Snow, Ice and Water – Obergurgl, Austria

Snowshoe Hike - Obergurgl, Austria

This story begins high above the alps.  It is a story of change. Of transition and of voyage.  It is a story of simple contrasts, long trips, and the small details that define the world around us.  It begins in the uppermost reaches of roiling clouds as they form along the border between the Austrian and Italian Alps. Casually adrift they eventually find themselves caught; snagged on jagged mountain peaks dotted by the sharp protrusions of evergreen treetops.  As gravity takes hold and nature pulls the clouds downward a process as old as the earth unfolds. Water vapor rises, condenses, and crystallizes. Like a master tinkerer, the cloud crafts trillions of tiny stars. Each is an ever-so-slight variation of the star shape we picture as we close our eyes and dream of winter.  These newly born stars float suspended in quasi-darkness thousands of feet above the earth waiting to launch themselves upon the world below.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

With the gust of wind, a change in pressure, and a drop in temperature clouds struggle to free themselves of their mountain moorings. As they lighten their loads snowflakes begin their gentle descent.  Some find themselves falling quickly, others drifting as they are tossed from side to side by alpine winds. They descend towards fallen brethren.  Some revert to their watery origins – torn apart – by waves of heat.  Others are thrown together, crushed within the feathers of sharp-eyed golden eagles or the furrows of  an Alps-Crow’s black wings.  Most survive to continue their reckless descent.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

For some their trip comes to an untimely end.  Extinguished by the heat of a child’s outstretched tongue.  Others find themselves caught in the top branches of old trees and small spring saplings. A perch that lends a fabulous view of the valley’s white slopes and snow-covered fields, but which also offers them up as sacrifice to the sun in a way reminiscent of ancient Incan ceremonies.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

Others find themselves surrounded by their brethren as they cast a thick blanket across the earth’s rich soil.  It is a war of sorts. The war of seasons. In winter frozen snowflakes spread themselves across the soil’s surface,  blocking it from the sun and denying it the liquid hydration it demands to survive.  In summer, when the dark hues of rich humus and golden rays of the sun combine, the earth finds itself hungrily gorging itself on water that has long forgotten what it felt like to take the form of a frozen star.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

As day ebbs and night descends a full moon’s white light is reflected off a trillion sparkling points.  Each dreams of a life spent beside the moon in the deepest reaches of space as a small part of the Milky Way.  Instead, small gusts of wind cast snowflakes back into the air, tossing and turning them before allowing them to crash back against their mates.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

Morning’s early rays. Warmth. Blue skies. Sun.  The shimmer of heat rising, reflected off white crystalline shapes.  A reversion from tiny star to water and gas. A new voyage, this one slow but persistent. Soaking deep into the half-frozen soil.  Drifting across slicked rocks. Carried along by un-melted snowflakes.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

The birth of a small stream hidden beneath snowbanks. The soft gurgle of water splashing over stones as a trickle grows, freed by the sun.  The promise of spring as weather warms. Tiny crystalline star after tiny crystalline star giving way to heat, sun, and the caress of water.  Moments of uncertainty as the gentle onslaught of a stream slowly carves grottos beneath the snow’s smooth white surface. And then collapse as the strength of millions of interlocked snowflakes give way beneath their own weight.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

Moments. Hours. Days of tentative equilibrium as stream, sun and snowflake reach a fragile balance.  By day the sun beats down, forcing snow flakes to wither and drip their way toward the stream.  By evening, night and early morning the cold caress of alpine winds, fresh snow, and freezing air strive to re-claim lost snowflakes.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

Half-exposed segments of the stream re-discover their crystalline origins.  These re-freeze on a much grander scale.   Their struggle futile. Brief. But beautiful in its grand gestures.  Others struggle in transition.  Most of their form lost. They form pillars by gravity and circumstance that stand as bulwarks against the stream’s cold bite as they loom above the churning waters.

