add videos is similar to adding photos. There is a limit to how big the video file can be. I don’t know exactly what the limit is but I guess anything less than a 1-minute video is fine.

All you need now is to add a story to your blog.  Remember to save the post every few minutes to make sure you don’t lose anything you’ve added.  One of the disadvantages of Blogger is you have to be online to use it.  If you don’t save it and you lose your internet connection, you may lose everything that you have added.

When you have finished, you should Preview your post before Publishing it. This gives you a chance to see what your readers see and correct any mistakes or change your layout.  When you are sure that’s what you want others to see, go back your post and Publish it.  Voilà!  You have just created the first Post in your Blog!

The above gives you the basic steps to create a simple blog.  You can customize and design it in many different ways by using the Layout and Theme functions.  You can also make money from your blog by signing up with AdSense.  Click on the Earnings function to learn how to do that.

I have been using Blogger for almost 10 years.  Here is what my blog looks like:

https://mengineurope.blogspot.com

What I like about Blogger is it has an excellent Help section.  Google has a staff that answers your questions.  There is also a big community of bloggers that can also help you. If you don’t get it right at first, don’t worry.  “Rome was not built in a day”.  Keep tinkling and playing with it until you are happy with your design.

Happy Blogging!

Meng Tay is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Mexico – Colors Galore

By Men Tay

New year, new resolutions.  If you are looking for a rich cultural experience that provides numerous opportunities for beautiful travel photography within a small budget, I have a suggestion for you.

Just south of the United States is a neighbor that is widely misunderstood.  Americans think of Mexico as Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Rocky Point, etc.  A Mayan civilization that goes back to about 3,000 years, Mexico is a country full of history, culture and color.  Get away from the dull beaches and you will find a kaleidoscope of colors in places like Mexico City, Oaxaca, Puebla, Merida, etc.

Start your trip in Mexico City, the capital city of Mexico with a population of about 22 million people.  Not much landscape photography here but the sights of people, shops, food, museums, will overwhelm you.  The city revolves around the Zócalo.  In front of it is the massive Catedral y Sagrario Metropolitano with its baroque-style façade.  Worshippers inside pray at the Altar de los Reyes, a gilded wood altarpiece that took nearly 20 years to complete.  You may run into a group of indigenous people performing their traditional dances.  Stroll the streets and watch the locals shopping for clothes, food, hardware, etc.

About an hour from Mexico City is the colorful city of Puebla.  A city famous for its colorful buildings, ceramics and namesake dish, mole poblano.  Strolling around an outdoor market, you will find colorful pottery, artwork, street musicians, and handicrafts.

Next stop is Oaxaca, a beautiful colonial city that has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Much of the activities center around the plaza of Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman.  You find cafes, locals strolling around, food vendors and if there is a festival, dancers parading the square.  Nearby is the 20th of November market, where you find spices, mescal, fruits, and even roasted crickets, a local delicacy.  A mad display of sights, sounds, and smell.

If you love history, there is the nearby ruins of Monte Alban, built by the Zapotecs around 500 BC.  Pyramids, palace, ball court, and bas reliefs are the attractions.  Come early for the best photography or you will run into large crowds.

Next is the popular expat town of St. Cristobal, located in the highlands of the state of Chiapas.  Like most Mexican towns and cities, life revolves around the zocalo.  However, if you branch further out from the city, you will find many of Mexico’s indigenous people, with their rich traditions and colors.  Weavers still use hand looms to make colorful blankets and tapestry.

Lastly, Merida is an old city that has many colonial buildings and old churches.  Get up early and walk the streets and you will find many opportunities for some interesting photography.  The zocalo comes alive in the late afternoon and evening.  Street musicians, food vendors, friends and family meeting each other.  The type of scenes that you don’t see too often in the United States.

