The Big Picture: 6 Tips for Better Wildlife Photos

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A bison at Ted Turner’s Vermejo Park Ranch (All photos: Jen Judge).

How to Get the Shot

Photographer Jen Judge recently shot Virtuoso Life’s story about wildlife tours and photo workshops on Ted Turner’s 920-square-mile Vermejo Park Ranch in northern New Mexico. “The biggest challenge of wildlife photography is finding the animals,” Judge says. “With elk, you need to understand their behavior, terrain preferences, what they eat, and their mating patterns – and a little luck never hurts.” Whether you’re chasing the “big five” in Botswana or a Western version – say elk, black bears, bighorn sheep, bison, and wolves on Turner’s range – when it all aligns, here are her tips to make the most of the moment.

1. “Have patience: Wildlife photography happens on the animals’ schedule, so prepare to sit for long stretches, sometimes in uncomfortable positions.”

2. “Frame up simple backgrounds to set your subjects apart, then wait.”

3. “The best shot can happen quickly, so be ready: Set the appropriate focal length, shutter speed, ISO, and aperture long before you need to press the shutter.”

Mule deer in the early fall.

4. “I’ve seen wildlife photographers miss incredible photos because they only had a 400mm lens and the animal came too close. Be ready with a shorter lens on a spare body.”

5. “A UV filter and lens hood will protect your glass from damage in the field, but more important, they’ll minimize reflections that might give away your presence.”

6. “Leave the tripod at home and use a higher ISO. Animals move, and trying to shoot from a tripod often means missing a photo.”

Elk racing away.

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Is This the Coolest Community Ever? Matthew Upchurch on Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronauts

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In August, hundreds of millions of people witnessed the solar eclipse in North America. The event caused people to “put aside their differences and to gaze in awe at one of nature’s rarest phenomena,” said Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic.

For the spaceline’s Future Astronauts – those who have paid deposits for flight reservations – it was an event to remember, as they gathered together in the shadow of the Tetons in Idaho for “Camp Eclipse.”

Virtuoso’s Matthew and Jessica Upchurch participated in the three-day event with hundreds of Future Astronauts and their guests.

“I thought I was going to see an eclipse. But now I say it’s more about feeling it; it was literally a physical experience,” Upchurch says.  “The temperature starts to drop drastically, you see the shadow coming over the sun, and time seems to stand still.”

Virgin Galactic’s Camp Eclipse.

But the day proved to be more about the camaraderie – and community spirit – than two minutes of totality.  “I’ve been partnered with Virgin Galactic since 2007, and when I got involved, it was all about going into space and the flight,” says Upchurch. “But a few years later, I started to tell friends they needed to join this because it’s not just about going to space – it’s about the people you meet – the Future Astronauts, the young engineers, the test pilots – and the incredible things you learn.”

Campers at Camp Eclipse.

After recovering from the tragic loss of SpaceShipTwo during a 2014 test flight, Virgin Galactic is on track to start powered test flights with its new spacecraft, VSS Unity, soon (the six-passenger vehicle has conducted numerous successful glide flights). During the program’s delays, the Future Astronauts have grown into a community that is about much more than space flight.

Virtuoso’s Matthew Upchurch at Camp Eclipse.

Over the years, Matthew has participated in a number of Virgin Galactic events: Next Fest – sponsored by Wired magazine, where they showed a mock-up of the potential interior design by Phillippe Starck, who provided the creative inspiration behind Virgin Galactic’s visual identity;  the unveiling of the world’s first commercial spaceship (SpaceShipTwo) with then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Branson in California’s Mojave Desert; and the Farnborough Air Show in 2012 from a special Virgin Galactic enclosure, to name a few.

Richard Branson with attendees at the Farnborough Air Show, 2012.

At the unveiling of Virgin Galactic’s mothership, Eve, which will carry the spacecraft to roughly 50,000 feet (at which point it will detach and blast into suborbital space), Upchurch remembers a question a reporter at the event asked him: “Isn’t this about a bunch of rich people trying to get their jollies?”

His response pointed to every single technological advancement in human history: “It always started with the early adopters. That group may pay huge amounts of money and that money funds the democratization of those technologies or opportunities for everyone else,” Upchurch replied. “How much did it cost to fly on one of the first Pan Am Clipper ships? What about the democratization of the first automobiles?”

“I’ve been in the travel business my entire life,” Upchurch says. He doesn’t consider himself a thrill seeker, but says, “What I love about travel is that it forces you out of your comfort zone to see things from new perspectives. That’s why going to space is the ultimate expression of travel, because it’s a life -changing experience.”

But about the delays leading up to that inaugural space flight? “Given that it actually is rocket science,” Upchurch says with a laugh, “it will be ready when it’s ready. But Virgin Galactic turned it into this wonderful community. As I’ve said in the past, there is a difference between flying on a Boeing aircraft, and becoming friends with Mr. Boeing and getting to know all the people who made the flight possible. Isn’t it interesting how wine always tastes better when you get to know the winemaker?”

