WhereaboutsPhoto

Seeing more by making the world stand still.

A Little Street Verticality

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When composing photographs, orienting your camera vertically will product a totally different mood.

When composing photographs, orienting your camera vertically will product a totally different mood.

Shooting vertically will eliminate most of the environmental setting in a photograph.

Shooting vertically will eliminate most of the environmental setting in a photograph.

Shooting vertically adds a little compositional challenge by severely limiting the cropping options.

Shooting vertically adds a little compositional challenge by severely limiting the cropping options.

The vertical effect is dramatically enhance by the presence of similarly oriented structures.

The vertical effect is dramatically enhance by the presence of similarly oriented structures.

Going tight with your shot, as opposed to wide, give a natural telephoto effect to a photograph.

Going tight with your shot, as opposed to wide, give a natural telephoto effect to a photograph.

Yesterday, I decided to have a little fun with my Leica. After all, with the cold, flu-inducing weather refusing to leave us alone for the season, it occurred to me that what I needed was a little lighthearted photo day. My goal: to do a little tribute to the famous Leica photographer Ralph Gibson. This name may not mean much to those who are not Leica fanatics photographers, but to those who are, Mr. Gibson is somewhat of a Dalai Lama figure in the Leica community. When he talks, people listen. And his talking is mostly done through the lens of a Leica camera.

But why Ralph Gibson? The answer is that contrary to just about everyone I have come in contact with in the photographic community, Mr. Gibson is known (among many other things) for mastering the “vertical” photographic style. The world may be busy taking photos with a horizontal orientation (which admittedly allows for lots of forgiving cropping), but Mr. Gibson is a master of the vertical world, and has been for as long, long time. Easy? Not really. After a day of shooting only vertically to see what this would feel like, all I can say is that not only is this approach ergonomically hard, but it is also compositionally challenging. At the end of the day I felt I had gone through an entire paradigm change in my approach to photography. My photographic world had stopped revolving around avoiding people from walking into my scene and was now obsessed with a somewhat unfamilial vertical line along a much narrower visual alley.

The funny thing is that this approach to photography is also kind of liberating. Verticality, I realized, tends to exclude the superfluous, or at least most of it. It also reduces dramatically those distracting elements that force photographers to use the cropping tool to the point of overheating. But mastering this vertical approach to composition is definitely hard work.  Shooting with a Leica rangefinder while trying to keep both eyes open as you manually focus is a challenge in and of itself, not to mention that your eyes tend to see a lot more horizontally than vertically when on a natural state (blame it on the eyebrows or something). That Mr. Gibson’s trained photographic eyes appear to live easily on that up-and-down, rangefinder plane is nothing short of remarkeable. That this verticality takes place up close in shapes and figures that most people don’t even notice, is even more astounding. After a day of attempting to grasp this whole vertical approach to composition by shooting exclusively “that way,” I certainly had a taste of the challenges and rewards associated with this visual approach. Hooked? Not sure, but I surely intend to tilt my camera from its traditional comfort zone a lot more in the future.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 24th, 2015 at 6:28 pm

A Walk Along A River Bank

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View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.

View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.

Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.

Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.

It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets.

It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets on a regular basis.

The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.

The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.

Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.

Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.

Anyone suffering from the winter blues? No doubt by now the cold, rain, ice, and snow are wearing out most mortals out there, to include your’s truly. Not that my camera has been sitting idle since the holidays, but rather that frankly, I’m having a bit of a challenge in finding those unique city scenes that make those long hours worth every shivering, tedious moment out there. During these cold January days locals appear to be perfecting the practice of hybernation. Tens of thousands of people are out-and-about in cities like San Francisco, Barcelona, and New York, but in the commuter heaven that is Washington, DC it is empty sidewalks and parks that rule the days.

Hoping to capture a little of that wintry solitude, I decided to take a walk by the shores of the Potomac River with my camera. As expected, the wind-swept shores were devoid of people, and with the exception of your occasional jogger vent on getting rid of some winter spread, I mostly enjoyed the company of geese, lots of geese. This panoramic section of the Potomac by Ohio Dr. SW sits relatively close to the famous Tidal Basin area, but somehow gets very little attention from visitors to DC. This may have to do with the fact that there are no monuments in the area, or many benches to sit at. But what this section of the National Mall lacks in amenities, it more than makes up with the beauty of the lanscape, specially during the winter season. Both Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery are clearly visible from the river shores. Small boats and rowing teams from local universities slowly fight their way upstream on their way to Georgetown, while departing flights from National Airport with smoky, white trails splashed against the dark, blue skies of a winter day. It is all quite impressive, even if in a quiet, unasumming way. And for a city that prides itself on how fast it moves, it is quite refreshing that there are still areas that reward those who slow down to enjoy the sound of waves crashing on a river shore.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 22nd, 2015 at 10:12 am

Detours Sometimes Make All The Difference

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The lower ground floor at the Hirschhorn Museum is about as loud as you can get using colors and script to make an impact.

The lower ground floor at the Hirshhorn Museum is one of the most impressive areas you can find anywhere in the District.

The second floor sitting area offers an incredible panoramic view of the Washington Mall and the DC skyline.

