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Catedral de Segovia

Catedral de Segovia

Built in the mid-1500s, the Segovia Cathedral sits in Plaza Mayor, the town’s main square. Amusingly, because the style is “Gothic,” most of Europe had moved on from that architectural style by the time the Roman Catholic cathedral was completed. Nothing like your project being out-dated before its even finished.

The fun part about the town of Segovia, aside from it’s centuries old — and still functioning aqueduct — is it said Christopher Columbus convinced the King of Spain to fund his trip West to find an easier trade route. Instead of finding India, Columbus and his ships stumbled upon the New World.

The Catedral de Segovia (as the locals call it) was also the first time I sought out a location to shoot some stock photography. Normally I shoot what I shoot and then post whatever I like to my stock photography portfolio. However, before going to Spain I had done a bunch of clicking around and found no pictures of the cathedral at dusk. So, for the first time ever, I packed a tripod along with my camera gear. I’m glad I did because I really like the way this image turned out (and it has turned out well on my stock sales, too). Also, and perhaps the most enjoyable part: ordering a pitcher of sangria and sitting in Plaza Mayor to wait for the sky to reach the right color.

The waiting may have been my favorite part of this picture.

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Salzburg, Austria from Hohensalzburg Castle

Salzburg, Austria

I’ve been really, really, really into evening photography lately.

That small window of time from after sunset to when the sky is completely dark is called blue hour. Photographers love blue hour because the sky is extremely rich in a wash of blue. It can be a light blue or extremely dark blue, depending on the time the image is captured.

Going through through potential images to post for today I came upon this one of Salzburg, Austria. The picture was taken from Hohensalzburg Castle, and I’d love to go back to take the picture again, but this time — during blue hour, or shortly after sunset.

I have examples of “blue hour photos” posted here, here and here. Salzburg, Austria during the day is cool, but I think a fun, European city during blue hour would be a fantastic addition to my image library.

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Selling Colored Powder at Holi Fest

Last  night I was digging through various folders on my computer and I came upon a BBC list of “50 Places to See Before You Die.”

These lists always annoy me, because if you’re a foodie, New York City should be numbers one through fifty on the list. If you’re into history and old stuff, parts of China, all of Europe and the some of the Middle East should be on your list. If you’re into culture, the list would be completely different. What about going on a safari on South Africa to see animals in the wild?

When I counted, I was proud to have been to nearly half of the locations on the list. However, the list included a vague visit to “Florida” (Lakeland, anyone?), but had a very specific location like Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on it.

Look, BBC, if you’re going to give us a list of 50 awesome places to go, maybe include a specific part of Florida to visit. The Keys, perhaps? Tallahassee doesn’t have much to offer in the way of beaches and tropical settings. Also, why isn’t “Holi Fest” in India, included? Holi Fest is mostly celebrated by Hindus as the festival of color.

In India, locals stock up on colored powered and in the days leading up to Holi, throw said powder at each other. If you’re short on time, powder can be purchased from many street vendors along the way (like the one above).

This past March, my wife and I visited India during Holi Fest. We didn’t just “swing by” as the timing would allow, but we made an effort to get to the absolute epicienter of Holi Fest in India — Vrindavan.

Vrindavan is said to be the city where Lord Krishna was born, and the next town over is where he studied. Men, women and children all come out to participate in the festival of colors. Entire families are throwing colored power at each other in the streets.

As far as trips go, it was the one adventure testing my wife and my patience and travel abilities. We found out later a lot of locals — who don’t normally consume alcohol — go waaaaaaay overboard on the stuff during the fest. It explained a lot of things along the way, but it still doesn’t explain why India was left off the list of 50 Places to See Before You Die (well, the Taj Mahal made the list, but Delhi or Holi Fest is nowhere to be found). If you’re interested, below is the list. I’ve put an asterisk behind the locations I’ve visited:

1. The Grand Canyon*

2. Great Barrier Reef

3. Florida*

4. South Island

5. Cape Town*

6. Golden Temple

7. Las Vegas*

8. Sydney

9. New York*

10 .Taj Mahal*

11. Canadian Rockies

12. Uluru

13. Chichen Itza, Mexico

14. Machu Picchu, Peru

15. Niagara Falls

16. Petra, Jordan*

17. The Pyramids, Egypt*

18. Venice

19. Maldives

20. Great Wall of China*

21. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

22. Hong Kong*

23. Yosemite National Park

24. Hawaii

25. Auckland, New Zealand

26. Iguassu Falls

27. Paris

28. Alaska*

29. Angkor Wat, Cambodia*

30. Himalayas, Nepal*

31. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil*

32. Masai Mara, Kenya

33. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador*

34. Luxor, Egypt*

35. Rome*

36. San Francisco*

37. Barcelona

38. Dubai*

39. Singapore

40. La Digue, Seychelles

41. Sri Lanka

42. Bangkok*

43. Barbados

44. Iceland

45. Terracotta Army, China*

46. Zermatt, Switzerland

47. Angel Falls, Venezuela

48. Abu Simbel, Egypt*

49. Bali*

50. French Polynesia


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Hidden Treasury

In the early 1800s, I couldn’t imagine stumbling upon the famous rock-cut architecture of PetraJordan while wandering through the deserts of the Middle East.

