Category Archives: Travel

Touring the Taj Mahal

As mentioned in this space before, my wife and I woke up early to visit the Taj Mahal. We arrived before sunset and stood in (separate) line(s) before clearing security and heading to the world’s greatest monument to love. Touring the Taj, every guide book said arrive early and beat the crowds.

I was amazed at the amount of people in line to get in at sunrise, but was even more stunned at the amount of people in line later in the day. In late-afternoon, the line wrapped around the fringes of the building before winding its way for a peak inside.

The foreign tourists were allowed to wander directly in and take the “shortcut” into the Taj. The “Nationals” had to go through heavier security and take the “long way” in. I’m not sure of the reason why, but it was nice to see so many locals coming to Agra, India to tour the site none-the-less.

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Lombard Black and White

Lombard Street, in San Francisco, California, is famous for having a steep, one-block section that consists of eight tight hairpin turns. The stretch of roadway is credited for being the “crookedest street in the world,” and it’s a hit with the tourists.

While exploring San Francisco in the fall of 2011, I tried to find a way to photograph Lombard Street to get the overall picture. It was difficult because standing at the base of the road, it’s too close for a good picture. Backing up  a block and, because the hill is so steep, I was barely able to see the roadway. Additionally, what I could see was obstructed by power lines. Looking around for more options, I spotted a hill waaaaaaaaay off in the distance.

The hill I saw ended up being Coit Tower/Telegraph Hill and it got me high enough to get a good view of Lombard Street. The downside, however, is I was now several miles away. Shooting through a slight haze and some harsh shadows, I was able to get a picture I was happy with.

San Francisco is a beautiful, beautiful city. If it wasn’t so damn expensive I’d love to move there. I feel like everywhere one points a camera they’d get a quality image.

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Jumeirah Beach Hotel

This is the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai in the United Arab Emerirates. It is located directly on the beach and has an unobstructed view of the Burl al Arab Hotel (the world’s only seven-star hotel).

The thing I enjoy the most about this picture isn’t the view of the hotel or where it was taken or a memory it triggers. I enjoy the color of skin on the woman in the bottom-right corner of the picture. She’s bright red from enjoying the beach a bit too much.

I’ve been sunburned pretty bad before, but it was nothing like she has. Mine was in Bali and I was a little rosy leaving the beach. Her sunburn is completely covering her backside and she’ll sleep miserably for the next few nights.

In reality, I really only laugh because I’ve been in her boat before, and this time I’m glad it’s not me.

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Haircuts and Chicken

The markets India are a fascinating place. (Actually, I think markets of any country can be a fascinating place.) Walking around and people watching is a timeless activity, but so is exploring the various items sold in said markets. In Delhi, my wife and I explored every nook-and-cranny we could find and were constantly entertained.

The above picture is a good example of unique things one can find in the markets of Delhi, India. A man cutting hair and a man selling live chickens share a storefront.

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Small Kayaker, Tall Building

Last week my wife and I rented kayaks and made our way down the Chicago River. We ended up paddling six miles (roundtrip) through the urban canyon that is the city of Chicago, and we loved every minute of it.

During the first hour our paddle was relatively calm. We were passed by only one boat as we approached the southern end of Goose Island, so we made our way to the side and had sandwiches while floating along the river.

Nearing Wolf Point, where the North, South and Main Branches of the Chicago River meet in the shadow of the Merchandise Mart, river traffic heavily picked up. We were constantly being passed by pleasure boaters, tour boats, taxis, enormous barges and tiny little electric boats.

Seeing one of my favorite cities in the world from a different perspective made for an extremely fun day.

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Ferried Across the Yamuna River

While in Agra, India my wife and I walked around back of the Taj Mahal to see what we could find. We knew the Yamuna River was back there and had heard it was a pretty view as the sun dipped low in the sky, but our hotel had also suggested it was also a great place to see the Taj Mahal without paying the entry fee.

After walking along a road running parallel to the world’s most well-known symbol of love, we arrive at the riverbank. About an hour before sunset, there were a few security guards roaming about, a handful of local men and my wife and I. In the river was a small boat ferrying customers back-and-forth across the river. On the other side of the river was a large beach with a few kids playing, but for the most part, quite empty. Every-now-and-then someone would walk up and stand along the water’s edge. This was the signal for the boatman to come and pick him up.