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Be Here Now: Prague’s Best Beer Gardens

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Eight Great Spots to Raise a Mug this Fall

By Mike Dunphy

In Prague, suds rise with the sun: The Czech passion for beer amounts to the most per capita in the world – a full 142 liters (38 gallons) per person a year. That’s 40 liters more than Germany and 65 more than the United States. Morning, noon, or night, it’s perfectly acceptable to fill a raise a glass free of judgement. In nice weather, these eight beer gardens pour some of the Czech Republic’s finest.

1. Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden

This former royal vineyard on a hill east of the main train station is now the main playground for young, cool professionals and expats of the surrounding Vinohrady and Žižkov neighborhoods. At the center of the wide lawns, cobbled promenades, and shady chestnut trees, one of Prague’s largest beer gardens welcomes up to 1,000 people and shows sports on large screens. Tip: If it’s too packed, head to the smaller garden, Mlíkárna, about 250 yards away next to a sloping lawn with the city’s best sunset views.

2. Letná Beer Garden

Where the Vltava River turns east at the north end of Prague, the land rises to the plateau of Letná Park; nearly a million people gathered here during the Velvet Revolution to protest the communist regime. Far more tranquil nowadays, the park claims the most attention for its leafy beer garden with sweeping city panoramas.

Letná Park’s sparkling view of Prague at night. (Photo: Prague City Tourism).

 

3. T-Anker

A Communist-era slab of intersecting hexagons in Náměstí Republiky, T-Anker was Czechoslovakia’s largest shopping center when it opened in the 1970s. Today, it’s considered a wretched eyesore by some, and a work of beauty by others. No one debates the view from the beer garden up top, however, which overlooks Old Town’s towers, steeples, and terracotta roofs and serves nine rotating microbrews (many local) such as Cvikov, Matuška, and Nová Sladovna.

4. Strahov Monastery

As in so many other parts of Europe, Bohemia’s beer-making tradition owes much to monks: those at Strahov Monastery perfected their brews between the thirteenth and twentieth centuries until they were evicted by the communist regime. After the Velvet Revolution, the monks returned to their home just west of Prague castle and resumed progress. Head here to sample any of 10 varieties of Saint Norbert beer at long tables in the brewery courtyard.

Strahov Library’s Philosophical Hall, a pre-drink must, is open for tours daily until 5 PM (Czech Tourism).

 

5. Hospůdka Na Hradbách

Prague’s secondary hilltop castle, Vyšehrad, anchors the south end of the Vltava River. The eighteenth-century fortress contains ruins going back to the Middle Ages, as well as the Czech Republic’s most important and beautiful cemetery, where national heroes like Antonín Dvořák, Alphonse Mucha, and Jan Neruda rest in peace. The rampart’s panoramic views of Prague are best savored with cold beer at the beer garden atop the easternmost bastion.

 6. Tiskárna na Vzduchu

It’s never a dull evening at this beer garden and performance venue on the eastern edge of the city’s largest park, Stromovka, once the royal hunting ground of Holy Roman Emperors. An eclectic nightly schedule brings everything from dance and yoga classes to album release parties, movie screenings, and live music, which, together with taps from Czech microbrewers Polička and Únětická, keep everyone on their toes.

The local scene at Tiskárna na Vzduchu. (Photo: Karel Fořt/Czech Tourism)

 

7. Augustine Hotel

This cluster of seven buildings from the thirteenth-century cloisters of Saint Thomas now serves well-off travelers, but the Augustine‘s interior courtyard and garden are open to the public (a little-known secret), where you can sip dark St. Thomas beer beneath a shaded arcade or among medieval ruins. Although the dark lager is no longer brewed on the premises by monks, the original recipe for was passed on to the hotel owners, who partnered with microbrewer Matuška, which produces it today. As Czech writer Jan Neruda once said of the beer, “After the third glass from the Augustinian St. Thomas brewery, you are ready to sell your soul to the devil.”

The Augustine’s arcades and summer terrace and (below) house beer.

 

8. Náplavka Riverbank

Stretching nearly a mile along the east riverbank between Vyšehrad and Šítkov Water Tower, this pedestrian path is loved by joggers, cyclists, and dog walkers in the morning. By late afternoon it transforms into the city’s largest unofficial beer garden, where locals relax with craft brews at any of several kiosks with small patios along the route or on one of the floating beer boats moored to the bank.

Barge crawl: Floating beer gardens are a popular Náplavka attraction (Photo: Prague City Tourism).