Ice, Snow and Water - Obergurgl, Austria

I captured these photos during a two-hour snowshoe hike provided by the folks at Obergurgl Ski School and the Obergurgl-Hochgurgl Tourism Board just outside the city of Obergurgl in the Austrian Alps.  The weather was spectacular with blue skies and clean mountain air.  As we hiked along a small stream made up of snow melt, I was taken by the beauty of the ice crystal formations.  Those photos gave birth to this post.  One which I hope you enjoyed.  It is an incredible area full of stunning natural beauty.  Photos were shot on a Canon 600D.

Pure Beauty in Berlin – Weekly Travel Photo

Berlin - Beautiful Marbles

One of my favorite things about Berlin is Museum Island. It embodies the type of cultural dedication to art and history that I wish all cities, cultures and nations shared and emulated. For those unfamiliar with it, it is essentially an island in the heart of Berlin which has a number of Berlin’s finest museums situated on it. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Each has its own architecture, collections and focus.

This photo comes from the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and is of one of my favorite marble statues. Not just favorite from the collection, but favorite among all of the various marbles I’ve seen around the world. There’s just a beauty and elegance to her that I find enchanting. The piece is titled the Seated Victoria, Throwing a Wreath and dates back to the early 1830s. The sculpture was carved by Christian Daniel Rauch.

If you make it to Berlin, definitely set aside a day or two to explore the island completely. There’s a lot to see and it is well worth the time!

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon IS 55-250mm lens.

Wandering in Oslo, Norway

Embassy Row - Oslo, Norway

My final day in Oslo was spent meandering the city’s cobblestone streets, wandering through the old harbor, and resting lazily in the park reading my book.   I’d paused at the local rail station during the previous day’s walking tour and picked up a discount reservation for an overnight train from Oslo to Stavanger on Norway’s western coast.  To my disappointment, my Eurail pass only reserved a reclining airplane like seat, but – it would have to do.   The train left late in the evening – 10PM if memory serves and would take just over 8 hours as it wound its way along the southern coast, before hockey-sticking up through the Fjords to Stavanger.

Downtown - Oslo, Norway

The late departure gave me the entire day to explore the city and relax.  Hildur was off work at 4:30 which gave me a sold 4 or 5 hours to explore.   Eager to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I struck off down towards the old harbor.  My path took me along major streets with old buildings, showcasing an eclectic mixture of architectural styles from all over the world.  Despite the inherent beauty in most of the buildings, one stands out in my memory: the US Embassy. The building stood on the corner of the street which encircles the Palatial Park/Main Palace.  It was an odd building.  Ringed by an imposing 10+ ft tall black fence, the building was all blacks and grays.  About 3 stories, it was square, with an odd architectural design, one which had arrow slit like windows.  The whole thing oozed a sense of…I don’t want to say Evil…but perhaps…unfriendliness is a better word.  It may have just been the color and the architectural era it hailed from.  Either way, it left me feeling disappointed and misrepresented.

The Harbor - Oslo, Norway

Though I’d poked around the main Harbor the day before, I relished the opportunity to continue my exploration.  The harbor is home to some 5-10 “tall ships” which is to say old/classically modeled sailing vessels.  Many have been converted into tour vessels but others are still classic sailing ships.  All offer a beautiful ambiance to the harbor which is ringed by cafes and small kiosks not to mention an incredible view back towards the down town area.

Street Performer - Oslo, Norway

From the harbor I struck back up, re-tracing the previous day’s steps, towards the Parliament building and central greenbelt.  From there it was up and down the main shopping street. Lined with people, the street also provided a wide selection of street performers.   From jugglers, to musicians most of the usual types were in attendance.  Some of the more a-typical ones, however, included a puppeteer playing the piano, and cripple using his two crutches to alternately perform tricks while bouncing a ball with them.  The sights and sounds left me chuckling at times, wincing at others and of course scratching my head in bafflement at yet others.

Flowered Square - Oslo, Norway

The street eventually led me down  towards the main train station, where I headed to the left, and quickly ended up in a picturesque square which was doubling as a flower market.  The market was awash in colors, scents and people as passerby’s paused to relax, pick up flowers, or wound through the square on their way to some errand or meeting.

