The Root Of Our Worries

Job Stress

Photographers are an unhappy lot. Or so it would seem from the amount of time they spend discussing equipment, projects, and the apparent success of others in the trade. See some great photos of the Amalfi coast with a golden sunset as a backdrop? Within seconds that sinking feeling of “what am I doing sitting here instead,” begins to take over like the morning fog along the California coast. These understandable worries seem to have their roots in the competitive nature of everything we do these days. It is the feeling that from the moment we wake up each day, we are in a constant race, with too many people seemingly sprinting past us in order to increase the gap that separates us by the end of the day. To a large extent, it has become increasingly more difficult to measure how far we have all come by simply looking at where we started. No, in the spirit of constant competition, the measurement of how far we have all come is growingly dominated by a comparison with others, irrelevant of the reality that not everyone started this so-called race from different starting points. It is the mentality of finite glory, of feeling so far from that Amalfi Coast scenery for us to find any sort of meaning and success on our own coast.

This professional anxiety may be taking its toll on us. At the very least, it stifles creativity by its very nature, and by leading too many people to what I will refer to as an “imitative state” of mind that focuses too much on the emulation of someone else’s success rather than on the development of a personal brand of success. It is the exact opposite of Robert Frost’s advice in The Road Not Taken, with all of the psychological dependencies that accompany the relentless pursuit of the imitative life. This is not to say, though, that the adoption of creative blinders is the answer to that which worries us. Rather, the distinction that I’m alluding to points to the difference between observing and learning from the creative genius of others, and the unaware psychological need of trying to emulate that which is the unique product of someone else’s creativity and genius. The perceived gap of the imitative life is where you will most likely find the roots of all our worries. The popular photographer Zack Arias referred to all these perceptions in our heads as “noise” standing in the way of our own creative actualization. Getting rid of this noise is not easy, for there is so much of it being bombarded into our heads every day. But perhaps the key of getting rid of all those worries and dependencies lies precisely on our ability to suppress that noise, or simply overcome it by singing our own voices louder above their level of disruption. We just have to grow comfortable with our own song and realize that it is as sweet a melody as anyone else has ever produced.

 

Bourbon Heaven In Fredericksburg

A bourbon barrel at the A. Smith Bourbon Distillery performs double duty. [Click photo for larger version]
A bourbon barrel at the A. Smith Bourbon Distillery performs double duty. [Click photos for larger versions]
Large, commercial distillers busily convert corn-based products into glorious bourbon.
Large, commercial distillers busily convert corn-based products into glorious bourbon.
Over 700 full barrels sleep their days away while slowly imparting unique personalities to the bourbon inside.
Over 700 full barrels sleep their days away while slowly imparting unique personalities to the bourbon inside.
Anyone for a taste? The varied products are available for tasting after you finish touring the facility.
Anyone for a taste? The varied products are available for tasting after you finish touring the facility.
A small production line for their hand-crafted products  can be found within the main visitor's building.
A small production line for their hand-crafted products can be found within the main visitor’s building.

I must confess that even when having lived here for a long time, the good, old state of Virginia just keeps on surprising me.  It seems that everywhere you turn, you’ll find someone making some great product that you’ve never heard of before.  This week for me it was bourbon.  Now, I do know that in some parts of Virginia little details like Prohibition have never dampened the local’s taste for liquids other than water, but bourbon is something that we all tend to (and by default, I’m afraid) associate with the folks in Kentucky.  This probably has more to do with ignorance than with taste, though.  Well, no more.  From what I experienced at the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg recently, Virginia is definitely a bourbon state, and in a big way.  We’re talking about the hand-crafted, small batch stuff here, not the gallons coming out of a mega-distillery partially owned by some European investment group.  And while I was familiar with the famous saying, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon,” this was the first time that I had a chance to walk in to a facility where I could smell the perfume bourbon scent in all its glory.  One hour touring the distillery and there was no doubt in my mind that if you are a bourbon aficionado, this place has to be on your radar screen, and pronto.

 

How well I remember my first encounter with The Devil’s Brew. I happened to stumble across a case of bourbon, and went right on stumbling for several days thereafter.   (W.C. Fields)

 

Tucked away right off Rt. 17 South right past the town of Fredericksburg, the A. Smith Bowman Distillery has to be one of the best kept non-secrets in Northern Virginia. The distillery not only produces an impressive variety of bourbons locally (have I mentioned the great aroma yet?), but they also provide some extremely informative tours of the place before you get down to the “business” of sampling their products. Unfortunately, and to my chagrin, I happened to find myself there without a designated driver and had to pass on the tasting portion of the tour (which required serious depletion of my residual self-control supply). But, there’s always next time, and in the words of the great Arnold Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.”