The quiet, second floor sitting area at the Hirshhorn offers an incredible panoramic view of the Washington Mall and the DC skyline.

In contrast to other museums in the area, the Hirshhorn's eclectic art collection is showcased in uncluttered, open spaces dominated by white backgrounds.

The Hirshhorn’s eclectic art collection is showcased in uncluttered, open spaces dominated by white backgrounds.

The round, open courtyard design of the Hirshhorn Museum makes it the only structure of its kind in the DC area.

The round, open courtyard design of the Hirshhorn Museum makes it the only structure of its kind in the DC area.

Talk about hiding in plain sight. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I have walked by and photographed the grounds of the Hirshhorn Museum downtown Washington. In fact, the museum area and the sunken sculpture garden just across the street are some of my favorite places to capture unique people photos during the warm summer months. Yesterday, however, with temperatures dipping into the low 30’s and winds gusting to 30 mph, was not one of those days. Very few daring souls were out in the open, and those who ventured the elements were scurrying from one building to another as if training for the Olympics race-walking competition.  I know this because camera in hand, I was one of them.  Originally headed to a different museum, I was compelled by the frigid temperatures to find refuge in the nearest public (and heated) building to the metro station.  That oasis of warmth was the Hirshhorn Museum, and much to my surprise, I found myself discovering a gem of contemporary modern art that had been sitting under my nose for longer than I care to admit.

You can’t miss this museum when visiting the National Mall in DC. With its multi-layered, circular design (I wonder if Steve Jobs was inspired by the design for his new Apple headquarters) and open ground floor, the museum structure sticks out like nothing else at the National Mall. Sort of the same could be said of the inside, where some of the sculptures and structures lining its circular halls will leave you scratching your head for meaning (as much as it pains me to say it, I have to admit that I am somewhat artistically primitive). But amongst its massively eclectic collections, incredible displays of human creativity and talent are also evident everywhere you look. In particular, the outstanding “Days of Endless Time” exhibit (open until April 12, 2015) was simply mindblowing.

The official description of the exhibit says it best:

 

In a world conditioned by the frantic, 24/7 flow of information and the ephemerality of digital media, many artists are countering thie dynamic with workd that emphasize slower, more meditative forms of perception… Selected as alternatives to the pace of contemporary life, these works provide a poetic refuge–a reflective realm where one drifts as if through days of endless time.

 

My favorite work in the series was a short film appropriately called “Travel.”  To say that this slow-moving, ode to movement and perception was simply out of this world would be a gross understatement. The venue could not have been more perfect either. An oversized, dark room devoid of structures, where the rythmic, heart-grabbing musical score gradually induced a deep, meditative state on the audience. This was great stuff in a small package. More than that, it was another reminder that sometimes, great things happen when we dare to veer off those intended paths well-worn out by familiarity and routine.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 6th, 2015 at 10:55 am

Waking Up To A New Year

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A young couple enjoys a quiet, early morning moment along the Potomac river in Old Town Alexandria.

A young couple enjoys a quiet, early morning moment along the Potomac river in Old Town Alexandria.

A young girl feeds the seagulls while rhythmically imitating their soaring flight.

A young girl feeds the seagulls while rhythmically imitating their soaring flight.

In the early morning hours, cranes can be spotted walking along the Alexandria shore.

In the early morning hours, cranes can be spotted walking along the Alexandria shore.

An empty boat sits dockside at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria.

An empty boat sits dockside at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria.

You know those days when nothing much seems to be going on? Well, yesterday was one of those days. The whole city seemed to have entered the New Year’s hangover stage and everywhere you went there seemed to be an eerily quiet atmosphere with only a few, slow-moving folks trickling about. This is actually pretty normal during these first days of the year, as people psychologically gear themselves for the inevitable return to the daily grind. After all, all those postponed projects and tasks from last year didn’t quite disappear with the champagne on New Year’s eve.

However, the absence of crowds is also a great opportunity for some unique photography. Empty space can be accentuated, serenity can dominate a scene, and the proverbial “photo bomb” can be eliminated from the frame. Hoping to capture a little of that that empty, serene space, I headed down to the Alexandria waterside to take a long walk along its quiet, rocky shore. Bereft of crowds and the never-ending sound of human activity, the place was like a scene right out of some small European village along the French Mediterranean shore. The mighty Potomac river was so calm that it appeared to be sleeping after a night of celebration. Couples moved at glacier speeds before coming to a halt in order to linger and take in the beauty of an empty landscape. Young girls danced with seaguls as if in a choreographed performance on a vast, outdoor stage. In the quiet humm of a morning breeze, nature and the human spirit appeared to still be dancing the night away. A new year, hesitantly taking its first steps while shining its soft, morning light on us to remind us of the beauty that life can be. What a day. What a life.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 3rd, 2015 at 11:33 am

As 2014 Comes To A Close …

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Thanks to all of you for visiting the blog during 2014 and a very Happy New Year to all.

Thanks to all of you for visiting the blog during 2014 and a very Happy New Year to all.

