Category Archives: Travel

Boat, Tower Bridge and Olympic Rings

Several years ago I found a great couple of lines in a magazine and promptly tore it out to forever hang on my bulletin board: “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. Travel is like an investment in yourself. It transforms you and makes you more interesting, more fun, more understanding.

Damn right.

Last week, my wife and I booked flights for Easter Island. I’m particularly excited about Easter Island because it is the first time I can remember learning about some far away land. (Far away, indeed. Easter Island is 2,182 miles (3,512km) off the coast of Chile. From Chicago it is 19-hours of fight time, excluding any layovers.)

When I was in third or fourth grade, I watched one of those slow-paced National Geographic documentaries showing the ancient and enormous monumental statues, called moai. At the time and with growing up in rural Wisconsin, it was absolutely fantastic. I filed Easter Island away in the back of my head under the category of “some day.”

That some day will be coming up before too long, and I’ve very, very excited.

In kind of a weird, roundabout way, Easter Island got me kind of thinking about the first call I received about working the Olympics. Among my co-workers and me, covering the Olympic games is kind of the holy grail for a variety of different reasons. So, after getting settled on the plane to fly to London for the Olympics, I ordered a glass of wine and made myself comfortable. I remember being really excited about where I was going and what I was doing … much like planning for our next adventure to Easter Island. The island is one of the most remote regions on earth, and also one of the most mystical.

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Fond du Lac Lighthouse

Built during the Great Depression, the Fond du Lac Lighthouse has become an iconic part of the city, being featured in the city’s logo, on signs throughout town, and (the obvious) marking the entryway to the Fond du Lac Yacht Club.

Inside of the forty-foot lighthouse is a winding stairwell offering visitors an opportunity to climb to the observation deck on the top (weather permitting) and get a full 365-degree view of Fond du Lac‘s Lakeside Park and Lake Winnebago.

During the winter months, the town places an image of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the top of the lighthouse, using the beacon as Rudolph’s nose.

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Framed Taj Mahal

It was getting bright out as my wife and I arrived at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

We started our trek to the famed historic site shortly before sunrise, from about a mile away. After we purchased our tickets, we paid the extra couple of dollars for a rickshaw ride to the entryway. The entry line was long and I remember thinking “This is the best time to be here?”

Turns out, it was.

Later in the day, as my wife and I went back to the banks of the Yamuna River to watch the sun set, we saw the line for the Taj Mahal seemingly went on for ever. I was really glad we spent a few hours in the morning with the smaller hoardes of people, because I’m sure going later in the day it would have been far more chaotic than I would have liked.

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Cricket in the Park

If you’ve kept up with my photography blog over the last few months, you’ve probably noticed it stumble along here and there. About mid-December I stopped posting images altogether, only to throw a couple up in January, one in February, and by the end of March, get back to posting with some sort of regularity (albeit, twice a week).

I like the new system, although I’m not sure what “system” it really is.

Over the last two years and posting an image a day, at times I felt I was handcuffed because it became a “quantity over quality” issue, and I really didn’t like that. Additionally, I had a lot of things I’d rather be doing, but never got around to them, as I had to keep up on blog posts. One of those things was posting more of my images to my stock photography archive at iStockPhoto.

I hadn’t updated my stock portfolio in awhile, and since my blog makes no money, and stock photography provides a little, I wanted to post a few images there. (“Stock Photography” is where a photographer will sell an image to whomever wants it for whatever they want it for. Sometimes the image is for a national advertising campaign; other times it is to be a corporation’s cover for their annual report. I feel like most stock photography goes toward other people’s blog posts, since the images can be licensed for a few bucks here and there. There isn’t much money is stock photography. The true money comes from having a plethora of images available for license.)

Stock photography is pretty particular because they don’t allow any company logos or recognizable faces. Some images, like the aerial photos of Chicago I took in October of 2012, do well as stock images; pictures like the one above don’t because you can make out the kids’ faces.

Regardless of whether the picture is “sellable” or not, I really like the image above. My wife and I sat for about an hour in the park of Delhi, India chatting with children of all ages playing cricket. I snapped a few images of them playing cricket, and they kindly offered to allow me to play with them. While it would have been awesome, I was terrified of completely making an ass of myself and politely declined the offer.

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Water Taxi and Tribune Tower

Last year my wife and I spent most of the day kayaking on the Chicago River. It was a lot of fun and pretty cool to see the city I love from such a different perspective. All of the buildings seemed a lot more taller floating along the river and looking straight up. Additionally, it was enjoyable to float along under the numerous bridges watching traffic scurry along above us.