 

The Lakeside Town Of Como

Lake Como is surrounded by some of the most picturesque towns in Europe. [Click photos for larger versions]
Lake Como is surrounded by some of the most picturesque towns in Europe. [Click photos for larger versions]
Getting lost in the winding, narrow streets in town is the best way to find the region's hidden treasures.
Getting lost in the winding, narrow streets in town is the best way to find the region’s hidden treasures.
A typical, small bar down one of the many side streets in the old part of town.
A typical, small bar down one of the many side streets in the old part of town.
The small Piazza Duomo is lined with restaurants facing the imposing Cattedrale di Como.
The small Piazza Duomo is lined with restaurants facing the imposing Cattedrale di Como.
Street musicians bring a little romance to the old town.
Street musicians bring a little romance to the old town.
The Piazza Alessandro Volta  is typical of the small towns dotting the northern Italian lakes.
The Piazza Alessandro Volta is typical of the small towns dotting the northern Italian lakes.
During the spring season, and before tourists descend on Como in great numbers, you can have many streets to yourself.
During the spring season, and before tourists descend on Como in great numbers, you can have many streets to yourself.
The beauty of Lake Como attracts lovers from all over the world to its shores.
The beauty of Lake Como attracts lovers from all over the world to its shores.
Set of stairs leading to and from the town's main train station.
Set of stairs leading to and from the town’s main train station.

If I ever were going to attempt to write romantic novels for a living (don’t worry, I’m not), there is no doubt in my mind that I would do so from a place like Como in Italy. This sleepy, little town by the shores of the lake that takes its name, Lake Como, is everything you can imagine of the romanticism of a bygone era, and then some. What is it with these northern lake regions in Italy and southern Switzerland? To say they are beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe them, because they are so much more than that. In fact, I had once heard a Swiss actress in America say that she returned to her small village in the area every year in order to recharge her spirit. And now that I have had some time to wander in the area from Locarno in Lago Maggiore to Como, I now fully understand what this actress was talking about. Life at a slower pace, natural beauty beyond description, and some of the most wonderful food in the world combine to form the perfect antidote to all that ails us in our busy, chaotic lives. I may not know how many places in the world possess such wonderful potion, but Como definitely has its share of it.

Como the town is not a big place, but three main areas seem to dominate the region. For starters, there’s Lake Como with its postcard-perfect landscape. This southernmost part of the lake is quite a busy place, with ferries taking passengers to other famous towns around the lake and lovers slowly strolling down Lungolago Mafalda di Savoia as if oblivious to the world. The lake and its indescribable scenery are nothing short of visual candy, and sitting by that shore on a perfect spring day will be all the proof you’ll ever need that it is possible to be happy in this life.

The other two main areas in town are the city-center square, Piazza Alessandro Volta, and the imposing Cattedrale di Como at Piazza Duomo. Both extremely impressive and surrounded by small shops and quaint restaurants where you could easily pass the hours away with total disregard to time. In between these two, an old-world paradise for the senses makes sure that you never move at a fast pace while you are in town (which the many cafes in the area would’ve guaranteed anyway). Stopping every few steps to gawk at some window display while stopping yourself from spending your retirement money becomes virtually impossible in Como. This is what Italy does to you, and we love her for it.

On the train back to Milan I couldn’t stop thinking of how beautiful this country is.  Sitting in that train longingly looking out the window to the passing countryside before me, I couldn’t help but think that I had just been to one of the most wonderful places on this planet. And as the train got farther and farther away from Como, the famous words of composer Giuseppe Verdi kept replaying in my head: “You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” My sentiments exactly.