Children at Play - Oslo, Norway

Eventually my meanderings took me back through the warren of H&M stores and small cafe’s towards the old National Theater.   The boulevard it sits on is split down the middle by a series of small fountains, flowerbeds overflowing with blooming flowers, and of course the usual assortment of relaxing and sunbathing Norwegians.  I paused briefly next to one of the fountains to capture the photo above – two young children at plan.  There’s something about it which just seemed to strike me as being a bit classic.  Boy meets girl.  Boy wears blue. Girl wears red. Both enjoy the innocence of youth, combined with the joys of a youthful, inquisitive nature, while relaxing in front of a gorgeous fountain on a beautiful blue day.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

From the fountain I decided to see if I could explore the inside of the city hall.  It was, after all, a rather unique building.  It seemed only natural that the interior would be equally interesting.  The 5 minute walk down to the main structure was quick and enjoyable.  I say walk, but it was more a lazy meandering as I lankily ambled my way along the sidewalk.   The building – a massive red brick creation – served as a picturesque backdrop for various pieces of artwork, often added seemingly at random.  A prime example is the large clock shown above, which I found all the more beautiful due to the relatively basic and plane brick backdrop that it had been set within.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s main entrance was equally interesting.  Though not completed until 1950 due to the War, the building was started in 1931 which is reflected in its general feel and appearance. Parts of the design left me thinking of a simpler, less ornate version of the Chrysler Building in New York.  Interestingly, the City Hall is also the site of the award ceremony each year where Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded.

Town Hall - Oslo, Norway

The building’s immediate interior is a massive open room.  The room has a variety of different murals – all done in a similar style – decorating each of the walls.  The murals reflect the nation’s history and toils, while conveying a very propaganda-esq artistic style. One which, at least in the US, we’ve often come to associate with former Soviet and more Socialist governments. The murals focus on the people, their labors, culture and wars.  Not surprising given the building’s history and completion in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The Palace - Oslo, Norway

After leaving the City Hall, I found my way back up past the Royal Palace before connecting with Hildur, who had just gotten off work.  After a quick nap, we decided to pick up some Sushi to go (which to my surprise was only slightly more expensive than fast food), before heading to the park to enjoy the weather.  We ate, chatted, and enjoyed the weather before saying our goodbyes. It was time to head to the rail station and to continue my exploration of Norway’s culture and natural beauty.

My stay in Oslo was incredible.  Made that much more delightful by my incredible hosts, who truly went out of their way to share their city, culture and local cuisine with me.  I owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will always have very fond memories of Oslo, in no small part, due to their hospitality.

My First US Hostel, New Friends and Flagstaff Arizona

Northern Arizona - View Towards Flagstaff

I’ve made no secret of my general lack of passion for the desert so this series of posts will no doubt surprise some of you. Based out of Scottsdale, AZ most of the year, I don’t do a lot of hiking and seldom write posts dedicated to exploring my own back yard. We’ve got a lot of different types of cactus, cat’s claw, dirt, rocks, rattle snakes and scorpions. None of which really reaches out and excites me – a person drawn to running rivers, green mountains, moss covered rocks or sandy beaches and open ocean.

Flagstaff - Downtown

That said, A three day weekend presented itself and I decided to give Northern Arizona a chance while checking out my first US Hostel. I’ve been in Arizona for a long time. Nine years in Sedona, four years in Prescott and another seven plus in various cities around the valley. Prescott holds a special place in my heart for its fun atmosphere, history and spunky nature.

On the other hand Sedona and I have just recently begun to get re-acquainted. After leaving the city at the end of middle school we got a much-welcomed divorce. I lost any/all appreciation for the area’s natural beauty and was at constant odds with the never ending onslaught of star children, boredom, grumpy retired corporate executives and a prolific assortment of people that were…well…quite often batshit insane.

Flagstaff - Downtown

I share this with you because it underscores the often overlooked value of changing your perspective and exploring your own back yard through the eyes of a tourist. Over the years I’ve probably made 50+ trips to Flagstaff to shop or visit College friends. I can navigate my way around, am familiar with some of the popular watering holes and can readily recite local attractions. Despite all that I hadn’t ever truly seen or experienced Flagstaff until this past weekend. A realization which has only just begun to register.