A question that is often asked when I travel to such places is:  Is it safe there?  The places I mentioned above are all quite safe.  However, there are precautions that one must take no matter where you travel in the world.   I’ve written a post on my travel blog that talks about how you can protect yourself when traveling to unfamiliar places:   https://mengineurope.blogspot.com/2017/08/

If you can be randomly shot at a concert, nightclub, theater, school, parking lot and even a church here at home, then everyplace else is much safer.  You have to venture out of your comfort zone and enjoy the world.

Meng Tay is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Traveling and Photographing in Japan

By Meng Tay

Photographers are always looking for new subjects or scenes.  If you are tired of the same old, same old, why not consider traveling to Japan?  First, let me give you the reasons why you want to travel to Japan.  Next, I will give you some ideas on what to photograph.

  1. It’s very safe – guns are illegal here and the crime rate is very low.  Never once was I threatened or scolded in any way, even when I accidentally bump someone.  Such a contrast to the US when anything can cause a confrontation.  As a matter of fact, most Asian countries are very safe, contrary to what most Americans think.
  2. It’s very clean – the Japanese are fastidious about their cleanliness.  Every restroom I went to was clean (and free).  This includes public restrooms in busy tourist areas, shopping centers, etc.  The streets, parks, buildings are all clean.  I even had a hard time finding trash cans.
  3. Japanese are helpful and polite – I’ve heard stories of Japanese actually walking a tourist to his or her destination instead of just pointing and giving directions on how to get to a place.  Most of the signs have an English version but Japan’s twisty streets are sometimes hard to navigate.  Unless you ask someone local, sometimes it’s almost impossible to find it on your own, but ask.
  4. At today’s exchange rate (US$1 = ¥112) it’s a bargain to travel in Japan.  Yes, hotels and certain things are still expensive but it’s less expensive than some of the European countries like Norway, Iceland or Switzerland.
  5. Public transportation is very convenient and easily accessible.  Ironically, one of the biggest car manufacturing countries also has one of the best train networks.  Learn how the train system works and you will love riding the shinkansens (bullet trains).  If you have a big group, perhaps 4 or more, maybe it’s better for you to rent a car but trains can get you almost anywhere in Japan.
  6. Japan has a long history.  If you want to understand how it went from a sheltered country to an international economic powerhouse, an Oriental culture to an International culture, this is the place to learn.  The blending of east and west is everywhere.
  7. Food – you will love the food.  Be open-minded about sushi.  The Japanese eat a lot of things raw.  They have been doing this for centuries.  It’s healthy and after you’ve acquired a taste for it, you will love it.  You will never want to eat sushi or sashimi anywhere else.

What would discourage you from traveling to Japan?  Language may be the biggest challenge.  Very few Japanese speak English.  But this is no different than some European countries.  With today’s travel aids like Phrase Books, Google Translate, etc, this should not be a big hurdle.  I find that most Japanese studied English in school but because they are shy, they don’t get to practice it a lot.  Speak slowly and with a little bit of gesture, you should have no trouble getting around.

If you don’t feel comfortable traveling on your own, why not join a tour?  Tours will get you to many places where you have excellent photo opportunities but may not offer you the freedom of going where you want to go and for longer than you want.

What are some subjects that you may want to photograph in Japan?

Temples:  Because of its long history with Buddhism, temples are everywhere.  You find them in villages or big cities.  They are intriguing because their architecture is so different from churches or cathedrals in Europe.  The predominantly red color of Japanese temples make them stand out.  Here are some examples:

Food:  Food is the essence of a culture.  If you look at what they eat and how they eat, you can tell a lot about a culture.  That’s why I love going to markets when I am in a foreign country.  Japanese food is a contrast to American food.  That’s why it’s always an interesting subject matter for photography.

Landscape:  There is more to Japan than Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto or other big cities.  What is not known to most tourists is that Japan has a beautiful countryside.  Hokkaido is arguably, most beautiful of all rural areas..  Go there in the fall, when the leaves are changing color.  If you are lucky enough to go during the cherry blossom season (sakura in Japanese), they will be everywhere.  They start in late March to the middle of April, depending on which part of Japan you go to.