 

A Short (And Wonderful) Visit To Milan, Italy

Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]
Milan is an elegant city where locals like to look good even when just strolling downtown. [Click photos for larger versions]
The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.
The stunning Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is the place to be when visiting the City Center in Milan.
Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.
Just like in Rome and Venice, building doors open to reveal incredible courtyards usually hidden from the public.
Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II there are some of the best cafés in the city.
Along the flag-drapped and classy Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II you can find some of the best cafés in the city.
Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.
Butcher shops, like this one in the Brera neighborhood just off the City Center, are typical fixtures in Milan.
The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.
The covered walkways surrounding the imposing Piazza del Duomo are the perfect spots for people watching in the city.
The busy cafés along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.
The busy coffee bars along Via Giuseppe Verdi cater to an elegant clientele who know at all hours of the day.
If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.
If you suddenly woke up and saw a scene like this, you would immediately know you are in Italy.
One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.
One of the smaller concert rooms inside La Scala opera house in Milan.
One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.
One of the most-visited attractions in Milan is the Castello Sforzesco at the end of the shop-filled Via Dante.
Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.
Walk ten minutes in any direction from downtown Milan and you will find small, quaint parks in which to enjoy a quiet moment.

The richest city in Italy is one that is often ignored by tourists. Not that they never go there, but rather that it just doesn’t get the same amount of attention as Venice to the east or Rome to the south. That’s a pity, because after spending some time in Milan, I am convinced that this northern powerhouse has to be one of the nicest cities I’ve visited in a long time. While Venice and Rome are representatives of the country’s past, Milan is definitely the poster child for Italy’s future. Sophisticated, classy, and energetic, this northern-most post of all things Italian oozes with class and energy. Not sure what it is, but there’s definitely a different vive about it that is hard to find in other parts of Italy. Not necessarily better, but different, and in a good way.

Landing in Milan I was well aware of the city’s fashion and publishing fame. In fact, the publisher who brought the world Boris Pasternak’s smuggled script of Doctor Zhivago hailed from Milan. And when it comes to fashion, you name it and it is in Milan. But what I was not aware of was how nice the Italians from this city were. Friendly, conversational, and kind of patient with the hordes of people who swarm the city during international events like the World Expo, they are approachable and always willing to help.  And then there’s food. It’s almost impossible to do it justice with words alone, but suffice it to say that if you spend any time in Milan and don’t put on some serious poundage, then there’s something definitely wrong with you. From the famous Aperitivo hours (a sort of Happy Hour where you buy a single drink and can gorge from a buffet for three hours) to the out-of-this-world Risotto a la Milanese, the city’s bounty is a perfect compliment to the fabulous wines from the adjacent regions (Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Amarone). And coffee. As far as I am concerned, standing along coffee bar counters for a quick caffè, macchiato, or marocchino in the afternoon is reason alone to visit Italy, and in Milan you’ll find yourself rubbing shoulders with perfectly coiffed locals getting their afternoon fix.

The visual rewards of the city are just as compelling as its lifestyle. The downtown is dominated by two of the most famous structures in the world: the gothic-styled Dumo Cathedral with its 3,600 statutes and the über-elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Both breathtaking to say the least. Drift behind the Galleria and you will find yourself face-to-face with Teatro alla Scala, the most famous opera theater in the world. Walk a bit further and you can get happily lost in Brera, a neighborhood of twisted streets, university-district ambiance, and a multitude of incredible, small restaurants that could easily be featured in postcards. The green Metro line will rapidly take you to the Navigli, where elegant canals designed by Michelangelo are lined with restaurants and stylish bars that provide some of the best nightlife in the city.

There’s a lot more to Milan that I could ever describe in these short paragraphs. Suffice it to say that this photo-friendly city (no doubt the result of the armies of models and designers that hang around the place) was a real joy to visit. And when the time came to catch my return flight, I simply wasn’t ready at all to leave this wonderful place. Like Zurich to the north, Milan is one of those understated cities where you immediately (and effortlessly) feel at home, even if most tourist brochures never tell you this. Then again, this may be one of the best kept secrets in the world, so I better stop talking. Just don’t tell anyone.

As 2014 Comes To A Close …

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

 

 

The Wonder Of Simple Scenes

In a large city full of art galleries and majestic buildings, it was a simple red chair that captivated my imagination.
In a large city full of art galleries and majestic buildings, it was a simple red chair that captivated my imagination.

To be perfectly candid, I never go out with the intention of photographing chairs, or any other type of furniture for that matter.  In fact, when I recently encountered this scene, I had already snapped hundreds of photos of people and architectural landmarks.  What’s more, I have walked down this little, hidden street on too many occasions to count, and never had I seen this small table with a red chair before.  What made it more interesting was that it was never my intention to photograph the young lady in the photo.  In fact, when I started kneeling down to compose the photo, this person was not even in the frame.  I never saw her, but suddenly she went past me from behind and there she was in my camera frame like an apparition.  You know that feeling when someone you never saw suddenly appears from behind you?  Well, that was my immediate feeling when I saw the lady.  And the red shoes?  Call that a photographic bonus, because I’m not sure this scene would have worked as well without those shoes, so I’ll take luck any day.