The Trip

The premise was simple: Drive north. Try a hostel. Be a tourist. Have fun.

I had 3 days, a hand sketched map of Northern Arizona with a few significant points of interest marked and a $19 online booking for 1 night at the Grand Canyon International Hostel in Flagstaff, AZ. From there I’d spend a day exploring the far northern reaches of the state before returning to Flagstaff where I’d crash on and old College buddy’s sofa before heading back to Phoenix the following morning.

Flagstaff - Downtown

The trip started out well.  Shortly after mid-day on Saturday I packed up the car, grabbed a water, wiped the sweat from my eyebrows and cranked up the AC.  I was off. Me, myself, my thoughts, and an adventure.

Flagstaff - Downtown

The drive north was great. No where near the Memorial Day Weekend traffic I expected.  The weather was beautiful – sunny blue skies with a slight breeze.  The Scottsdale/Flagstaff leg of the trip on the I-17 was old hat, but I tried to push myself to see it differently…to explore it as a new adventure and experience. The end result was a very pleasant drive which left me drifting along the interstate lost in my own thoughts and the hypnotic feel that goes with a long drive down open roads on a beautiful day.


I reached the city around 4:30 in the afternoon. Scratched my head and looked at my poorly drawn directions before setting off to find the hostel.  Before long I found San Francisco Street and made a right turn.  The road was blocked by a passing train which caught my attention and drew most of my focus.  As I sat filming the train from my diver’s side window a shirtless biker paused briefly.  I raised an eyebrow to which he quickly responded, “Dude, you know this street is one way, right?” I quickly muttered a curse about one way streets in Arizona, thanked him for the heads up and flipped a hasty U turn more than a little grateful that the train was still racing by blocking the wall of traffic which no doubt waited patiently on the other side. I was a bit flustered and couldn’t help but laugh heartily at myself.  You don’t find many one-way streets in Arizona and yet I’d not only found one but turned down it. It would appear I was working overtime to play the part of the tourist.

Flagstaff - Downtown

After a bit of backtracking I quickly overcame the challenges posed by the one-way streets and found the right cross streets for my hostel.  Parked and made my way inside. The guy at the front desk was friendly, checked my reservation and made a face.  My heart skipped a beat as he muttered “Oops, looks like there was an issue with your reservation” he paused briefly, then looked up and smiled, “No worries though, your reservation has been transferred over to  Dubeau hostel down the street” I grimaced, not sure what to expect and thanked him for the directions.

Flagstaff - Downtown

It turned out that the Dubeau hostel was right around the corner and a great place with a fun vibe. I’ve done dozens of hostels in Europe and Central America but had no idea what to expect in an American hostel.  Would they be social?  Would they be clean?  Would they be youth oriented? As it turns out, the answer is yes.  It would seem that hostels are hostels no matter what country you find yourself in.

The hostel was an old converted motel in the shape of a U.  The rooms stretched back around a parking area while the bottom of the U consisted of the main office, two kitchens, a dining room, common reading area and activities room with free pool, table soccer and several tables.

I was given a quick tour, then sent out to find my room.  The room was nice and clean.  It had an en-suite bathroom, and 4 bunk-beds.  I quickly chose one of the remaining free ones, and got acquainted with a Brazilian guy who was unwinding after a long bus ride from Canada. We talked about Flagstaff, things to do and see and a bit about Brazil before I set out to explore the town.

The hostel has a great vintage feel, driven home by a large sign mounted on top of what looks like an old radio tower in the front yard.  It adds a very western feel which seeps into the surrounding area.  The streets south of the railroad tracks between Beaver Street and San Francisco Street are alive with small shops, dive bars and old-nearly abandoned warehouses, accommodation, and apartments.  Buildings are either decorated with pealing paint and old sun faded signs or vibrant wall art/graffiti which brightens up alleyways and puts a near constant smile on your face.

Flagstaff - Downtown

As I wandered through the area I found myself pausing regularly to take in entertaining little nuances.  Perhaps the most entertaining was an old beat up tourism sign on what looked to be a small abandoned building framed perfectly by a sign for the local strip-club which was across a side street and right next door.  The end result was a comical contrast of clashing cultures which perfectly reflects Flagstaff’s eclectic culture.

