The View From Assisi – Weekly Travel Photo

Assisi - Cathedral and Fields

Situated in the heart of the rich Umbrian countryside the hilltop town of Assisi embodies the aura, charm, and personality of Italian hilltop cities.  The view from the historic city is enchanting and takes in a vista that includes carefully manicured fields, Assisi’s new town, Italian villas, vineyards, and a number of historic buildings including perfectly maintained cathedrals that are several hundred years old.  Despite the grandeur of the view, it is all flavored by the humble ideals and mentality of the Franciscans, who have served as the city’s dominant religious group for hundreds of years.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Danish Tulips – Weekly Travel Photo

Women Relaxing - Copenhagen, Denmark

It is currently winter here in Copenhagen.  The weather is floating between 0 and 6 degrees Celsius and has me dreaming of summer.  This week’s photo was taken this past spring in Copenhagen and showcases the gorgeous forms of a sea of tulips in the Danish national colors (red and white).  In spring the city’s parks are full of people relaxing and soaking up the warm afternoon sun. Looking at this photo reminds me of afternoons spent in the park, nostrils bombarded by the scent of freshly blooming flowers and the heavy aroma of fresh cut grass.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Prague’s Bridges at Night – Weekly Travel Photo

Prague's Bridges at Night

One of the best parts about Prague is its incredible series of bridges.  They line the lazy bends in the river and create a unique texture that somehow snags the eye and pulls it in.   By day the bridges inspire with their varied architecture – some modern, some historic.  By night they entreat the onlooking eye with a blur of light and color.

While the most famous is, of course, Charles Bridge with its wide pedestrian walkway and series of statues representing saints and kings, each bidge has its own storz and charm.  This photo was captured on a snowy evening from a park that sits opposite Prague Castle.

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

The Tallest Building in the World – Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo

Black and White Burj Khalifa at Night

Located in the heart of a brutal, nearly inhospitable desert is a shining oasis of water, steel and light.  It’s a place full of wonders…tributes to all that man can accomplish, build and create.    Beyond the indoor ski slopes, ice rinks, and aquariums there’s one feat in particular that quite literally stands above the rest – the Burj Khalifa, more commonly just called the “Burj”. You probably know it simply as the tallest building in the world.  During a recent layover in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai) we made our way to the Burj, ascended to the 124th floor (which is only about 2/3 of the way up) and enjoyed a spectacular sunset.  After watching the fountain and light show below us from the observation deck we headed back down to ground level and spent some time staring skyward.  The Burj is lit at night. The result is a giant shining beacon that is 2,723 feet tall and holds a wealth of world records.  One of the most interesting of which is its 144th floor night club.

I snapped this black and white night shot to capture the moment.  I hope you enjoy it – for me it feels like something straight out of a 1920s or 1930s poster.  What thoughts come to mind for you?

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) dSLR Camera.

Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo – Porch of the Caryatids in Athens


While Greece and Athens in particular have faced significant challenges over the last few months due to the nation’s economic woes I was recently reminded of my visit to the Acropolis.  While the actual Parthenon is without question one of the most impressive buildings in Greece, one of my favorites in the area is the Porch of the Caryatids.  Located within the greater Acropolis along side the Parthenon, it is much smaller but has its own beauty and special personality. The porch is located on the back side of the Erechtheion Temple which dates back to around 400 BC and the Caryatids are a series of beautifully carved women that double as pillars holding up the porch.  Enjoy this photo taken on a brilliant blue December day and make sure to note Athens sprawling in the distance as a fascinating combination of both ancient and modern history.

Unlocking Ushuaia’s Secrets – The Portal to Tierra del Fuego

A Rainstorm - Ushuaia, Argentina

The first few days of my Argentina trip had been spent exploring Buenos Aires, socializing, dealing with jet lag and adjusting to the reality that I was back on the road.   For me, it was the southern city of Ushuaia where I mentally perceived my Argentinian adventure as truly beginning. I didn’t know what to expect.  I knew that the city was the departure base for the majority of the Antarctica tours, it was home to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, and  it was my best shot at seeing penguins. Beyond that, I’d heard mixed things. Chief among them was that the town and region were disappointing; that I shouldn’t set aside much time for the area, and my time would be better spent elsewhere.