OK, I’ve Had Enough Of Winter

The long, cold winter in the Washington, DC area has taken its toll on the local food truck industry.
The long, cold winter in the Washington, DC area has taken its toll on the local food truck industry.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that we’ve had enough of this winter.  Not that the DC Metro area can compare with the likes of Norway or Hokkaido, but rather that we are just not used to this long, wintry seasons any more.  Sure, they show up every three or four years, but this lack of consistency is not enough for anyone to justify those big winter purchases, if you know what I mean.  Proof of this is the fact that a single inch of snow is enough to close all area schools and the Federal government (do they still get paid if they stay home?).  Small businesses are affected as well when area customers gravitate to shopping malls and large retailers in order to stay warm while overcoming cabin fever syndrome.  So, if by any chance Pope Francis happens to be reading this blog (I know, a long shot, but I’m going to take it anyway), I would like to ask him to do a little lobbying above his pay grade to see if this endless winter can finally be put to rest.  And just in case, a million thank-you’s in advance.

Are People Necessary For Good Urban Photography?

While I prefer to photograph people in urban environments, sometimes the emptiness of a scene is what makes the photograph.
While I prefer to photograph people in urban environments, sometimes the emptiness of a scene is what makes the photograph.
I often wonder whether we like seeing people in photographs because they enhance our ability to relate to the scene.
I often wonder whether we like seeing people in photographs because they enhance our ability to relate to the scene.

I have to admit that just about every time I go out with my cameras in any city, it is people scenes that I am after.  I think this is probably true of just about every street photographer out there, and even when I do not consider myself a street photographer in the strictest sense of the term, I can totally sympathize with the impact (or sense of wonderment) that people bring to a photograph.  What can I say?  It’s all pretty much a matter of personal preference, and personal means that everyone will have a slightly different opinion about this.

Having said that, I do think that people add an additional dimension to our interpretation of a photograph.  If anything, they make these photographs a bit less flat, less three-dimensional in our heads.  Human nature also makes us identify with people in photographs.  If they are looking in a particular direction, so do we.  We feel the weight of anything they carry, the sadness in their expressions, and the love in their eyes.  Their emotions, real or imagined, become our emotions.  We try to see through their eyes, to relive the scene as we imagine they lived it when the photograph was taken.  It becomes personal in a way that an empty scene will have a hard time emulating.  It is the magic of the still photograph and the reason why so many of us love this art form.

Wouldn’t You Rather Be Alone?

A little solitude can always be found, even in crowded cities.  Leica M9, Summarit-M 90mm f/2.5.
A little solitude can always be found, even in crowded cities. Leica M9, Summarit-M 90mm f/2.5.

I recently came across a famous quote by the notorious French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre which said, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”  Needless to say, this got me thinking.  What came to mind right away was the many hours photographers and other creative people spend by themselves in pursuit of their creative passion.  Or as Sartre would surely had put it if he were alive, is it that they need to be alone or merely in the absence of the distracting influence of others?  From my rather mundane interpretation of these alternative arguments, I would say that it is a little bit of both.  No doubt the solitary pursuit of your art will require the type of focus that is impossible to achieve when others are competing for your attention.  Call it the need to get into the proverbial zone, or reaching your zen, or whatever.  Of course, this would seem to apply more to activities that by their very nature do not require the presence of others (like playing on a basketball team, or being part of a rock band), but the point is that to truly achieve a great level of depth in your art, the more individuals are left alone, the more they seem to create.

But solitude in the pursuit of greatness, internal or otherwise, is also a double-edged sword.  Just recently read an article from a photographer who had embarked on a well-planned Africa adventure, but who found himself alone watching one of the most incredible sunsets he had ever seen.  Did he write about the wonderful natural spectacle before him?  Nope, he wrote about not having anyone to share it with (and yes, we already know what Sartre would say to this).  So it all may actually boil down to the individual.  Does the magic in your art requires the presence of others to manifest itself, or would you rather be alone to create it?  I’ll give you some alone time to think about it.