Flagstaff - Downtown

Before long I found myself crossing back over the tracks and into the city’s main downtown area.  A mixture of outdoor shops, restaurants, bars, new age shops, art galleries and coffee shops the whole area is alive with foot traffic and bustling with energy.  People are friendly and the sound of an outdoor music performance could be heard drifting from a public square near by. Truly, it’s a great part of town and one that I’d never seen or experienced during previous trips.  The area which also holds the town’s bar district (similar to Whiskey Row in Prescott and Mill Avenue in Tempe) was something I’d only seen at night and often only in passing.

Hostel Life

From there it was back to the hostel where I quickly struck up a conversation with two guys from the  UK – one from England, one from Scotland. As it turned out there were 6 of them, all Royal Airforce/Military on a two week hiking trip out from their military base on Cypress. We quickly hit it off and talked travel, Arizona, US and Mexican food before joining a game of horse shoes (a first for them) with two girls from Durango.  As we continued to get acquainted over a beer or two  a French Canadian gal joined the group, along with two Germany girls and the rest of the Brits.  We shared stories, got acquainted and then got several raging games of table football going before playing some music.  Shortly after 11PM I geared up to head to the bars where I was scheduled to meet up with an old College friend. I set off with one of the guys from Scotland in tow. Before long we’d found our way into one of the local watering holes and set to enjoying the local bar scene.

Flagstaff - Downtown

A while later my friend arrived with several of his girlfriends. We got acquainted and continued telling funny stories while laughing heartily as the others tried to decipher Paddy’s thick Glasgow accent. As the night wound down, I shared my plans for the following day with Noelle – one of Ryan’s friends. She expressed interest in the trip and I invited her to join.  To my surprise (Given we’d just met and since I’d made it clear I didn’t have a set schedule) she jumped at the opportunity.  We set a time to connect in the and then said our goodbyes before heading back to the hostel to call it a night.

Stay tuned to part II of this post for photos and stories of the wild desert north of Flagstaff, Tuba City, Painted Desert, a Man on Rollerblades and Sunset at the Grand Canyon!

Granada Part IV – The Alhambra

After wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I crawled out of my bunk bed, took a refreshing shower and then stumbled down to the hostel common area. There I chatted with a few friends I’d made over the previous two days. We checked our e-mail, recounted the previous evening’s adventures and then formed a small group. Today was dedicated to the Alhambra.

I’ve mentioned it before, but have yet to really explain what the Alhambra is.  The Alhambra is a large palatial fortress that sits on one of the hills in the heart of Granada.  The hill the fortress is on is directly opposite another slightly smaller hill which is home to the Albayzin.  The two are divided by a small stream which has cut a path along the base of both hills.  The Albayzin is the original Moorish city while the Alhambra houses a series of constructions including an ancient fortress, stunning palatial complex and amazing set of gardens.  The site has been designated a UNESCO world heritage site and has a rich and exciting history.  One of the things I found especially fascinating was that the Alhambra was one of the Moors last strongholds in Spain.  I was shocked to learn that the fortress actually didn’t fall until 1492 (same year as Columbus sailed). Quite the significant year for the Spanish!   I’ll let those interested read up on it via wikipedia.

Getting to the Alhambra is easy – but make no mistake, also a bit of an adventure.  There are two options: the first is paying 2 Euro and catching a bus from the square at the bottom of the hill just off of the Grand Villa which drops you off at the entrance to the Alhambra.  The second, and far more entertaining option, is to tackle the mountainside and hike your way to the entrance. Eager to see and experience as much as possible we elected for the latter.  The path shoots off from the square and slowly winds up past a series if vendors, hostels and restaurants all clinging to the side of the hill. Once at the entrance to the Alhambra site the city ends and you find yourself surrounded by lush vegetation and periodic water features.  The path goes from pavement to dirt and the real trek begins. The photo above is from about halfway up the path.  As you can see the benches indicate just how steep the climb is. Huffing away, legs pumping and with my injured knee bothering me, I limped my way up the path, pausing periodically to enjoy the beautiful golds, greens and reds of the trees lining the path.

