Sunrise Country – DAY ELEVEN

After the Ginza and Akihabara experience, this next day was a special one. We have decided that our 5 person group should split in 2 different groups of interest, to cover more of the amazing Tokyo, based on what we intended to visit. The first group went to the Zoo in Ueno, a destination that didn’t bring me much excitement, compared to what I had as an alternative; so the second group, me and my best friend, had a different plan in mind.

Our journey started at Shinjuku Station. It is one of the largest train / metro stations with multiple exits where you could easily get lost. This day was the time when we returned to actually the first place we visited in Japan, since coming from the Narita Airport. This was a destination with a specific purpose.

I wanted to come back to my favorite photo camera shop – Map Camera, in Shinjuku, where I needed to get a new zoom lens, the Fujifilm XF 55-200mm OIS, that I could use for what we had ahead of us in that day.

It was a pleasure to revisit those places; same fervor on the small streets, through the lines of electronic shops. As I feel more attracted to the electronics stores, than those dealing with anime, manga, spare parts and video games, I may find Shinjuku district more interesting than Akihabara.

After completing my photo bag with a new tele zoom lens, we arrived, by train, in our main place of interest: Roppongi Hills. In the center of this district, there is one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo: Mori Tower.

With a height of 238 meters and 54 floors, this building is mostly used for offices. The first floors are reserved for restaurants and shopping galleries and the top floor is dedicated to the Museum of Modern Art and finally, an observation deck, the Sky Deck that is a great place to be.

The Mori Art Museum was using an advertising banner with one of the greatest artwork of the greatest sculptor from my country: Constantin Brancusi and his “golden bird”, standing gracefully as a statement of his creative genius and powerful universal spirit.

We have visited the museum and also the Star Wars exhibition (taking pictures was not allowed) and finally we went to the top floor, the roof observation deck, that also kept the Star Wars theme alive, by playing the orchestral music from the movie and having a chance to get photographed near a very realistic statue of Lord Vader.

But we were there for the view. And what panoramic view over the entire city!

It was my first chance to test my new tele photo zoom lens, up to a maximum of 200mm focal length on my APS-C sensor inside the Fujifilm X-T1. It was exactly what I needed, to get the distant areas of Tokyo, closer into my frame.

I was enjoying switching from my standard zoom lens, with a wide perspective over the panoramic view and the tele zoom lens, when some far away details were captivating for my cityscape panorama series over Tokyo.

It’s much better to let the photos speak for themselves. The sensation and the beauty of the moment are hard to describe in words. I was simply amazed by the immense 360 degree perspective over this urban infinity called Tokyo!

We stayed for almost an hour, contemplating the power of human will in this endless urban endeavor to conquer space, shape it and build it according to a never-ending, more demanding need for habitat space.

We left Mori Tower building with a sense of awe, while starting to discover the vicinity, walking on both large boulevards and the small streets.

During the daylight, we blended ourselves into the cheerful street atmosphere. Lots of people, heavy traffic, busy streets – every corner of every street that I photographed was like a genuine symbol of Tokyo’s energetic life.

After a while, we entered a bar for a refreshing local beer and then started again to explore. But the evening was already falling over the city, as we roamed the streets and interacted with the local people, asking for specific places of interest.

The night was coming fast as I was preparing to get my last set of photographs, documenting the streets and the places we have visited on our route.

It was about time to say “goodbye” to the Roppongi district, as the clock was moving towards the hour of our meeting with the rest of the group.

We thought about what route would be best to take to meet the others, somewhere in Omotesando. We decided we should get to the rally point by foot, as we always appreciated the calm and quietness of the nights, while walking in full security on the small streets of both Tokyo and Kyoto.

We used our map and our route went on a combination of map guidance and geographical instinct, trying to find some shortcuts through Roppongi’s narrow and dark streets. It was a completely safe walk, even if we heard that Roppongi, during the night (in some areas) could be the one zone of Tokyo that offers the least safety feelings, while walking alone in the night.

After a long time of walking on our shortcuts, the streets became wider, more crowded and with more lights and more activity. It wasn’t much longer until we finally reached our friends in the right meeting spot; in front of a restaurant where we intended to have diner altogether. But the restaurant was full with clients who already made reservations, so we tried to find another one. Our group became bigger, since one of our friends met 3 of his Japanese courses colleagues that were already living in Japan for a few months. We finally found a small restaurant that was open and had a long free table for a large group of already 8 persons and the food was delicious.

