My seven super photos below show the some of the things that amazed me and the memories I cherish from my many travels. I think I was tagged for this a few months ago. I can tell because I had begun placing candidate photos in a special folder but I couldn’t find a post… Thanks to Lola (@LolaDiMarco) for tagging me. I will need to think about who to tag since she probably hit some people I would have hit and I also don’t want to hit the person who tagged me months ago! (and I can’t remember who that is… my apologies, I was trying to get it done!)
Here it goes!
a photo that takes my breath away
Crossing the majestic Andes…
a photo that makes me laugh or smile
Walking like Egyptians… In Egypt.
a photo that makes me dream
I dream of returning to Mykonos…
a photo that makes me think
Village savings and loan members posing near Mwanza, Tanzania: not begging for help, but taking control of their livelihoods. How we have lost that in our own country…
a photo that makes my mouth water
The grapes that yield a delicious Bordeaux…
a photo that tells a story
Hated taking this pic but it was very moving to see this in Pompeii…
a photo that i’m most proud of (aka, my NationalGeographic shot)
Overlooking Queenstown and The Remarkables in glorious New Zealand
Tweetup, what is that?
Since it is the first time I write in my blog about a “tweetup“, I feel I should have an intro section here on what they are! Tweetups are gathering of tweeps (people who have connected via Twitter) who share a common interest, say travel, photography, etc. It does seem a little odd to go to one to meet people one has only met online. However, if the tweetup doesn’t happen, it stays only online, doesn’t it?
After almost a year of participating in travel talks on Twitter, a few of us decided it was time to meet in person these other folks we so enjoyed exchanging travel ideas and experiences with in Twitter. We held our first tweetup in Austin, Texas.
We realized this is something we needed to do again and, sort of on its own, one day, we were chatting in Twitter when someone just said we should all meet in Chicago. And, that was it. Chicago in May it was. Chicago had many pluses but definitely meeting local tweeps was a key driver.
So What Happens – Where Do We Stay?
Those of us traveling, while we don’t have big budgets, want a memorable experience all around. And that starts with our accommodations.
We found out that the Hotel Sofitel Chicago Water Tower not only had a great deal at hand but a great location, sleek designs for the rooms, and an incredible-looking lobby with tons of ambience. We look forward to the phenomenal service levels typical of the Sofitels! Check them out here -> http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-2993-sofitel-chicago-water-tower/index.shtml. We will let you know how it goes!
So What Happens – Where Do We Eat? Where Do We Have Cocktails?
Well, this is very much a problem in a town like Chicago since the options for good food are so many. Here is where our local tweeps and some research on the travelers’ part comes into play.
We certainly wish we were able to engage with some of the local establishments pre-tweetup so we could perhaps better understand what was possible to create the right environment for a groups of folks that want to get each other better while enjoying some food and/or some drinks.
Of course, being a travel tweetup, this group will be “broadcasting” in Twitter and via their blogs about the experience so we sure hope we have great things to say and great tips to provide fellow travelers so their future visit to the Windy City benefits from our insights!! That is what we travel bloggers love to do most – help point others to the best travel experiences!
So far, we have identified The Pump Room (http://www.pumproom.com/) at Public Chicago as a place we definitely will spend time at. The Pump Room evokes the vibe of the 1930s/40s yet caters to a modern-day crowd. It has been celebrated by Travel + Leisure, The Today Show, The New York Times, Chicago Live, etc. This place has catered to just about every big star over the decades. And now it will cater to this tweetup crew!
So What Happens – What Do We Do?
We have not planned out the day time hours but we have decided to do a river architecture boat tour with Wendella Boat Tours (http://www.wendellaboats.com/). We got a great deal via Groupon and we liked the fact they would serve us a drink during the tour – this crew enjoys nice beverages so we sure hope that is what will be served! We will tell you about the tour during our ride!
We are certainly open to ideas so feel free to share any you have. And if you are in the Chicago area and like travel, feel free to connect with us so you can meet us during the weekend events on May 11-12, 2012!!!
Chicago, here we come!