The Great Harvest Bread Co., Warrenton, Virginia

One can only wish that every neighborhood in America would have outstanding bakeries like this with their selections of hand-crafted, crusty delicacies.
Specializing in whole grains milled on a daily basis at their store, the Great Harvest Bread Co. is a must-visit in the town of Warrenton.
A great, energetic staff with a passion for baked goods greets you the moment you walk into the bakery.
It all happens right there in front of your eyes, so you may want to stick around and and learn a thing or two about baking while you are there.

Every time I get out of the city and drive out to the Virginia countryside I am amply rewarded by some new find (at least new for me) and some of the nicest people you would meet anywhere.  This weekend was no exception.  Camera in tow, I decided to head on out to visit the picturesque, small town of Warrenton to check out the Great Harvest Bread Company on Main Street, which for all sorts of reasons I now regret, I had driven by several times without stopping on my way to “the city.”  Owned by Pablo and Lynda Teodoro, self-described “Professional Loafers,” this gem of a bakery is the kind of place we would all love to have within walking distance of our homes.  Walking into the place you are immediately overwhelmed by the yeasty aromas that foretell that you have indeed arrived at bakery heaven.  But it gets even better.  Approach the counter where Pablo’s artisanal creations are waiting for you and you will come face-to-face with a delectable variety of baked goods for you to sample.  Hand-crafted delicacies from locally milled whole grains don’t get much better than this.  Oh, and yes, the waistline.  Well, if you are a bread lover like me, then by now you should have added bakeries like this one to your short list of exceptions under the “life’s too short” column.  I’m sure glad I did.

 

Sitting Pretty, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia

The great Potomac River slowly reaches for the open ocean past Old Town Alexandria.

Couldn’t resist posting this photograph.  It was taken late in the afternoon on Thanksgiving weekend with the Leica M9 and a 28mm Leica Summicron-M f/2 ASPH.  And yes, it was all about that oblivious seagull sitting there facing one of the most beautiful sunsets of the season.  Walk along the Alexandria waterside on any given afternoon and you will be rewarded with many similar scenes.  And yes, there will also be lots of tourists, performers banging on three or four instruments at the same time, and joggers who for some reason find the need to run right through those who are trying to enjoy the scenery.  The secret: face the water, the seagulls, and the sunset, and you’ll soon loose track of the commotion behind you.

Trabant Comes To Washington

The pride and joy of the communist world, the Trabant, is closely guarded by impersonators eerily reminding us of the times of the Belin Wall.
Leave it to the creative folks of the National Spy Museum to reproduce scenes from the former East Germany and the times when spies roamed those dark streets with impunity.
An old too familiar presence in the communist world during the Cold War brought a certain chill to the streets of Washington, DC.
The Trabant, one of the greatest remaining symbols of the communist world and its design and engineering legacy.

I have to say that those folks from the Spy Museum in Washington, DC do know how to put on a show.  During their Fifth Annual Parade of Trabants they introduced locals and tourists alike to the little automobile icons of the communist era: the Trabant.  Of course, I have taken a few photographic liberties by applying some vintage filters to these photos, but I thought that by changing the photos to make them look like they came out of someone’s long-forgotten shoe box in an attic, that this would be more representative of the times when this little East German wonder roamed the streets of East Berlin.  Having seen many times the Berlin Wall and the creepy barbwire that incarcerated the people of East Germany, I have to confess that the presence of these Trabants and the constant wandering around of East German guard impersonators made me at times a bit uneasy.  My mind kept going back to another era and the times when I used to be awaken in the early hours of the morning in Bavaria by the steady roar of hundreds of tanks being loaded into trains for their move towards the wall separating east from west in Germany.  But this was Washington, DC in 2011 and not Germany in 1977, but for some strange reason, getting those images out of my mind was proving impossible.

But what can you say about the Trabant?  To say that this little box was the personification of simplicity would be an exaggeration.  With its 18 horse powers and pollution-generating engine, it has been classified by many as one of the worst engineering creations of all times.  And yet, transported to the Annual Parade of Trabants this weekend, it was described by onlookers as cute, interesting, and outright pretty.  That is, until it was time to get inside to “enjoy the ride.”  For starters, fitting four average Americans into these little wonders was the first challenge, and certainly not pretty.  This was followed by starting of engines and the Trabants working “just as new,” which like in the 1960’s & 70’s started with an explosion of dark smoke and an engine that soon gave up.  On this day, like a generation ago, these East German wonders had to be pushed down the street before they would start up again after letting out a metallic cry that made everyone there turn around and look.  This too transported my mind to another place and another era, but this time I have to confess that the memories were a lot funnier.