The walk from hostel to the ticket booth for the Alhambra only took us 20 minutes and was well worth the knee strain. The weather was beautiful.  Gray, overcast, and crisp. Luckily the rain had contented itself with a brief morning shower before moving on.  The moisture in the air brought out all of the greens in the plants and the colors in the flowers and stonework, adding a certain vividness which was amazing to see.  Once at the top we paused briefly for a quick soda and snack. As we caught our breaths and relaxed I snapped the above shot of a local cat and two considerate tourists. With a smile on my face we set to the task of tackling the lines and picking up our tickets.

The Alhambra is a huge tourist attraction. As both a UNESCO world heritage site and major historical monument it draws large crowds, even in off season.  As a result ticketing can be difficult. To help preserve the feel of the site they’ve set up an interesting system with two main entrance times.  The first entrance period starts at 8:30AM and ends at 2PM. The second begins at 2PM and ends at 8PM.  Tickets sell out quickly so it’s important to book ahead or get there early.  Once you’ve purchased your ticket you’re assigned a second time window, for a tour of the palatial compound.  The tours are small and you only get one shot.  The palace is incredible and a must while visiting the fortress – so if you plan on visiting, make sure you know where you need to be at your designated time.

When you go to buy your tickets you have two options.  You can brave the ridiculously long line and buy from the ticket windows, or bypass most of the line and use the automatic machines located just past the ticket windows.  The machines look and are marked as a place for picking up web orders and advanced tickets, but also allow the purchase of tickets with a credit card.  Do yourself a favor and go with the machines – they’re not very different from the automatic ticket machines at some movie theaters.

Tickets in hand we made our way to one of the nearby benches, wiped off a few leftover rain drops and settled in.  We had a bit over an hour before 2PM when we would be allowed to enter the site. There were a number of friendly cats wandering around which kept as entertained as we exchanged travel stories and playfully teased each other. Hungry, I pulled out a tin of sardines and quickly set to a rather fishy, but satisfying snack.

The clock struck 2 and we were off. Through the gates and into the garden area of the Alhambra. Outside of the fortress proper the gardens are a sprawling mixture of beautiful buildings, amazing greenery and beautiful water features.  Our adventure started at a large, modern amphitheater which has been built near the entrance to the Gardens.  With it to our back we immediately found ourselves in an incredible garden maze (pictured above) with high walls and beautiful fountains.  Despite the late time of year (December) there were still blooming flowers everywhere.

Once through the maze we were greeted by beautifully terraced areas full of fruit trees and with large areas used for crops during summer months.  The photo above is down the hill from the garden area and is of the outer fortress wall and beginning of the palatial section.   The whole area is covered in orange trees all of which were heavily laden with fresh fruit.

Down a narrow walkway and through a small courtyard full of orange trees we entered the first building in the gardens.  With a fantastic view of the Alhambra proper, the building was covered in beautifully carved Moorish script.  The artistry and complexity of the stonework is positively awe inspiring. In many areas it seems as though every single exposed area is covered in intricate stonework.  Even the windows and ceilings are covered in carved stone or intricate wooden inlays.

The man hours and skilled craftsmanship required to create these buildings left me speechless.  As impressive as it all is, many of the areas also appeared to have been painted at one point in time.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it. As amazing as it was, it ended up being minor when compared to the sprawling palace located within the fortress.

The view out from the Gardens was amazing and I regularly found myself caught visualizing how it must have looked, felt and smelled 600 years ago. After taking the shot above I turned to my right and looked out across at the Albayzin.

Further along the hill and on the other side of the old city wall that surrounds the Albayzin, there is a series of gypsy caves.  These caves are carved into the soft limestone and are a famous landmark.  Some (like the Cave Bar I blogged about earlier) are heavily improved with electricity, bathrooms and the like.  Others are little more than rough-hewn caves.  One thing is constant, very few of the caves are actually owned and many operate on a co-op like system with travelers and gypsies contributing odd knickknacks and/or small improvements before moving on and leaving them for the next visitor.  You can see a number of the caves in the above photo.  The buildings at the bottom near the river are almost all caves with improved entrances, while those further up the hill are more basic/cruder in nature.  The cactus you can see covering parts of the hillside was originally used as a defensive measure, and now grows wild.

