Archives for posts with tag: travel photography

Canadians assume you go to Cuba for all-inclusive beach vacations, a normal assumption since it’s cheaper to book that type of vacation than just a flight by itself.

Having opted out of the resort-style in order to to stay right in Havana (while still getting the airport transfers and hotel included- sweet deal!), I felt a little nervous- as I always do before a trip- that I’d forgotten to how to travel and that I would never figure it out again.

But the shock of the sight of the ocean and cars from the 1940s reminded us what it is like to discover and rediscover, my mother and I dusted off the frustrations of airports and broke out our rusty Spanish. Once settled, we slowly began to learn how to navigate the puzzling streets of Old Havana.

We also learned how and where to change money (flexible fact: to change money at a fancy hotel, you have to stay at a fancy hotel… which we weren’t. Exceptions occur on Sundays, sometimes).

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Our nearly-daily money-changing ritual at la cadeca (we aren’t very good at estimating how much we’ll need, apparently).

After being taken for a ride and charged $5 for two tiny bottles of water the first day, we also learned where to eat and to ask how much things cost before agreeing to them, no matter how thirsty we were.

When our feet got tired and hot, we’d duck into fancy hotel lobbies. This is where we realised that while our little hotel may be fine for us (the towel-folding art delighted us each evening when we got back), it was no fine hotel. For instance:

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Swans made out of towels in our hotel!

We did get a little sick of the dust and chaos and and noise and this was supposed to be a vacation! So I got a beautiful sunburn on the Playa del Este, the local beach (about 20km from Havana) and had the best shrimp I have ever had in my life at the canteen near the beach.

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We sat in the shade all day, and yet…

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

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My mother and I went to Cuba and spent a week walking around Havana.

Despite the overwhelming taxi options in Havana (classic Cadiallac, coco taxi, horse-drawn carriage, scooters…), we walked. And slowed down by our feet and the humidity and the heat, we saw all the textures of the falling-apart colonial houses, the layers of arches and doors and courtyards, the restoration, the sleeping dogs, and the dusty streets.

Here are a few shots of walls (and one dog) in Havana:

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Freezing my feet off on a train platform (despite fancy new angora socks and fidgety dance moves) was worth the sight of an almost empty frost-incrusted Chateau de Versailles.

No crowds. Quiet and crisp.

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Frosty dude.

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Perfectly still lake in the gardens.

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The palace with mist and shallow frozen puddles perfect for cracking.

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Royal sheep

I am on a train. In Canada. On my way back to Toronto. This is full-circle. I left Union Station westward-bound July 19th 2012. In a few hours, I will be arriving back there from the east.

A trip around the world. Well, to certain places in the world.

I was warned about reverse culture-shock. The shock of coming home after travelling for an extended period of time.

But I haven’t felt it yet. It only feels like summer holidays, like the ones I’d have in undergrad.

I’ve spent my first two weeks back in Canada in Montreal. There, I have done nothing but let myself be spoiled by my mother, meet friends for coffee, poutine, and croissants, watch two full seasons of The West Wing on DVD (I’ll be the cop that doesn’t go to the meeting), and have a reunion with old friend in l’Ile d’Orléans to celebrate the wedding of one of the most beautiful couples there can be.

All this makes it easy to come home.

It also must have helped that I went through London on my way back to Canada.

London feels like home too, with a familiar public transport system, my favourite theatres, and, most importantly, close friends always ready to offer their spare room, go to gigs in sweaty caves, take the day off work to make ourselves sick with fancy cakes in pubs, and go halfway across the city to buy a mug I saw that one time.

It helps that my quick visit to London included breakfast in Southwark, a picnic in the park, magic tricks over cider, a Josh Ritter show, a Doc Brown DVD-taping, and two Irish plays by favourite playwrights (Martin McDonaugh, Conor McPherson) starring favourite actors (Ciarán Hinds).

It helps that it was sunny every day and that the tube lines I needed were open.

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A picnic in Soho Square behind this guy. Before a matinee of The Cripple of Inishmann, starring Harry Potter himself.

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Sweating to the sweet tunes of Josh Ritter in a hot venue in a hip part of town.

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Destroying cakes at The Bridge, London.

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And then home for a wedding and dancing all night (or until 1:30 because we are old now.)

Who knows what being home will mean, but I hope to keep my eyes, heart, and options open. You know, keep that “travelling” vibe.