Downtown Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

After exploring Ushuaia, El Chalten, and El Calafate, I can definitely tell where and why people might think the above about Ushuaia.  Based on my experiences, I found Ushuaia worth the stop…with a caveat that your level of enjoyment while in Ushuaia seems to depend on where in your trip you see it.  The city of Ushuaia is a launchpad destination.  It is a city nestled between majestic, snow-capped mountains situated alongside the Beagle Channel of Darwinian fame. With a booming population and nearly 60,000 residents, the city is one of the largest in the region.  Yet, despite that, the tourist section of the city stands alone, nestled along the port and on the side of the mountains, it feels more like a town of 5,000.

Ushuaia Harbor - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The flight south is fairly unremarkable, until that is, you go to land in the city.  Located in the midst of the channel on a long, flat peninsula the airport is surrounded by large mountain ranges which still cling to snowy cloaks even in the midst of the Argentinian summer. As our plane drifted, dropped, and jumped through the clouds on a turbulent approach, I was awestruck by the view out the window.  We weren’t just making a typical approach, we were flying through a large valley and surrounded by/flying over snow-covered mountains.  It was spectacular and left me grinning as my mind immediately imagined that famous snow/ramp scene from the James Bond movies.  What also struck me was the minute or two which it lasted. Usually landings happen so quickly that you don’t really get anything more than a quick view of the surrounding area. That wasn’t the case with Ushuaia which was a true delight.

Ushuaia Harbor - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

The airport is new, modern, and in excellent shape.  Fairly small, it’s built for cold weather and as such offers a lot of amenities that many smaller airports might gloss over.  There is a cost, however, as both Ushuaia and El Calafate airports are managed by “London Supply” and charge an exit tax for the use of the airport which is NOT covered in your ticket price. The tax is around $8 USD.

Ushuaia Bay - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

After a quick 7 minute cab ride (around 23 pesos) I found myself at the front door of the Freestyle Hostel.  The hostel had a nice layout, clean/modern facilities, and a great location just north of the docks. The staff was friendly, helpful and playful once they decided they liked you but tended to be a bit abrasive and sarcastic on first blush.  My room offered a great view out over the harbor, was warm despite the cold weather, and fairly comfortable.

The Local Pub in Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

Before long I’d settled in, snagged a hearty nap, and was set to explore.  Based on a recommendation and drink coupon from the hostel, I headed down (quite literally) the street to the Dublin Pub. A great little pub, it serves as the premier watering hole for travelers in Ushuaia. The place was packed, served a mixture of beers, and was limited to two local options on tap…Red or Black.  Both of which were delightful.

Shortly thereafter, I connected with a twitter contact who I’d recently learned was also traveling through Ushuaia.  Brendan authors the blog Brendan’s Adventures and has been on the road for over a year.  A full time travel blogger he’s done a wonderful job executing a dream that most only talk about. Definitely take a minute to check out his blog and to look him up on twitter at @Brendanvanson.

We chatted travel, adventures, antics, women, and business projects off and on over the remainder of my stay in Ushuaia. Brendan has a wealth of travel experiences and wonderful insights into travel, people, and the ancillary benefits and challenges of being on the road.

Perhaps the most comical of our adventures was an attempt to shoot the lunar eclipse on the evening of my second day.  Both eager for the chance to snap what we hoped would be incredible photos of a rare lunar eclipse over the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia, we camped out in the Dublin Pub until 3:30AM when it closed keeping a careful eye on the night sky and watching for the moon.  We’d researched the eclipse and found a mixture of data which suggested that it would be visible from our vantage point sometime in the early morning.  Unfortunately, it was also right around the time of the summer solstice which made for the shortest nights of the year.

As 3:30 morphed into 4AM and the sun began to rise we let out a collective harrumph, warmed our hands, and admitted defeat.   As it turned out the combination of a mere 3 hours of darkness and large mountain range in the way meant that the Moon never showed its pale face.  Was it ever visible?  It’s hard to know, but as far as we could tel, day won out over night totally obscuring any chance of seeing the moon.

City Streets - Ushuaia, Argentina

The final adventure of note within the city of Ushuaia itself was culinary.  After a wonderful day spent exploring the Tierra del Fuego National Park, I re-connected with three of the people I’d met on the bus/during the hike.  Starved from a long day’s exhaustion and a tiny lunch we opted to try one of the city’s all you can eat buffets. They boasted a wealth of meat options with a large in-house grill as well as a wide variety of other seafood and delicious morsels.

Dinner on the Grill - Ushuaia, Argentina

After comparing prices and window shopping we eventually settled on an Asian influenced buffet that sported a hearty grill accompanied by a mixture of seafood and a light sushi bar.

