Archive for December, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

Petra and Mark Zanzig

Another successful year will be closing soon. In 2007, roughly 470,000 people visited, a 13% plus compared to 2006, and a new record for our site. We served about 2.9 million pages to these visitors, another record. Therefore, Petra and myself would like to thank you for visiting this year. We also would like to thank you for your valuable feedback – we really appreciate it.

Another “Thank You!” goes to our customers for licencing our images, and for choosing us as photographers for your photo assignments, be it news, events or weddings. It’s really been a pleasure to work with all of you in this increasingly difficult business.

We wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year!

And yes, we definitely look forward to seeing you again in 2008. :-)

Beach Photographer – Tough job in paradise

Friday, December 21st, 2007

Daniel-Charles Echalièr in Action
Daniel-Charles Echaliér during a photo shooting
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

As you know from my last two posts, Petra and me have been to Punta Cana for a short vacation. Now, we’re back for two weeks (and also back in our respective treadmills), but when reviewing some of the images, I stumbled across this shot. Please excuse the bad quality (I did not have any of my pro equipment with me – after all it should be a vacation), but at our resort I met a remarkable guy.

It’s Daniel-Charles Echaliér (or Charlie for almost everyone), a photographer from Paris, France. He is one of the official photographers at the resort. Hotel guests usually book him for photoshootings, be it at the beach or within the resort. He does portrait sessions, familiy shots, and weddings. I witnessed some of his sessions at the beach, and I was stunned by the results. The photos are put on display every evening at the hotel lobby. Yep, stunning. His images definitely are of professional quality, and you clearly get the impression that Charlie is not just a photographer. He is an artist.

This is also confirmed by the fact that Charlie refuses to do any snapshots of guests with lizzards, monkeys, or hula girls. He leaves this to his colleagues. “I think this isn’t photography”, he laughs, “I am not interested in this at all.” Still every Dollar counts, even more so in the Dominican Republic. Single prints are sold at US$ 10, while full photo sessions start at US$ 100, with all shots being provided on CD-ROM. Even in paradise, photographers need some money to survive.

Beach photographer in Punta Cana
A beach photographer shoots a hula model with a tourist
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Wedding photography at Punta Cana beach
A photographer does a wedding photo session at Punta Cana beach
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Charlie told me that he has been doing this freelance job for two years by now, and that he still loves it. Which is even more stunning as one would expect that after thousands of photo sessions at the beach, it might be difficult to keep a positive spirit. Of course, he knows the locations at the beach and the resort inside out. And yet, he is working with professionalism and enthusiasm, walking the extra mile (or in his case: throwing himself into the sand again and again) for each and every customer. The results speak for themselves. Just have a look at this small excerpt of his portfolio. There’s some good stuff in there.

He’s got photography in his genes. His father used to be a professional photographer running a studio in Paris. So Charlie wanted to become a photographer early in his life. Once he went for a photo job to the Dominican Republic, and he decided to stay here. Certainly there are worse places to live. This is paradise for many tourists, and from a photographic point of view, both the locations and the soft caribbean light offer everything for an aspiring portrait photographer. In addition, the “models” are usually quite relaxed, often showing a golden tanned skin already.

Yet, Charlie does not put his focus just on the natural beach beauties. He explains: “I do not believe in being photogenic. I think that everyone carries his or her own charm, and this is what I want to bring out in my photos”. And he does. During a shooting, he arranges his models expertly in the sand of the long and beautiful white beach of Punta Cana with its gentle waves. He carefully checks that every detail looks good, and chooses a camera position and lense that makes the models look even more beautiful than they are. The location usually looks truly unique, creating the impression that the beach was a remote spot without any tourists. An illusion, but the customers demand it.

As for the cameras, Charlie uses Nikon’s line of digital cameras, often the D70, but he’s got a D200 as well. “I’m a Nikon guy, but it’s not really the camera that makes the difference”, he says.

And just as we talk in the hotel lobby, another couple approaches his small desk, admiring his sample portfolio. Evenings are the most important hours to get bookings for the next day. And so, he says with an excusing smile: “Sorry, Mark, but customers, you know?”