Germans travel. That means that throughout my own travels, I met a lot of really lovely German travellers. So it was a natural decision to go visit everyone once I got to Europe.

Unfortunately, with time ticking too quickly and train fares being a lot less affordable than I remembered, I only made it to a few cities to see a few people.

I took the train from Copenhagen to Hamburg. This is noteworthy because the train went on a ferry. The whole train! On a boat!

Also worth mentioning: German trains and railway services are not actually as efficient as the rest of the world assumes. For instance, when a train from Berlin to Kassel gets cancelled, any sign of it vanishes (they don’t include it on those departure screens- you have to figure it out). Luckily, when your replacement train is late and you think you’ll miss your connection (because now you have to connect in Hannover, seeing as your original train was cancelled), your connecting train is also late, so you end up having time for a pastry at the station before heading off again.

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Student demonstrations in Hamburg include old folk singers and sofas.

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Berlin is artsy. But the galleries are closed on the day you want to visit (in this case, Tuesdays).

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Germany is all about breakfasts. Bread and breakfasts. And Nutella, juice, coffee, deli meats, cheeses of all kinds, and fruit. Now that I look at this picture again, I realise that this is dinner, not breakfast. Dinners are good too.

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Cologne has a very famous cathedral, but they aren’t afraid to build big new buildings.

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When Michele told me about the bridge with all the padlocks on it, I was blasée and all like “yeah, I’ve seen that.” But this bridge had a LOT of padlocks. The tradition apparently started in Florence. When students would graduate, they’d put their locker locks on the bridge and throw the key into the river. Somehow this has morphed into lovers locking the padlock to the bridge to represent everlasting being locked together.

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There are many statues of many guys on many horses throughout Europe. This one is in Cologne (here with tram lines in the foreground).

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Wild flowers in Kassel. I don’t think there are many things I love more than wild flowers. In Croatia, there were a couple of small raggedy donkeys in a padlock full of poppies. I loved that the most. But these are pretty stunning.

Many thanks to Soren, Larissa, Eric, Shelley, Art, Patrick, Amy, Sabrina, Johanna, Leo, and Michele for making my German adventures so comfy and fun.

Munich and Heidelberg, I’ll visit next time, promise!

After two weeks at a writing residency on the outskirts of a small town in a sunny Danish building that I later (thankfully later) found out was once an asylum (and now haunted) with a high-security prison for dangerous murderers around the corner (which I passed every day on my forest-walk), I went to Copenhagen to meet up with my Canadian friend Amy who was on her way to swing dance camp in Sweden (I have friends who rock-step their way through the world).

We quickly realised that we could not afford this town, so we spent our days walking and window shopping and wisely spent our budget on coffee in the morning and baguette and strawberries for dinner.

Good thing Copenhagen is beautiful, cool, and very easy to navigate on foot (and by that I mean that it’s a walkable city, not that we didn’t get lost every time we tried to get somewhere specific). I fell in love with every café we passed and decorated my imaginary apartment several times over.

We went on a canal tour (our wonderful AirBnB host was a theatre director with a summer job as a tour guide so we got the must-do cruise for free!) and spent the rest of the time gawking at the beautiful people that exist in Copenhagen (shorthand required as follows). Copenhagen is notable for its high density of H.D.s (Hot Dane), H.D.s with B.s (Hot Dane with Baby), P.D.s on B. (Pregnant Dane on Bike), and C.D.s (Cute Dane (reserved for little kids)).

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There’s something about Danish design. Every café. Every one. Gorgeous.

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Selling peas in pods like fast food in the town square.

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Copenhagen’s weather was predictable only in that it was unpredictable.

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A little boat tour to see Copenhagen by sea.

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Lots of people go look at a little statue of a little mermaid.

It’s a city you immediately feel you could live in were it not for the cost of things and assuming you could cultivate the cool, simple, laid-back attitude, get knocked-up, and acquire a sturdy bicycle and MacBook Air.

I am back in a land of parrots and jacarandas. And life seems much easier now.

Before I go any further, I just want to warn you that this post is all about the weather (I must not forget my Canadian roots).

Turns out I am a wimp. Turns out the weather affects me far more than I ever thought or admitted. I will not weather the weather and I will fly to Barcelona if I have to.

After an unnaturally long and hot summer (for a Canadian), including a standout night of42-degree hell, I decided to skip to Europe instead of subjecting my sweaty, exhausted, dusty self to more humid heat.