In 1812 the Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt did just that.

Burckhardt was living in Syria at the time and had heard locals talk of an ancient rose-colored city not far from where he was. In 1812 he set out and “discovered” the ancient trade mecca which had been forgotten about for nearly 1,000 years. Given the sheer awesomeness of walking up to the historical site now days, I couldn’t imagine doing it then. We have all seen pictures of the ancient city carved into the side of a mountain, or we’ve watched movies (Indiana Jones comes to mind) which were set there as well. However, in 1812, being the first European to walk down the narrow Siq and see The Treasury unveil itself had to be a pretty spectacular experience.

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Toilet Paper Street Art

Plaza Mayor, in Madrid, Spain, seems to be a gathering place for a lot of the city’s street artists and street performers. A quick stroll through the town’s square and you’ll easily encounter a half-dozen performers doing a variety of things, on top of the locals and their children strolling along as well. The town square being an actual gathering place for locals and tourists is something I love about European towns.

On our last night in Spain, my wife and I strolled along enjoying the sights and sounds of Europe for one last time, while reminiscing about the favorite parts of our trip. As we approached nearly the center of the square, we realized came upon a bunch of loose toilet paper streams tied to a grate in the ground. As we looked and tried to figure out what was going on, a train raced by on the subway tracks below and up came the toilet paper.

Apparently it was the work of a street artist, and the toilet paper was light enough to dance around as a trained raced by on the tracks below. Living in Chicago, I’ve seen a lot of street artists and street performers, but it was the first time I’d ever seen toilet paper and subway grates to create art.

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Cathedral of Segovia, Spain

This is Spain’s Segovia Cathedral.  (I also have a night-time picture of this same cathedral posted in the European Photography Gallery).

The fun part about the town of Segovia, aside from it’s centuries old — and still functioning aqueduct — is it was here Christopher Columbus convinced the King of Spain to fund his trip West to find an easier trade route.  Instead of finding India, Columbus and his ships stumbled upon the New World.

July 2009. (0160)

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Docks of Positano, Italy

Earlier this week I shot an e-mail to a cousin I’ve never met. He lives not far from Milan, Italy, and I’ll be in his neck of the woods later this year.

I’m a big believer in family and, while I’ve been to Europe before, this is the first time I’ll be going knowing family who lives there. When I clicked “send” on the e-mail, I was far more excited then I thought I’d be.

I like the idea of visiting friends and family when I’m in the neighborhood, and I really like the idea of an international twist to it.

In honor, the above picture is from Positano, Italy. My wife and I visited there in 2005 on our first trip together out of the country. We spent the day lounging on the beach; she napped in the sun, I watched the boats come and go while playing with rocks. In the evening we took a taxi to the top of the mountain for a fantastic Italian dinner at a restaurant overlooking the village.

I’m really looking forward to the prospect of going back to Italy, but this time meeting up with family.

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Town Hall of Brussels Belgium

I’m one of those people that hears so much about something, and how awesome that something is, then when I finally get to it, my reaction is “Eh” at best.  This holds true for everything from movies to travel destinations. So, when Alisha and I rolled into Belgium, we fell in love.

Belgium falls very much “under the radar” for European counties.  Think about it: The main locations that come to mind are London, Paris, Italy, Ireland and Amsterdam.  Places like tiny Luxembourg to the Euro’s capital of Belgium are quickly dropped from itinerary — if ever brought up — by most travelers to Europe.

While in the Netherlands, Alisha and I bought train tickets and headed to Brussels and Brugges.  We had a fantastic time, as the people were super-nice and the food was great and the chocolates were out-of-this-world.

I’m oftentimes asked about places to go all over the world.  I usually ask “What for?” because a honeymoon and a vacation are two different things.  Either way, Belgium is towards the top of any list.

March 2006. (0289)

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Bikes and Canals of Amsterdam

For my friend’s 40th birthday a bunch of us flew to Amsterdam and stayed on a houseboat for a week.  In an attempt to “check out the neighborhood,” Alisha and I went to London, Belgium and then made our way to the Netherlands.