I know. Customers make the photographers’ living.

For photo shoots in Punta Cana, please contact:
Charles-Daniel Echaliér
Photographer at the Grand Palladium Bavaro Resort & Spa
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Mob. +1 (809) 459 6244

See more photos from our trip to Punta Cana

We ate for you at the “El Arrecife”

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

El Arrecife Restaurant, Punta Cana
Mark Zanzig/zettpress

Slowness is not a negative thing per se – some things get definitely better the slower they happen: growing up, for example, is a slow process, yet for most of us it has about the right speed (just my wife keeps sighing: “Grow up, Mark, grow up!”). Or the huge credit card bill you ran up at that strip bar the other night with the colleagues; wouldn’t it be great if it came just a few years late? Or the annual drive to nutty Aunt Maggie. I wish the drive would never end – because the meaningless family chit-chat that follows once we are there always ends for me in a hospital, with a nervous breakdown.

And so, it is not negative at all when the manager of the “El Arrecife” tries to set a new standard of slowness. Au contraire, my dear Hastings! But does he succeed? We found out for you.

Disguised as plain tourists we entered the beautiful restaurant at Punta Cana beach. One immediately breathes in the new relaxed spirit that engulfes the place like an omnipresent signature. No queue outside, and no busy hustling inside. Once we sat down, we were ignored for at least another 15 minutes (great!), despite aggressive waving, shouting, and singing. The staff did a fantastic job at ignoring us – and not only us! We also witnessed:

  • A table of six next to us still without starters, after just an hour fifteen or so (they had arrived before us, so we have just their word for this).
  • A couple that arrived shortly after us ended the experiment right after they finished starters (which they took from the self-service buffet), only 30 minutes after being seated.
  • A group of 12 Spanish (!) tourists taking matters in their own hands. One of them finally grabbing an order book from the waiters’ desk, writing down the orders for his party (their silly request for a brand new Porsche as dessert did not go very well with their waiter, though).
  • A couple that got married at the resort left the restaurant divorced after having been constantly ignored by the staff for about six weeks. After two weeks they started to argue what they should do about “the situation”, and concluded that a divorce would be the best for their unborn children.
  • A display showing the current order status in big red letters: “Pending orders: 5,772 (now serving orders placed 43 days, 9 hours, and 11 minutes ago)”.

But we wanted to continue the experiment. And so the first one to break the wall of silence was the “Bread Guy”. Which came as a surprise for us. Was that a biblical reference? Possible, but he put two rubbery rolls and two formerly crisp bread sticks on the side plate without great ado, along with a piece of butter packed in plastic. Needless to say, that guy did not take our order (and yes, we would have been somewhat disappointed if he had done so).

Next one to go was the “Water Guy”, pouring fresh clear water into our glasses. Again no orders being accepted. (It has to be noted, though, that those refusals were uttered with the most beautiful smiles we had ever seen.)

And then our waiter came, about 15 minutes after we sat down. By that time, I knew the menu, a refreshingly simple matter, inside out already. I had settled with: 5-11-21 (seafood salad on coconut for starters, grilled salmon with fresh vegetables as main course, and mixed fruit on lemon cream as dessert). Unfortunately, this was too much for the waiter to remember (or to write down). Apparently he could only take the orders for starters and main courses, but not for dessert. Also, he appeared to speak just Spanish, adding greatly to the authentic mood of the place (though I overheard him discussing Einstein’s relativity theory with one of the guests, a Professor from the MIT, at the table next to us, in accent-free English). Yet he pretended to know nothing about food. Petra had asked him whether her Dorado would be served baked or grilled, to which he replied: “Si, it’s included.” That answer puzzled us, so we wanted a confirmation. “Does your wife wear pink knickers when sleeping?” – “Yes, it’s a fish. And you don’t pay anything.” Then he added a gesture of flipping a burger. We interpreted this as: “The Dorado will either be grilled or baked, and it may neither look nor taste like a Dorado at all.” A statement that could not be more wrong as we should soon find out.