After the diner, we walked together for a while until our paths went on separate ways. His school colleagues went home and we took a very late night train to Nippori, where our hotel was located – our temporary home in Tokyo. We shared our Roppongi Hills impressions as the others shared their excitement about the Ueno Zoo experience. It was, as usual, a very long day with many kilometres “on board” from our daily Japan prowling discoveries. The next day was already planned; it included a shinkansen ride. Stay close as I will tell you another story of the greatness of Japan!

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY TEN

This is our second day in Tokyo 東京 and we wanted to give Akihabara 秋葉原 a go, as one of our main destinations. Starting from Nippori, our place of temporary residence, we took the train and arrived in Akihabara Station. This place, also called “the electric town” has a specific flavor that strikes your eyes even from your very first steps, getting out of the station.

If you are a fan, of simply curious about the universe of anime, manga, electronic games, souvenirs and all kinds of electronics, this could be the center of otaku in Japan; surely for Tokyo. We started to explore the streets and we split our group in 2, then in 3, checking the electronics stores one by one, until you eventually get tired and start to visit only the places that interest you directly.

When you reach Chuo Dori, the main boulevard that crosses along Akiba, you simply melt like a snow flake, in the sea of people of both tourists and locals. It is so easy to forget why are you there and what are you looking for, when you see the infinity of products, models and the different types of stores, from huge specialized markets in big, tall buildings where each level is normally dedicated to a specific category of electronics, like a floor for computers, one for smartphones and tablets, one for audio-video and hi-fi and so on …

… to small boutiques that sell electronic pieces and spare parts and components, or just electronic devices, many of them never seen before, but only in Japan.

We were interested in souvenirs, apart from the curiosity to discover this rather vast and unique world of Japanese otaku.

It was really crowded – also because we were there after the Golden Week, when people have some holidays and travel a lot and also it was during one of the best periods to visit Japan (end of April, beginning of May), away from the rainy season, or typhoons, not too hot and humid, not too cold.

After a very welcome lunch break, we explored even more and finally found the right souvenirs we were looking for.

This place is full of surprises as well as extravagant people with extravagant things, like heavily customized cars, cosplay costumes, strange clothing habits and hairdo styles – Akihabara has its own magic, as I already recorded my powerful impression in a previous article on this blog.

The afternoon was rapidly moving towards the evening and we felt that Akiba was sufficient for us, for the first time and we already felt the excitement to get back to Akihabara Station, take the train and see another place of interest in this immense Tokyo.

By the time we reached Tokyo Station, our intermediary point of interest and the starting point for the second long walk of the day, it was night already. So, we started to follow our map and walked around Marunouchi – Tokyo Station area. Marunouchi 丸の内 is a very important business district, located between the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station.

We continued our journey towards our final destination of the day. Not quite far from the Tokyo Station area, by foot, you easily enter the famous Tokyo’s shopping and entertainment district, featuring department stores, art galleries, specialized and super expensive boutiques, but also restaurants and night bars.

During the night, Ginza has an elegant look, leaving us a very different impression, especially after visiting Akihabara. There was a distinctive and powerful perception that we were dealing with 2 different worlds in the same day.

Collection vehicles and expensive cars, elegant people, luxury stores, this is the place where every big name in fashion, accessories, jewelry, watch manufacture, etc. must be present with its own representative store: Apple, Breitling, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, The Suit Company, Tasaki, Cartier, Max Mara, GAP, Fujiya, Sony, Nikon, Hermes, TAG Heuer, Jimmy Choo, Geox, Zara, Bulgari, Bottega Veneta, De Beers, Hugo Boss to name a few.

The Ginza experience was a very pleasant one, although a bit shorter than the time we have spent in Akihabara. By the end of the night and of our Ginza tour by foot, we started to feel some weariness and we decided to return to Tokyo Station, following a different path, away from the large boulevards and main streets.

The silence of the night on those empty, small streets gave us a feeling of relief, being somewhat comfortable after such a busy day. Later, following some shortcuts that we tested with the purpose of reaching Tokyo Station as soon as possible, we finally got on the train to Nippori and subsequently back home in our small My Stays hotel room.

