Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Plant Museum

Henry Plant Museum

Tampa Bay is host to many lovely holiday displays. Tampa’s Henry B. Plant museum’s Annual Victorian Christmas Stroll takes advantage of this grand dame Tampa Hotel to transport visitors to a Victorian Christmas celebration.  This display is a great place to photograph as once you have photographed all the lovely trees and decorations inside, you can photograph the equally lovely hotel exterior.

I set aside the better part of an afternoon and early evening to photograph the interior and exterior shots.  The twinkling holiday lights and the blue hour opportunities are simply magnificent all year round, but extended holiday hours make for some great opportunities.

But there are some challenges here.  I arrived in late afternoon, knowing full well that the rooms are lit in a fashion similar to the late 19th century, in other words, dark.  I came prepared with a tripod.  Turns out the museum prohibits tripods.  Not surprisingly, flash photography is also not allowed.

“Edison lights” cast a lovely glow

Edison Lights
Edison Lights

but not necessarily for photography. About twelve rooms,  decorated in lovely Victorian detail, show off the lovely museum collection with lovely holiday ornaments.

I saw a few people photographing with phones. It seems unlikely that will work well.  I set my camera ISO  variously at 640 and 1200, I tried to find rooms with windows, to get a bit of  additional light. Despite that, I needed to do a lot of post processing…simple stuff really. I used the Apple software program Photo to lighten most of these photos and improved the black balance. I also reduced the noise.

If you are photographing during the holiday celebration, I think it is best to set your ISO at around 640 for most of the shots rather than at 1200, to control for noise. Christmas trees are inherently “noisy”, as it is.  I took all these with my  Olympus Zuiko 12-50mm 1:3.5-6.3 EZ Lens.

I think the best shots were those  taken up close, where noise was less of an issue.  These glass ornaments are all quite lovely:

Trees decorated all of the rooms. Each room had a theme. Some fun ones included Sherlock Holmes and Poinsettia.

My favorite, though was “Welcome to Florida”, where a tiny train travels around a tall tree, covered in oranges and Florida memorabilia. It is apropos for Henry Plant, who founded a railroad.

Feathers and a full-size nutcracker make for interesting  photos.

I took a break after a couple of hours of shooting and returned sans camera to enjoy walking around as the sun set outside.  Once back outside, after the sunset, I retrieved my tripod and set my ISO to 1600. The night view of the hotel is free and I never tire of photographing this grand dame of a building, no matter what the season.

Plant Museum at Night
The Plant Museum in all Its Glory

Historical Panama: Transported Through the Ages

Museum of Biodiversity

Panama’s history as a transportation cross-roads of the Americas intrigued me.  On this ultra short six day trip, I steeped myself in canal history in the morning and Panama’s Spanish history in the afternoon. I learned just enough about Panama’s history to plan for a future trip.  Start studying Panama’s history at the Museum of Biodiversity. The museum, housed in world-renowned architect Frank Gehry’s most colorful building provides a timeline of Panama’s history, beginning with the volcanic eruptions that created the isthmus.

Panama's History in 3D
Panama History in Three Dimensions

From the start species moved back and forth across the newly created isthmus. This land bridge changed our world. Don’t miss the multi-dimensional movie on Panama’s history.

Many species moved across the isthmus
Species Movement Across the Isthmus of Panama

Visiting the Spanish Ruins

I visited three different historical sites, all UNESCO World heritage sites. Unfortunately, drizzle and grey skies marred these visits. It was, after all, the rainy season! I’ll be back some day on a bright sunny day to get better photos and experience all of Panama’s past. I barely had enough time for the canal and Spain.

South American riches traveled from South America, north to the Caribbean town of Portobelo, across the Panama isthmus on the cobbled Camino Real, through the Pacific coastal town of Panama Viejo (Old Panama City) and finally traveled on to Spain by ship. Through the eighteenth century British pirate attacks disrupted these Spanish settlements, not infrequently burning then to the ground. Casco Viejo finally replaced Panama Viejo, during the 19th century because of its more defensible location and port.  Time brought independence from Spain, inclusion in Gran Columbia and irrelevance.   In the 1840s, however, gold prospectors transited the isthmus on that same Spanish Camino Real to reach the Pacific Ocean and California. American speculators built a small railroad to transport the prospectors. Finally the canal saga began, first by the French and then the US.

Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo is open limited hours. The day I visited (a holiday) both the visitor’s center and the park were closed. I was able to see tops of the extensive ruins, including churches and schools, over the fence and at the entrance, though.  Apparently, large parts of the town, along with many other historical buildings, was dismantled to build the Panama canal. (Leave it to us to dismantle old historic buildings!). The town literally sits at the edge of the Pacific Ocean and on the day I was there, the water was simply a mud flat. It seemed an odd place for a port

Puente del Matadero, Panama Viejo

Historic Casco Viejo

Historic Casco Viejo (Panama City), more centrally located near modern-day downtown Panama City, is a work in progress. Panamanians have restored many old buildings as restaurants, coffee shops and museums. After a long day of touristing it was great to find the Casa Sucre Coffee House, one such repurposed building.

Casa Sucre Coffee House

Many historic churches have remained in Panama;  however, other buildings are still simply shells that will need much work.  Contrast this yet to be restored building with the Iglesia San Francisco de Asis.