In just a few hours the year 2014 will come to an end, and as it is often the case during these times, we tend to pause ever so slightly in an attempt to take inventory of our lives, both personally and professionally. It is all quite unscientific, but no matter how much we try to avoid it, there’s something about these dwindling last hours of a year gone by that induces this retrospective stupor in most of us. We smile when thinking of all the things that brought happiness to our lives and perhaps shed a tear or two for the losses we had to endure. Life, after all, is an unpredictable mixture of highs and lows, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, and above all, love.

But no matter the challenges we all had to experience during 2014, the unmistakable reality of life is that it goes on, and so must we. Go on to dream, go on to travel, on to discover, on to love, and on to hope. And as they have done since time immemorial, I hope the light once shed by Soren Kierkegaard (19th Century existencialist philosopher) and Lucious Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Elder, 55 BC) will continue to guide us all along way. See you out there.

 

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experiencedSoren Kierkegaard

Life, if well lived, is long enoughLucius Annaeus Seneca

 

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 31st, 2014 at 5:24 pm

My Space, My Time

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While for some people, alone time equates to loneliness, for others it is a moment of glorious solitude.

While for some people, alone time equates to unwanted loneliness, for others it is a moment of glorious solitude.

For too many, stepping away from it all does not necessarily mean disconnecting from the world at large.

For too many, stepping away from it all does not necessarily mean disconnecting from the world at large.

In our busy lives, where physical disconnection is not always possible, it is still possible to disappear into a world of thoughts.

In our busy lives, where physical disconnection is not always possible, it is still possible to disappear into a world of thoughts.

While cities are full of all sorts of external stimuli, they are also places with abundant empty streets.

While cities are full of all sorts of external stimuli, they are also places with abundant empty streets.

While not always the case, body language may have something to do with how approachable we all are at one point or another.

While not always the case, body language may have something to do with how approachable we all are at one point or another.

As I walk around all sorts of cities during my endless photo walkabouts, I can’t help but notice the sheer number of people I see alone. No, I’m not referring to the millions who go about their days moving from point A to point B as they go about their normal workdays, but rather I’m referring to those who are “really” alone, as if “I’m here all by myself” type of alone. So, unable to stop my mind from wondering what may be going through these solo souls’ minds during their personal walkabouts, I have begun to dwell on all sort of things relating to loneliness, companionship, and solitude. No, I’m not loosing my mind or plan to give up photography for psychiatry, but rather that when I’m alone out there (camera in hand), I always wonder whether my fellow lone riders are enjoying the “life less interrupted” as much as I am.

Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.” … Paul Tillich

From the little I can gather, it seems that people need as much time alone as they need the company of others. Call it a recharge, a moment to gather our thoughts, or whatever. And even when the line between loneliness and solitude is a blury one at best, somehow we all kind of know when we have crossed it. Ideally, that transition from one side of that undefined line to the other is a voluntary, and timely, one. That seems to be the implication of Tillich’s quote above. Choice, then, appears to be at the core of human ability to temporarily disengage, to fly alone, and to find meaning in the things around us. It is in that seemingly empty, yet rich space where we can get back to the basics of our humanity. And what emerges from that brief moment of solitude is a better person, a more fulfilled person, who’s time alone will make the company of others that much more enjoyable.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 17th, 2014 at 10:15 am

Geneva In Black & White

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The views overlooking the Place de la Madeleine in Old Town Geneva are some of the most magnificent in the city.

The views overlooking the Place de la Madeleine in Old Town Geneva are some of the most magnificent in the city.

Perhaps the most famous landmark in Geneva, the Jet D'Eau started life as a relief valve for a city water pipe.

Perhaps the most famous landmark in Geneva, the Jet D’Eau started life as a relief valve for a city water pipe.

A typical street in Old Town Geneva during the early morning hours.

Even in crowded cities like Geneva, starting the day early before the crowds show up will always lead to some magnificent scenes.

A lady crosses the Rue du Soleil-Levant on her way to the Cour de Saint-Pierre, one of the greatest squares in Geneva.

A lady crosses the Rue du Soleil-Levant on her way to the Cour de Saint-Pierre, one of the greatest squares in Geneva.

Lovers kiss by the historical display at the Geneva Arsenal.

While most people in Geneva seem to be in a hurry, lovers still find time to kiss at the historical Geneva Arsenal.

The cafe restaurant immediately in front of the Geneva Arsenal Museum is a throwback to Europe in years past.

The cafe restaurant immediately in front of the Geneva Arsenal Museum is a throwback to Europe in years past.

The metal Pont de la Machine provides safe passage over the mighty Rhône River.

The metal Pont de la Machine provides safe passage over the mighty Rhône River.

The building housing the Dante Alighieri Association sits quite imposingly between Rue du Perron and Rue Otto Barblan.

The building housing the Dante Alighieri Association sits quite imposingly between Rue du Perron and Rue Otto Barblan.

Always good to find out that while people are curious about your photography, a simple thank you and a smile always go a long way.

Always good to find out that while people are curious about your photography, a simple thank you and a smile always go a long way.