What an interesting, but demanding day! A good night sleep was simply excellent, to prepare ourselves for the next and very special day of our Tokyo discovery tour. Stay tuned for the next chapter, where we discover Shinjuku, Roppongi and a bit of Omotesando!

 

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2018 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY NINE

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We said “goodbye” to our beloved Kyoto and a warm “welcome” to Tokyo. Traveling by shinkansen is always a pleasant, fast and comfortable ride.

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Hotel MyStays in Nippori, located at 5-43-7 Higashi Nippori, Arakawa-ku, Tokyo 116-0014 Japan was a warm welcoming place for us. Situated at just a few minutes from the Nippori Train Station, it was our second Japanese home. The rooms were nice, inviting us for a quick and comfortable nap, after carrying our heavy luggage from Horikawa Dori in Kyoto to our rooms in MyStays Nippori. But we had to get out, have a good meal, explore our surroundings and follow our plan for the day.

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Tokyo felt like spring, comparing with Kyoto which felt like summer, in May. It was still a lovely sunny day, but it felt you needed to put something over the T-shirt. The Nippori air was calm and cool.

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We have found a good restaurant just between our hotel and Nippori Station and we had our nice “battery recharging” meal and the traditional Asahi beer, just perfect to get the energy to explore our first destination for the day: Shibuya 渋谷.

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We took the train from Nippori Station right to Shibuya Station. The metro and train map of Tokyo might be overwhelming, at the beginning. My mom thought that traveling to Japan without a guide will surely get us lost. But, you know? The super well-organized transport system is so logical and easy to figure out, that travelling all by ourselves was simply great and “error-free”. Always carrying a map is very useful, too.

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As soon as we went our from the station, Shibuya was welcoming us with its typical colorful and crowded landscape.

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I was traveling with my 2 Fujifilm mirrorless cameras, the small and compact X100S with a 23mm F2.0 lens and my X-T1 with the pro-grade standard zoom, XF 16-55mm F2.8. No OIS on any of my lenses. And I do like to photograph during the evening and the night, but if you follow my tips about night travel photography, you will be just fine.

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The first thing to do was meeting my fellow photographer friend from Shibuya. On his very busy schedule (as a full-time professional photographer), he was able to meet us between 2 business trips, on our first Tokyo day, in one of the most famous and busiest meeting place on earth:

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Here! I guess the photo needs no more explanations. This famous Hachiko ハチ公 statue is located just in front of Shibuya metro station and so close to the memorable Shibuya Crossing – they say this intersection is the most crowded in the whole world.

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We stopped at the red light and tried to immerse ourselves within this feeling of universality; watching a sea of people, each one with its unique feelings – quite a powerful mental experience.

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After we have met, we decided to walk the streets and talk, find a nice place to stay, have a drink and chat a little more.

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Meeting him was a real pleasure and I know it was a great opportunity to hear some of his teachings (encouraging, tips and tricks – the things photographers talk when they meet) – always learning, right?

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During our walk, we have visited a few stores in Shibuya. This area is very popular for shopping and entertainment, dining and night clubs that receive a lot of customers on a daily basis. It is also a great place to meet artists. The vinyl record store was impressive!

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Finally, we have arrived at the place he wanted us to invite to, an old and charming venue called B.Y.G bar (Beautiful Young Generation) in Shibuya. The atmosphere was cosy, intimate, the bar wasn’t too much filled with customers. It was like traveling back in time and space, with an European flavor of the 70s. Thank you, my friend for the good choice of site for the evening. We will come back there.

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Time flies when you’re having fun. While talking about photography and other stuff, I guess it just opened his curiosity towards Fujifilm mirrorless cameras. What a great night it was, but afterwards it was also time to say goodbye.

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On our way back to Shibuya Station and its faithful Hachiko eternal guardian, we enjoyed the cool and vibrant evening. This place is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Tokyo and we just saw it on our first day, since arriving from Kyoto.

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Navigating through the ocean of people, we headed our way to the station with a little fatigue, but with a feeling of accomplishment.

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Waiting for the train to come, we were contented with the resolutions of the day. It was time to go to our new home and get that well-deserved rest.