If ceilings of The Hermitage or the Sistine Chapel are of interest, may not the cats of B&H equally be of interest to someone out there? OK, technically these are Herzegovinian cats as I didn’t go to the Bosnia part of the Federation of B&H (and I pray they don’t split or I will have to add another country to the list of not visited countries!).
Anyway, these are really just 3 cats I saw in Mostar and Pocitelj. Cats were everywhere though. Everywhere.
Enjoy these feline models! (Click on any picture to enlarge and you will be able to step through all.)
In my prior blog entry I described how I decided on going to the Balkans and how I found day trips to take. The first day trip was to visit Mostar, in Bosnia & Herzegovina. The second day trip was centered on a visit to Kotor in Montenegro, one of the “youngest” countries in the world.
Montenegro may seem obscure but it has been a part of European history (for example, in Italy and Russia) for a while even while buried under this empire or another.
Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an old town nested in Kotor Bay which is kind of behind another bay that opens out to the ocean. Driving all around the coastline takes a while but provides beautiful scenery and interesting small hamlets to see.
Sights of Kotor Bay: Church built on a man-made island (that took 200yrs to create!)
We went straight to Kotor as we also had planned going all the way up to the mountains and Lovcen National Park and that would require a bit of time. The town is quite charming and full of life. Among things to see are parts of the fortifications (which run up the slope of the mountain) and various types of churches (Orthodox, Catholic). The Church of St. Tryphon is well worth a visit – pay to go upstairs and look at the treasures it keeps!
Church tower in Kotor
Ride up Lovcen mountain
Going up the mountains will reward you with spectacular views over Kotor Bay and other coastline areas. It is incredible how high you get in such little time. The road up was built during the Austro-Hungarian empire days (it has been updated since then!) and it is quite impressive as you zigzag your way up pretty quickly. Again, you do it for the spectacular views! Hopefully, you won’t have a rainy day (had I done this tour a day earlier, I would have missed them!) After like curve 32, you officially have entered Lovcen National Park (http://www.discover-montenegro.com/lovcen.htm) and gotten to Lovcen mountain where supposedly Montenegro gets its name from (black mountain – which is not how the locals call it, by the way – they call it Crna Gora).
It is funny to re-read the section of “On the Shores of the Mediterranean” by Eric Newby (first published in 1984) and hear how this road up used to be back then: full of potholes and gaps in the protective walls that showed how vehicle occupants on this road made a “spectacular exit to eternity”! The road is still one lane with lay-bys for cars to pass each other but the road is of excellent quality now vs. 1984 (thankfully!).
Our day trip stopped at a mountain hamlet, named Njegusi (famous for being the birthplace in the 19th century of a future Montenegrin ruler), which seemed pretty empty on that day. Maybe the people were elsewhere working… We stopped at a small restaurant where we visited the smokeroom for the ham and then sampled some of it in a fairly basic ham and cheese sandwich (the cheese also being local) bought at the counter. Of course, I also got a glass of vino which was actually quite adequate. The ham was tougher than jamon serrano (Spanish ham) and I had a hard time chewing through it. But it was interesting nevertheless.
Budva and the Montenegrin Riviera
From the hamlet we drove through the mountain countryside. We were quite high up and yet all we saw for a while were mountains that looked pretty dark in color (trees hadn’t grown their green back yet) and some with a little snow.
At some point we did get to look in the distance at the lake that is part of Montenegro’s border with Albania and my heart wished we were a lot closer so I could enter Albania! We made our way down to the town of Cetinje, former seat of the royal house that use to lord over Montenegro and hosted foreign embassies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetinje). We drove through town not stopping on our way to coastal Budva.
Budva seems to be quickly becoming the capital of a Montenegrin riviera. Well, maybe it already is. Hotels and many other modern structures abound, including a hotel we were told was used a good bit by the movie Casino Royal (of James Bond fame). I suspect a lot of Russian tourism hits this part as the countries do have some historical connections and wonder whose money is funding all the construction… But I digress, a favorite weakness of mine.