My time in Switzerland came to an end at the cosmopolitan city of Geneva.  Had the weather cooperated a bit more, this would have been a great finale to a most wonderful journey to what has become one of my favorite countries in the world.  And while it does take more than three days (and hopefully, sunny days) to visit this wonderful city, its compact city centre and incredible transportation system are a great help in getting the most out of a limited visit, even in the non-stop rain.  Walking, however, is perhaps the most rewarding activity for visitors.  Venture out along the ritzy Quai du Mont-Blanc from the Pont du Mont-Blanc, with its magnificent hotels catering to a high-flying clientele, and then head on back via the more down-to-earth Rue Philippe-Plantamour (also home to some very good restaurants).  Cross the metallic Ponte de la Machine and spend some of those Swiss Francs along the shopping heaven that is the Rue du Marché (it changes names various times as it goes along).  And when you’ve had enough of people and crowds, get lost in old town and find one of those small cafés that hide along one of the many narrow, cobblestone streets.  Your feet may get tired, but you will hardly notice.  What you will surely notice, though, is that the time you’ve got in this incredible city will never be enough.  Befitting one of the most international cities in the world, there are a myriad of incredible museums, sights, and restaurants that will require more than a single visit to even scratch the surface of this city.  But don’t despair, because the good news is that no one will ever need a reason to visit Switzerland.  Great food, great people, and some of the most incredible scenery you will ever see in a lifetime.  Good enough for me, and I can’t wait to go back.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 23rd, 2014 at 5:59 pm

The Magical Town Of Ascona

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The wonderful small town of Ascona is flanked by Lago Maggiore and the imposing Church of San Pietro e Paolo.

The wonderful small town of Ascona is flanked by Lago Maggiore and the imposing Church of San Pietro e Paolo.

After a break from the constant November rains, locals come out to meet around the postcard-perfect shores of Lago Maggiore.

After a break from the constant November rains, locals come out to meet around the postcard-perfect shores of Lago Maggiore.

 

Even when flooded, Ascona's Piazza Giuseppe Motta is one of the most beautiful pedestrian walkways in Switzerland.

Even when flooded, Ascona’s Piazza Giuseppe Motta is one of the most beautiful pedestrian walkways in Switzerland.

The romantic Ristorante al Torchio along the Contrada Maggiore is one of those rare finds everyone dreams of experiencing.

The romantic Ristorante al Torchio along the Contrada Maggiore is one of those rare finds everyone dreams of experiencing.

While a small town, Ascona's narrow streets are a joy to walk while searching for hidden restaurants and small, one-of-a-kind shops.

While a small town, Ascona’s narrow streets are a joy to walk while searching for hidden restaurants and small, one-of-a-kind shops.

Just like in every Alpine town in Switzerland, walking through an open door will often reward you with scenes right out of a movie.

Just like in every Alpine town in Switzerland, walking through an open door will often reward you with scenes right out of a movie.

Along the Via Bartolomeo Papio, an old well sits at what appears to be the divide between the old town and its more modern sector.

Along the Via Bartolomeo Papio, an old well sits at what appears to be the divide between the old town and its more modern sector.

The serenity of a November morning in Ascona is beautifully represented by two lone palm trees along Lago Maggiore's flooded shore.

The serenity of a November morning in Ascona is beautifully represented by two lone palm trees along Lago Maggiore’s flooded shore.

A short bus ride from Locarno (Bus #1) along the shores of Lago Maggiore sits the sleepy town of Ascona, Switzerland–a lakeshore town for which there are simply not enough superlatives in the dictionary to describe it.  A major tourist destination during the warm summer months, it dramatically slows down the moment the days begin to shorten and the wet, cool days of fall begin to appear before the winter snow.  Depending on your climatic preferences, this may be a good or a bad thing, but for this tired traveler, fall is the perfect time to wander along the Alpine wonderlands like Ascona.  Empty cobblestone streets, incredible restaurants tugged away along the winding, narrow streets, and friendly locals not worn out by the endless masses of tourists from the summer months.  It is the slow life at its best, and it feeds something in us that never gets much attention during our busy, everyday lives.

For most people like me, places like Ascona are the stuff we generally view through movies or old postcards.  They are indeed “the road less traveled,” too detached from our daily lives, too remote, and somewhat off the front pages of most travel guides.  Mention Tuscany to anyone and you will sure get a smile and the usual “I’d love to go there.”  Mention Ascona (or Locarno for that matter) and most likely what you’ll get is a “where’s that?” type of response.  Can’t blame anyone for not being familiar with the place, for after a nearly six-hour train from Geneva followed by a 20-minute bus ride from Locarno, I can fully understand why this place is not on people’s everyday radar.  It certainly was not in mine, but once I discovered, I couldn’t help but think that I should have placed places like this much higher in my to-do travel list.  With a local population of just over 5,000 people (2008 figures), this Locarno municipality is not the kind of place you would visit if late-night revelry is your kind of thing.  But if you are a writer, or a creative artist, then this is certainly the place for you, specially during the off-summer months.  It is a place for leisure walks and self-renewal, in town or beyond its borders in the Centrovalli (100 valleys) area.  But one word of warning: once you’ve visited Ascona, you will never be the same.  The mere thought that places like this actually exist in this world at all is enough to take your wanderlust to a new, stratospheric level.  And no matter how much time it takes to get to this quiet, romantic shore, it will definitely be worth every tired, aching step on anyone’s journey.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 21st, 2014 at 9:35 am

The Simple Beauty Of Locarno

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The imposing Madonna del Sasso church and monastery watch over the town of Locarno and the Swiss Alps.

