Weekly photo challenge: Zigzag (Valencia)

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Valencia, Spain

Zigzag, criss-cross, cross-hatch, stripes, circles, arches–Valencia’s modern City of Arts and Sciences has it all. Each unique building brings to mind a different image–the hump of a sea dragon, a giant golf ball, a space-helmet, a gigantic crocodile’s eye, and, in this case, the skeletal remains of some enormous reptile rising out of the river (in my opinion ; perhaps you see something different?). Pillars zigzag above your head as you walk along the promenade, imagining that you are walking amongst the bones of a dead giant. Despite the crowds, one feels small and almost insignificant, walking through what would have been the “animal’s” stomach, neck constantly bent backwards as your eyes follow the complex systems of pillars and “bones”. Built in the old riverbed, the City of Arts and Sciences is a modern complex dedicated to the enrichment of knowledge (as its name suggests). One building houses an opera, another houses the aquarium, another hosts the impressive IMAX Cinema (on the ceiling!), still another is a concert hall. This one here is the Science Museum, an interactive and overall fun museum experience for all ages. Modern architecture isn’t always beautiful (and unfortunately, can often be an eyesore), but Valencia’s ‘Ciudad’ is the perfect example of how to make your city both modern and beautiful!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Contrast (Italy)

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Path above Sant’Ambrogio Torino, Italy

Contrast, at its base, is a comparison between two contrasting items in order to highlight their differences. Classic examples include the contrast between light and dark, black and white, hot and cold, up and down, big and small, tall and short, happy and sad, ancient and modern, science and religion. The simple perpendicular lines of the cross populate our world in so many ways. Here, we see two types of crosses found throughout in the world today: one representing the “old” way of thinking, ie religion and faith–and the  other representing the “new” way of thought ie modern science and technology. Yet–do they have to be at contrast with each other, or can they complement each other? As Dan Brown says, “Faith is universal ; our specific methods for understanding it are arbitrary. Some of us pray to Jesus, some us go to Mecca, some of us study subatomic particles. In the end we are all just searching for truth that which is greater than ourselves.” And on this quiet mountain path in this quiet Italian village, everything seems to come together perfectly !

 

Cliffs in Ronda, Spain

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Cliffs in Ronda, Spain

Literally split in two by a massive cliff, Ronda is considered the capital of the Pueblos Blancos region of Andalucia (southern Spain). And Ronda is drop-dead beautiful! The white cliff dwellings are picture-perfect, the atmosphere is chill, the sun is shinning, the sangria is pouring. Ronda has the heart of a village – and the size of a town! Obviously, the canyon, El Tajo, is what truly makes this town stand out. A famous scene in Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls relates how Fascist sympathisers were tossed off a cliff in a fictional Spanish town during the Civil War (1936-9) – and many claim that Hemingway used Ronda as a model for his fictional story. Nearby, there are also fascinating and well-preserved ruins of the Arab baths. As the whole town is built precariously into this cliff and mountainous region, you’ll have to navigate winding roads, hairpin turns and narrow bridges crossing deep gorges to approach the baths. But despite any falling Fascists or narrow gorges, Ronda is one of the prettiest Spanish town – and that’s saying a lot!


More Beautiful Small Towns and Villages in Sunny Spain
  1. GrazelamaAndalucia
  2. Zahara de la Sierra, Andalucia
  3. Segovia (near Madrid)
  4. Toledo (near Madrid)
  5. Santillana del Mar, Cantabria

 

Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain

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Las Ramblas, Barcelona, Spain

Didn’t immediately recognise this to be Spain? Look closely at the paintings themselves; there, you’ll see the artist’s rendition of the famed Sagrada Familia, the  magnificent and unmatched final creation of Antoni Gaudi – itself, a work of art! Barcelona is full of art. On La Ramblas – Barcelona’s main street – you’ll find not only painter’s stands like this one, but street performers wearing intricate costumes, performing mini theatrics, dancing to original routines, singing known and unknown songs – and more. But it’s more than that: Barcelona as a city is a Work Of Art. The Block of Discord is a great example – an entire city block dedicated to “bizarre” buildings, snuggled right into the city centre. Let’s not forget the famous artist Pablo Picasso, who spent much of his life in this city, and considered the Catalan capital his “true home.” And of course, we have Gaudi’s masterpieces, all of which clearly escaped from the Candyland board game: Parc Guell, Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, not to mention the Sagrada Familia (a work of art STILL under construction). Let’s face it, the Spanish city is more than an urban centre – it is a dramatic nod to the arts, and an artistic creation in itself! In the words of Picasso himself: “Every child is born an artist, the problem is how to remain one.” The world would do well to remember that!