Other topics of interest may be people, traditional buildings, castles, etc.  Japanese ladies in kimonos is a good topic.  If you happen on a geisha (very rare nowadays), that’d be the ultimate photo shoot.  Towering castles that were built during the shogun days are also good subjects.

If you want to read more about my travels in Japan, here is my blog:

http://mengineurope.blogspot.com

It’s in reverse chronological order.  Click on the year 2017 on the right.  It will drop down a menu of months.  Click on March, April or May.  You will see my posts on different places in Japan that I traveled to.

You can find out more about travel in Japan at the following sites:

https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/

http://www.japanvisitor.com

Meng Tay is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

A Cruise Through Norway

Author: Meng Tay

When I first read the article Day for Night in Norway in the New York Times, my first reaction was “I have to go on that cruise.”  That was about two years ago.  This year I had the opportunity to fulfill two items on my bucket list:  this Norwegian cruise and going to Oktoberfest.  I sandwiched the two trips with visits to Krakow and Warsaw in Poland.

Let me state that this blog is not an advertisement for Hurtigruten, the company that runs the cruise.  Most Americans have never even heard of the cruise company Hurtigruten.  It’s been around since 1893.  The name “Hurti” means express and “ruten” means route.   The company operates what it calls exploration voyages around the world.  This blog is about one of those,  The Classic Roundtrip Voyage.   Lonely Planet calls this “The World’s Most Beautiful Voyage.”  Whether you are a traveler or photographer or combination of both, you are sure to come home with a lot of beautiful pictures.

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Colorful shops, hotels, museums, etc., make up the Bryggen area of Bergen

 

 

The trip starts from Bergen, Norway’s second largest city.  Bergen, and the surrounding area itself is a big tourist destination.  This is where you can visit the famous Norwegian fjords.   Another famous activity here is taking the Flåm Railway.  It is a branch off the Oslo to Bergen railway and considered one of the beautiful train journeys in Europe.  If you want to combine the two activities plus taking a boat ride through a fjord, then you should sign up for a Norway in a Nutshell tour.  This includes riding on the Bergen Railway, Flam Railway, a cruise through a fjord, and a bus ride down a winding, steep mountain road with 31 hairpin bends.  You can do this all in one day.

Village on the side of Nærøyfjord

Village on the side of Nærøyfjord

 

 

Hurtigruten has 12 ships sailing the Classic Voyage.  They range from the oldest, M/S Lofoten, to the newest, M/S Spitzbergen.  Most of the ships are working ships, which means that besides carrying passengers, they also carry cargo and mail.  The 12-day trip stops at 34 ports, 22 of them north of the Arctic Circle.   Some of the stops are for only a short duration, enough time for the ship to load or unload cargo or passengers.  Many of the stops are at night or even during the middle of the night.  Whenever there is enough time, the ship allows the passengers to stroll through town for 30 minutes to a couple of hours.  At some ports, Hurtigruten offers excursions.  These excursions range from hikes to concerts to tours of the area to meeting local natives.  Prices of these excursions range from US$50 to US$300.

It is impractical to detail the whole itinerary so I will point out some of the highlights.  The first major port is Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city.  The landmark in this city is the Nidaros Cathedral, built in 1070, in memory of King Olav II.  It is as impressive as any church in Europe.  Many tourists climb up to the top where you can have a good view of the city.  Trondheim is also home to the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, which puts a strong influence on the city through its student population.

Colorful buildings along the river, across from the University

Colorful buildings along the river, across from the University

 

 

Crossing the Arctic Circle was a big deal for the ship and passengers.  A ceremony was held to commemorate the occasion.  Those willing to withstand having a glass of ice water poured down the back of their shirts get a glass of whiskey, a time-honored Norwegian tradition.