 

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A Perfect Day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

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STORY & PHOTOS BY JOEL CENTANO

Portsmouth is one of those places that clearly has time on its side. In this nearly 400-year-old port city on the mouth of the Piscataqua River, contemporary galleries and craft breweries commingle effortlessly with preserved cemeteries and restored colonial houses with roots extending back well before the American Revolution.

Portsmouth’s iconic tugboats, docked off Ceres Street by The Old Ferry Landing.

The cultural center of New Hampshire’s Seacoast region, “Portsmouth is a gorgeous destination, filled with a rich arts scene, historic museums, and a myriad of quality restaurants – all in a relaxed atmosphere,” says Kathy Burns Lamphier, a Virtuoso travel advisor based in the neighboring town of Greenland. Given that the city is just an hour’s drive north of Boston and south of Portland, Maine, she adds, “it’s also an ideal day trip on a northern New England itinerary.”

Hear, hear! I say. As a New Hampshire native who’s lived in Seattle for two decades, I still feel Portsmouth’s tidal pull, which brings me back every year to reacquaint myself with its lobster rolls, beloved tugboats, and brick-paved lanes that always seem to reveal some fresh find. Best of all, the main attractions in this compact, pedestrian-friendly city of fewer than 22,000 residents are all within walking distance of the main hub of Market Square. Here are a few locally favored stops that are likely to make your day in Portsmouth a perfect one.

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To a fine point: Market Square’s North Church.

Caffeine Fix

Follow most locals along Islington Street in the early-morning hours, and your path is likely to lead to Caffe Kilim. Lucky you. Kilim’s Turkish coffee and signature Dancing Goats blend are addiction-worthy, and its cozy, denlike setting – with handwoven rugs on the walls and kilim pillows piled on benches ­– encourages lots of “I’m on vacation” lingering. Also of note: Kaffee Vonsolln, serving inventive lattes and fresh-baked German pastries, and Profile Coffee Bar, home to scores of vintage jazz vinyls.

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Cozy Caffe Kilim.

Best Bites

Breakfast lines at the eclectically designed, retro-inspired Friendly Toast are long for good reason. For those who brave the wait, rewards include “friendly wake-ups” such as Kentucky Coffee (starring Maker’s Mark and Baileys), and unexpected eats – think breakfast sandwiches on French-toasted doughnuts (yes, doughnuts). Also of note: For a quicker bite and better views of Market Square’s steeple-topped North Church, head up Congress Street to The Works, an organically minded, order-at-the-counter bakery café.

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Welcome to The Friendly Toast.

Fried-clam cravings call for lunch at the Old Ferry Landing, where pale ales and cool breezes from the Piscataqua provide the ideal antidote to muggy (New England for humid) summer days. Also of note: Family-owned Geno’s Chowder & Sandwich Shop on the river’s back channel serves homemade “chowdas” and generously sized lobster rolls.

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NH Seacoast staple: Lobster rolls at Geno’s.

For dinner, Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe offers revolving catch-of-the-day dishes and has a raw bar of New Hampshire-harvested shellfish. Notable international plates around Market Square can be found at Cava Tapas & Wine Bar (check out the wine cave), 5 Thai Bistro (trust me: “spicy” here means really spicy), and Durbar Square Restaurant (highly suggested if you’ve never tried Himalayan food).

Portsmouth’s first vertical garden livens up patio seating at the Cava Tapas & Wine Bar.

Historical Perspective

Past is especially present in Portsmouth. For an encompassing look into its history, start with a visit to the city’s oldest neighborhood, Strawbery Banke, now a living museum highlighted by heritage gardens and preserved buildings dating to 1695. The museum also puts on seasonal events such as a family-friendly Halloween festival and sets up a skating rink in winter. Also of note: The John Paul Jones House (the American Revolution hero of “I have not yet begun to fight!” fame bedded down here in 1777 and 1781), and African Burying Ground Memorial Park, built to honor African slaves who died in Portsmouth and were interred at the site.

Revolutionary statement: A Betsy Ross flag flies from a historic home by Strawbery Banke.

To a Fine Art

Expect to see plenty of painters setting up easels along downtown streets, along with a bevy of browse-worthy galleries. Where to begin? Piscataqua Fine Arts showcases Seacoast-inspired woodcuts from local artist Don Gorvett, who’s likely to be on-site (and barefoot), ready to talk shop and show you around his etching press. Also of note: Catch a show at The Music Hall, a performing arts center with two downtown venues. Upcoming acts include Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis (October 5); Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the Musical (November 29 through December 17); and singer José González (February 8, 2018).

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Don Gorvett shows off his etching press at Piscataqua Fine Arts.