The Moors had a passion for water, one that shows in the construction and layout of the Alhambra and its gardens.  It’s almost impossible to go any distance within the sprawling compound without the sound of trickling water and a light feeling of humidity.  As we finished our tour of the Gardens we paused to collect a few of the stragglers that had fallen behind before backtracking to a fork in the path which led us down, across the moat and into the fortified section of the Alhambra.

Once on the far side of the moat we wrapped around the outer edge of the hilltop and left the lush vegetation of the garden area behind. The whole area was still green and populated by periodic water features but more manicured and open than the garden had been.  The first sight that greeted us was a series of reflecting pools with a more recent looking cathedral built in what I’d guess was 1600s styled architecture.

As we wound past the first cathedral we quickly came upon a second, far more impressive one. It’s hard to tell if it was originally a mosque or not, though I imagine it probably was.  Immediately next to it was a small bathhouse and museum which we explored.   Even the street had a small water feature running down it’s side. I still can’t fathom where all the water used to beautify the Alhambra comes from or how it finds its way up to the top of the hill.

From the main walkway we made our way into the Palace of Charles the V…a beautiful, large, square building with a massive circular central courtyard. Though most of the building was closed, one small section was open.  The open area had a series of interesting pieces of modern art, the most impressive of which was a large lion with flowing mane made completely out of old tires.  It was absolutely fantastic! Unfortunately, they were not allowing photos.  They also had a fun 3D room setup.  The 360 degree circular room had image boxes projected with various video clips which you could control and interact with through a pointer. The whole thing was 3D and a pretty cool interface.

As I finished exploring the Palace of Charles the Fifth my 4 o’clock tour of the palace was fast approaching.  However, I’ll leave my tour of the palaces, voyage into the old fortress and rest of the evening in Granada for a 2nd follow up post.  I’m afraid this one has gotten a bit long!

Stay tuned and remember you can view all of the photos included in this post and a large number of others via my online gallery!

Madrid Part II

As time rushes by the adventure has continued to be an absolute delight. After finishing my last post I set out into the city. In usual form I was more focused on the voyage than the destination. With my map stashed in my back pocket I picked a direction and began to roam. Through small alleyways, along major two lane thoroughfares and beyond I wound my way north across the city. The weather has been delightful, a little crisp but far from too cold. I’ve also been blessed with sunny weather and a total lack of rain. Eventually I found myself in downtown Madrid’s bustling tourist and business center. With beautiful old architecture thrown seemingly at random between new signs for major chains and newer buildings, the city was vibrantly alive with life.

I eventually found a large, beautiful park. I absorbed the beauty of fall-kissed trees, enjoyed the clean crisp air, and breathed in scents coming from all the vegetation. As I neared the center of the park, I came across a number of gorgeous cats who had seemingly laid claim to a small Galapagos monument. Walled away from the people by large wrought iron fences the cats had free reign of a fun, small set of pools and bushes. As I was relaxing and watching the cats frolic an old woman came up with a stroller. To my amazement, in place of the usual child the stroller held a cat strapped into an adorable little vest sitting regally in an unzipped jacket turned quilt. Though tied by its leash to the stroller, the cat was obviously far from interested in wandering off. As he sat there relaxing and watching the birds his mother pulled out a number of cans of cat food, began feeding the strays, conversing with each and calling them by name. The whole thing was adorable.

I watched the cats play in the bushes and harass the local pigeon population before I continued into the center of the park which was based around a small lake. The lake was surrounded by walkways on two sides, with the Galapagos monument on the third, and a large war memorial on the fourth. The memorial was a beautiful thing with a large central pillar, statuary and steps that led down to the water’s edge. Eventually I made my way around the lake’s edge and spent an hour or so napping, reading, and relaxing in the afternoon sun at the base of the steps near the water.