Montreux, Switzerland

Outdoor art and sculptures give the town of Montreux a unique feel that few other places in the world can replicate.
Everywhere you look in Montreux you are rewarded with views of indescribable beauty.
While easily accessible to everyone, Montreux does seem to have a certain elegant streak to it that make you think of places like Monte Carlo in the French Riviera.
Elegant hotels and a relaxed atmosphere seem to characterize this gem of a town.

There are places in the world that we often hear about, but very few of us ever visit in our lifetime.  Montreux on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva is one of those places.  The thing is that once you actually get to set foot on this incredible resort town, you kept asking yourself why it took you so long to come to a place like this.  There are no great airports nearby, so getting there does take a little driving or riding one of those efficient Swiss trains from a nearby city.  Personally, I chose to take the train from Lausanne, which thanks to the transportation card provided free of charge by the great Lausanne Palace & Spa Hotel, ended up being a real bargain.  The train station at Montreux sits high above most of the town, which forces you to maneuver down a lot of steps in order to get to the most visited lakeside sections of town.  Here by the lake is where you will find those 5-star hotels with guest launching on manicured grounds while still wearing their thick, white robes.  And yes, looking from outside the privacy fences in does make you feel like you are part of some underclass that came to see how royalty really lives.  OK, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.

What Montreux does for you is that it forces you to relax.  Beautiful gardens, colorful flowers, creative sculptures, and out-of-this-world landscape will bring anyone’s pulse down a notch or two.  Walking by the side of the lake or simply strolling past the many cafes in town, you will soon realize that you are no longer rushing to get anywhere.  Without you noticing, life suddenly acquires that elusive rhythm you have been talking about fruitlessly for far too long.  In Montreux you get to meet your slow lane, and this will make leaving town at the end of the day a lot harder than you can ever imagine.

Lausanne Cathedral, Switzerland

The Lausanne Cathedral is regularly described as the most imposing Gothic Cathedral in Switzerland, and just one look at this wonderful piece of architecture confirms what you read in every guidebook.
The Great Porch of the Cathedral, with its stained glass windows takes a magical view in late afternoon.
Organ music is always the perfect backdrop for a grand Cathedral.

Just about every guidebook or website you visit describes the Lausanne Cathedral as the greatest example of Gothic architecture in Switzerland.  And whether you are familiar with Gothic architecture or not, there is no denying that the moment you set foot on this magnificent city, it is its imposing Cathedral that dominates the landscape.  Sitting high above the city and surrounded by a carpet of orange rooftops, the Cathedral is unmistakably the heart of the city.  Reached by steep and twisted little streets that snake their way through the old town, the climb to this magnificent building is more than worth it.  Entrance is free, but if you have any energy left once you reach its Great Porch, a couple of Swiss Francs will allow you to climb the 223 steps to the top of its highest tower for breathtaking views of the city, Lake Geneva, and the surrounding Swiss Alps.  This must be a well-kept secret because while the Cathedral was filled with tourists, not a single one was seen at the top of the tower.  That was OK with me, as it gave me this feeling that the entire city, and for a very brief moment, belonged entirely to me.

Lausanne, Switzerland

Lake Geneva view from the tower of the Gothic Cathedral in Lausanne, Switzerland.
All roads seem to go through Lausanne, specially those leading to some of the most famous resort towns in Europe.
The Old Town section of Lausanne is a pedestrian wonderland, but this beautiful hill town will give your legs a good workout.

What can you say about Lausanne?  This beautiful Swiss city by the northern shore of Lake Geneva is truly one of the jewels in the European Alpine region.  Easily reached by train from the Geneva airport (via the IC train, which only stops once along the way), you can’t help but feel that you have reached a very special place.  My first impression was that this is a youthful city.  The small train station serving the city was jammed-packed with young people headed to all parts of Europe carrying stuffed backpacks and hiking boots.  The second impression: that you need to be in decent shape to climb the endless hills that characterize this city.  No wonder they call it the San Francisco of Europe.  But therein lies its charm, as these hilly roads are lined with incredible bakeries, brasseries, and quaint, little stores lined with products that we don’t get to find easily anywhere else.  Love at first sight?  Absolutely.  Now I need to go and explore this city…