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Nippori surroundings had a different flavor during the night, with all the lights turned on. Our Tokyo day turned out to be exactly like we have planned it.

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Some other great attractions were waiting for us for the day to come. I wish we had more time to discover Tokyo, at least as much time as we had in Kyoto, but it isn’t easy to plan a 2 week trip to Japan and have enough time to see everything you would love to see. I felt asleep dreaming about Ginza and the Electric Town.

 

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2017 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

People of Akiba

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We are all humans and we are so alike, but in the same time so different. And unique! Each one of us grows up in a different region of this world, within a different cultural environment. Some billion unique individuals, living right now, on this blue planet! That’s something to think about!

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I love to travel, a lot. I think this is one of the biggest treasures someone can accomplish, cultivate and cherish in a lifetime. This world is our home and wouldn’t be great to discover our home, see the amazing things this home is built of? There are so many wonderful places left to be visited, that my only regret is why am I not immortal, to get the chance to see them all?!?!Akihabara79

A special place would have no life and no soul without the people around, to animate the atmosphere. Without the people, a place is just a place – for a photographer, it won’t be Street Photography, or Portrait Photography categories, only Landscapes, or Architecture. But breathless.

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Akihabara is one special place – like no other (even though there could be some similar places, like Den Den City, in Osaka, I would like to visit). I am talking about an ocean of souls, some of them in a hurry, some others just spending their time looking for something, or just looking. It gives you a unique feeling of affinity and rapport with all those people.

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There is an inner dualism that captivates me and stimulates my awareness every time I travel and meet / see new people in that new place I’m about to visit :  what do I have in common with all those people and what are the differences between us? A sort of Yin-Yang tension between the resemblances (that create a mutual attraction) and the diversities (that also could call for the inner curiosity and also create attraction).

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It all starts with a smile. A smile is the first and most straightforward way to create a link between people. Going back to Akihabara, I look for the smile on people’s faces. The final question is : When people of Akiba smile at me, are they realizing they create those magnetic universal connections that mesmerize me, every time they appear?

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

My “kind of review” for Fujifilm X100S

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I have this Fuji X100S – the camera I used for the very first time when putting my first step on the Sunrise Country. I love it, it’s compact and it delivers great image quality. It felt the perfect companion when exploring the streets of Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. And every time I use it, beautiful memories from the Sunrise Country keep coming back to me. So I thought it might be cool to share with you my impressions, as a travel photographer, about this little marvel of technology and elegance. Here it is, the review :

Just A Few Warm Impressions On Fujifilm X100S

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Enjoy it!

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com

Sunrise Country – DAY ZERO

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I have waited for a long time to catch my breath and get the force to write this story. Well, it’s not quite a story, but more a compendium of my personal impressions of my short journey to Japan.

As a travel photographer, I have quite a few photographs and I still work on them, selecting them, processing them. Sometimes I just leave them as they are, SOOC (straight out of camera). I realize this is not just „another” travel article, like the previous ones. I’d like to put it in a chronological order and maybe tell the world what was interesting in my trip, day by day.

Let’s begin…

The journey to Japan was a dream I was dreaming since I was a teenager. The culture, the traditions, the history, the technology, the so-much-different aspects were like a magnet to me. I had a collection of photos with Japan and from time to time, I enjoyed watching them in a slide-show with some chill-out musical background. A perfect moment to remind myself what is the ultimate traveler dream.

After so many years of waiting, it happened this year. End of April, beginning of May – the perfect time to travel to Japan, in the company of my best friends and what a wonderful opportunity to celebrate my 40th anniversary – There!

From Heathrow – London to Narita Airport – Tokyo, the flight is about 12 hours. You get the chance to watch some new movies during the flight. We were 5 people on this journey. The feeling you are getting close to Japan gets really stronger when you see Mount Fuji from your airplane window. It’s so distant, so hard to photograph, but you know it’s there, like a guardian for this amazing country.

Narita Airport was the place were we exchanged the JR PASS vouchers with the real JR Passes. With such passes you can travel on the Japan Railways by train without worrying about buying tickets. You can reserve places, for free, but we often traveled without reservations in the regular cars. You feel like going to another city? Just get in the train, regular or bullet-train, the famous Shinkansen.

