Category Archives: Travel

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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Monkey Business

A monkey reaches for the camera at the Alas Kedaton Temple in Bali, Indonesia. (6540)

A friend recently shot me a message asking for some tips on how to take “amazing” photos. Another time we can debate the definition of “amazing photos,” but here’s what I told her:

I think the biggest misconception is your picture is only as good as you like it.

As an example, while I was traveling through the Middle East, a woman staying on the same boat showed me her favorite picture from all of Egypt. It was a blurry picture of her sister dancing. And her sister was half-missing from the image. But it was her favorite picture, and that’s what’s important. Never mind the pyramids of Giza, the sphinx, Luxor or any of that, it was her sister dancing. Point being: Any picture is only as good as long as you like it. A few of my favorite shots barely move the meter for other people, and then some shots I totally blow off as crap seem to get the biggest responses. I haven’t figured out “the masses” yet, but I plan on working on them as soon as I figure out “what women want.”

That being said, I have picked up a few photographically-based things which may help on your journey:

Shoot with the sun over your shoulder. A camera, like the human eye, usually grabs on to the brightest thing it sees and exposes for that. If you shoot into the sun your camera will freak out over the giant ball of light and may underexpose what you actually want to take a picture of. If the sun is behind you everything will be bathed in light.

Try to stick with the rule of thirds. Somewhere, a group of people much smarter than you and I realized the eye thinks things shot with the rule of thirds is sexier. Divide the screen of your camera into three equal parts and frame the shot accordingly. If you don’t have an easy “three” things to frame up in the shot, keep the subject to the left and right thirds or “use” two of the three.

The early-morning and late-afternoon sunlight are your friend. It’s called “Golden Hour” because the sun is lower in the sky and everything it touches has a sexy, golden look to it.

Before you go, check out other pictures of where you’re going on Flickr, Instagram, Google Images, etc.; not to the point of “stealing” other people’s shots, but at least having an idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Before Ireland I was able to find enough pictures of the Cliffs of Moher to discern which direction the famous shoreline faced, and from that what time of day to visit. (Fun fact: to not shoot into the sun I knew to visit in the afternoon.)

Finally, break all of the above tips as often as possible, as rules were meant to be broken. Some of the best pictures you’ve seen are crazy silhouettes taken directly into the sun, pictures that put the subject in the center of the shot, and pictures taken while the sun is blasting the most light it can onto something.

Those are probably the most basic things I can try to give you tips on. Most is based off of what I’ve read and been told along the way. What I really do know and can tell you about photography is bring at least one more memory card than you think you need, keep your batteries charged and send home a couple of postcards. Everyone loves postcards.

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Trains and Tall Bridges

Trains and Tall Bridges

I’ve always had a thing for trains. Maybe it’s because I was never far away from a train set when I was younger.

Often I wonder if I love things (like trains) now because I played with them as a kid, or did I play with things as a kid (like trains) because there is something about me that was hard-wired from the beginning. Either way, earlier this summer I was out shooting some images around Chicago‘s 18th’s Street Bridge.

The bridge has a little bit of something for everybody. It spans a commuter train railroad yard, the Chicago River and the beautiful Ping Tom Memorial Park. Looking north, the 18th Street Bridge also has a helluva view of the city’s skyline and to the south the a hearty industrial view of Chicago. One can freely move along the bridge’s wide sidewalk and have plenty of room to shoot from (there is a devoted bike lane on 18th Street so you needn’t worry about getting picked off by a passing bicyclist). Traffic isn’t too crazy so wandering from one side of the street to the other is very easy to do.

I found the location by accident as I was driving along one day. The retaining wall of the bridge is just high enough where a driver cannot see over it easily (probably for the better to avoid distractions). On a hunch, I grabbed my camera gear and beaded back. I was not disappointed, and  came away with a number of pictures I really enjoy.  I still go back frequently because I love watching how often the skyline changes.

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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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Respect and Admiration

I have always had a tremendous respect for fire fighters.

Aside from the simple fact they are running into buildings as everyone is running out, you rarely hear of fire fighters using their position of power for personal gain. I’m sure it happens, but I’ve never seen or heard of it. (If it does, I’m sure it happens far less than the ratio of police or other government officials.) I have, however, been around people who were being jerks, and when asked “What’s with you? Do you think it’s your birthday?” Said jerk proceeded to pull out his police badge and proclaim “Sweetie, every day is my birthday.”