Field near Załęcze Wielkie, Poland

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Field near Załęcze Wielkie, Poland

April showers bring May showers—that’s what they say, right? Sometimes a dark grey sky can be just as beautiful as a bright blue one. Sometimes a rainstorm is as pretty as a clear day. How else will the flowers grow? How else will the world fill with life—not just flowers, but expanses of green grass, rows leafy trees, fresh air, skipping squirrels and twittering birds? So welcome in the cloudy days as well as the sunny ones because spring is here! Its in every corner of Europe, even rural Poland. Take a moment to appreciate the beauty of those showers. Go outside, take a hike, have a picnic, go for a bike ride – because the beauty of spring is all around!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters (St Petersburg)

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St Petersburg, Russia

Drinking coffee in a beautiful Russian cafe, I picked up a newspaper and began to slowly decipher the words I knew. In light of my recent travels to Russia, I couldn’t resist putting a photo of the Cyrillic alphabet in response to this prompt, as I find Cyrillic even more beautiful than the Latin alphabet. Cyrillic was named after the saint brothers Cyril and Methodius who are generally given credit as the creators of the Glagolithic alphabet, which eventually developed into the Cyrillic (by way of the Greek alphabet), bringing literacy to the Russian people. Today, over 250 million people use the script as their official alphabet, primarily in Russia and other nearby countries. Despite what it might seem, learning to read Cyrillic is not terribly difficult…the 3 genders, 6 cases, and difficult pronunciation is what makes learning Russian hard–although that’s no reason not to try!

London Eye, England

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Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top (London Eye)

Getting a birds-eye view of any city, mountain or anything in-between is always a rewarding experience. There is something inherently special about climbing as high as a bird, getting an entirely new perspective on the world. London is no exception. While incredibly overpriced, the view from the London Eye is no less impressive—though half the fun is watching the next little bubble rise behind you and fall in front of you. Being on top of the Eye allows you see London fold out below you—Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament are of course easy to spot, but it’s just as rewarding to squint into the distance, searching out into the far reaches of London. London is one of the most beautiful, vibrant, cultured, interesting, busy and fun cities this planet has to offer—and it’s fairly amusing to watch how the city functions from above.

 See you all in Russia 🙂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument (Bath)

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Royal Crescent, Bath, England

Hidden somewhere in this beautiful city is my heart, left behind after spending nearly 6 months living and studying there. To me, nothing is more monumental than Bath, England. Bath’s beautiful centre consists of Georgian (neoclassical) architecture, ancient baths, a magnificent abbey, wonderful limestone houses, not to mention the classy Royal Crescent (pictured here). Together, they form a UNESCO world heritage site, meaning that I’m not the only one who finds the city monumental! Bath is an ancient Roman city, founded in 60-70 A.D. to take advantage of the natural springs bubbling underneath the city’s feet. Bath’s Royal Crescent is a row of 30 interconnected houses that form the shape of a crescent moon. Overlooking Bath, the Royal Crescent has long been inhabited by the upper echelon of Bath’s high society (made ever more posh by the marketing of Bath’s spa as a haute couture resort, particularly in the 18-19th centuries). Ironically, the chief architect only constructed the facade – each of the 30 owners had to hire their own architect to construct their house – meaning that in the back, each house is different in size, height, style, etc. Regardless, this building is – like the rest of this breathtaking town – monumental.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Reflections (Norway)

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Tunnel between Flam and Myrdal, Norway

The Flåmsbana rail system—built to allow easier access to the Sognefjord—traverses the beautiful Flåm Valley, giving voyagers breath-taking views of Norway’s amazing scenery. The Flåmsbana railway is one of the steepest railways in the world—something like 80% of the 20-kilometer-long railway is over 50% gradient. That means it gains one meter per every 18! One of the most remarkable aspects of the rail (views aside!) are the twenty tunnels. All but two were constructed without the use of machinery, meaning about one meter per month—so it’s amazing that they ever finished. Not only that, but the Flåmsbana has enjoyed amazing success, and is still one of Norway’s biggest attractions. As for the theme of ‘reflections,’ this photo was shot from the window as the train headed into a tunnel. The reflection of the women sitting opposite was reflected by the glass, appearing as if she were part of the mountain in true Pocahontas-style. The symbolism seemed appropriate!