Watching the boatman glide across the river a few times perked our interest. I can’t recall the exact price, but I’m pretty sure it was 200 Rupees (less than $4) for the two of us to hitch and ride back and forth. We picked up a passenger on the far side and the three of us quietly rode back enjoying the stillness of the water while watching the hordes of tourists inside the Taj Mahal. As the sun started to set, a few more tourists came over to our area, but by and large we had the place to ourselves.

It’s experiences like that which really make me appreciate travel. We really didn’t know where we were going, but we had heard it was a pretty view from behind the Taj Mahal. The boat ride across was a nice perk and a pleasurable experience, but overall, just seeing and experiencing is what makes me keep on traveling.

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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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Resting Rickhaw

While walking around the streets of Delhi, India, it took me quite a while to get my camera out. I had heard and read so many stories of crime and I couldn’t bear to lose everything so early in the trip. By the second day however, I built up some courage and pulled my camera out.

And never put it away.

The colors and life of India are absolutely fascinating. For everything I didn’t like about the country, I loved the people who were friendly and didn’t mind having their pictures taken.

Yes, a few gave me the “wave off” as I raised my camera to take a photograph, but even the most hardened of teenage kids seemed to like having their pictures taken.

Obviously the rickshaw driver from New Delhi, India pictured above didn’t seem overly concerned about having his photo taken. Of course, I didn’t bother waking up to ask, either.

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Tranquil Scene near Bocas Town, Panama

After traveling across Panama for quite some time, my wife and I earned some well-deserved rest. Our final destination was the island of Punta Vieja, about a 45-minute boat ride from the tourist hot-spot of Bocas Town. Our thatched roof hut was right on the beach and falling asleep to the sound of water rolling onto shore made it paradise.

At one point I took my camera out into the shallow water to take some pictures looking back at the thatched roof boathouse. As I was wandering around, a local man quietly rowed his cayuco just offshore near me. It was a nice addition to an already tranquil scene.

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Italy’s Amalfi Coast

A little while back I posted an entry about contacting a cousin currently living in Italy (you can read that post by clicking here). Plans are coming together nicely for the upcoming trip and I find myself becoming more and more excited for it. In honor of said adventure, today’s photography blog post image is from the small Italian town of Positano, located in Italy’s famous Amalfi Coast.

My cousin lives in the town of Curno, Italy; about an hour northeast of Milan. As I was looking through Italy travel books I was quite pleased with the fact that nothing was mentioned of the town he lives in. Apparently it’s a bit off of the tourist radar.

I love that.

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Colorful Floats of Carnival

Brazil’s Carnival parades in the Sambódromo maybe aren’t what you’d expect. They aren’t full of firefighters and politicians, and it certainly isn’t like anything the Pixar film “Rio” depicted. Each Samba school gets 90 minutes to perform and they take up their entire time slot using dozens of elaborate floats and thousands of volunteers dancing their way down the nearly half-mile (700m) stretch of street.

The colors of the floats are mesmerizing, as are the stories they depict. We were fortunate to be going the night of the two biggest schools performing and at about four o’clock in the morning, exhausted, we made our way back towards our hotel. The parade would last three more hours with two more schools parading.

In the above picture, members of the Imperatriz samba school perform at the Sambódromo in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during the 2011 Carnival celebration.

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Running Revelers

This is always one of my favorite blog posts of the year.

A few years ago, for my thirtieth birthday, a few friends and I gathered in Pamplona, Spain for 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.

On my end, it took about a year-and-a-half of planning to make things work, and one person who joined us did it all within a month of departure. The Festival de San Fermin is really whatever each participant makes of it.

Something quite frequent in Pamplona during the Running of the Bulls is people taking a “day trip” from Madrid or Barcelona. They’d spend several hours on a bus drinking and getting revved up only to arrive in Pamplona to hit the ground running. Basically, the bus would drop them off in the late afternoon, they’d party all night long, watch the bulls run in the morning and head back to the bus shortly thereafter, sleeping all the way back to their point of departure. Also, it wasn’t uncommon to see people partying all night long and sleeping in the park during the day.