Fire fighters carry their basic equipment with them on family road trips in case they come across an accident. Fire fighters are in shape and work out regularly. Fire fighters carry an abundance of gear high into the burning hills to tirelessly work to eradicate a forest fire.

Now, I’m not saying police officers suck, because they don’t. They work just as hard and, in most cases, deal with situations you or I could never even dream of. In both cases they are woefully underpaid.

So please don’t think for a minute this is a post bashing police officers. It’s not. It is, however, a high-five to fire fighters. Be it rescuing cats from trees or running up the steps of a burning building, they answer the call of duty with nary a complaint, and they finish their job and quietly dissolve back into the night. The next morning they may even wake up early to wash their fire truck.

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South Africa Travel Tips

King of the Road

My wife and I loved South Africa and have been meaning to go back ever since. (Unfortunately there are a few other countries we haven’t been to that we’d like to explore before we start repeating places.)

Overall, we didn’t care for Johannesburg much. We met a couple on our safari and they were from “Jo-berg.” They told us no one ever drives with their car windows down as people will just reach through your windows to grab stuff (or worse). We stayed at a B&B and were about to leave for dinner when the proprietor stopped us and told us to take only what is absolutely necessary and leave everything else behind and walk only down the middle of the street (it was a quiet neighborhood). She said go directly to and from dinner and do not wander around. While I’m sure parts of the city are lovely, we didn’t get much of a good impression as even the locals had a “this place is awful but it’s what we call home” attitude. That being said, it is a HUGE city and fascinating to see none-the-less.

Cape Town, on the other hand, we loved. It was friendly. It had great restaurants. It had beautiful scenery. It was fantastic.

Table Mountain is where everyone takes a gondola up to the top and can see to the edges of the earth. While we were there it was closed for renovations so I cannot attest to whether it’s worth it or not.

The V&A Waterfront is where a lot of the restaurants are. We enjoyed strolling around taking in everything from fancy restaurants to street musicians and the general “harbor vibe” the entire area had. A regret is we waited until our last night to go down to see it and we certainly wish we would have discovered it sooner.

I can’t remember where exactly, but someplace in downtown Cape Town my wife and I threw down some beers one night. We generally try to do this one night while on vacation wherever we are. Whether we chug rum swizzles in Bermuda, caipirinhas in Brazil or only God knows what that was in Panama, we try to take in a hearty slice of the local night life. Whatever region it was, it had a number of bars within a couple of blocks. Everyone was out. Everyone was having a good time. Whatever bar we were at had a cover band trying their best and an enormous selection of cider beers. At the end of the night (after crushing some late-night food) we flagged down a taxi and headed back to where we were staying. While all taxis are metered, few meters are regulated; ask your driver ahead of time how much it will take to get you back to your hotel and base part of your decision to enter the car based on that.

We stayed at Atlantic View while in Cape Town and it was up in the hills towards Table Mountain. Below us, near the waterfront, was a lesser-known restaurant district (Camps Bay, I think). Most restaurants faced the water and we had our pick of places to dine while we watched the sun set over the ocean. My wife and I were just reminiscing about this trip and we truly enjoyed strolling along picking out a restaurant. Since it was their winter, there was a chilly breeze off the ocean, but nothing a fleece couldn’t fix.

Atlantic View, as I’m sure most places do, offer up a host of tourist options. Two we chose were visiting Cheetah Outreach and Wildlife Trust, where one of the perks is getting to pet a cheetah. It’s pretty quick and simple but also damn cool. We were the first to arrive so we got our tickets and were then the first to be allowed in to do some giant cat petting. Everyone arriving after us had to sit and watch us. It was nice to be first for a couple of reasons. One is that it was slightly “more special” because we were the first of the day. Being the 25th person to do such a thing wouldn’t have been so cool. The second reason it was cool is we were in, out and on our way to the next thing. We didn’t have to stand in line for a half-an-hour while fifteen people in front of us all had a couple of minutes each to pet a cheetah. I could see waiting around watching others pet the cheetah getting old quickly.