The European chapter started off so perfectly, my luck was bound to run out. I met up with my brother and went to a beach dance party in Croatia, we went swimming in a (albeit freezing) waterfall in Bosnia, and went out at night in t-shirts in Belgrade. But then I arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia, to grey skies that would follow me for what seemed like weeks (in reality: 12 days).

In Slovenia, I met my Tasmanian friend Jeremy and greeted him with cold and rain (to remind him of home?). We still managed to enjoy a mucky visit to Ljubljana castle and walking in the city in the rain (deluge).

Soaking it all in, Ljubljana.

Soaking it all in, Ljubljana.

Ok, we did have one perfect, beautiful day in Slovenia, when we visited this perfect, beautiful gorge near Bled.

But then it was 8 degrees in Bled, Vienna was windy and rainy and my feet never quite dried (sorry to the people in the cinema watching The Hangover 3 who didn’t want my wet socks hanging off the back of the plush seats), and when we crossed into the Czech Republic, it was flooded. Beautiful and interesting and amazing, but flooded.

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Cleaning up in the rain, Vienna.

I wonder what Jesse and Celine would have done in Vienna had it been rainy and cold.

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Tourists, the only ones out in this weather. Vienna.

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And then it rained. And the river busted its banks. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic.

When we got to Prague, we got a bit, em, lost. For 2 hours. With wet feet (hello, worst blisters in the history of life!) and soaked backpacks (we thought they were safe stowed under the bus!). After a day of cold and wet and being lost and frustrated and very very hungry, we finally found our hostel, took all the stuff out of our bags to hang them to dry, and went to the local restaurant-bar.

I haven’t ever been so happy (wine on an empty stomach?) to sit in a smoke-filled room waiting for a plate of meat to arrive. It was warm. It was funny. Every single person was smoking. At the table next to us sat five or six old men playing  cards in their patterned knit sweaters. Smoking and drinking beer. The bad day ended with giggles and alcohol and barely any veggies. The lesson here: this too shall pass. But mostly: don’t trust Google maps’ directions in the Czech Republic.

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The river rose and rose in Prague. Everything was flooded. Everything was closed. But it stopped raining! Czech out those blue skies!

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The boardwalk in Prague, under water.

The plan was to keep going north, through Poland, as I have a writing residency arranged in Denmark, and it makes geographical sense (and I want to go to Poland). Instead, I booked a not-so-cheap-but-screw-it flight to Barcelona.

When I got to the Prague airport, the destination screen indicated the weather next to each city. Everywhere was sunny. Including Warsaw. 25 degrees and sunny. Everywhere had a little sun. Except Barcelona. Hilarious! (Not hilarious.) I started questioning my choices, my life, my decision to leave Jeremy for a potentially-false promise of sunshine. But then I remembered that no: this choice is the right choice because it’s the one I made. This is where I was supposed to be. Thank you, Robin Esrock for this.

And when I landed and it was hot and the sky was blue without the slightest sign of a cloud, I knew, yes, this is where I was supposed to be.

Self portrait at the beach in Barcelona.

Self portrait at the beach in Barcelona.

I feel good in Spain, except that I constantly feel bad not knowing Catalán and my Castillano is pretty rusty to begin with. But after a week, though I haven’t remembered any of the past tense, I may well have adopted a hint of the (affected?) th th th of the Barthelonan accent. To get there without going too far, I just pretend I’m Liv Tyler with her pout and lispy speech. And I leave the ‘s’ (or ‘th’) off the “gracias” in the hopes it sounds a bit Catalán.

Barcelona is colourful. It’s hot. It’s lively, but it really comes alive after 11pm. And it only rained once.

If you’ve ever travelled, you’ll know that the best-laid plans can fall apart, become muddy and complicated and sometimes take you way the wrong way.

I’ve had days where a simple A to B route became anything but simple. Train delays, flights that land in St John when you think you’re going St John’s (sorry, Amanda, couldn’t help it), wallets getting stolen, bus stations not existing where you thought they were…

But then there are those times where everything falls into place. I thought visiting Plitvice Lakes National Park would be a pain. A pain I was ready to endure, because it was meant to be a magical place, but still. Annoying to get to, expensive to stay near. Do we need a car?