Only an hour after we placed our orders, my seafood salad arrived. An excellent, simple, fresh, no-frills dish. In a word: delightful.

And fifteen minutes later, the main course came (while in the meantime more guests have left the restaurant in silent protest, refusing any further communication with the waiter). The verdict? Exceptional.

Now, if I were a Michelin judge, I’d assign a single star to the restaurant, for the food alone. However, the non-existent service would lead me to demanding two stars back, leaving the overall impression at “minus one star”. Which is ultimately sad.

We ended the experiment at about four a.m. in the morning, long after the restaurant closed. They never bothered to take our orders for dessert, or to refill the dry white wine. Nor did they wonder about the two persons (us!) sitting at that table in the corner.

Bizarrely, one of the few English TV channels at the hotel was BBC America, featuring Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares every night at 7 p.m. (It’s a show on restaurant improvements.) It might be a good idea for the hotel management to call Gordon Ramsay for immediate help, to find out “what the (beep) is wrong in this (beeep) restaurant. You nutters! (Beep.)”

El Arrecife Beach Bar & Restaurante
at the Grand Palladium Bavaro Resort & Spa
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Open 11am-4pm, and 7pm-11pm

Don’t animate me, please!

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

We are back from a two week vacation to the Dominican Republic. Petra had selected a nice hotel, the Grand Palladium Bavaro Resort & Spa in Punta Cana – a beautiful place situated directly on a long, lovely beach, with a lot of incredibly friendly people. Yep, the perfect place to be. That was my first thought.

And then came the salesmen and the entertainers! The salesmen -with the blessing of the hotel’s management- try to sell you everything under the sun, but they all seem to focus on horse trips at the beach (I’m too heavy – the poor horses!), trips with a banana boat, or silly-looking hair-dos, Rasta style. And all these guys seem to be reset every morning, forgetting that we are not interested in their offers at all. And so they (try to) show you their colorful brochure every morning again. Groundhog Day par excellence!

It only gets worse once you actually leave the hotel ground. The other day we walked along the beautiful (private) beach and suddenly entered public space. Complete strangers approached us, yelling “hola, my friend! Come inside, looky looky cooky cooky”, while feaverishly trying to shake our hands. As one instinctively knows that it will be even harder to get rid of them once in a conversation or (heaven help!) inside their shop, the annoying feeling of annoyance quickly settled and hardly went away. Needless to say, their shops are empty most of the time. (Tip for desparate shop owners: why not stop the futile efforts and put up a sign saying, for example, “we promise to NOT approach you prior to or during your visit to our shop. If you need assistance, please just approach us, and ask.” – Your sales might actually skyrocket.)

So, back in the safe harbour of the hotel, you should be able to enjoy the peaceful tranquility. Err, not so!

Once the salesmen are gone, there is the “animation program”, conveniently performed in four languages: Spanish, English, French and German, or some weird mixture of all. Unfortunately, they know just Spanish quite well, which I do not understand at all. And so their efforts to communicate in a meaningful manner are stopped cold. Yes, they want to “animate” me, and the fellow guests. Water Polo? “Geddup, move! You need it!” (I do.) Domino Diving? “C’mon, we need more people!” (Who cares?)

If there is one thing that is more irritating than a rash at the lip, or the latest Rosamunde Pilcher TV-movie, it’s this pressure to get entertained at a 5 star resort. No, I do not want to be asked every ten minutes whether I want to participate in some silly game. I just don’t want to, and the reasons are none of your business anyway. But if you really need to know – I hate spam. I am annoyed by advertising for products or services I don’t need, and yes, I am old enough to decide on my own on what I want and what not. So I feel that I do not need a crappy entertainer to be able to enjoy my rare time of freedom.

So, here is my advice for hotel owners: create a dedicated spam-free area without salesmen or entertainers. It’s quite likely that this will be the most sought-after place in your hotel!

Oh, and while we’re at it – IF you REALLY want to entertain me, give me a free WiFi connection. Then I can watch videos, visit interesting sites, read news, send and receive emails. And enjoy my time at the beach!

See our photo gallery of the Grand Palladium Bavaro Resort & Spa