The second thing we did was the obligatory wine tour. We visited two or three vineyards and each rolled out the red carpet for us. (It may have been a honeymoon thing or it may have been standard operating procedure.) I’m sure you’ve done a wine tasting before (or at least something similar), but what I can most certainly advise is to be cautious when ordering delicious, delicious wine to send home. Make sure the vineyard has a distributer in your home country. If they don’t you’ll have to pay all sorts of taxes and tariffs, and you’ll have to find someone to be a licensed importer for you. Everyone I called in Chicago only wanted to deal with me if was importing 6,000 cases of wine, not six bottles. Of the two vineyards we ordered from, one had a US distributer and the other didn’t. The vineyard who didn’t was kind enough to refund our credit card when we told them it wasn’t working out for us.

If time permits, I strongly, strongly recommend a safari while in South Africa. The self-driving tour through Kruger National Park can work out in a pinch, but it is so much better if you can go enjoy a private game reserve. Two nights/three days would be a minimum. We went with Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve and their property butts up against Kruger National Park. (Well, sort of. Their property sits along the Sand River and directly across is Kruger.) Kruger is a five-hour drive on a national highway from Johannesburg. Our game reserve had its own private air strip and flights leave daily from the Jo-berg airport. It’s a twelve-passenger plane and can get you there in about an hour. The plane stops at a few other game reserves and a highlight, for me at least, is one of the airstrips was gravel. Taking off and landing on rocks makes me appreciate the fancy concrete runways so much more. Safaris vary in price, quality and, experience. The car ride through Kruger will probably offer you a glimpse of animals in “the wild”, but a private game reserve is a far better experience. (Obviously you get what you pay for. Sabi Sabi isn’t cheap, but I cannot recommend it enough.)

We went to South Africa in early-August, which is their winter. It’s the best time to go on a safari because the grass isn’t as long and there are less watering holes so the animals all congregate at the same few. Dress in layers because, near Kruger, the temperature was 0F at sunrise but 70F by mid-day. Near the ocean there is much more of a narrow range of temperatures so a long-sleeved shirt was fine during the day and a fleece worked at night. Everyone we encountered spoke English (although some with a heavy accent) so language wasn’t an issue for us.

While we were in the region we also explored Namibia, which is the least populated country in the world. If you have time, I’d say one reason to go is to see the stars. We drove to Sossusvlei and spent a couple of nights at the Sossus Dune Lodge. Because the desert is so dry and Sossusvlei is so remote, there was no light pollution. At all. The stars were amazing. While in southern Africa, if you’ve got the time, I’d recommend exploring the option of visiting Namibia, and specifically the Sossusvlei region. The adventure to and from was almost as good as sitting under the stars in the middle of the pitch-black desert. (You can read more at my page with Namibia Travel Tips.)

We truly loved our South African experience from the uber-populated Johannesburg to sitting by ourselves watching the sun set behind the sand dunes in Namibia, the world’s least populated country. No matter when you go, you’ll have a wonderful, wonderful time, whether you follow in our exact footsteps or create your own.

And send home postcards. Everybody loves getting postcards.

 

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Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

My wife and I were a couple hours into our flight, about to start our decent, when the intercom crackled to life. “Uh, folks, this your captain. Unfortunately we don’t think the weather conditions in Cusco are safe for landing. We’re going to circle for twenty to thirty minutes and hope it clears up, otherwise we’ll have to return back to Lima.”

Landing back at the Lima, Peru airport, everyone on our flight was summoned to a mostly unused couple of gates and the agents called our names out in small groups. Instead of having everyone in a mad dash for the counter (like the US), they calmly worked through everyone on the flight, handing out meal vouchers along the way. The problem was our next chance to get out was on a four o’clock flight — eight hours from that point. This blew any chance of us catching our train, and also put us in danger of getting stranded in Cusco, which wasn’t where we wanted to be.

Where we wanted to be was Aguas Caliente. It was recently renamed Machupicchu Pueblo, but to us it was where our hotel was, and more importantly, where the ancient city in the sky is.