Rested and relaxed I continued my exploration of the park and eventually found a large, beautifully manicured garden which lead me down towards the Prado Art Museum. Despite painfully sore feet, I decided to make every moment count and picked up a ticket. The museum had a wonderful collection, all beautifully displayed. In addition to a number of the usual famous pieces, I found countless less renown works from masterful artists. Most memorable was a fantastic statue created in the 1400 or 1500s that had rich, pure colors and appeared to be almost 3 dimensional. The other pieces that really caught my attention were a series of stunning inlaid tabletops. The tables impressive in their weight to begin with, had tops that were completely covered in inlaid motifs depicting animals, wildlife, patterns, and flowers all created with gorgeous precious stones. One of the more impressive ones was also supported by 4 large beautiful lions.

In addition to their rather sizable art collection, the museum also had small, beautiful sets of Greek and Roman statues, and a number of marble slave masks that were infused with an amazing degree of expression and emotion.

After leaving the Prado I found my way back to the hostel where I rested for a bit before setting out to find some food. As I roamed hunting for a tapas or kebab shop I stumbled into a bustling market street lined with butchers, vegetable stands, and the like. A little further down it I found an entrance into an a large, two story market full of individual produce, fish, meat, olive, and sausage stands. The smells, colors, and assortment of food was absolutely fantastic. As I roamed, trying to decide what to pick up for dinner, I eventually picked up a persimmon and several tangerines. Not in the mood to cook meat, and unable to find seafood prices that fit my budget, I elected to continue my quest for a kebab shop. Eventually, kebab in hand I settled in back at the hostel for another night meeting new friends.

After a few hours spent in the hostel common area meeting, greeting and getting to know each other we set off to explore the city’s night life. As we meandered our way through the city and hopped from bar to bar, we eventually ended up at a fun downstairs club. The entrance was a small staircase where I had to watch my head, but the club itself was a narrow set of basement rooms with a vaulted brick ceiling. The place looked as though it had once stored wine casks. Eager to enjoy the evening, we danced, relaxed, and explored the particularly flavorful and peculiar club which was populated predominantly by locals dancing, smoking, and drinking the night away. By about 4:30AM we decided to call it a night and made the trip back to the hostel. The city at night is beautiful with vibrant lights, people wandering the streets at all hours, and a constant hum of activity.

The following morning I woke up early, explored the area around the hostel a bit more before hopping the tube up to the train station. The train station is a large, beautiful structure, with fun elements and a very flavorful style. One of the large common areas within the station has an indoor garden in the center of it with large palm trees, all sorts of vegetation and even a decent sized pool full of lilies and turtles. After taking it all in, I snagged a quick bite to eat and then made my way to my train. Interestingly I had to put my backpack through an x-ray machine. I then boarded the train through a terminal, as you would at the airport. An all around new process I hadn’t been through before.

I enjoyed Madrid thoroughly, though it´s without question a large city and lacks a lot of the charm of a smaller town. The people were friendly, but in a big city sort of way. The streets while beautiful are somewhat sterile and modernized, not to mention, land-mined with dog nuggets. That said, I enjoyed it immensely and my stay was fantastic, but the city cannot compare in any way, shape or form to Seville which I will write about soon.

435 Select Photos From My European Walkabout

Croatia - Alex Berger

Hello all,

This has been a long time in coming and I apologize, but after months of struggling with software issues, my webhost and a crazy-busy life I’ve finally sorted through the 1,600 photos I took on my recent Europe trip and have uploaded 435 select shots. They are sorted by geographic region/the part of the trip (eg: Italy) and added to my own personal photo gallery hosted here on the site. There is also an Album that contains all 1,600 photos for those of you who want to see what didn’t make it into the 435 select shots.

In addition to the recently uploaded photos I have also created an Album with select shots from my 2004 study abroad trip to the British Isles with shots from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and England.

As I find the time I will continue to add albums with new photos, retouched photos, and some of the very best shots that I’ve taken over the years.

Croatia - Alex Berger

To view the photos visit my photo-gallery here.

Let me know what you think =)