But then it all worked out. A bus from Zagreb left us right at the entrance to the park, there were huge lockers for our packs and a walk that took us everywhere we wanted to go, long enough to fill the day, short enough to get us back to bus stop to meet the last coach to Zadar.

And with the logistics out of the way (and a back-up plan of spending all our money on a room in the area if we missed the bus), we were free to enjoy one of the most beautiful (and easy) walks that probably exists (my brother claims Krka is even cooler, if you can believe it).

Also, it didn’t rain, it wasn’t too hot, and we had delicious apples in our bags.

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First glimpses of waterfalls on our walk.

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I had a jigsaw puzzle sort of like this.

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Some reeds. It’s not ALL waterfalls, you know.

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The water was ridiculously clear and blue-green.

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So beautiful you want to eat it.

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Our trusty boardwalk. You couldn’t always trust it. Sometimes there was a lot of muck.

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We got into Zadar in time for a beautiful sunset thanks to a minivan driver who poached us and 5 other people waiting for the bus. He just flew down the empty highway. The drive was one of the most beautiful of my life- so beautiful I didn’t take any photos. But there was a huge blue sky, fluorescent green hills, and water that reflected everything back like a perfect mirror.

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A wall on the main tourist drag of the old town, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“Tell your friends to come to Bosnia because of the people, the food, the beautiful nature. Not the war”, Haris insisted as we said goodbye after his tour of Sarajevo.

And it’s true. The people are the warmest I have met, the food is so very full of meat, and the nature is beautiful (check out this waterfall, for instance). But there’s no denying that there are tangible remnants of the war here.

On a sunny afternoon in Mostar, we found the snipers’ nest. Of what was built to be a bank, there remains an empty shell of a concrete building, littered with broken glass.

While my brother and fellow-hosteller climbed the scary no-banister stairs to the no-walls storeys high up and collected a few empty bullet casings, I stayed safely at ground level, watching my step. Evidently, this is not only the place to come drink and break all your bottles, it’s also great to come shoot up and/or hook up. And paint on the walls.

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In Sarajevo, they built a 4.5 million-dollar bobsled and luge track for the 1984 Olympics. During the war and the siege, it was used as a kind of trench for the Serbian army.

Now, it is damaged, abandoned, and covered in graffiti in the middle of the woods (don’t go ‘awandering- there are still landmines in there). It was very affecting. Some sort of metaphor, maybe. Surrounded by beauty, face to face with such a state-of-the-art track, destroyed.

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After a perfect couple of days in Split, Croatia (which mostly consisted of going to the pebble beach, eating massive portions of things, walking, heating up left-overs, and tasting all the different kinds of ice-cream, and taking advantage of our disco ball), my brother and I hopped on a hot, over-crowded minibus to Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Labour Day dance party at the beach, Split. It hasn't been that hot or sunny since.

Labour Day dance party at the beach, Split. It hasn’t been that hot or sunny since.

Having grown up with daily news of the Bosnian war, I was eager to see the country as it is, not as it is was in my head in 1994.

Although Mostar is a city still divided (and visibly so), the beauty we found in its streets, surroundings and people (greeted at a hostel with freshly-baked bread, homemade iced tea and a bunch of markers with which to draw? my idea of coming home), overshadowed the shelled out buildings and parks-turned-into-cemeteries-where-all-the-graves-date-from-1993.

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Pocitelj, an ancient fortified town on the river Neretva.

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Kravice Waterfalls. Pretty and pretty cold. Got funny looks for jumping in. But it was so blue! And sunny!

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Coffee, done right: strong and muddy at the bottom. So as not to stir up sludge, just dip your sugar cube in the coffee, bite of a bit and then take a sip.

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Beautiful Bosnia, view from high up.

After a couple of beautiful days in cozy, pretty, coffee-fuelled, bullet-marked Mostar, we took the train to Sarajevo. Sarajevo, a city that, in my mind, has carried heavy baggage.

We did learn lots about the siege and the genocide, but also about the 1984 Olympics, also about how the city is pretty and edgy and has a cool (but rainy) vibe.

Cafes line the streets and squares and people siat in them all day and night, drinking and smoking.

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A street in the old part of the city, Sarajevo.

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A street, seen from above (from a little café at the top of a hotel).

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Girls smoking, Sarajevo.

They smoke a lot and everywhere. I’m almost used to it. What I’m not used to yet are cars driving on the right side of the street.