Some 8,000 feet high up in the Andes Mountains is where the mysterious Incan city lay preserved. No one really knows the “How” and “Why” of Macchu Picchu; although there are many theories ranging from the site was a place where virgin women dedicated themselves to the sun God, or more likely, the site being a retreat for Incan royalty. One thing is for certain, during the Spanish Conquest (mid-1500s) the Spaniards didn’t know the site existed and therefore didn’t destroy it. As a result, in 1911 Hiram Bingham (whom Indiana Jones was loosely based off of) was led to the site by an 11 year-old boy. Now the group in charge of keeping Machu Picchu preserved limits the site to just 2,500 visitors a day. However, none of this would really matter to us if we didn’t get out of Lima, Peru.

Finally at four o’clock our plane took off, and even more exciting, landed at the correct airport. From there my wife and I grabbed our bags and began talking with taxi drivers. We had missed the last train out of Cusco to Machupicchu Pueblo, but if we hustled we could still catch the final train out of this side of the mountains. After a little negotiating, we found a driver would take us the two hours up into the mountains. Thankfully we arrived in time for the train, and with a sigh of relief, we were on our final stretch to our hotel.

After the 40 hours of travel (including sleeping on airport floors and benches) to get there, it was all made worth it when the jungle opened up and before us was Machu Picchu itself. I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk, nor could I take my eyes off of it. The centuries-old Incan site lay there bathed in the warm light of the late-afternoon sun. Since it was so late in the day, so many tourists had departed and we had the site nearly all to ourselves.

We’re very fortunate and grateful to be able to travel and experience such wonderful things in life. We’re pretty lucky to have made it out of the Lima airport too.

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Colorful Sambodromo Parade

Colorful Sambodromo Parade

Carnival season 2014 is just finishing up across many parts of the world. Among other things, Carnival celebrates the exit of winter and the entry of spring. The largest and most famous of all —  the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — took place this week. The city’s six million residence and more than 900,000 tourists crowded into the streets for days of rowdy, joyous parades and extravagant processions by the city’s best samba schools.

In 2011 my wife and I traveled to Rio to celebrate Carnival and take part in one of the world’s greatest festivals.

Part of the celebration is the various samba schools from in an around Rio build floats to march through the Sambódromo. The parade lasts five or six hours and each school has about an hour to do with what they choose.

In the image above, members of the São Clemente samba school perform during their allotted time at the Sambódromo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

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Old Fashioned Blanket Making

Old Fashioned Blanket Making

As a nation, I feel like the United States has pulled away from making things with our hands. Sure, we talk about workers on the assembly lines all the time, and we seem to be extremely good with fancy desk jobs in high rise office buildings. Somewhere along the way, however, the idea of creating things — actual goods by hand — was mostly shipped overseas to the lowest bidder. It’s nice then to travel to places where a majority of the country’s goods are still created by hand.

While my wife and I were in Paro, Bhutan, we visited a small shop where blankets were hand sewn. The room contained about a six or seven contraptions (like the one pictured above) and had women of various ages hand-sewing. (At one sewing station, a baby was laying on a stack of blankets doing what babies do best — “googoo” and “gaga”.) The lights were only on in the back as the front of the room had plenty of natural light. It was refreshing to see, as the women were chatting away about all sorts of stuff and paid no attention to their guest with a camera.

As we made our way out the door, I recall thinking about how we just don’t have situations like this in the US anymore. Gone are the days with six or seven people sitting around sewing blankets by hand, and even if a place was like that, I’m sure some management-type would, because of my camera, escort me out of the area.

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Sidewalk Cricket

Sidewalk Cricket

While wandering around India, my wife and I realized just how popular cricket is there. Sure, I’ve heard many stories of cricket frenzied fans but never realized how frenzied it really was.

On our way back to the hotel, we were walking along the street and passed a park with droves of kids playing cricket. Some were in jeans and T-shirts, some were in tattered clothes, and some were in traditional religious wear. It was fascinating to watch, but after a short while, they boys took quite an interest in my wife.

Everywhere in India we went my wife was quite popular. We weren’t sure of the exact reasoning, and it was further complicated when a older gentleman briefly chatted with us and mentioned she looks eerily similar to a famous Bollywood actress.

While we were watching the boys play cricket, one eventually came over with his camera phone to snap a picture of us. (And by “us,” I mean he motioned for me to slide out of the picture.)

Since turnabout is fair play, we continued to watch the boys play cricket, but before we left I took a few photos of them.