Before we put into the water, we got a warning from the guy at the kayak place telling us about the water taxis — they’re just like real taxis in that they’re more likely to plow threw you instead of go around you. We took his warning seriously, so we had no issues.

It isn’t difficult to see the Chicago water taxis, however. They have the same bright yellow paint-job as traditional road taxis, and it certainly helps in keeping out of their way.

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Sailing

Last weekend my wife and I attended two friends’ wedding in the U.S. Virgin Islands. They eloped for a variety of reasons, and we were honored to be part of the select few invited along for their adventure. Aside from U.S. Airways not understanding geography and sending my bag to Turks and Caicos instead of the U.S. Virgin Islands, it was a fantastic stay. It was also the first time I’ve gotten my camera out in awhile.

With the recent move, I haven’t had much opportunity to get my camera out for some image-making. Whenever I get a moment or two, the time is spent unpacking boxes or hanging up a shelf or building some crazy contraption for a closet.

As it was my second time to the U.S. Virgin Islands, I didn’t get my camera out much. Sure, I shot some images at the aforementioned friends’ wedding, but beyond that, most of my time was spent lounging on the beach or frolicking in the water. My wife and I thought about getting up one morning to go out at sunrise, but it was more enjoyable to lay in bed under the covers and listen to the waves crash onto the shore.

Now that we’ve finally received some snow here in Chicago, it’ll be nice to get out and capture some images of a snow-covered Windy City. Although, if it gets too cold, images like the one above will seem farther and farther away from recent memory.

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Cable Car Outbound

Having my camera and nothing much to do in San Francisco, California was a pretty good way to spend a few days. I wandered all around the city taking pictures, eating at In-N-Out Burger, and watching the fog come and go.

Cruising from one location to the other, I passed through an intersection with a famous cable car rolling off into the distance, and thought it’d make a nice picture. Circling around for parking was no easy task, but I evetually found a meter and hung out for a half-an-hour shooting images of one of the world’s more famous public transportation systems in action.

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Bell Tower Traffic Circle

Our hotel in Xi’an, China was well-priced ($40US per night) and had an absolutely fantastic view of the city’s historical Bell Tower.

The tower was built in the 1300s and, as legend has it, was used to tame a dragon living in the nearby river to keep the city from enduring earthquakes. Several centuries later, the tower still stands tall and is open to tourists.

The bell tower also serves as a massive traffic circle.

From our hotel room, I could easily sit and watch traffic in the city. The Chinese (as a culture) have no sense of “personal space,” and that holds true for their driving, as well. Every few seconds, watching from the comfort and safety of our hotel room’s window, I was certain I’d see an impending death of a bus versus scooter. Miraculously, I didn’t see a single incident, which may be a strong statement to the Chinese driving style: Challenge other drivers right up to the edge of death, and only then maybe back off a bit.

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Snow-Covered Prayer Flags

Today in Chicago we set a record of 280 days between “measurable snowfall.” (The key factor is the word “measurable.” Measurable snow is defined as one-tenth of an inch or more — any less is considered “trace.”) So while I was driving home from Iowa late the other night through some snow, nothing was measurable and, therefore, doesn’t really count, I guess.

My wife and I go back-and-forth frequently between staying in one of the world’s greatest cities, or selling everything and moving to a remote town in Italy. The seasons, and specifically, snow, are a big argument for me staying here. I love the snow and want more of it regularly. However, with global warming and general weather inconsistencies, it’s not working out too well.

Quite honestly, before my drive home from Iowa, the last time I saw snow was in early March, as my wife and I explored the tiny, mountainous country of Bhutan.

The temperature was chilly during our stay there, and as we’d climb higher into the mountains the snow would make more of an appearance. As we hiked to the Tigers’ Nest, it was early and cool, and we saw plenty of snow. As we made our way up the mountain and the sun rose in the sky, eventually, all of the snow along the trail melted. As much as we saw prayer flags throughout Bhutan, it was pretty cool to see them covered in snow alongside the trail to the country’s most well-known site.

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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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Crossing Lights and Fast-Moving Trains

Trains always seem to fascinate me. If I had to guess, perhaps it is the hours upon hours I spent in the basement as a kid playing with my train set. Every-so-often, my father, brother and I would head to the weekend train show to see what we could find.

My train set is currently boxed up in my parents’ basement waiting for my kids to play with. I’ll be curious if they have an interest in them, and how much I play with them more for my own enjoyment than spending time with my kids.