The imposing Madonna del Sasso church and monastery watch over the town of Locarno and the Swiss Alps.

A rainy day doesn't seem to scare shoppers at the quaint Via alla Ramogna near the Locarno train station.

A rainy day doesn’t seem to scare shoppers at the quaint Via alla Ramogna near the Locarno train station.

Like in so many other places in Europe, entering through an open door can reveal some magnificent views generally hidden from the public.

Like in so many other places in Europe, entering through an open door can reveal some magnificent views generally hidden from the public.

One of the most beautifully serene piazzas in Locarno is the Chiesa di Sant'Antonio.

Up the hill from the main shopping area in Locarno lies one of the most beautifully serene piazzas in the city, the Chiesa di Sant’Antonio.

Locarno's old town is a wonderful maze of colorful, narrow streets lined with small shops and family-owned restaurants.

Locarno’s old town is a wonderful maze of colorful, narrow streets lined with small shops and family-owned restaurants.

The old doors and brick structure of Castello Visconteo are a reminder of 15th Century Locarno.

The old doors and brick structure of Castello Visconteo are a reminder of 15th Century Locarno.

Doors that are closed during the early morning hours open up to reveal some of the most incredible courtyards in Ticino.

Doors that are closed during the early morning hours open up to reveal some of the most incredible courtyards in Ticino.

The many covered walkways in Locarno are lined with boutique shops, gelato stands, and a whole array of Italian restaurants.

The many covered walkways in Locarno are lined with boutique shops, gelato stands, and a whole array of Italian restaurants.

Not even flooding could stop traveling musicians from setting shop at the shore of Lago Maggiore.

Not even flooding could stop traveling musicians from setting shop at the shore of Lago Maggiore.

Nearly ten years ago I had the pleasure of driving near Locarno, Switzerland on my way to Lucerne, it’s more popular neighbor to the north.  At the time I remember being so fascinated with the landscape that I promised myself that one day I would return to visit Locarno and its surrounding areas.  Well, here I am, and to say that Locarno has lived up to my expectations would be a gross understatement.  The postcard beauty of this small town by Lago Maggiore is only exceeded by the friendliness of its people.  And while I must admit that I was a bit skeptical of the description of the Ticino area as one having “Italian culture with Swiss efficiency,” I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is indeed the case.

Four great sights seem to be at the heart of this great Swiss region.  For starters, there is the imposing Lago Maggiore, which appears to be suspended in air while blessed with clear Alpine waters.  Then there is the center of Locarno, the curved Piazza Grande, lined by the old town to its north.  Further up the mountain is the famous Santuario della Madonna del Sasso, with its imposing views of Lago Maggiore, the city of Locarno, and the snow-capped Alps around the lake.  And last, but not least, there are the Alps themselves, ruggedly imposing and with snow tops reminding you of that idyllic world we all experienced only in postcards.  It is all the kind of visual wonderland that only existed in our imaginations.  Perhaps too much to take in during just one visit, but it all leaves you with the unmistakable feeling that whatever magic the place is playing on you, there is no doubt that you want more of it in your life, and lots of it.  I know that the moment I watch Locarno from my train window receding in the horizon, the same feeling which consumed me so many years ago will immediately return.  I will have to come back someday, but this time it will not be out of curiosity.  Rather, it will be out of an incredible sense of wonderment.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 18th, 2014 at 10:17 am

24 Hours In Lausanne

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Even during a short visit, it won't take you long before you are captivated by Lausanne's easy-going rhythm and wonderful scenes.

Even during a short visit, it won’t take you long before you are captivated by Lausanne’s easy-going rhythm and wonderful scenes.

While not a large city, Lausanne's many twisted streets and hidden treasures will surprise you at every turn.

While not a large city, Lausanne’s many twisted streets and hidden treasures will surprise you at every turn.

The downtown section between Rue Centrale and Rue de Bourg is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Switzerland.

The downtown section between Rue Centrale and Rue de Bourg is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque neighborhoods in Switzerland.

Perhaps the most prominent landmark in Lausanne, the Lausanne Cathedral sits majestically over the city.

Perhaps the most prominent landmark in Lausanne, the Lausanne Cathedral sits majestically over the city.

As in most of Europe, old and new sit side-by-side in this ancient city.

As in most of Europe, old and new sit side-by-side in this ancient city.

Trendy, new bars are beginning to appear down the famous Rue du Petit-Chêne leading to the main train station.

Trendy, new bars are beginning to appear down the famous Rue du Petit-Chêne leading to the main train station.

Young lovers seemed perfectly at ease during a school break in the middle of the day.

Young lovers seemed perfectly at ease during a school break in the middle of the day.

Once again, and after a few years, I find myself in Lausanne, Switzerland.  However, and unlike the last time I had the good fortune to visit this wonderful city by Lake Geneva, this visit was a short one.  In fact, it lasted barely 24 hours, and while admitedly too brief, it was nevertheless enough to remind me of why I fell in love with this place during my first visit.  Perhaps it was the much slower pace than I’m used to, or the contagious courtesy of the Swiss people, or perhaps it was the natural beauty of an old, hilly city dotted with twisting cobblestone streets that captivated me.  Not sure.  But one thing I do know for sure: Lausanne is a hidden gem hidden from most people’s travel radar, and that is a pity.