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Namibia and its Sand Dunes

Namibia and its Sand Dunes

My wife and I went to Namibia in August of 2011 as part of our honeymoon. While taking a break from the planning of our wedding, I was reading a magazine that had images of crazy-high sand dunes on the cover. My wife and I literally said “Let’s go there!”

So we did.

We booked the trip entirely on our own, so we didn’t go through any tours or travel companies.

After landing in Windhoek, Namibia‘s tiny little airport, it wasn’t difficult to find the rental car counter. After checking in for our reservation my wife and I were taken outside and given a COMPLETE tour of the vehicle. We requested a 4×4 through a few different companies, but no one had any. We had to settle for a standard truck and just hope for the best. The rental agent went over every tiny detail about our truck like a father was letting his sixteen year-old kid take the car for the first time. I would later understand the rental agent’s thoroughness.

About 70% of the roads in Namibia are unpaved, and that 30% paved is pretty much downtown Windhoek. Namibia one of the least densely populated countries on earth, so there really isn’t any money or need for the government to get paving.

On our travels from Windhoek to the village of Sossusvlei in Namib Naukluft Park it would be about a five hour drive, four of which were on rough gravel roads. At times, my wife and I would drive for what seemed like an hour before we passed another vehicle going the opposite direction. The solitude was comical as it was terrifying. After 45-minutes or so my wife and I would start laughing about how ridiculous the road conditions were, then a few minutes later get back into our “okay, done with this” attitude. The fun went away for good when we cut a tire and had to pull over on the side of the road to change it. We were just beyond halfway in our journey, and although we had a full-sized spare, it was our only spare. Any trouble beyond that would mean we’re up Shit Creek without paddles. Our rental agency had an emergency phone number, but not surprisingly neither of our phones worked in the remote desert that is nearly all of Namibia. Furthermore, in the period of time leading up to our flat, it had probably been close to an hour since we saw our last vehicle, and it would be another 45 minutes to an hour of driving before we would see another one. Add in twenty minutes to change a tire and you have the idea of the remote and scariness of it all.

After finally reaching our destination, the Namib Naukluft Park, we gladly ditched our car and went straight for the bar. We stayed inside the park gates at the Sossus Dune Lodge which is an all-inclusive resort, and that was good because that last thing my wife and I needed to do was go out and look for a dinner option at this point. Additionally, we were staying inside the park’s gates, which close at sunset. Obviously we couldn’t go far if we couldn’t get out or, once out, back inside.

Staying inside the park was a wonderful advantage and I highly recommend it. At Dune 45, one of the park’s more famous places, tourists were sitting along the peak of the 500-foot tall sand dune watching the sun set. As it dipped low in the sky, each one packed up their belongings and made their way to the cars. As the sun slipped behind the miles and miles of sand dunes along the horizon, my wife and I were the only ones at the park since everyone else had to be out before sunset, lest they be locked inside. That is one huge advantage of staying within the park, the other is the sunrise side of things. We booked a tour (through our lodge) to head to the Big Mama and Big Daddy Sand Dunes for sunrise. The sand-blasting wind was something I’ll never forget (nor be able to accurately describe), but then again neither is sitting atop a MASSIVE sand dune watching the sun slowly peak up over the horizon. By the time the sun was high in the sky, a few other tour companies had arrived, but we were so far ahead of them it was fantastic.

Speaking of fantastic: The stars. Never in my life have I seen so many stars. July is winter in Namibia, so the air lacks humidity. Additionally, being so far removed from any civilization gave us zero light pollution. At night, we’d sit for hours and watch countless shooting stars streak across the sky.

There isn’t much to do in this area of Namibia so I’d only recommend two or three nights. Take the sunrise tour of Big Daddy Sand Dune, stay up and watch the stars, and enjoy hiking around the rest of area during the day time. We did venture into town briefly (to get our tire fixed) and there wasn’t much beyond a couple of gas stations with oversized convenience stores attached.

On our journey back to Windhoek, we decided to take the longer route because it had more traffic. We would sometimes go twenty or thirty minutes between passing cars, which was far better than the “shorter” route we took to Sossusvlei. Before we left the resort, the girl checking us out recommended we stop in Solitaire for some apple pie. I can certainly vouch for the apple pie, but more so it was a nice break a few hours into the journey (we would have stopped anyway, just for the stretch, but the pie was certainly a nice touch). Additionally, there are a couple of signs along the way marking the Tropic of Capricorn which is a fun place to stop and take pictures.