I like how different each country of Europe is, considering they all have an enormous similaritiy in being part of the Eurozone. London loves is tube and bus system; Amsterdam loves it’s canal and bicycles.

March 2006. (0658)

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Tyrrhenian Sea Water Spout

In September of 2005 my then-girlfriend-now-wife and I went to Italy.  While on the island of Capri, we saw a water spout out in the Tyrrhenian Sea (the body of water between Italy’s “boot” and the island of Sardinia).  At the time, I didn’t think much about it.

It was my first real trip out of the country and I just sort of thought it was a frequent occurrence in Italy.  Additionally, I didn’t really know what was involved in creating a water spout, so we took a few pictures and moved on.

In retrospect, I wish we would have joined the fisherman pictured above and just watched the water spout move across the horizon.

Another picture of the water spout is located in the Europe Gallery page.

September 2005. (0529)

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Cambodia From Above

I’ve been spending a large part of today going through pictures.

I use Adobe’s Lightroom to organize my images and on our last multi-country trip I broke up the pictures into folders on my computer for Turkey, Namibia and South Africa. It occurred to me that previous trips I’ve only loaded the pictures on my computer into a massive “Asia” or “Europe” folder.

Today’s project then, is to break “Asia” into separate folders for China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia, and do the same with my European trips as well.  Right now it isn’t that big of a deal what folders are holding what pictures but in 30 years when my memory isn’t at it’s prime, perhaps it’ll be more of a challenge.

This picture, then, is a random photo that caught my eye during the aforementioned.  We were on our approach into Siem Reap, Cambodia and the area was littered with various temples.  Obviously it’s the old temples that make Cambodia famous, but “new” temples are more popular with the locals!

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Running of the Bulls Travel Tips

Revelers run for safety during the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain. (1006)

Revelers run for safety during the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

So, you want to do the Running of the Bulls, in Pamplona, Spain?

The first thing you need to know is the entire festival is EXTREMELY graphic with the half-ton bulls goring whoever they can. The bullfights. The excessive drinking. The protests. If you’ve got a good head on your shoulders, you’ll be just fine.

Officially the festival is referred to as the Festival of San Fermin, but thanks to Ernest Hemingway and his book The Sun Also Rises, most refer to it as the Running of the Bulls. (It should be noted there is FAR more going on for the festival then just The Running.) Originally the festival was nothing to do with running of bulls down the street and it was just about the bull fights in the evening. However, some time back, as the people were walking the bulls from the fields to the bull ring, someone thought it’d be fun to run in front of the bulls – instead of behind. After a couple of years things caught on, some guy mentioned it in a book and the Festival of San Fermin would become one of the parties in the world.

To coincide with my 30th birthday, I decided to attend the 2009 Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and two years prior started planning where to be and how to get there. Once the hotel was booked it was on to flights. (The Festival was July of 2009. I booked hotel and flights in November of 2008.)

Airfare would have been over $1,000 per ticket (Chicago to Switzerland to Madrid) but instead I used frequent flyer miles to save on costs. As mentioned earlier, I booked our flights in November and had no issues with using airline miles. One of the other guys meeting up for the festival decided last-minute to join up and his flight was $800 (Chicago to Dublin to Barcelona).

In Europe, you can mostly show up at a train station and purchase tickets in the hour or so before you travel. This is not the case with getting to Pamplona for the festival. Make sure you get your train tickets in advance. (We bought them in Madrid the day before travel, and one train had no second class seats remaining, and the other train had no first class seats available.) We purchased our train tickets back to Madrid once we reached Pamplona.

We stayed at the Gran Hotel la Perla, which one side faces the Plaza del Castillo while the other side is on Calle Estafeta, which is part of the route the bulls will use. The hotel wanted their money — paid in full — at the time of booking through a wire transfer to their bank. The cost of a room with a balcony on the route was six times what the “off-season” price was. The six of us fit snugly onto our balcony. (Four others split two rooms at a hostel for 200 euros per night, with a shared bathroom.)

One account I read about the Festival of San Fermin was how many days to stay for the Running of the Bulls? The suggestion was four days/three nights. I think it was the perfect amount of time. We arrived in Pamplona the night before the opening ceremony (trying to make it for the Running of the Nudes), then left after the second bull run.

PETA leads a protest called “Running of the Nudes” through the bullrun route on noon on July 5th. It’s their way of drawing attention to the cruelty the animals face. (It seems to be a hybrid idea between protesting and the old saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”) We did not make it to Pamplona in time to see the nearly-naked folks run down the street, but everything I’ve read says it’s not a violent or angry thing by any means, its sort of the “Opening Act” to the party.