Mystery post: Where Am I?

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Where am I?

The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, palm trees loom in the city centre as people happily stroll down the streets, and everything covered in the lovely golden glow of the afternoon sun. Where am I? California? Florida? The Caribbean? The Mediterranean? Spain? Portugal? Italy? Thailand?! Nope, nope, nope. Believe it or not, this palm tree is in Warsaw. Poland. But isn’t Poland really cold? Isn’t it mostly landlocked? Isn’t it snowy and grey and miserable?! Well…not always. It can be warm and sunny and blue-skied, if you know when to go! That said, this palm tree isn’t real. It’s a plastic statue built by artist Joanna Rajkowska as part of the Centre for Contemporary Art. It was only supposed to be displayed for one year (Dec 2002-Dec 2003) but it was so popular that it stayed. While it’s fun to confuse the newcomers (“just head south through the old town, turn left at the palm tree and cross the bridge”…huh!?), it does get pretty bizarre and even a little depressing in winter when the tree’s fantastic palms become snow-laden and hidden in fog.

 puɐlod ‘ʍɐsɹɐʍ uı ǝǝɹʇ ɯlɐd

Abandoned Building in Warsaw, Poland

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Destroyed building in central Warsaw, Poland

I have to admit, I hate showing Poland – especially Warsaw – this way. But when I hear the word “abandoned,” “building” is the second word that comes to mind, and hunting through my arsenal, this one was the photo that portrayed it best. Once an apartment building, the city of Warsaw started tearing this building down in order to build the new metro line. One day there was a building there, a few days later, there was this. Then it snowed, and construction had to slow down. And so it became abandoned, making it a constant traffic jam as rubberneckers passed by, wondering what this abandoned building was doing less than a mile from Warsaw’s central train station and glitzy central business district. Nowadays, the building is gone and work continues on the metro, with hopes of finishing it this summer (but we all know how accurate construction plans are). Warsaw was almost completely destroyed in WWII (85%), and hundreds of images looking a lot like this one show what the city looked like in the 1940’s. Thankfully, the Poles are a resilient people, and they rebuilt their city as a monument to its former glory. Today, this one abandoned, destroyed building is massively outnumbered as modern Warsaw continues to grow up and thrive around it.

*Update: as 2015, the second metro line is up and running! 

Shroud of Turin Rendition in Torino, Italy

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Museo della Sindone (Holy Shroud), Torino, Italy

You can’t usually see the original Holy Shroud, as the Church only occasionally brings the famous artefact out for public viewing (the last time being in 2010). However, you can visit the museum to learn a lot about it, later viewing a life-size reproduction displayed in a chapel. The Holy Shroud is an ancient relic passed down through generations and closely guarded, as many believe it is the shroud that once wrapped Jesus’ body after death. And if you study the cloth, it’s true that the wounds evident on the shroud do correspond with the wounds dictated in the Bible (blood stains on the man’s feet from a nail hole as well as on the wrists – interestingly not the hands; this has to do with a lack of difference between ‘hand’ and ‘wrist’ in ancient Greek. The man also has a postmortem cut on his side, his back is injured as result of a whipping and multiple puncture wounds appear on the forehead as well as signs of a beating). However, according to carbon dating, the Shroud is at best 1,000 years old – bringing up the question of how accurate carbon dating is (if contaminated by chemicals, linens especially can be affected). Here, lit from below, is a Polish artist’s rendition of the moment that Christ comes back to life, gasping for air after lying dead and buried for days. Whether or not you believe in God, whether or not you think that by staring at the Shroud you are literally staring into the eyes of Jesus, you have to admit that the idea that it could be him is powerful and arresting – and enough to make your spine tingle. “And let there be light,” you whisper as you eventually tear your eyes away from the powerful figure who may or may not be Jesus Christ.