Time for a Pint (or Two)

Craft beer is big here, with a growing number of brewpubs where you can bend your elbow. Two favorites: Earth Eagle Brewings has an ever-expanding, rotating list of handcrafted beers that ranges from smoky Scottish ales to sour gruits seasoned with ingredients such as juniper berries and Japanese knotweed. Overlooking North Mill Pond, an inlet of the Piscataqua, Great Rhythm Brewing Company specializes in IPAs; guests can sip a flight while watching great blue herons wade. Also of note: Longtime residents are likely to remind you that The Portsmouth Brewery (opened in 1991) is the founding father of Portsmouth brewpubs.

Parks & Rec

Just across from Strawbery Banke, with expansive views of the Piscataqua and the Memorial Bridge leading to Maine, Prescott Park is the spot for picnics, vibrant flower gardens, and blazing foliage in the fall. Throughout the summer, it hosts an arts festival featuring live theater and music. The adjacent Point of Graves burial ground houses artfully crafted colonial era gravestones, the earliest from 1682. Also of note: From the cemetery, a short stroll takes you across the Peirce Island Bridge to Four Tree Island, where you can explore salt marshes and tidal pools, watch fishing boats slip past, and – should the New England weather gods be propitious – see a sublime sunset.

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Out for a stroll in Prescott Park.

Find a Virtuoso travel advisor to plan your New England vacation, including visits to Portsmouth and stays at Virtuoso hotels in nearby Boston; Holderness, New Hampshire; and Kennebunkport and Portland, Maine.

Advisor Tip

“Beyond the downtown attractions, don’t miss the USS Albacore Museum, where you can climb inside the decommissioned submarine for a glimpse into Portsmouth’s rich naval history. Weather permitting, I also recommend a boat ride to the Isles of Shoals. Spot seals, whales, and birdlife en route.”
– Kathy Burns Lamphier, Virtuoso travel advisor, Greenland, New Hampshire

 

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Trending in Spain: the Gin & Tonic (And Where to Find the Best in Barcelona)

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BY LANEE LEE

Over the last few years, the Gin & Tonic (G&T) trend has exploded throughout Spain – especially in Barcelona. Bars – and knowledgeable bartenders – dedicated to el gin tonic (as Spaniards order it) have transformed the drink from commonplace to cocktail sensation. Spaniards usually drink theirs over tapas after dinner, and with the variety and complexity of offerings, it’s no surprise Spain consumes more gin than any other European Union country.

Gin & tonics in Spain use botanicals like cherries, herbs, and nasturtium flowers rather than the classic lime garnish.

Sip Stations:

Bobby Gin Barcelona

Fun and irreverent – except for the cocktails – this bar is staffed with tenders who excel at knowing what kind of G&T you’ll love, even before you do. Carrer de Francisco Giner 47.

Solange Cocktails & Luxury Spirits

Named for a Bond girl and run by Adriana Chia, the first woman to snag Spain’s World Class Best Bartender award, this sleek space is pure luxe, from the premium gins to the delicate glassware. Carrer d’Aribau 143.

Old Fashioned Gin Tonic & Cocktail Bar

For rare, aged, or artisan gins, this bar, which takes its cue from American-style Prohibition-era outposts, is the place to go. Carrer Santa Teresa 1.

All photos by Korena Bolding Sinnett.

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Beyond Rome, Florence, Venice: Try Southern Italy

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There are few rivals to the antiquities of Rome, the Renaissance heritage of Florence, and the fairy-tale setting of Venice, the three cities comprising Italy’s popular tourism triangle. But the south of Italy is a different animale.

“The south’s hospitality is exceptional,” says Andrew De Angelis, an Italian native and Virtuoso travel advisor based in Calgary, Canada. “Locals don’t see you as a walking wallet, as they often can in Rome, Florence, and Venice. They see tourists as people to share their heritage with.”

Until Italy was unified in the mid-nineteenth century, the south was an independent region, which accounts for its differences, such as Puglia’s trulli (conical-roofed stone huts); the couscous that replaces pasta in Sicily, reflecting its proximity to North Africa; and the lemon orchards terracing the Amalfi Coast. Greek ruins and ancient Roman cities abound, while Neapolitan pizza and Sicilian wine “are expressions of the region: simple and beautiful,” says De Angelis.

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Traditional conical-roofed stone huts in Puglia.

“It’s not as tidy or as organized as the north, but the south of Italy is a trip you won’t forget,” he adds. “It’s the old Italy, the motherland.”

Travel to Southern Italy 

Hydrofoil to the chic isle of Capri, let your chauffeur navigate the cliffside S curves of the Amalfi Coast, explore Pompeii’s ruins and Palermo’s markets, and taste the vintages of Sicily, all on a 17-day private tour with Artisans of Leisure.

Must-Stay Hotel

Perched atop a cliff on the Amalfi Coast, the 67-room Hotel Santa Caterina features modern Mediterranean dishes and panoramic ocean views at its two restaurants, regionally inspired spa treatments (think massages with local lemon balm), and a heated seawater pool at its coastal Beach Club.

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