Every year my wife and I donate a number of toys to the Marine Corps and their Toys for Tots campaign. Last year I found a fantastic toy train set and spent far more on it than I should have. I was probably reliving my childhood vicariously through someone I don’t know, and won’t ever meet.

But it was a pretty cool train set.

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Old Technology and New Technology

I realized  I haven’t done many pictures from Egypt in my little daily photo post. I’m not sure why, since I spent nearly two weeks there, but I seem to rely heavily on Chicago and Wisconsin pictures in this space (which really isn’t surprising since I live in one and grew up in the other). Anyway…

The above picture is a perfect example of timing.

While touring through Egypt, my friend and I stopped at a small facility making fine Egyptian rugs. While we were getting our stuff and getting ready to head inside the building, I noticed a small donkey-fueled buggy approaching. I stalled a bit and waited to take a picture of the passing cart. I held my camera to my face before the cart spotted me (I wanted to be stealth and looking like I was taking pictures of other things, not blatantly waiting to take a picture of them). As their donkey-pulled cart approached, I stood poised and ready to go. I fired off one shot, and looked at it after they passed.

At the time, I did not see the truck race by in the background, but it is amusing to me how much I think it makes the picture. The bright colors; driving in the opposite direction; the perfect framing. I couldn’t have timed it any better, and sadly, I didn’t time it out at all.

I guess it’s a fine example of being more lucky than good.

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Low Tide

I love quiet scenes like this.

Driving along the roads of Ireland, my wife and I passed a small little harbor with a couple of boats sitting around. It was low tide and a majority of the boats sat up onshore leaning and tilting in various directions. One boat had a man quietly working on it, but the rest of them seemed almost neglected. The boats were in good shape, so they were obviously cared for and not neglected, but seeing a boat tied up and ready to go without any water is kind of sad.

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Olympic Rings on the Tower Bridge

Yesterday I was talking with a friend I worked the Olympics with this past summer, and we were surprised to see how quickly time has flown by. It seems like forever-ago that we were in London, and here it is only 90 days since. I realize time marches on, but with the incredible experience the 2012 Olympic Games were, it’d be nice to have held on to them and enjoyed them a little bit longer.

I guess it’s good we, as a society, take pictures when we do fun things. Cell phones now insure that we pretty much have a camera with us at all times, and those pictures help up remember events. Be it a father teaching his son how to ride a bike, to a group of friends downing a round of shots at the bar. Pictures help us remember things that we may otherwise forget.

Alternatively, if several rounds of shots have been consumed at a bar, it’s those pictures that won’t let us forget things we’d rather not remember.

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Band of Children

Traveling through the small, mountainous country of Bhutan, my wife and I found ourselves in the super-tiny village of Sopsokha. There are, probably, less than a dozen homes in Sopsokha, one restaurant, a rafting company and a number of rice fields.

We arrived in Sopsokha by car, had lunch at the one restaurant and then hiked our way to the Temple of the Divine Madman. On our walk back, we passed a nearly-dilapidated house and I noticed there were five children playing in back. They had various metal things in their hands and were making their way towards the main road, which is where we were walking.

For a brief moment, I was curious if the kids were up to no good, but then quickly realized they all had various “instruments” in their hands and they were making music as they walked. Their instruments were nothing more than sticks and parts of metal pipes, but it didn’t matter to them. Their instruments made noise and other kids came out of their houses to see what was parading by.

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Taj Mahal and Reflecting Pool

My wife and I arrived at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India shortly before sunrise, and were surprised by the large number of people already waiting in line to get in. We took our places in the separate men’s and women’s lines, and met inside the walls of the symbol of eternal love. From the time we arrived, to the time we left, the amount of tourists on the grounds seemed to exponatially grow.

By the time we return for sunset along the Yamuna River, the crowd had swelled to an incredible size. The line was terribly long and terribly slow moving. From our vantage point on the river, we could see people snake around back of the Taj Mahal and slowly make its way inside.

All of the guide books say “Get there early!” I guess I just didn’t realize how serious they were.

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Father and Daughter

While traveling through Bhutan, our guide (whose name is Choki) asked my wife and I if we’d like to stop by an old, traditional farmhouse. She knew it would be a fantastic photo opportunity for me, and she also knew my wife would enjoy the time as well. Saving the fun story of our visit for another blog post, this weekend I received a nice e-mail from our guide.

I had printed the pictures up of the family we visited as 5×7 and 8×10 pictures and shipped them to the tiny, mountainous country. Our guide’s husband worked at the post office, so he found the envelope and brought it home to give to her. The next time Choki was passing through the area, she stopped to drop off the photos. The process took about four months to complete (a month of which was probably just getting to Bhutan), but it was fantastic to get the good word the other day: The photographs reached their final destination.