Dinner Cooking - Ushuaia, Argentina

A vegetarian’s nightmare, the restaurant was a carnivore’s paradise. The meat was all beautifully cooked and awash in flavor.  Predominantly consisting of lamb and beef,  I set to sampling as many of the different options as possible.

Mixed Meats - Ushuaia, Argentina

Each trip back to the grill brought with it a hearty grin from the cook as I worked my way through normal steaks, grilled intestines, sausage, blood sausage and even rack of juicy lamb ribs that melted in my mouth.

Dinner - Ushuaia, Argentina

With a nod towards ‘healthy’ eating, I also balanced things with several trips to the normal buffet bar where I loaded down my plate with beets, green beans, calamari rings, sliced tongue, clams, fried octopus and baby mussels.

Stuffed and served up with a hearty side of solid conversation as the guys told me about their recent Antarctica trip, we eventually surrendered to our food comas before calling it night. To this day even thinking about the meal makes my mouth water and my feet yearn for a return.

Words of Warning

So, here’s the scoop.  If you start your trip through Southern Chile and Argentina in Ushuaia, you’ll probably love the place and enjoy the experience. It’s a decent city to start with and offers solid hostels, a beautiful national park, fun penguin excursions and medium-sized mountains all set to a pretty harbor with gorgeous sunsets. However, if you’ve already done Southern Chile, seen the glaciers and mountains in El Calafate and/or El Chalten and found penguins somewhere along your way, you’ll risk disappointment.

It’s also worth noting that a visit to Ushuaia guarantees exposure to amazing photos and stories from Antarctica which will no doubt trigger an intense desire to make the trip.  I know that for my part what started as a passing pre-trip desire has now blossomed into a post-trip obsession!

Please note that this post breaks with my typical chronological format and focuses exclusively on my time spent in the city of Ushuaia.  I spent my first complete day in Tierra del Fuego on a penguin tour and my second exploring the Tierra del Fuego national park.  Stay tuned for future posts covering both day trips in detail.

A Burgeoning Love for Bergen and Norway’s West Coast

Overlooking the City - Bergen, Norway

The ancient seaside city of Bergen is one of Norway’s best known destinations.  Situated in the heart of Norway’s spectacular fjord country the city offers a rich history, pristine location, spectacular seafood, and perfect starting point for those interested in a breathtaking voyage down one of the region’s nearby fjords.  The city which dates back to approximately 1050 AD is Norway’s 2nd largest city with about 260,000 citizens and a total regional population of around 380,000. The city is readily reachable by air from most or Northern Europe, train through a rail line that connects it to Oslo, and bus/ferry which connects it to Trondheim in the north and Stavanger in the South.

Summer in Norway - Flowers in Bloom - Bergen, Norway

My experience with the city started as nearly all introductions do.  Curiosity, enthusiasm, and a bit of anxiousness over the unknown.  As I disembarked from the ferry from Stavanger into a gentle mist of light rain I immediately noted a general approximation of my location in the small map in my Lonely Planet guide book before setting off through the city’s densely crowded harbor area.

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

I’d booked several nights in the hostel after an extensive search for budget accommodation in the area.  Unfortunately, despite its popularity as a destination Norway has a fairly poor hostel network which is heavily dominated by Hosteling International (HI) hostels. Regular readers of the site may recall that while I’ve had positive experiences with HI Hostels in the US, I have a very low opinion of them in Europe and tend to view them as out of date, dirty, and poorly serviced.  As a result I’d opted for the privately run despite a limited number of reviews on the profile and extremely mixed reviews. Luckily, what I found was completely different than what the reviews had portrayed.  The hostel was clean, fantastically located, comparatively affordable and modern with ample bathrooms/showers, clean rooms, a kitchen and decent common area.  My only real complaint was that they enforced a lockout which is a huge pet peeve.