Milan, Italy

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Modern Art in Milan, Italy

What you you think of when someone says “Milan,” “Italy” and “art” in the same sentence? For most of us,  it’s marble statues of naked, beautiful but armless women, magnificent painted masterpieces the size of your bedroom, and artistic greats like Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Caravaggio and Donatello, right? Well, how about an enormous, white, volcano-shaped mound with what looks like giant toy horses popping out of it and tumbling down the sides, in the middle of a the cathedral square? Hmm. Well, it’s certainly unexpected! Milan is already a surprise because it is often overlooked or thrown onto an itinerary as a wildcard; yet, Milan is one of the nicest Italian cities. Cleaner, calmer, and more functional than Southern Italy (sorry, but true), it’s also quite a pretty place. The Piazza del Duomo square, probably the most elegant square in the city, is the cultural and social heart of Milan; it’s also where this statue is located. Though as for the statue…besides its central location, little information is available on it. The best I can find is, “A modern art exhibit in the Piazza,” which is, well, vague. It’s very interesting though, and as Milan is the site of Da Vinici’s well-known horse statue with its tragic history as follows – started in 1482 but never completed by the master artist, later destroyed by marauding French soldiers in 1499 and not to be completed for 5 centuries – perhaps this modern art piece is a nod to that? Or perhaps it is a comment on today’s society, comparing us to stiff, faceless toy horses struggling to climb out of an suffocating mountain of salt and sand. Perhaps it’s just something to turn heads and differentiate Milan from the rest of Italy’s “big” cities. Whatever it is, it’s definitely unexpected!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

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Cimetière de Pipet, Vienne, France

Layers. Layers upon layers. I read somewhere that even though very old countryside churches often look like they have sunk, it’s really that the ground has risen up around them from all of the parishioners who’ve been buried there, as everyone wanted to be as close to the church as possible. While not exactly the case here, this cemetery clearly works upon the foundation of using layers. French cemeteries are not like their US cousins, or at least, not like that ones I’m used to. Headstones are tall, upraised, aligned in rows, and organised into layers with narrow paths snaking in between. Walking down the wide alley at the beginning of the cemetery, it reminds one of walking through a small town. A town of the dead. A ghost town, if you will. Both creepy and fascinating, it is worth it to visit a cemetery such as this–especially when lit by the sunlight’s far-reaching beams.

Brignais, France

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Brignais, France

As stereotypes go, the Frenchman (or woman) with a baguette tucked under their arm is a big one…and one that is actually rather true, at least to the degree that buying the bread from the baker is a daily task. As a current member of a French family, it’s my job to get the bread everyday. To do so, I have to walk across this ancient arched bridge, the Pont Vieux-sur-le-Garon. Dating back to the Middle Ages, this bridge links the neighbourhood section of town with the commercial centre. Cobblestones line the bottom of this beautiful humpback bridge. Once part of the route connecting Lyon to Saint-Étienne, in 1399 the bailiff of Lyon collected a tax from the people of Brignais and Vourles to fix the little bridge, causing it to stand the test of time. And since 1934, it’s listed as a historical monument in France, further protecting it. Though easier to walk across the new bridge (as the cobblestones can be hard and uncomfortable to navigate), walking across the bridge in rain or shine with baguettes under my arm has become both a habit and a treat. Any day that I don’t manage to cross my lovely bridge with the daily bread is a sad day indeed.

“Infinite” – Berlin, Germany

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Holocaust Monument, Berlin, Germany

Infinity is a curious thing; good or bad or some combination of both, depending on how you interpret it. I never really understood infinity. How could one thing stand still and unwavering enough to ever be rendered infinite? Nothing, in effect, is infinite. Everything changes—as it should. Change is not a thing to be feared. Yet, people have always been afraid of change, and for millennium, people have tried – and failed – to arrest this change, something we could all take a lesson from. Standing here in the Holocaust Memorial in the heart of Berlin, lost amongst rows and rows of daunting grey stone slabs of varying heights, the feeling is overwhelming. Here is the drastic evidence of one of the most awful resistances to change. You don’t need a history lesson; millions died because one man wanted to erase certain groups of people, and in the end, he was stopped, and life went on, at the same time, finite and infinite. And life will continue to go on and on, introducing new challenges and new ideas and new characters. I just hope that the cycle that many consider infinite isn’t so. I just hope that so-called infinity is malleable and changeable, because as these mournful, scary grey slabs remind us, life is never infinite.

Weekly photo challenge: Good morning!

