The Perfect Travel Camera

2024 update: My GR seems to be slowly dying, and the decision that’s on the horizon is, replace it or go for the GRIIIx, which has the 35mm equivalent of a 40mm lens. I’m straddling the fence on this one.

Let’s get this out of the way: There is no one, perfect travel camera. There’s only the best camera that works for you. Or in this case, the one that works best for me. First, some history.

I’ve shot with SLRs and DSLRs for about 40 years. In 2010 I traveled to the UK with a bag of Nikon bodies and lenses. I was shooting for a client, but I also carried that gear as I walked around London on my own. The images were good; the experience was miserable.

Three years later I was packing for a trip to Paris and looked at my big bag of gear. I remembered lugging it around for two weeks. Instead, I packed my Ricoh GR and two spare batteries.

The Ricoh GR, if you’re not familiar with it, is a wonder camera. For some people. It has an APS-C sensor (the same size you’ll find in many DSLRs), and a range of features that allow users to focus on making great images. The lens is a fixed 18.3 mm f2.8 (28 mm equivalent) that encourages getting closer to subjects. It also fits in a pocket. And that’s all I carried for a week and a half in Paris. You can see a few of the results below.

Since then, I’ve flirted with other cameras. My Fuji X100T often travels with me (and is a much better camera in marginal light), but I keep gravitating back to the Ricoh GR that’s been in my collection for five years. Here’s why:

  • It’s small and lightweight. The advantages of this are obvious.
  • That lens. It’s better than a camera at this price point has any right to be–sharp, with little fall off or softening at the edges.
  • Snap focus. If you’re familiar with zone focusing, this is essentially the same thing. When walking around I leave the focus point set at 1.5 meters (and aperture at f5.6); when I’m ready to snap a street pic the camera is already focused. There’s no lag. If I need to change the focus point I can simply press the AFL button on the back and it autofocuses.
  • Superb JPEGs. The internal processor is excellent, and I don’t have to deal with large RAW files. The resolution is high enough to print high quality 11″x14″s.
  • Custom settings. I have three custom settings that are changed on the top dial: Street color, street black and white, and square format black and white. I can switch between them quickly and without a lot of thought.
  • It’s unobtrusive. People around me often don’t notice it, and don’t have the same reaction to it that they would have to a larger, more “serious” camera.
  • It’s relatively inexpensive. I carry mine on my bike, and in situations where it might get beaten up. But it’s not so expensive that I worry about it. That way I can stick to the first maxim of cameras: The best camera is the one you have with you.

The GR has always been a cult camera, so much so that Ricoh periodically sighs (as much as a corporation can) and admits that there are enough photographers in love with the GR that it deserves an upgrade. The latest version is similar to mine, other than the addition of WiFi connectivity. But, there’s a Ricoh GRIII due early 2019 that’s going to be smaller and have a higher resolution sensor. The perfect camera, for me, might become more perfect.

Portugal: Lisbon, Nazaré, Douro Valley

The idea to go back to Portugal started with a half-baked idea to spend part of December working in Ireland. After Jill and sis-in-law Amy signed on, the destination changed to Portugal, the idea of working while there went away, and I dropped tentative plans for a weeklong motorcycle trip.

This post is all about week one of the two-and-a-half weeks I spent there. In this chapter, Jill and I landed in Lisbon where we spent three days, drove up to Nazaré and the Douro Valley for three days, then came back to Lisbon. We had zero plans other than a couple of dinner reservations, and our time could be summarized like this: low stress, high joy.

We saw a lot.

We walked a lot — including many hills and miles — and ate a lot. I’ll give you the greatest hits:

Best dining experience: Oficina do Duque. We climbed a lot of stairs in Lisbon to get there and it was worth every step. The wait staff danced and sang songs and fed us delicious food and wine. Recommendations: The oxtail — wow. And if it’s on the menu, the tuna with whipped root vegetables. It was so good we went back on our return trip to Lisbon. Be sure to glance at the framed Bukowski quote in the bar — it served as a motto for our trip:

“For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”

Runner-up for best dining experience: Tasca da Esquina. Stellar food — I loved the creamy cheese that was waiting for us on our table, and the octopus. And the port. Yes, the port. It’s only a runner up because we couldn’t stumble down the stairs, stop for a ginja at the bar at the base of the hill, and wander through the Christmas market on the way to our hotel after eating. Location is everything.

Answering a question: Time Out Market or LX Factory? On my previous trip, a local scoffed at the Time Out Market and said to go to LX Factory. Jill and I went to both. If you want food, there’s no comparison, IMHO. Jill and I ate croquettes, sardines and tomatoes on toast, and pastel de nata, and drank cheap and delicious vino verde at Time Out. Amazing food, and a bargain. Two meals at LX Factory restaurants were mediocre at best. But LX Factory is worth a visit, if only to check out my favorite shop, Ementa. I loved their skate wear, and had to buy something because the woman running the store was so friendly and curious about everyone who came in, and retail needs more of that.

Brunch, anyone? In Lisbon, check out The Folks Sé. I’m obsessed with their syrniki, tiny pancakes made with farmers cheese.

Surprise dining experience: Swagat, in Nazaré. The best Indian food I’ve eaten, and no one else was in the restaurant. We went back two nights later and repeated the experience — great food, amazing hospitality, and a criminally empty restaurant. We appreciated them leaving a bottle of rum on our table the second night, and giving us the green light to empty it (we didn’t).