Pink Boat in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Relieved that my accommodation not only met but beat my expectations I set out to explore.  The city of Bergen is every bit as active as it is picturesque – at least during the summer months.  Nestled between two large hills the city has a number of large open squares, a park with a large fountain and statuary and a beautiful old harbor lined by old warehouses and a fish market.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

My obsession with the ocean goes back to well before I could walk.  A cornerstone of my childhood was the month+ every year my family and I spent on the Sea of Cortez outside of Puerto Penasco in Mexico.  As a result I’ve always harbored a love for the ocean and seafood.  As one might imagine outdoor fish markets are one of my favorite destinations.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

Overflowing with fresh fish, live crabs, lobster and shrimp all accompanied by a wealth of pre-cooked and smoked seafood the Bergen fish market is a mecca for tourists and locals alike. While the prices may be somewhat higher than seafood prices in the super markets, the experience is quite an adventure.  The seafood is fresh and a great mixture between northern fish, deep water species like Monkfish and of course all of the usuals from arctic shrimp to dungeness crab.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

A lazy stroll through the tightly packed tents is an absolute delight.  The area is all open air which cuts down on the smell, and the combination of fresh seafood and ready-to-eat dishes encourages the vendors to maintain clean cooking conditions.

Knife Balancing in the Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

As if the wide assortment of browns, oranges and reds wasn’t sufficient to keep the curious passerby entertained the workers are also eager to put on a bit of a show. While most were not overly dangerous, I stumbled on one individual who had a pension for balancing a razor sharp fillet knife on the bridge of his nose.  Not half bad right?

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Located a quick hop and a skip from the fish market is the old warehouse row. A must for anyone visiting the region, the old shops have been restored and painted beautiful to create a picturesque waterfront.  Add to that, they’re one of Norway’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

The buildings which have served a wide variety of uses over the years predominantly date back to the 1700s when most of the water front was re-built after a large portion of the city burned to the ground.  Given the close construction, wooden materials, and forms of heating available throughout the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries it’s no surprise that Bergen has a long history of catastrophic fires.  In many ways I found it absolutely amazing that the city still exists after reading excerpts from its history.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Though snugly interconnected in front most of the warehouses have small alleyways that cut between them.  These alleys are lined by leaning ancient wooden walls that show the cuts, scars, and old nails from hundreds of years of constant use and near constant re-purposing.  Many also show the signs of ancient wooden doorways or windows that have since been boarded over.  The roof-line is also a cluster of enclosed windows, doorways, and loft entry points which hang over the street and would have helped workers lift large bundles up and into the buildings.  Many are also connected by 2nd and 3rd story walkways as well which give the whole thing a disorganized, charming appearance, even if it is slightly claustrophobic.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

As I explored the buildings immediately behind the warehouses I paused briefly to snap the above image.  It’s hands down one of my favorite shots from the trip.  The young lad pictured was exploring the area and decided to march off determinedly, leaving his parents behind as he explored the area.  I couldn’t have asked for a better contrast between young and old.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for more from my time in Bergen including live music, squares, cathedrals, and even a trip into the bowls of an ancient coastal fortress.

Exploring Stavanger, Norway

Three Girls - Stavanger, Norway

The city of Stavanger is an interesting one.  Located at nearly the same latitude as the Orkney Islands in Scotland, it’s situated on the inward side of a large peninsula on the southwestern coast of Norway.  The city is the third largest in Norway, though still serves as a home to fewer than 300,000 people and is home to a large portion of the country’s oil fleet.

Tall Ship - Stavanger, Norway

Most of the city’s old town sits on one of two small hills which partially surround the old harbor – a picturesque area full of small cafes, parked ferry boats, and a few masted sailing vessels.  In addition to the cafes the harbor opens up on a large  square (which is on a bit of a hill), a small 4 or 5 station fish market, and the entrance to an old shopping mall.  From the harbor it’s easy to see the large suspension bridge which connects the city of Stavanger proper with a series of small islands which serve as home to some of the city’s more affluent population.  You can see part of the bridge as well as the masts of small sailboats, and the warehouse-turned-residential buildings in the photo above.

International Volleyball Tournament - Stavanger, Norway

To my surprise it turned out that Stavanger was hosting the Conoco Phillips world beach volleyball championships.  They’d brought in tons of sand and set up six full-sized beach volleyball courts along one side of the harbor, in addition to constructing a small free standing stadium around a final match beach/field.   I’m not much of a beach volleyball fan, but was excited to have stumbled onto the event.  In sharing some of the names in attendance with friends who play, it turned out that the event was actually fairly major and had a lot of the most well known women’s international players/teams in attendance.  What made the event that much better was the open (free) access which was available to the six practice/elimination courts which almost all had games going constantly throughout the day.   The events drew huge crowds which filled the harbor area and added to the level and sense of energy in the air.  Not to mention the general appeal of a bunch of attractive international volleyball players wandering around the city.