The festival begins on July 6th at noon in the main plaza of town, Plaza Ayuntamiento. If you want to be in the plaza for the celebration, arrive no later then 10:00 AM. Do not wear jewelry (this includes earrings, necklaces, bracelets, watches, etc.), nor should you bring along your purse or a backpack. Close-toed shoes are a must with all of the broken glass. (Glass bottles have since been banned from the opening ceremonies, but still, wear close-toed shoes.) Anyone claustrophobic should rethink about going to watch opening ceremonies from the plaza. Whatever you wear will get soiled with a variety of things.

At 12:00 a rocket is fired into the air and everyone holds up their red bandanas to salute San Fermin. At this moment, the crowd starts to dispel and now it is acceptable to wear your bandana around your neck (it’s normally worn around the wrist until the festival begins).

During the festival, a variety of things occur every day. The Toro de Fuego (“Fire Bull”) is a paper-mache bull with fireworks attached and runs the route of the bulls. Fireworks galore. Gigantes y Cabezudos (giant paper-mache dancers and over-sized heads) torment adults and children. Bands in the Plaza del Castillo. Throw in some time to drink and be festive and its very easy to spend three days merry-making and never really stop to sleep.

The bullrun occurs every morning at 08:00 AM from July 7th through 14th. The bulls start near the church on Cuesta de Santo Domingo, turn left on Mercedes (in front of the town hall), turn right onto Estafeta, left on Telefonos and into the bullring they go. There are six bulls are four hefers. If you’re not going to run with the bulls, be in position to watch along the route by 06:00AM at the latest. Bring a sweatshirt you don’t mind losing, perhaps a deck of cards to pass some time, and maybe something to read. The church on Cuesta de Santo Domingo is one of the best free places to watch from. If you’d like to watch from the bullring, there are monitors set up to watch the bullrun (televised nationally every day) before they get to the bull ring.

If you are planning on running, please be smart about it. There are websites out there which have pretty good information on the safest parts of the route to run, and what to expect. Time-wise, I never really saw a time-table of what to expect for the Running of the Bulls. Here’s what I saw while attending:

07:30AM the streets are cleared of the drunk people milling about. (I felt sorry for the people who were there ready to run, only to be cleared away by the police.) After the streets are cleared of people, debris and trash is cleaned up by the street sweepers.

07:50AM those willing (and sober enough) to run are allowed to take their positions on the route.

08:00AM a rocket is fired into the air to announce the bulls have been released to the streets. A second rocket is fired when the bulls reach the people. A third rocket is fired when the bulls reach the bullring. A fourth (and final) rocket is fired to announce all of the bulls are safely in the bullrun stable.

If you’re going to run, wear good running shoes and enter the route in the designated entry areas. Know that people are aggressive as they run; every “bull versus man” incident we saw was a result of a runner tripping over another runner and wiping out in front of a bull. (This is one of the reasons why I didn’t run. I knew I could out-manuever a bull, but the guy I saw shoving other runners out of his way was a concern to me.)

We paid fifty euros each ticket to a scalper to sit five rows from the back on the shady side of the bullring. The sunny side was chaos and fantastic to watch from our vantage point. The bull fight was not-so-awesome to watch, as anyone can win when it is eight versus one.

Overall, the Running of the Bulls was an amazing experience. At the bullfight, we sat next to an old Spaniard who filled us in on the goings-on for the festival. He ran with the bulls that morning and the previous twenty-two years as well. He said Pamplona was his number three party on the list, after Carnaval in Brazil and Oktoberfest in Germany. As for our party, it was an awesome experience and I’m so glad to have been a part of it. We didn’t run, but didn’t need to with a spectacular balcony overlooking the longest stretch of the route.

Random notes: Whoever you’re planning on going with, make sure they’re good, stable people. Don’t bring anyone who is a “bad drunk.” … Be prepared to spend some serious cash. … Be safe with your belongings. Use the hotel’s safe. Use a money belt. … Every bull dies every year. You’ll end up cheering for the bulls during the festival. … If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll have a slightly more difficult time finding food. … Red and white is the attire of the festival. Cheap white pants and white shirts can be purchased at several locations around Pamplona. Red scarves and bandanas can be purchased readily as well. … Don’t wear any clothes at the festival that you don’t want to get dirty. … has an information-packed website, but I wanted to write down some random things which I thought were good to know. Click your way over there when you’re done here (if you haven’t already been over there yet).

That’s our trip in a nut-shell; there are some pictures posted in the Europe travel gallery.  Make your trip your own adventure and take a lot of pictures along the way.

And send home postcards. Everyone loves postcards.

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