We got a couple of hours to explore Old Town Budva which is rather charming. As usual, I got a coffee somewhere to get access to a hopefully clean restroom (which it was). It was a nice afternoon and it was nice to be able to stretch them legs on a nice stop like this one.
Around old town Budva
Montenegro confused me a little bit. Budva and the riviera sort of distorted the impressions from earlier in the day when I felt I was seeing something more unique, which is a reason to go to a new place. Budva old town was worth the stop but seeing the rest of that area being just like another riviera diluted the charm I felt earlier in the day.
I have to say that Kotor Bay would be an area I would stick around another couple of days to take in more slowly. I would also love to get lost (not literally) inland in those mountain areas that actually felt remote though, in distance, they were not. They seemed pretty unspoilt as far as the eye could see (which in the very far distance was actually Serbia).
If you do get to go and choose a tour, make sure you get one that takes you up the mountain for the splendid views of Kotor Bay and to see the “hinterlands”. Your impressions of Montenegro will be different if you don’t see these two things! I leave you with that phenomenal view!
When I was looking for a place to go after my trip to Rome with friends, I literally went to www.viator.com and looked at the possible tours available in countries in the area that I did not know or know well. Not many of those left in that region for me except east of Italy. I look at the tours because it helps me understand what are the key places to see.
I had pondered making Dubrovnik that next place after Rome because it seemed beautiful in the pictures I have seen and some folks in Twitter travel world spoke highly of it. As I reviewed the tours that were possible, I learned that there were 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites in neighboring Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro that were possible as day trips. I would say my ears perked up but it would really have been my eyes, not my ears!
That caught my attention as I have wanted to see more of the former European Communist block and those countries seemed a little less, what’s the word, westernized? modernized? than, say, the Czech Republic for example. I have been to Bulgaria and Poland and the former definitely gave me the best feel for how things may have been in the old days (though, certainly, these countries have made good strides to leave that past behind).
Bosnia & Herzegovina
The country is more often than not just called Bosnia but there really is a region of the country called Herzegovina so, at least in this section’s title, I will call it by its full name. But it is too long to type throughout so from now on, Bosnia it is.
Bosnia has had a VERY difficult and horrible recent history. I will not get into that except to say that people seem to get along well enough in the small part of the country I got to see. I will also mention that pockmarks of the violence are still evident in buildings around (that’s also true in Dubrovnik).
I ended up signing up through Viator for the day trip over. It was to be a long day (about 12 hrs). But it didn’t feel long and drawn out. First, though, an interesting geographical fact is that to get to Mostar (Bosnia, or “B”) from Dubrovnik (Croatia, or “C”) you have to do some border crossing paso doble. You leave C to enter B and about 9 kms later you leave B to enter C and then you leave C again to enter B and then proceed on to Mostar. See, back when there existed the Republic of Venice and the Republic of Dubrovnik, the RoD got along better with their Ottoman neighbors than with their RoV neighbors. So they (the RoD) sold a tract of land between RoD and RoV to the Ottomans to serve as a buffer. As history moved on and these 3 players disappeared or morphed or blended, that tract of land remained in what became Bosnia. The first 2 border crossings (C to B, and B back to C) were pretty easy – barely anything happened. But the last one (C to B the 2nd time, you following?) was a lot more formal and slow (almost an hour). The same would be true on the reverse, the initial entry into C from B was long but the last 2 crossings were cake.
We stopped at a hamlet on the way to Mostar called Počitelj (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocitelj). It has a citadel at the top (which I didn’t get to visit) and overlooks the Neretva River which we followed most of the way from entering Bosnia until Mostar. It has really neat stone buildings and the town was of strategic importance back in the day. Besides the architecture, what caught my eye were the stray cats that I saw – they were tempting me to photograph them!
Local cat striking poses for me
Hamlet of Počitelj
Mostar is an old town across the Neretva river (in Herzegovina!) where a very important Ottoman sultan asked for this bridge to be built (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mostar). Most = Bridge. The bridge lasted until it was bombed during the 1990s wars in the area but it was quickly rebuilt using the debris from the original bridge. The old town is very charming and, by now, has the usual range of tourist shops but yet it retains a different air from its unique position geographically and in history near important crossroads across different cultures and temporal kingdoms. It is hard to describe but you do feel it is a land with connected yet different circumstances throughout history than Dubrovnik.