The road back to Windhoek twists and turns quite a bit. At times, the ledge is a straight drop down the side and guardrails are nowhere to be found. Other times you’ll splash through a river running through the roadway. If this is your first or second trip out of the country I’d suggest going to some other country first. If you’ve been to a couple dozen countries you’ll be just fine.

Both roads to and from Sossusvlei take the traveler miles and miles through private game reserves. Its fun to see ostriches, springbok, monkeys, warthogs and zebras all watch the passing cars. Be prepared to stop. One of the highlights from our trip back to Windhoek was a group of six zebras curious of our car. My wife and I stopped to stare at them, as they were staring at us. When we decided it was time to head out, the zebras galloped alongside our car for nearly a mile.

We spent our final night in Windhoek at Roof of Africa, and one of the perks was gated, secured parking area. Not that crime is rampet in Windhoek (like, say, Johannesburg, SA), but things still happen. This hotel is also walking distance to Joe’s Beer House, which is famous for the different types of game one can try. It’s a HUGE restaurant that has a fire pit in the middle, long picnic table style of seating and plenty of cold beer. Even though it’s winter, beer still tastes damn good after a long journey.

On our final day, while traveling to the airport we ditched our rental truck at the drop-off site. The guy who painstakingly went over our car before we rented it out was back to do the same before receiving. The purchased insurance didn’t cover the frame, the windshield or the tires; three things we thought odd as we left, three things we completely understand upon arrival. The man seemed almost heartbroken when he discovered our patched tire. We tried to explain our displeasure in calling their help line and not getting any help (from the Sossus Dune Lodge), but he’s the car mechanic and not customer service, so he didn’t really care. As he walked us to the rental car counter to tell them about our damaged tire, he casually made a passing comment of “you know, we can solve this ourselves before we get to the counter.” I caught it; my wife didn’t. As we get to the counter, our car was perfectly fine and there are no issues or damage to report. My wife, who knows the tire had a hole and still isn’t pleased with no one helping us via the “help line” started to speak up but was quickly “shhhh-ed” and pulled away by me, while the mechanic-guy says she was mistaken. It’s only then my wife realized a deal had been made and I paid the mechanic to take care of it, instead of going though all of the paperwork and making an official report. As annoyed my wife was about not being informed of our deal, she completely understood that I can’t just turn to her and yell out “Hey honey, I just bought off the mechanic!”

As odd as the airport and rental car return may have been, it was a seemingly fitting send-off to our time in Namibia. I can’t recommend going enough, and my wife and I truly enjoyed ourselves there. It would have been nice to make it to the Skeleton Ghost Park to see some of the wrecked ships laying scattered off of the coast, but time was a factor for us. Then again, time is a HUGE factor in Namibia, where things are so spread apart and the gravel road to get from one place to another is in pretty rough shape. Maybe that’s why I loved our time in Namibia so much. It’s very much “off the beaten path,” but that path may not be so beaten, after all. From the tiny international airport to the never-ending sand dunes, Namibia was quite the adventure. I could have done without the flat tire, but in the end, it really became the cherry on top what was a great adventure trip.

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Sewing Red Chilis

Sewing Red Chilis

I had to scan through previous posts from India to make sure I hadn’t written about “Hack and Wheeze Lane” earlier.

After a couple of days in Delhi, India, my wife and I made an effort to REALLY get off of the beaten path. We ended up stumbling upon a busy district with lots of bulk items being carried away for sale at smaller shops. As we walked we came upon a number of men carrying large, brown sacks on their head and/or shoulders. Curious of their origins, my wife and I turned down a narrow alleyway between shops and wandered upstream (if you will) to see where the large sacks were coming from.

Turns out, about one hundred yards through the narrow passageway was a plethora of dried chili peppers being bought and sold. Men were buying pounds and pounds of  bulk chili peppers to sell at their smaller market stalls. The sacks were filled and weighed on a scale, then sewn shut. The buyer would heave the sack on his shoulder and away he’d go. The most interesting part of this process was nothing my wife nor I could have expected.