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Brignais, France (near Lyon, France)

This is how the French start their day: a bowl of coffee (yes, that’s right, a bowl of black coffee – I’ve been told they do this to make dipping bread or croissants easier), toasted bread, and butter. Simple and delicious, they’ve kept at this almost unwavering routine for what seems like millenniums. No pancakes for them. Waffles are for snacks and yogurt is for dessert. Sausages they leave to the Germans, cereal to the Americans, grits to the British. Tea is sometimes substituted…but that too is consumed from a bowl. Croissants are often substituted for bread depending on how close the local boulangerie is and how lazy and hungry the breakfaster is in the morning. I knew I was fully embracing French culture when I stayed with a friend who didn’t drink coffee and had no fresh bread for my petit dejeuner – and I nearly threw a hissy-fit (I managed not to, but it was close). No matter how early or late in the morning, my routine is unwavering (unless you count the occasional addition of jam) – and for me, it’s the perfect way to say “good morning” – or, in this case, “bon matin!”

Parc Guell, Bacelona, Spain

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Parc Guell, Barcelona, Spain

What’s more saturated than Gaudi?? Honestly, not much. His reputation is built on both his inability to follow a straight line and his exorbitant use of vibrant, headache-inducing colour. These are the famous benches in the famous Parc Guell in the famous Barcelona. Constructed 1900 to 1914, it was originally part of a rather unsuccessful housing community – that just happened to be a century ahead of its time (Gaudi basically envisioned our modern-day suburbs and “gated” communities, an idea that didn’t sit well with the turn-of-the-century Spaniards). He liked the fresh air and the beautiful views that the site afforded, but sadly, no one liked the distance from La Ramblas or the beach. So, now it’s a colourful public garden and UNESCO site that makes for some pretty vividly saturated photos! (This one does it no justice, as I took it with a camera phone…)

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

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Gutmanis Cave, Latvia

In 1601, a baby girl, christened “Maija,” was rescued from the wreckage of the 1601 battle of Turaida. She grew into a beautiful woman known as the Rose of Turaida who fell in love with Viktor, the gardener at Sigulda Castle on the other side of the Gauja River. In order to see each other, they would meet in the middle, inside Gutmanis Cave. Into this pretty little scene, enter the evil Adam Jakubowski, a Polish soldier who had less-than-chaste intentions for young Maija after tricking her to come into the cave. Thinking quickly (and deciding that death was better than rape), she told him her scarf was magical and could resist sword-strokes. He didn’t believe her, so she proposed a demonstration–which, of course, killed her. Though Viktor was originally accused, Maija’s half-sister witnessed the incident and her testimony along with Jakubowsk’s friend’s information about the crime, cleared his name. Jakubowski was later captured, tried, and executed. However, Viktor was devastated, burying his beloved Maija under the Linden tree and inscribing her grave with “Love is stronger than death.” Both the grave and the inside of the cave are still popular pilgrimage sites. (As a side note, the carvings seen here are the coats-of-arms of those who’ve visited the cave, making it is one of the earliest sites of “tourism.”) Step inside this cave, listen to its history, become a part of its legend and feel the love that still resonates here 400 years later. Gutmanis Cave still holds its secrets.

The sea in Howth, Ireland

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Howth, Ireland

To me, beaches are all the same. Show me a photo of a beach and I’d have trouble deciding whether it was in Florida or Thailand. You go to the beach and everyone always seems to be doing the exact same thing: lying on a towel facing the same way and reading the same books, the children building a half-collapsed sandcastle nearby. Everyone goes into the water for a few minutes then spends the rest of the time sunning and trying to get a tan without getting a burn. Everything about the beach cries stagnant normalcy. Therefore, when I go to the beach, I don’t go for the beach, I go for the towns by the beach. At the beach, I enjoy watching the waves for a bit, I dip my toes in the water, and I’m finished. Time to move on. I’d rather be somewhere else. Revolutionary I know, but I don’t like the beach! That said, I love coastal towns. They have fantastic food, attractive views, and generally nice people. This village here is Howth, Ireland, just outside of Dublin. To me, this photo signifies perfectly what I like about the sea: chaotic, energetic, adventurous. This isn’t a beach. Howth doesn’t have one in the conventional sense. Instead, there is a pier and a harbour and a collection of rocks. The combination of these make for huge, crashing waves that reach icy fingers out to attack passersby. Here, you better watch out because these Irish waters attack all of the beach stereotypes – nothing about these waves are calm or relaxing or boring; instead, they are exciting and adventurous.