The city impresses the moment you set foot on it.  Walk up from the train station via the curvy Rue du Petit-Gêne and you will begin to see boutique hotels and quaint restaurants that you are sure to visit during your stay.  Reach the higher elevation Rue du Grand-Gêne and (after you have a chance to catch your breath), you’ll be right next to the majestic Lausanne Palace Hotel and the imposing Place Saint-François.  Walk down to the Rue Centrale to find some of the best cafes and pastry shops in the city before getting lost in the old town.  This was pretty much all I had time for during my 24-hour visit while in transit to Locarno at the tip of Lago Maggiore.  Overlooking the tiered vineyards of the Valais from the train on the way out of the city, I found myself wishing for more time in Lausanne and wondering whether Locarno would be just as enchanting for this wondering photographer.  I was soon to find out that the answer was a resounding yes, but that is a story for a later day.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 14th, 2014 at 1:12 pm

So That’s What A Book Looks Like

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While the sale of e-books continues to skyrocket, traditional bookstores continue to fight for customers attention.

While the sale of e-books continues to skyrocket, traditional bookstores continue to fight for customers attention.

The Second Story Books store at Dupont Circle has become somewhat of a rare books landmark in the neighborhood.

The Second Story Books store at Dupont Circle has become somewhat of a rare books landmark in the neighborhood.

At Second Story Books carts full of books are placed outside the store for customer to purchase under an apparent honor system.

At Second Story Books carts full of books are placed outside the store for customer to purchase under an apparent honor system.

The eclectic bookstore offerings and old-fashioned displays add significant character to the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

The eclectic bookstore offerings and old-fashioned displays add significant character to the Dupont Circle neighborhood.

While traditional books continue to appeal to an older generation, today's youth is not so taken with nostalgia.

While traditional books continue to appeal to an older generation, today’s youth is not so taken with nostalgia.

I’m always fascinated by bookstores.  Never mind that long ago I made the transition to e-readers, though, because no matter this surrender to the modern era, I still can’t resist the lingering nostalgia that comes from having been part of the pre-Internet generation.  Not that my memory of simpler times leads to any sale during my visits (carrying a camera all day seems enough for me these days), but rather that in the process of transitioning to the digital age, all sorts of things were admittedly lost in the process.  The physical sensation that comes from walking between rows and rows of books, the orderly lack of uniformity and topics on the shelves, and the childish satisfaction that accompanied the process of purchasing a book.  All great things, but perhaps more relevant to an era when physical access to a whole slew of bookstores was more the norm rather than an exception.  Notwithstanding this reality, bookstores out there are not giving up without a fight and seem to have figured something out by concentrating in neighborhoods that do away with the need for anyone to get into a car to reach them.  This is good news.  But is this a last stand or the wave of the future?  Hard to say.  What I know is that bookstores are still out there, and that just in case, we must all enjoy them while we can.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 6th, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Off The Beaten Path: The Jones Point Lighthouse

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The historical Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, VA sits regally along the shores of the Potomac River.

The historical Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, VA sits regally along the shores of the Potomac River.

 

Hardly ever visited by tourists, the old lighthouse also marks one of the 1792 survey points for the boundaries of the nation's capital.

Hardly ever visited by tourists, the old lighthouse also marks one of the 1792 survey points for the boundaries of the nation’s capital.

One of the few riverine lighthouses along the Potomac River, the lighthouse was in operation for 70 years from 1856 to 1926.

One of the few riverine lighthouses along the Potomac River, the lighthouse was in operation for 70 years from 1856 to 1926.

Once used for target practice by the Army during WWII, the lighthouse and adjacent grounds were fully restored during the early 1960s.

Once used for target practice by the Army during WWII, the lighthouse and adjacent grounds were fully restored during the early 1960s.

Here’s one place that most likely very few of you (if any) has ever visited: the Jones Point Lighthouse in Alexandria, Virginia.  Don’t blame you, though, because admittedly, I recently discovered the place myself.  Well, discovered in the sense that someone else led me there during this year’s Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photowalk (read rainy, cold day).  Not having had much time that day to photograph the place, I decided that I would come back to this somewhat isolated spot along the Potomac River when I didn’t have to fight a multitude of photographers for position, or the weather for that matter.  But once I set out to find the place, I began to realize why the lighthouse is somewhat of a desolate, albeit beautiful, place.  The lighthouse is just not easy to find, let alone bump into, even when millions of people drive by it everyday as they cross the Woodrow Wilson Bridge linking Virginia to Maryland.  Getting there, though, is half the fun, specially during the fall season when the park seems to be celebrating a festival of colors, with reds, orange, and yellow leaves shinning bright against the deep blue sky of autumn.  Considering that downtown Washington, DC lies only a few miles away, you would think that the Jones Point park and lighthouse would be on people’s radars when visiting the area, but the opposite seems to be true.  Quiet, isolated, and only reachable by foot, it sits majestically and alone by the water’s edge, with its occasional visitors enjoying the zen-like experience the place seems to induce.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 3rd, 2014 at 11:48 am

Meandering Through Hong Kong

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Old and new are in full display along the magestic Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.