Looking to old town Mostar from the bridgeThe famous bridge in Mostar (shooting it from the other side may have been better!)
- The famous bridge in Mostar (shooting it from the other side may have been better!)
I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel by work and through my own means. The zeal for discovery began when I was about 7-8 years old and I started collecting stamps. Seeing stamps from many places that were so far away in distance and in reachability (pre- airline deregulation days!), created in me a desire to see those places myself. “Who was that guy on stamps marked Jugoslavia?” “Posta Romina is not about Rome?” “Where the heck is Suomi because it is in no map I have laid my hands on?!” I didn’t really believe I would get to see most of these places. Because of the times and the lack of financial means, I was not surrounded by a “traveling culture”.
I am not sure exactly when I started collecting stamps but the crucial moment was the summer of my 8th year when I spent a few weeks in Miami visiting my grandmother, uncle and aunt. My uncle had collected stamps as a kid for a little bit and I discovered his old and slightly battered stamp album from about 20 yrs before on the floor of his bedroom closet.
He gifted it to me and it was like the most awesome thing I had ever been given until that point in my life. I remember being so happy and they all enjoying seeing me so happy. I also benefited from my Mom’s sacrifice to give me “small” funds over the years to acquire some stamps (and this was a real sacrifice in a household with very limited means). Many relatives would save stamps for me (yes, those were the days when people STILL wrote to each other on paper!). Finally, my Dad, who worked at a data center Citibank had in Puerto Rico, would take me to the room where they received payments from people from all over the Caribbean basin (PR was the payment processing center) so that as the machine cut open the envelopes and pulled out the contents, I could go through the box where the envelopes would end up to start retrieving stamps! It was fascinating stuff (now you know what we kids did before all these fancy video systems, smartphones, etc.).
Well, many moons later, I contemplate the map of where I have been (in blue or red below; red means I have lived there, blue that I have visited, and green are places high on my priority list to visit!) and think of how that small seed planted at a young age has resulted in this awesome journey I have been on to see what this world!
I pay it forward by bringing coins or small bills from the places I travel and give to children of family and friends – because you never know what you may spark in a child by exposing them to the bigger world out there!
Check out my homage to stamps in my Twitter page wallpaper: https://twitter.com/ilivetotravel
Not being keen on lines and much less crowds, I instantly mentally said “yes” when I saw there was a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museum before the crowds got in. I was quite willing to pay for the privilege of going before the SC and VM opened – which is rather an inaccurate concept as the moment you go in, the museum IS open – but this “before it opens” thing is about beating the crowds who did not want to wake up earlier, who did not want to (or could) pay the extra cost, or who did not know/think about it ahead of time. Plus with a tour guide to be sure nothing noteworthy was missed in the eagerness to see the SC.
Sample art at the Vatican Museum
Dark Rome (www.darkrome.com) provided one of those tours. (I found them via my ultimate authority for local tours, Viator.) Their tour guide, an archaelogist from Ireland named Rachel (cute!) was engaging and well prepared. But beyond not missing any key artifacts, the value was getting background knowledge about the great pieces I was going to see.
I have to say that while there were other tour groups (I didn’t pay THAT much money!), there was space to move around and stop without getting crashed into or pushed. Lots of interesting art (Rafael’s masterpiece right before the SC being one of them) and architecture. The crown jewel, though, really blew me away. Having heard SO MUCH about it, I was expecting to be impressed but not blown away. One of those things were the expectations are made so big that by the time you get there, it is not the same as what it had been built to be.