Stunning vistas and sleeping dogs. We took a day trip up to Miradouro de São Salvador do Mundo, in the Douro Valley. To get there, you hop off the N222 and take a winding, narrow road that ends in a small parking area. Walk up to a chapel, and there’s a stunning panoramic view of the valley. When we were there, an inversion filled the valley with fluffy white clouds. We watched the valley for a while, then went down the road for lunch at São Leonardo, where we ate an okay lunch while enjoying a spectacular view of the valley. Bonus view: When we exited the motorway before heading up the mountain, we came upon a pack of dogs sleeping in the roundabout. I’ve never seen this before, and wish I had video. I know Jill does somewhere.

The 100 Foot Wave. It’s a documentary on HBO about big wave surfers in Nazaré. Watch it — I’m addicted. And Nazaré was a great place to hang out for a few days. We had an apartment overlooking the ocean, plenty of beach to walk, and an out-of-order funicular that forced us to drive up to the vantage point for big waves (there were none — the waves were maybe 15′ when we went). It was a great jumping off point to visit other beaches along the coast.

Final thoughts: Portugal is gorgeous, Lisbon is charming, the people are warm (though a bit chillier to the idea of tourism these days), and it’s an inexpensive destination. Go. You won’t regret it.

Bicycling stuff. Lots of it.

From about 2004 until years later, I wrote a lot about bicycling. Rather than flush it down the memory hole, I added it to this blog.

You will find, if you trouble yourself to sort through ~950 posts:

  • Some useful posts. For example, cue sheets.
  • Opinions. Lots of opinions. And do those really matter?
  • My growing disinterest in group rides.
  • Broken links and missing photos. Not sorry.

It’s Good to Be Back

Was my last JDRF Ride to Cure really October 2019? It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago, but the COVID era has a way of warping our perception of time. And my photo album confirms that, yes, it really was.

From 2008 until 2019 I was immersed in the Ride to Cure in a lot of ways. I coached and filled several leadership roles in helping shape, promote, and execute the Ride program. Until I took a step back because it was important for other faces and voices to come to the fore, I was on stage at most events. Ride became part of my identity in a way that could be comfortable and confining. Even though my interests in JDRF expanded and I devoted an increasing amount of time to supporting the organization’s mission through marketing and volunteer activation, to many I was always “Coach.”

JDRF pressed pause on the in-person Rides during COVID, and the timing was a relief. Like everyone, I was going through a lot of personal and professional changes between 2019 and 2022. Trying to stay healthy, new jobs, divorce, dating again, focusing on being a single dad, boredom with cycling, volunteering in other areas of JDRF, and spending time on other interests gave me excuses to hang up my bike and step away from Ride for a while. And I gladly took the opportunity.

I didn’t plan to ride in 2023. I’d heard from several folks that the JDRF Ride had changed and was missing something. I wasn’t keen on cycling again. I didn’t want to step back into the persona of “Coach.” I have a job that keeps me busy and often on the road. I have good excuses.

Two things brought me back: My support for JDRF is stronger than ever, and I wanted to support the organization by fundraising. I have wonderful friends and family who answer the call when I ask for donations, and they came through for me this year (if that’s you — thank you!).

And, there’s a singularly wonderful person who I met through the Ride, years ago, and who I’ve been friends with since. That friendship led to a series of adventures together, and to more. When she mentioned that she and her son, who I also met at his first Ride to Cure, would be riding for their tenth time, I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a weekend and signed up.

The same, but different

Last weekend we rode at the JDRF Ride to Cure in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It was and wasn’t the same Ride I was used to. And that’s okay.

It was (mostly) the same course, the same host facility (La Crosse Center), the same Wisconsin August weather (hot-ish, muggy), the same beer on tap everywhere (New Glarus Spotted Cow, for sure), the same places I’d frequented at Rides before (the Bodega and Turtle Stack, to name two), and many of the same people I hadn’t seen in person since 2019.

But 2019 was a different lifetime for me, and being back felt different. Believe me, I was ready for a different kind of experience.

I was a rider and not a coach, and came to the Ride with my own goals. There were two: Have fun, and ride a few miles.

I had more time to share with the people I wanted to share it with. I wasn’t attending coaches’ meetings, preparing for nightly programs, leading seminars, or jumping from conversation to conversation. Because we weren’t staying at the host hotel, I could be as immersed, or not, in Ride as I wanted to be.

I stopped into the old places (a beer at Bodega, and a quick hello at Turtle Stack), and spent more time getting to know new places. That included a couple of lunches at Pato Azul (duck tacos! margaritas!), walking through Riverside International Friendship Gardens, and browsing the stacks at the wonderful Pearl Street Books. As much as I loved my years of coaching and total Ride immersion, the downtime and slower pace were magical.

Ride Day felt much the same, but with a few twists: Early breakfast, move to the starting line, pick a starting wave (we went to the back so we could be slowpokes), then roll. Some changes to the program caused grumbling and made the timing seem off (“Do we go now or what?”), but eventually we inched forward, clipped in, and rode toward the bridge across the Mississippi River. That was the first time I’d been on a bike (in this case, not my bike but a sweet borrowed Kona gravel bike) outside in almost three years, but you know the saying and quickly it felt perfectly natural. Team-Jill-Connor-Debbie-Ian enjoyed an easy ride to rest stop one, voted for tacos, and turned back. We were done by 10 am, after 30-ish miles, and before the heat and wind kicked in.

I didn’t realize it until I showed up, but after a break from Ride, this was the exact Ride experience I needed. I loved it. We (Jill and me, Connor’s a maybe) are already talking about where we’ll ride next year.

I can’t wait.