I’m not sure what the family will do with the photos, if anything, but it is always nice to have decent pictures of oneself, and I proud to have provided them.

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Spinning Windmill Under Bright Stars

Standing outside on a cool summer’s night, I was trying to take decent pictures of the various windmills surrounding Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. The windmills aren’t without their share of controversy, but for my sake, I was happy to find one nearby without the bright, red beacon blasting from the tip.

I really wanted to capture the windmills with stars in the background, and the blazing red beacon wouldn’t have been too ideal for what I was looking for. There is also something to be said about parking in the middle of a corn field watching a massive tower slowly turn in the night sky. As each car would pass by, I would hope it wasn’t a police officer, or worse-yet, the land owner, wondering what the creepy guy was doing in the middle of a corn field.

It wouldn’t be the first time I got in trouble with the police for taking pictures, but it’s still something I’d like to avoid none-the-less.

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Mother and Baby Monkey

When we travel, the two things my wife and I can’t get enough of are “junk shops” and “monkey temples.”

“Junk shops” are the unaffectionate name we’ve given to those shops and stalls in the various markets around the world selling souvenirs. It’s usually the same things in every stall marked at the same price. For some reason, me more than her, I’m drawn to these shops and need to wander through them. Normally I don’t buy anything, but I just look at what’s for sale and what is the big tourist item.

The latter thing we cannot get enough of are “monkey temples.”

Perhaps it’s because they’re our ancestors, or perhaps they’re just adorable, but whenever we travel and find out there is a monkey temple nearby, we usually jump in a taxi and make our way to it. In Bali, Indonesia we had an amazing experience where various monkeys got into a fight and one was mortally wounded. The other monkeys laid him gently on the steps of the temple and quietly paid their respects.

So in Jaipur, India, when we caught wind of a nearby temple over-run by monkeys, off we went.

Traffic in India is brutal. Absolutely brutal. We slowly made our way through town, fighting with (what seemed like) every other car on the planet. The only reason we were truly antsy is because we were in a race with the sun to reach the temple before it was too dark. We succeeded in our quest, and were not disappointed.

The Galta Monkey Temple, near Jaipur, India is located high in the hills outside of the city. It’s one of those places where the taxi drives higher and higher into the hills, then stops at a random place and tells you “I’ll wait here.” We exited the car and slowly made our way in the direction our driver was looking.

On approach, we paid a strange man the “park entry fee,” and then turned down his offer for snacks for the monkeys. Wherever we’ve gone, we’ve never fed the animals for a variety of reasons. Walking through a labyrinth of local huts and buildings, each person tried to convince us theirs was the location of the monkey temple. It’s a strange sales pitch considering we could see an ancient-looking temple several hundred yards in front of us on the path.

Upon arrival, our first monkey-friend was sitting on the steps to the temple’s entrance enjoying a banana. In the distance, we could hear locals pray in song, and the echoes of various monkeys resonated off of the walls of the small canyon.

As we slowly walked up the steps, my wife and I saw the side of the canyon slowly come alive with (easily) a hundred monkeys on the move. As we climbed the steps, the sun dipped below the sky and it was just a few locals chanting in the distance as a number of monkeys went about their business. It was as awesome as it was terrifying. As we reached the first plateau of the temple, we laughed as a baby monkey began to feverishly chase his tale. Round and round he spun until he’d get too dizzy and fall over. Slightly above him, a mother monkey sat on the ledge protecting her baby monkey. Being relatively docile animals in an environment full of tourists giving snacks, we were able to get fairly close.

I like the above picture a lot, because it is a somewhat strange photograph. The monkey is protecting her child, at the same time, the background gives a bit of mysteriousness. The architecture of the buildings in the distance are extremely old and lend an enchanting twist to the photograph.

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Cooling Power of a Fire Hydrant

In Chicago, it is frowned upon for unauthorized people to open up a fire hydrant. However, when temperatures peak at 100°F (38°C), neighborhoods come alive when someone lets the water flow.

On the first triple-digit day of 2012, I jumped in the car and drove to a neighborhood I saw several years ago with hydrants open. I was one block off from last time, but either way, the hydrant was open and the neighborhood kids were splashing through it.

Throughout the hour or so I hung around, various neighbors rolled up with a bucket of soap and washed their cars in the streets, while the kids ran and played in the cool, refreshing blast of water. Every so often, when no one was spraying down someone else, the same kid would come up and sit down directly in front of the hydrant.

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