I’m slightly more prissy, so I booked a room on Calle Estefeta with a balcony overlooking the bull run route. It was the swankiest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, but well worth the money. The sound-proof doors and windows did their job as I was blasted with a wall of noise when I opened the balcony doors in the morning.

Our view couldn’t have been better as we stood on our balcony watching the longest stretch of the route a few stories below us. Every year since then, I stay awake until 8AM Pamplona time to watch the Running of the Bulls via the internet. The festival continues for eight days, so I may not get to watch every run, but I certainly make an effort to watch a few.

By the way, last year I put together a “So, you wanna run with the bulls, huh?” type of entry. Feel free to click your way over and learn about what I did to make my Running of the Bulls experience an absolutely fantastic (and safe) adventure.

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Enjoying a Snack Overlooking the Taj Mahal

No trip to India is complete without a stop in Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Before heading to bed for an early sunrise trip to the world’s most profound symbol of love, my wife and I stopped for a beer at a rooftop restaurant to grab a drink while watching the sun set over the rooftops of Agra, India.

The actual trip to the Taj Mahal didn’t impress me much. What did impress me was the way life functions every day around one of the world’s most famous structures, but with a “ho hum” type of attitude.

Just beyond the walls of the Taj Mahal are people living in squalor huts getting by on whatever they can; a few days ago I posted an entry about a gentlemen slowing rowing paying customers back-and-forth across the river; a young boy peddled next to my wife and I practicing his English before waving goodbye and peddling away (no, he didn’t try to sell us anything or encourage us to get a “free” map).

It’s interesting to me that, no matter how far away from home a person can get, that location is still “home” for somebody else. The guy dropping off beers at our table at the restaurant pictured above has one of the greatest “corner office views” in the world, and yet to him, its just a job.

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All of the tourists in Egypt flock to the Pyramids of Giza, located just outside of Cairo. Going where the tourists go, every “make a quick dollar” scam artist flocks to the pyramids as well.

The guy pictured above is one of those types of people.

One morning in Egypt I was wandering around the pyramids enjoying the peacefulness of the place when suddenly all of the camel jockeys noticed me. Their routines are all very similar, and since I was taking pictures, I was an easy target.

In some places the men will ride up on the camel and ask if you’d like to take a picture of their animal. If you say yes, you’ll owe them money. A lot of it. Other times, they’ll ask if you want a picture with the men themselves, on the camel or of the men on the camel. Sometimes they’ll tell you something random about the pyramids and then they’ll ask for a monetary tip for their knowledge. All of these things come unsolicited and it’s their way of getting the average tourists to give up some money.

Knowing this routine and probably seeing me wave off all of his buddies, the guy above didn’t bother asking.

He rode his camel quickly up while I was taking pictures and then demanded money since he was in my shot. If I protested, the camel guy make a scene and the police come over. The police then demand money for getting involved, and I’d still have to pay the camel rider.

It’s also a difficult situation anyway because a dollar to me means much more to them. While I’m complaining about their system of scamming tourists, the end result was I gave the guy less than two US dollars. (“One for me,” said the guy, “and one for sweets for my camel.”) I didn’t travel all the way around the world only to haggle with some guy over US$1.32, but I despise being taken advantage of.

On the other hand, I probably gave the money to the smartest guy in the group. All of his buddies were quickly waved off at the first chance I had. The above-pictured guy, however, came storming in and, essentially, forced his way into the picture. That’s pretty smart to see everyone else failing, but still finding a way to make it work.

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Slowly Rowing Across the Yamuna River

In Agra, my wife and I stayed near the Taj Mahal and made every effort to see the symbol of love as much as we could (sunrise, sunset and at night under the full moon).

One of the days as the sun was getting low in the sky, we walked to the backside of the Taj Mahal to watch the sunset. While we were waiting, we watched as a man in a boat slowly took passengers across the river to the beach on the opposite side. He’d let some off, and new passengers would hop on. It took a bit of time, but no one was upset it took awhile, and he just quietly kept rowing.