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Excepting the Nozomi and Mizuho trains, we could travel with all the other train types on the JR lines. And if you intend to travel more than, let’s say Tokyo – Kyoto (2 way trip), the JR PASS just saves you real money.

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From Narita Airport we took the NEX line, a modern train that brought us to Tokyo Station. This is a big place underground with so many train and subway connections and this was the place when for the first time we split our group in two. Me and Gabriel needed to go to Shinjuku. The other 3, my wife Anca, Adrian and Diana took the Shinkansen to Kyoto – our first destination and our city of residence for 9 days.

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Thanks to our JR Passes me and Gabriel took a train to Shinjuku Station. After just a few stations, we were outside, in the middle of an ocean made of people coming from all directions and going to all directions. This was my first step under the Japanese sky, on a hot and sunny day. Our destination? Map Camera.

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This is the place were my favorite camera store is placed. Thanks to my friend from Tokyo (professional photographer), I had a reservation made on my name, for a brand new camera and pro-grade zoom lens. And Map Camera was the right place, after comparing prices, shops, locations – thanks to the useful info I got from Bellamy from Japan Camera Hunter (many thanks!).

We took out our maps, smartphones with GPS and made our way to Map Camera, in a zone full of electronic stores. Here you can find Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera – which are huge stores with plenty of photo equipment, but I find them more expensive. By foot, Map Camera is not far from the station. The people we ask for directions were very polite and helpful.

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Map Camera is a special place. A store on 5 floors I guess, each floor created for specific camera brands : Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fujifilm, Sony, Panasonic, Leica. Gabriel was interested in Canon accessories (having his famous Canon 5D Mk2 with EF 17-40mm f4 L) and I was interested in Fujifilm (having on me just the small, but IQ powerful Fuji X100S). My reservation was for a brand new mirrorless Fujifilm X-T1 paired with a professional zoom, the fantastic Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 R WR, but more on this in a separate, dedicated article. The people from Map Camera were kind, leaving you the feeling you would certainly come back to their store with great pleasure (which I did). As a tourist, I got my photo gear tax free, based on my passport.

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We left the store with a big smile on our faces, scouted the area for a while. So may stores that sell everything that requires electricity and the place is crowded with people, even at noon. But we had to got back to Shinjuku Station and get the Shinkansen to Kyoto and join our friends. We followed the same route and arrived in Tokyo Station.

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We wanted to be sure we’ll have our seats reserved so we took the reservation and got into a train, the Hikari type. Coping with fatigue, we were pleased than things just went according to our plan. According to Hyperdia, the website you want to check for train timetables, the trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, with Hikari Shinkansen takes 164 min. Not “so bad” for a distance of 514 km. This trip, without the JR PASS, would cost 8.210 yen (a little over 60 euros). And the ride was indeed smooth, fast and very comfortable. Plenty of space for our tired legs. We wished we had the same space in the airplane!

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By the time we arrived in the huge and crowded Kyoto Station, the night felt rapidly over the city. We went outside, stayed in the line, waiting for a taxi and got inside the spacious car. Our ride was about 1.700 yen (about 13 euros), not until the driver tried for almost 10 min to figure out our destination, even if we had a map, an address, a number, a name, both in English and Japanese.

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It seems they use a system of landmarks, an internal map of important points, buildings, names and institutions. If you say your hotel name or you live just in front of the hospital, it’s easier than having the complete address. Our accommodation was not in a hotel, but in a building with apartments to rent. After all this mental calculations, the driver started the engine and he seemed pretty determined and sure about our destination and its location.

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When we arrived, Adrian was waiting for us in the street, in front of our building so it was quite easy. We payed the driver (of course the „keep the change” system does not work in Japan – you get your change everywhere and you pay just the exact amount you have to pay – fair and square), took our luggage and rejoined the group in one of our super-small rooms, that kind of room that gives you the feeling you live on a cheap ferry-boat. It was perfect!

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It was the time for a quick meal from Family Mart and a local beer, Asahi (remember – Family Mart is your friend, as one of the best convenience stores in Japan). We shared our first impressions – we were really tired, but happy. This was our first night in Japan – I should call it “day zero”. The adventure was about to begin, only after a good night recovering well-deserved sleep.

Day One was just around the corner, waiting for us to wake up …

All photos and text – © Sebastian Boatca 2015 / http://www.sebastianboatca.com