Because of the hot spices being moved around, the air was full of a thick odor of chili peppers. I have never, and I am not exaggerating, heard that many people randomly coughing and sneezing. It sounded like something out of a zombie movie’s hospital ward scene, but no, this was real life. Everyone, including my wife and myself, couldn’t stop sneezing or coughing. We took a handful of pictures and then made a scramble to fresh air.

Well, as “fresh air” as Delhi, India can provide.

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Xi’an Street at Night

Xi'an Street at Night

Late one evening, while my wife and I were exploring Xi’an, China, we wandered up to the enormous wall surrounding (and at one time protecting) the city. (Now the city of Xi’an dwarfs the wall.)

The wall stood several stories tall and, for a small fee, anyone can climb the wall and make their way along the top. My wife and I had a good time just strolling along and enjoying the quiet serenity of the wall, but also noticed the city wildly buzzing with life below us.

Our hotel room had a good view, but this wall was open-aired and a lot of fun to explore. For my wife and me, it was fantastic. We poked our heads through openings taking pictures of each other with the colored lights on the wall, and stood watching the world blur by below us.

For the life of me, I can’t remember how much it cost to climb the wall, but I know it wasn’t a whole lot. Either way, it was well worth the money.

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Aiport Taxis

Airport Taxis

One of my most-favorite and (at the same time) least-favorite parts of travel is jumping into a taxi cab at the destination airport.

It’s a favorite because everything I have been doing to get to my final destination is almost at completed. That last little leg, many times with the radio blasting local music (which is nice for a variety of reasons), is a fantastic and quick tour around my new temporary home.

It’s my least-favorite because nothing screams tourist like walking out of the airport with a giant sack on one’s shoulder asking to go to a hotel.

In Vietnam, for example, the taxi drivers all stood up with excitement at the two Americans walking toward them. The guidebook said it should be a $6US cab ride to our hotel, but our driver told us a number that translated to $10US. Plus, at the end, he charged us a toll of $3 or $4 dollars that he refused to pay on his own (the cab driver taking us to the Vietnam airport at the end of our stay did not charge us for that same toll, I might add). In the end, it really didn’t do anything to inconvenience us. Aside from being dishonest and annoying, it’s hard to get upset at a $5 bump in price when we just spent close to $1,000 on airfare.

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Abundance of Prayer Flags

Abundance of Prayer Flags

Traditional prayer flags are rectangular cloth squares comprised of five different colors (blue, white, red, green and yellow). They are often found along ridges and peaks (windy areas) high in the Himalayas and believed to have originated with Bhuddism, although some theories suggest they originated earlier.

Hanging prayer flags in elevated and windy places, will allow Mother Nature to slowly break down the flag, and carry the blessings of peace, compassion, strength and wisdom into the wind.

While traveling through Bhutan, my wife and I saw prayer flags everywhere. At one point in our travels, we made our way high atop the town of Paro, and could only see prayer flags seemingly as far as the eye could see. As the wind whipped across the mountain town, the constant sound of the flags flapping in the wind was as therapeutic as it was amusing.

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Hot Summer Fun With a Hydrant

Hot Summer Fun With a Hydrant

Last week it was blazing hot in Chicago as temperatures were in the mid-to-upper 90s. After the heat finally broke late in the week, it was rather enjoyable to be outside. (As I write this, I’m sitting in the backyard enjoying a cocktail.)

During all of this, I completely forgot about the sequence of images from last year’s scorching temperatures.

On the first day of the summer that Chicago broke one hundred degrees, I jumped in the car and went in search of kids playing in an open fire hydrant. Technically it’s not only frowned upon, but illegal, to open up a hydrant, so I had wasn’t sure I would find what I was looking for. Luckily, I had a fairly good hunch of where to go, as several years earlier I had watched kids play in a hydrant under similar circumstances. My hunch paid off as I was only three blocks off from my “educated guess.”

There was about six or seven kids and I hung out with them for about an hour, as water gushed from the hydrant into the street. It was so hot, and looked so refreshing, I gladly wandered through the water a few times myself. As we stood with the open hydrant, a few neighbors came by to wash their cars with buckets of soapy water, while others just drove through with their cars, turned around, and drove back through soaking the other side of their vehicles.