As the ship sails north of the Arctic Circle, you start to hear names of towns that you have vaguely heard of:  Tromsø, Hammerfest, Kirkenes, and other names that only a Scandinavian can pronounce. Tromsø is known as the Arctic Capital of the World.  Despite its high latitude, Tromsø and other towns along the Norwegian coast, have a relatively mild winter temperature because of the Gulfstream.  Its most famous landmark is the Arctic Cathedral.  An optional midnight concert was held for the ship passengers; attendees raved about the acoustics of the building.  The Polar Museum is another landmark that is attractive to tourists.

Among Hammerfest’s claim to fame, besides being the northernmost town in the world, is the home to The Struve Geodetic Arc, an object used to measure the size and shape of the earth. It is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This is also the center of Sami Culture.  Sami’s are natives of the region and are considered relatives of the Athabascans natives of Alaska.  We heard a talk from a Sami woman, who told us about life in the Arctic north.  The Sami’s own all the reindeer in Norway.  Reindeer meat is very common in this part of the world.

The Struve Geodetic Arc

The Struve Geodetic Arc

 

 

 

 

A Sami farmer and his reindeer

A Sami farmer and his reindeer

We rode a bus to North Cape, the northern most point in Europe; a bragging right for those who’ve been there.  Kirkenes is our last port before the ship turned south to head back to Bergen.   Kirkenes, and the whole region, were occupied by the Germans during World War II.  Stories and evidence of life under the Germans were everywhere.  A road leading to the outskirt of town also takes you to the border with Russia,

Are there photography opportunities on this cruise?  Plenty.  However, because of the pace of the trip, it does not give one enough time to explore for the best photography locations and condition.  The combination of majestic mountains, water and deep fjords make Norway as good a photography paradise as any of the popular destinations like Iceland or New Zealand.  The Lofoten Islands is known for its natural beauty.  Wildlife, landscape, and at the right time of the year, Northern Lights; topics that are endearing to many amateur photographers.  It’s best to engage a local professional photographer to take you to the right location at the right time, or follow a photography tour.  Arizona Highways Photo Workshops does not offer one to Norway but one of its photographers,  Nathaniel Smalley, leads tours to Norway, Iceland, and other popular photography destinations.

Here are a couple of photographs of Arctic sunset at Solvaer, one of the ports of call:

Meng is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

 

 

Travel and Photography

Author:  Meng Tay

Travel and Photography are inseparable twins.  In today’s age of inexpensive point-and-shoot digital cameras, smartphone cameras and DSLRs’, you can’t imagine traveling anywhere without taking pictures.  Photography can enhance and enrich your travel experience.

Most travelers take pictures to remember where they’ve been .  They take pictures of themselves in front of famous monuments or buildings.  However, by focusing on a few subjects, you can build a collection of pictures that can make your trip memorable.

For example, I love the small shops in Europe.  Compared to the small shops in boring, nondescript strip-malls in the US, the shops there are usually very colorful.  Below are some examples:

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Belgium is well-known for chocolates.  In Brussels you find shops selling chocolate everywhere.  When I see this picture, it reminds me immediately of Brussels and all the nice-smelling chocolates in the shops.  Then I start remembering walking around the Grand Place in Brussels and all the other streets in the area.

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This shop above in Nice, France, sells only soap products.  In order to attract customers, they have color displays to attract the attention of passers-by, including me.  Whenever I see this picture, I remember walking the narrow streets of Nice and the Flower Market or as the French called it, Marché aux Fleurs.

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This shop in San Sebastian in northern Spain, next to the French border, sells fruits and vegetables.  By displaying all the colorful fruits and vegetables in front of the shop, the owner is hoping that passers by can’t resist but to stop in the store to buy some produce.  Small, independent produce stores are popular in Europe. This picture reminds me of the beautiful city of San Sebastian, where I cross over to France to the city of Hendaye to take the train to Paris.

Travel is about the experience.  After the experience, it’s the memory.  This is where photography comes into play.  Even years after the trip, a certain picture will trigger wonderful memories of your trip; not just the image, but perhaps the people, the sound and even the smell.  And, if it’s a beautiful picture, you may want to print it and hang on your wall to share your memories with friends and family.  Bon Voyage!

Meng Tay is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.