Old and new are in full display along the magestic Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.

One of the many hidden gems in the Central region of Hong Kong is a small sitting park just a few blocks from Queen's Road Central.

One of the many hidden gems in the Central region of Hong Kong is a small sitting park just a few blocks from Queen’s Road Central.

A few blocks from the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui sits one of the greatest tributes to Shakespeare you'll find anywhere in the world.

A few blocks from the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui sits one of the greatest tributes to Shakespeare you’ll find anywhere in the world.

The view from inside the Star Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong Island.

The view from inside the Star Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong Island.

Restaurants in Hong Kong are everywhere, but if you dig a little, you will be rewarded with some great, off-the-beaten-path finds.

Restaurants in Hong Kong are everywhere, but if you dig a little, you will be rewarded with some great, off-the-beaten-path finds.

Old fish markets sit side-by-side with modern Hong Kong in the Central area near Hollywood Road.

Old fish markets sit side-by-side with modern Hong Kong in the Central area near Hollywood Road.

Shiny new buildings provide an imposing backdrop to a myriad of small, traditional markets in Hong Kong.

Shiny new buildings provide an imposing backdrop to a myriad of small, traditional markets in Hong Kong.

The relentless fast pace of life in Hong Kong does take its toll on the locals.

The relentless fast pace of life in Hong Kong does take its toll on the locals.

The intricate lift machinery at Victoria Peak makes sure the historical tram makes it up the steep mountain without a glitch.

The intricate lift machinery at Victoria Peak makes sure the historical tram makes it up the steep mountain without a glitch.

One of the many quaint establishments along the hillside Hollywood Street in Central.

One of the many quaint establishments along the hillside Hollywood Street in Central.

A visitor takes in the view of Victoria Harbor, undoubtedly one of the most scenic places on earth.

A visitor takes in the view of Victoria Harbor, undoubtedly one of the most scenic places on earth.

As the pilot announced our descent to the Hong Kong airport, images of an exotic, long-lost world kept creeping into my mind.  I kept thinking of 1841 and the first Opium Wars that led to the British acquisition of Hong Kong under the 1842 Treaty of Nanking as if it were yesterday.  I guess some part of me wanted to walk back into that world to witness the chaotic, yet exciting period of discovery and adventure in history.  It is as if Hong Kong (at least for me) made more sense by looking backwards than looking forward.  Unjustly as it may sound, it was the city’s past that fascinated me more than its future.  This feeling didn’t last long, for as soon as I debarked the aircraft and came face-to-face with Hong Kong’s slick, shiny airport and its modern airport express train, a new, futuristic concept of the city entered my consciousness.  Maybe it was the city’s crowded streets full of hastily moving people, or maybe the incredible heaven-reaching architecture surrounding Victoria Harbor that refocused my attention to the future.  Not sure.  But one thing is undeniable the moment you set foot in Hong Kong: that this is a vibrant, energetic city being driven into the 21st Century by an eager, youth-centered population bent on making its mark on the world stage.  The city’s energy could be felt everywhere, and it was quite contagious.

But to say that Hong Kong has moved on from its past would be overstating the fact.  Along with its shinny new high-rise buildings, a myriad of traditional, old-world markets line its narrow streets and alleyways.  This is specially the case on Hong Kong Island and the Central sector of the city, where you will walk past a majestic, modern building just to come face-to-face with a street restaurant that does all its cooking right there on a street kitchen.  Venture to either side of the longest electric escalator in the world, the Central Mid-Levels staircase, and you will soon find yourself a century back in time amidst butcher shops and street vendors selling everything from Mao’s little red book to elaborate jade jewelry.  And when crossing the imposing Victoria Harbor to visit the famous Tsim Sha Tsui district (and Bruce Lee’s famous statute along the Avenue of Stars), you will have your choice of either riding the ultra-modern city metro system or the historic Star Ferry across the bay.  Old and new, side-by-side, against a backdrop that you will not find anywhere else in the world.  As I boarded the plane for my return trip to America, I realized that Hong Kong had showed me that the future only makes sense in relation to the past.  As the city wrestles with its place in the world in a new century, it seems to find its safe footing in that long-gone colonial past.  Like an alchemist, it continues to blend its many potions in the hope that something new and exciting results from its many efforts.  If you ask me, I think that this old alchemist is up to something great.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

October 11th, 2014 at 8:44 am

Witnessing Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

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The simple umbrella became the great symbol of the youth-driven democracy protests downtown Hong Kong.

The simple umbrella became the great symbol of the youth-driven democracy protests downtown Hong Kong.

 

The Central Hong Kong Admiralty section and the Administrator's compound became the epicenter for the Hong Kong protesters.

The Central Hong Kong Admiralty section and the Administrator’s compound became the epicenter for the Hong Kong protesters.

The 24-hour vigil in Admiralty led the protesting youth to sleep wherever they found a flat surface, but mostly in the middle of the blocked highway.

The 24-hour vigil in Admiralty led the protesting youth to sleep wherever they found a flat surface, but mostly in the middle of the blocked highway.