It was a nice, cool way to spend an hour on an obscenely hot day, and no one really cared if it was against the law or not.

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Looking on at the Lennon Wall

Looking on at the Lennon WallNot far from the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic, stands the Lennon Wall. The Lennon Wall is officially owned by the Knights of Malta, but in December of 1980, after John Lennon’s death, graffiti popped up on the wall with poems and other inspiration.

After seeing the graffiti continue to grow, Prague officials repainted the wall. By the next morning, it was like they never painted it, as graffiti once again covered the wall from top to bottom.

After a couple of decades, the wall is a pilgrimage for many who come to Prague. It is a tourist destination in its own right, and since trees line the street in front of the wall, standing in the shade and slowly reading the wall is a perfect activity to do on a hot Summer day.

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Down The Stretch They Come

Down The Stretch They Come

Traveling to other cultures and bringing home new knowledge and experiences is always one of the highlights of travel. It is interesting to me, then, when and how some of those experiences come back to you.

A few years back, for my thirtieth birthday, some friends and I traveled across the pond to partake in one of the world’s greatest festivals; the annual Festival de San Fermin — better known as the Running of the Bulls. It was the craziest party I have ever been to and a fantastic way to welcome in another decade of living life. The drink of choice, at the Festival de San Fermin, was a calimocho.

Officially, calimocho is a mix of soft drink (like Coca-Cola or Pepsi) and red wine. In most cases it is equal parts wine with soda. So while in Pamplona, we went to a street fair and the drink stand had cola on tap, and also red wine on tap. When we ordered a calimocho, the woman grabbed a giant, clear plastic cup and placed it under the two taps, then with one hand pulled them both towards her, letting the two beverages pour into the cup.

So fast forward several years later and I’m at a local pub with a few friends. At this point in the night we’re several rounds in and all in cocktail mode. The server comes up to us and says there was a mix-up with the drinks, and they have an extra glass of red wine, if anyone wants it.

A hush fell across the table, as no one (smartly, probably) wanted to shift from booze to wine. Then I remembered calimochos. I said, “Sure, I’ll take it. But can you also bring me a half a glass of soda?” The look on her face was a quick, “Huh?” but she set down the wine and walked away. Moments later she returned with a glass of soda and said something like, “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

When I poured the red wine into the half-full pint glass of soda, I received a number of confused looks from my friends seated at the table, as well. Suddenly the waitress exclaimed, “Calimochos! That’s right!”

I didn’t go to Pamplona, Spain to learn about mixology, nor did I go to physically run with the bulls. I went to learn about one of the world’s greatest celebrations, and all that comes with it. The calimochos are a good example of something I’d never have thought about had I ever been to the Festival de San Fermin.

Now, all of that being said, I’m guessing none of the revelers pictured above are thinking about calimochos at this particular moment in time.

Well, depending on how late they stayed out the night before, maybe their regret for calimochos is fresh on their mind.

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Street Scene of Delhi, India

Street Scene of Delhi, India

While traveling through India (including Delhi, pictured above), I was terrified to pull out my camera.

Terrified.

Everything I read prior to our trip went on and on about crime — particularly against tourists. I love my camera and didn’t want to be forcibly parted with it. So I give my wife a lot of credit for me finally convincing me to get the camera out.

We were in a busy, busy street scene in India (much busier than that pictured above), and she was shooting away with her camera. She looked at me and said something to the effect of “Really? You’re not taking any pictures?” Sheepishly, I pulled my camera out of my bag and I don’t think I put it back for the rest of the trip.

The people of India were, for the most part, fantastic. Sure, there were those peddling the “(anything but) free maps,” and at the train station a few men deliberately tried to send us in the totally wrong direction to buy tickets, but everything else was fantastic.

Yes, I received the occasional “wave off” from people who didn’t want their picture taken, but for the most part, people couldn’t have been nicer.

I’m glad I finally got my camera out.

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Setting Sun In Curno, Italy

While I was in Curno, Italy visiting family I only took a few photos, but I really, really like those few I took.

My cousin’s girlfriend was cooking up a fantastic storm while the sun was dropping low into the sky. I wandered out to the balcony and shot a few images of the sunset framed against the foothills of the Alps. I never saw the cross in the bottom of the image, until I got home and imported the photos into my computer.

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