For US$4 the man agreed to take the two of us across the river and back again. It was a peaceful ride and one of my favorite experiences from India.

Upon reaching the opposite side of the river, there was a child playing along the banks and a man waiting to hitch a ride across. He jumped in the boat, paid his money and stood at the bow while chatting with the man doing all the work at the stern.

It was a fantastic slice of local life in India and the view was spectacular as well.

Random fun fact: My favorite image taken in India was captured on this boat ride. It’s the first image in the India Gallery of the Taj Mahal reflecting in the water. 

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Steeple Rising Above Swiss Town

Taking a train across Switzerland and into the Alps was a pretty cool experience. I enjoy train travel in general, but doing it as beautiful countryside passes by is definitely a perk.

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Namibian Desert Scene

After the last two days of photoblogs featuring an abundance of water, I thought today could be an interesting contrast.

Welcome to the deserts of Namibia.

Namibia is a decent-sized country in Southwest Africa. Partly because it is in an extremely dry region, Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. This was never more obvious to me than driving along a gravel highway and not seeing any other vehicles for several hours.

As we drove on rough, gravel roads my wife and I passed several springbok, and in a few places monkeys, playing on the side of the road. Even more, as we rumbled along in our truck, the sand dunes of the Namibian desert rose around us.

In the picture above, this was the scene for several hundreds of miles.

Living in the midwest of the United States our summers are lush and green. Bright reddish-orange sand is something we don’t see everyday.

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Boat and Kenosha Pierhead Lighthouse

There is a pretty cool story behind this lighthouse and it all happened in the last few months. (Normally, most lighthouse stories seem to be decades or centuries old.)

The U.S. Government has determined a number of lighthouses are no longer necessary tools for navigation and is slowly transferring ownership to other groups. Those groups include federal, state or local agencies, non-profits and/or local community organization, on the condition that they keep the lighthouse spiffy and (when possible) available for tours. In the case of the Kenosha Pierhead Lighthouse, giving the lighthouse away for free to qualified groups didn’t pan out. Auctioning it off to the public for $10,000 didn’t work either.

In May of 2011, the auction process once again commenced, but this time with a starting bid of $5,000 and anyone could get involved. Local artist John Burhan bought the space to use as his gallery.

Burhan fished off of the pier as a kid and learned to sail in Kenosha’s harbor. He felt it was a perfect space for his studio and, after renovations, plans on having the lighthouse open on select days to show off his work. All of it held within the beacon he grew up in the shadow of.

Pretty cool stuff.

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Boats and Debris on the Mekong Delta

Vietnam’s Mekong Delta has been referenced numerous times throughout history; be it in music, television or film. Always hearing these references, my wife and I were excited to make our way to the famed delta while we were staying in Ho Chi Minh City.

The single most surprising thing to me with the Mekong Delta is the size. The current was ferocious, but the overall width was incredible.

Here in the states we have the Mississippi River and I’ve seen it pretty narrow in some parts and fairly wide in others. The Mekong Delta was easily twice as wide as the widest I’ve seen the mighty Mississippi.

By the way, all of the green stuff floating in the water in the above picture are chucks of various-sized tree limbs. The Mekong Delta is prone to flooding, and as such, there is an abundance of large items floating around.

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Lobby of the Burj al Arab Hotel

In an earlier blog entry, I wrote about the opulence inside the world’s only seven-star hotel, the Burj al Arab, located in the United Arab Emirates. This picture is another example of the building’s exquisite design.

After getting cleared at the security gate, crossing over the private bridge and exiting our taxi in front of five mint Rolls Royces, my wife and I walked through the hotel’s lobby doors and entered a world of $2,000 a night hotel rooms. We were approached immediately by a well-dressed and attractive young woman from the staff to ask how she could help us. We explained we had tea reservations and arrived early in hopes of taking a few pictures of the beautiful hotel.  In keeping with the staff’s efforts to be extremely accommodating, she encouraged us to take all the pictures we wanted.

I am not an architectural photographer, but even I had a blast taking pictures of the beautiful decor.

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