Unfinished building Iglesia San Francisco de Asis

One can imagine extensive restoration producing a town similar to Florida’s St. Augustine.

Portobelo

Christopher Columbus named Portobelo when he visited in 1502. Portobelo became a major Spanish trading center, holding three-month long annual trading fairs at the peak of Spanish influence from the mid-sixteenth to early nineteenth century. My ecoCiruitos guides, Fabio and Roberto transported me into the center of this small town built amongst the ruins of this highly fortified town. Dark clouds threatened and when it began to rain  we moved quickly…not necessarily the ideal circumstances for photographing ruins. The extensive ruins of forts and the village show evidence of  tropical humidity and age the ruins as they are covered in soot, but they are otherwise in reasonably good shape for building of such age.

Camino Real: The Terminus to the Road to Panama Viejo

This area, like the ruins in Panama City is somewhat of a work in progress. The lovely restored customs house awaits content. It certainly has the bones to become an historical museum. This little slide show below is a sample of two and a half centuries of Spanish rule in Portobelo, including the forts and the customs house. With the Smithsonian Research Institute nearby, it seems that they would have another opportunity to develop a lovely regional museum here in Portobelo.

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The other attraction here, Iglesia de San Felipe, houses the Black Christ. Portobelo celebrates the Black Christ statue at an October 21st festival. The church was the last building that the Spanish built before leaving Panama.  Many believe that the Black Christ cures illness.

A Visit to Panama: The Canal Four Ways

Panamax Ship

 

The Path Between the Seas

I think that it was the Lonely Planet guidebook that suggested that before visiting Panama visitors should finish David McCullough’s exhaustive book on the building of the Panama Canal: The Path Between the Seas.  Great advice and well worth the effort!  I downloaded the audio version and finally finished listening to all 35 hours of it somewhere near the end of my six-day trip. I now understand the great importance of this wonder of the world and the cost associated with its building. I was lucky enough to view the canal from three perspectives, the train, a partial transit, and a jungle boat.

 

The Panama Canal Railway

My guide, Fabio and our driver Roberto of,  EcoCircuitos, the guide company that had organized my tour, dropped me off on my first full day in Panama. (more about that in a different post). The first “mass transit”  across the Panama isthmus  was the train.  Once-a-day this brightly colored commuter train leaves Panama City, traveling alongside the canal, as the sun rises on the Pacific, its destination, Colon, on the Caribbean.  Mostly commuters use this train and tourists head for the  restored antique passenger car or small observation car at the front. I traveled with a bunch of high school-aged students on a  field trip and a few independent tourists like myself.  Most tourists leaving the train travel elsewhere in the area, since the train does not return until evening. Options included the guided tours to ruins at Fort San Lorenzo or Portobelo. Some return to Panama by bus.

Early Morning Views of the Canal

 

Transiting the Canal by Tour Boat

Panama Canal Tour Boat
Panama Canal Tour Boat passing the Museum of Biodiversity

A number of companies in Panama City provide the opportunity for full or partial transit of the canal. The EcoCircuitos folks arranged for my half-day partial transit on Panama Marine Adventures  Pacific Queen. Roberto, dropped me off at the Flemenco Island dock for my five-hour trip on the canal and through two of the three sets of  canal locks (Miraflores and Pedro Miguel). The tour boat, filled with folks from around the world, transited alongside another filled tour boat and behind the Miltiades II, a bulk carrier ship. The commentary was in both English and Spanish.

Miltiades ll

The photo opportunities here were outstanding. Last year the Panamanians completed locks capable of handling larger neo-Panamax ships and we did see one of those transiting the nearby larger lock.

Most folks gather outside at the front, but the views from the back are also outstanding as you watch the massive metal gates of the locks open and close.

Lunch and breakfast provide breaks for the non-stop photography and there was even a local band entertaining us on the trip.

 

Jungle Boat Ride

The "Jungle Boat"
The “Jungle Boat”

Finally, there was the “jungle boat”.  To be honest when this showed up on my proposed itinerary, I scoffed.  This sounded so… touristy.  Unfortunately, my first choice, visiting the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute was filled (I needed to make reservations months in advance!), so I went with this…not wanting to completely miss a trip into the rainforest.  This was actually a combined hike (more in a future post) through Soberania National Park and a boat ride from the Gamboa Rainforest Resort on the Chagres River and onto the canal.  I really enjoyed this canal view.  We entered the canal north of Pedro Miguel Lock and in the small boat we were able to get quite close to the massive ships transiting the canal. A great photo-op.  Take a look!

The Joy of Travel

 

Millenium "L" Station
New Millennium “L” Station in Chicago

 

I’m a freelance writer, photographer, reformed gardener, and retired Public Health Doc. I’ve managed social media and photographed  the gardens for the Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation. Now-a-days, I concern myself with alternative transportation and fitness. I write about many different topics but truly my passions are the outdoors and traveling.  I love to research travel and, as travelers know, the joy is in the journey. This past year saw trips to view the fall color in the Appalachians and Smokies, a visit to Panama and its awesome canal, and, of course, photographing the eclipse with family.  I love writing about my trips and making photos and will share them here  Enjoy! My older travel and professional articles are here.