NOT this time! I have to say that having learned how frescoes are made in the tour, having been explained Michelangelo’s design and process, etc. really made a big difference in the appreciation for those drawings up in a ceiling. Just thinking about how high he had to climb every day to do the job was quite impressive. (I did wonder if he took bathroom breaks and, if so, did he do it in a bucket and lowered it when done… or was he SO engrossed in his masterpiece that he could hold it however many hours?? The things that churn in my head…)
Soapbox break. The one shameful thing I observed was fellow tourists who did not seem to get the concept of no pictures allowed. First of all, these fools don’t realize those drawings are so far up that their pictures will do them no justice. Just buy a freaking post card or, even better, the book. But most importantly for me is the lack of respect they show for a place of worship. If you cannot respect the sites you visit, then why are you really going there anyway? I treat other faiths’ places of worship with the same respect I pay my own. Soapbox break over.
It is neat to understand where Michelangelo started the ceiling and how his technique evolved during the project. I didn’t realize he was rather inexperienced in frescoes when he got the commission (that he didn’t want to do but Julius II forced to accept). I will not get into it here as I am not an art connossieur nor is that the purpose of this blog. But it is really interesting to see how he learned about how to do the frescoes once he came down and admired one of the earliest panels finished – the ceiling was too far up and the figures were too small: he had to paint them bigger! I am surprised though that he didn’t re-do that first panel. Or maybe he did and I didn’t catch that…
The Sistine Chapel frescoes on the ceiling are matched by an imposing altarpiece fresco where Michelangelo gets back at a “foe” using his face as the face of someone being walked into hell. I think Michelangelo won that little feud of theirs… And remember Rome is eternal… Lots of good ceilings in the Vatican (and Rome)!
Finally, as a Catholic, picturing a conclave (where Popes are elected) taking place in the SC while standing there was priceless. I couldn’t quite picture all these cardinals in there but, I take it by faith.
I think in some future visit, perhaps I will explore more of the VM themselves. Lots of important artifacts and art that I may not really be prepared to explore. But something will be learned, something will probably impress me and… I can get to see the awesome work in the Sistine Chapel one more time!
My post on the ceilings from The Hermitage in St. Petersburg seems to have received a good level of interest so I thought I’d do another from my recent trip to Rome. Enjoy!
St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs (Rome, near Piazza della Republicca)
St. Paul Outside the Walls (Holy See outside of the Vatican)
St. John Lateran (Holy See outside of the Vatican)
Vatican Museums (Vatican)
Rome is eternal, the Eternal City! That much has been said before about it. But it keeps proving true over and over for me…
I just went for my third time, this time for the longest visit yet (about 6 days). I never seem to get to a spot anywhere near “I feel like I know this place”. I keep discovering new areas of town, new “must see’s”, new dishes, etc. It will take me an eternity to master Rome – and the money that goes along with that eternity! (Funding, anyone? Angel investor, I like to go to the Vatican in case that sways you.) Rome is eternal indeed…
Rome Has History and I Have History with Rome
Though I had been there twice before, each visit had been for about 3 days each. Both included Papal audiences as the Pope had changed inter-visit and I had to check out the new guy. Oh, and when I mean check out, I mean up close. I was not down with the masses that time. I was up by the stage. But I digress. This is about my 2012 visit, not my 2006 visit.
In any case, I had seen some of the key sights of Rome (the Forum, the Colosseum, St. Peter‘s all the way to the top and all the way to the bottom at the Scavi, etc.). But I STILL knew I had some key sites and sights I had not been able to get to. Most shocking of all the missing sites was the Sistine Chapel. It became my number one target for this trip (and I saw it!).
Laser-Focused Objective. Make that “Objectives”
Laser-like focus on the Sistine Chapel became a little less focused when friends coming on the trip raised the idea of getting to Pompeii. Scope creep! What I warn my clients about in my day job. But, heck I had been to Italy now 2 times and I had never made it south of Rome. And Pompeii… Images from all the history classes in school flashing like a neon sign in my head… Well, how could that be left out… But surely these two plus maybe a couple of churches and, of course, the Pantheon – how could I forget, I had never seen it either. OK, so now I had a definitive focused list of places I did want to see this time. The rest of the visit open for whatever…
And so the trip began on my way to reducing time-to-eternal, ETC (estimate to completion), shortening of the list of things to still do in Rome… and the trip ended with enough left over to ensure another return. A fourth…