The Harbor - Stavanger, Norway

A brief 5 minute walk from the old harbor, up a small hill, past a squat old cathedral and back down towards sea level takes you to a large pond which rests directly in front of the rail/bus station and is surrounded by a variety of shops, hotels, and other like-kind establishments. The pond is pretty, if not overly beautiful, and serves as a home to ducks, fountains and the occasional swan.

Street Scene - Stavanger, Norway

The city’s smaller side streets are typically beautiful cobblestone walkways lined by an odd assortment of heartily built structures.  The town’s wet climate is reflected in the green vegetation and moss which can be found everywhere – including growing between the cobblestones. I found myself pleasantly strolling through the city’s quiet side streets surrounded by flowers – some planted, some seemingly wild – which line the city’s streets and decorate the town’s residential buildings.

Main Bridge - Stavanger, Norway

From the rail/bus station I decided to brave one of the city’s hills.  While not a significant climb, I’ll confess to being a bit lazy. The walk left me somewhat winded and my shins burning as I wound up the steep cobblestone streets.  Despite a little huffing and puffing the climb was well worth it. When I finally reached the top I quickly found a small hole between two pitched slate rooftops and enjoyed the view: the bridge, bay and one of the nearby islands was about as picturesque as a highly urban landscape can be.

Downtown - Stavanger, Norway

As I meandered through the city streets I found myself continually drawn towards the bridge.  After all it was large, no doubt offered a unique view of the city and….well…it was there and let’s face it, that’s often more than enough reason in and of itself.  Before long my feet found their way to the ramp leading up to the pedestrian walkway across the bridge.  Dodging the occasional bicyclist I walked about 1/2 of the way out onto the bridge then paused and looked back at Stavanger.  The view was one of a prominent cathedral, pointy pitched roofs, a few converted warehouses, and brought to mind the mental image of an old city given life in an even older story – a city near slumber, late at night, lit by oil powered lamp light and echoing with the quiet rattle of wagon wheels bouncing across cobblestone streets.

An odd visual to have in the middle of the day on a bright sunny day?  Perhaps – but it brought a smile to my face and some how, some way, seemed to fit the city’s skyline.

Graffiti - Stavanger, Norway

From the bridge I continued my aimless meandering, wrapping back down towards the harbor, but not before winding my way through the city’s thriving shopping district which is full of middle-upper class shops and ritzy street cafes.  As I wound my way up side alleys and down main streets I was constantly entertained by the large number of odd murals that decorate walls and street corners throughout the city – most done in a graffiti style, but showing far more care, time, and artistry than random graffiti scribble.  Most were bizarre, but creative and fun in their quirkiness.

Tired, footsore, and feeling more than a little starved I eventually decided it was time to track down a supermarket, pick up some relatively cheap food (though still ridiculously priced) and then head home to the Hospihostelhotel.  Watch the clip above for a look at the meal (sorry about the image/color quality, I was having issues with a lens at the time).

Dinner: Crawfish, Caviar and Chicken - Stavanger, Norway

Let me just say, that shopping in foreign countries can be difficult.  Especially when you’re in a supermarket and the local language is anything but easily recognizable.  As I stood in front of the cooler I couldn’t help but shrug, sigh, and scratch my head as I grabbed what looked like pre-cooked and shelled shrimp tails and what I assumed was pre-cooked BBQ chicken.  The whole time I couldn’t help but wonder if I was going to poison myself by accidentally buying something that wasn’t completely cooked (like the chicken).  Luckily, the extent of my surprise came in the form of the “shrimp” I’d bought.  It was only after getting the container open, draining off the water and tasting a few that I google translated the words on the lid.  Shrimp?  Not so fast.  Turns out they were crawfish tails.  The good news was crawfish was equally acceptable and delicious as shrimp in my book.  Still, I couldn’t help but let out a hearty laugh at myself.  It’s the little adventures that stick out…and this was no exception.

The final meal consisted of several small pieces of bread, a coke, diced barbecued chicken, arctic fish roe/caviar, and pre-cooked/salted crawfish tails. The end result was an odd, but strangely complimentary assortment of tastes that left me stuffed and content – even though I’d faced more than a few surprises.

With a full belly and tired legs I crawled into bed, checked my e-mail, and watched a bit of Norwegian TV which surprisingly was mostly in English with Norwegian subtitles.  The following day promised an adventure – it was time to say goodbye to Stavanger and hello to Bergen.