It was easy to see why this protest against China's decision to vent local candidates before elections was dubbed the Umbrella Revolution.

It was easy to see why this protest against China’s decision to vent local candidates before elections was dubbed the Umbrella Revolution.

Even during the slow periods, protestors appeared to be quite prepared for any eventuality.

Even during the slow periods, protestors appeared to be quite prepared for any eventuality.

The wall leading to the Hong Kong Administrator's office buildings became a focal point for the expression of protestors' sentiments.

The wall leading to the Hong Kong Administrator’s office buildings became a focal point for the expression of protestors’ sentiments.

Everywhere you looked, you could see signs that would never be tolerated in any other part of country outside Hong Kong.

Everywhere you looked, you could see signs that would never be tolerated in any other part of country outside Hong Kong.

Like so many other visitors to Hong Kong, I was fascinated by this complex metropolis.  With one of the highest population densities in the world, Hong Kong is a sea of constant activity and a dynamic vibe that would make lots of major cities in America look like they are on life support.  And while I do intend to post a little more about this former British territory soon, I couldn’t help but start my Hong Kong posts with the most famous event taking place there during my recent visit.  Of course, this was not all that was happening in Hong Kong during this past week, but rather that if you read anything about the place recently, most likely it had something to do with the pro-Democracy demonstrations taking place at various places in the city.

It didn’t take long for the press to dub these youth-driven demonstrations “The Umbrella Revolution.”  The simple umbrella, which initially served to shield the protestors from the barrage of pepper spray that descended on them on 28 September, rapidly became the symbol of resistance against mainland China’s decision to require any candidate for the top post in the city during the upcoming 2016 elections to receive pre-approval from Beijing before qualifying to run for office.  To say that the young people in Hong Kong disagreed with this mandate would be a gross understatement.  To the streets they went, specially to the part of Central Hong Kong known as Admiralty, where the main government offices are located right along Victoria Harbor.  Having booked a hotel nearby, I couldn’t resist the temptation to check the demonstration out, praying all along that my visit would not coincide with the next pepper spray festival downtown.  What did I find when I got there?  For starters, some of the best behaved and friendly demonstrators I’ve seen anywhere.  There were teams organized to pick up garbage around the clock, for water and food distribution, and for communication.  People constantly approached me to see if I understood why they were out there and to make sure I fully grasped the seriousness of their concerns.  A generation that was mostly born after the British ended their authority over the islands wanted the world to listen to their defense of freedom and democracy–two words that are growingly taken for granted by so many, but which still fuel the dreams and aspirations of countless others around the world today.  And did they mind being photographed while protesting?  Not at all.  Their only concern appeared to be that the world would ignore their plight, but judging by what I have seen in the press over the last week or so, their story has received quite a lot of attention all over the world.  Whether their demands will ever amount to anything is perhaps a more challenging question.  I guess we will have to wait and see.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

October 7th, 2014 at 10:57 pm

H Street Festival Rocks The City Again

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Along the entire H Street corridor in DC, multiple stages keep the place rocking throughout the day.

Along the entire H Street corridor in DC, multiple stages keep the place rocking throughout the day.

As improvable as it may sound, DC residents can let their hair down and can bogey with the best of them.

As improvable as it may sound, DC residents can let their hair down and party with the best of them.

Playing non-stop rock & roll oldies, the energetic middle-aged band brought the house down along H Street.

Playing non-stop rock & roll oldies, the energetic middle-aged band brought the house down along H Street.

As if the many bands at both ends of H Street were not enough, area DJ's kept the crowd dancing on the street.

As if the many bands at both ends of H Street were not enough, area DJ’s kept the crowd dancing on the street.

The festival is undeniably the best multicultural event in DC, where ladies with parasols and people grilling from inside the hood of their cars mingle for a day.

Undeniably the best multicultural event in DC, the festival brings together people from all walks of life for a day.

Absent the manicured galleries at other DC neighborhoods, H Street artists display their creations right where everyone can see them.

Absent the manicured galleries at other DC neighborhoods, H Street artists display their creations right where everyone can see them.

What can you say about the yearly H Street Festival downtown Washington, DC.  Have I mentioned before that this is by far my favorite street festival in the area?  Well, it is, and every year I go back to take some pictures and to enjoy the music, the incredible restaurants, and above all, the laid-back party atmosphere at the place.  Apparently I’m not alone in thinking that way, as judging by the wall-to-wall crowds, this must be one of the best attended festival in DC.  Not served by a metro station and somewhat out-of-the-way from the tourist areas in the city, H Street is one of those places that you reach by either intentionally walking there for a reason (and there are many reasons to visit) or simply by getting lost.  But no one has problems finding the place in September, when masses of revelers and artists descend on the neighborhood for a cultural festival like no other in this town of buttoned-up politicians.  Boasting some of the best ethnic restaurants in town, H Street more than makes up for its otherwise glamorous-challenged existence by becoming party central for a day.  That the festival happens to coincide with the start of the famous Oktoberfest in Munich is even better, because just like in that great German festival, the folks at H Street never run out of beer either.  :-)

Written by whereaboutsphoto

September 21st, 2014 at 2:09 pm