2014 – A Year of Travel In 65 Black and White Photographs

As 2014 comes to a close it is time to look back over the year and to highlight some of my favorite photography. In 2014 I traveled less far-afield than during previous years but simultaneously spent more time familiarizing myself with the intimacies and breadth of texture present within Denmark. The image above is of the abandoned lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude in North Western Jutland. Upon the sand berm the individual posing is my younger brother. One of my goals this year was to work on my portrait photography and to add people into some of my shots. Hopefully you enjoy the result!

Venice

I arrived at the main train station about 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The day was a bit gloomy with a light rain methodically drenching everything. The streets were wet and slick and setting out into the city without a map or idea where I was going didn’t strike me as overly appealing. Luckily there was a tourist information center in the train station. Unfortunately, the lady working there was anything and everything but helpful. I did manage to talk her out of a booklet that listed the Venetian hostels, but as luck would have it, the booklet just had addresses and lacked a map. After setting off on a short- lived foray I returned to the station and was about to request a map or directions to the closest hostel when Jordi and Brent – two guys I had met in Split and traveled to Dubrovnik with-walked in. They had just arrived from Rome on a similar train and had two Canadian girls they had met with them. We were all equally lost, but between my map, the semi worthless tourist info lady and their Lonely Planet guidebook we got a map and figured out which direction to head in. With map in hand we found our way to a hostel, only to find that it didn’t open to the public for another 40 minutes. We waited it out only to be told they were full for that night, but that they had space the following evening. The receptionist did recommend a 1 star hotel which was near by. We got 2 rooms. A double for the girls and a triple for us. All told it cost about the same as the hostel.

We washed, showered, got dressed and set out to explore the city. The city itself was a lot different than I remembered it. When I had been in Venice previously I remembered it as smelly, dirty and disappointing. My memories were of a city that had a few small canals but didn’t really resemble the city I had seen in movies. I remember being incredibly disappointed and for years have thought of Venice as a waste of time. My trip there this time was more because it was Halloween and I figured where better to pass the holiday than in the city that celebrates Carnival with such gusto.

Perhaps it was because of the people I was with, or the approach I took to exploring the city, but my views on Venice have changed drastically. I still think the city is a dirty, smelly hole for most of the year but with the fresh rains, cold air and the presence of a soft breeze in the afternoon the smells and grime were mostly washed away. That left a city that was much friendlier and encouraged exploration. I also found that there were a lot more canals than I had remembered, though I think it was because of the part of the city I was in. The area around the St. Marks square is without question a much drier area than the islands we stayed on and many of the other areas I wandered through. Our Hotel the first night was on a larger channel, the hostel the second night on a small one and the hostel the third night as accessed via a bridge over a small canal that took you straight to the door. The same canal then wrapped in a large semicircle around most of the hostel.

One of the things that stands out in my memory is the overwhelming number of Carnival masks. The masks are absolutely incredible. Some are shaped like large animal heads. Others are small and classic in design. Made from plaster, wood, paper mache and other materials I don’t dare guess. Some are decorated with bright colors and large feathered plumes while others are nothing more than eyes, a huge nose and vibrant jester’s colors.

The beautiful thing about it being an oceanside city is the fresh nature of the seafood. During our stay there were several days where the fish stands that were set up, seemingly at random, had a large spread of fresh fish and crustaceans. In many cases the shrimp and crabs were so fresh they were still crawling. The boats themselves having just dropped the fish off straight away after hauling in the morning’s catch.

While Venice is famous for its canals it should also gain a bit of praise for its bridges. After all, each canal needs several bridges and these bridges, while typically simple, add as much flavor to the city as the canals and boats that decorate them. From water taxis to overpriced gondolas the boats race throughout the city busily transporting everything from food and people to refrigerators and car parts. It’s odd in a way, as it feels like a body – more so than any normal dry city. The canals serving as the main arteries while the walking areas full of meandering pedestrians are the veins that disperse the city’s life blood.

I saw the famous sites, though the duomo was covered in scaffolding and fairly boring as a result the rest of St. Marks Square was in excellent form including the famous pigeons doing what pigeons do. It’s pretty neat seeing that many birds all in one place as they wrestle and fight for food. Though I have to say, for all the people that freak out and worry over things like the avian flu places like St. Marks make me laugh. Not to say that a vigilant eye isn’t necessary, but places like St. Marks really illustrate how easy it would be for things to spread if they were legitimate in a more global sense. With people covered in the pigeons, from head to foot, and the pigeons themselves literally walking over each other to try and get at the food on the ground it’s an odd experience on so many levels. Especially if you step back and ponder the greater realizations that can come from watching the behavior.

I spent Halloween in Venice. With my Canadian companions we set out to find our costumes. Making a pact to put them on right when we bought them and wear them until the end of the evening. The girls split off to shop and do what they do, while the three of us went and set to our business. Before long, desperate for something cheap we settled on dressing as gondiliers. Before I continue, I suppose I should note that my Halloween adventures were perhaps the most culturally insensitive antics of the trip. I was well aware of it and decided it was worth it for a bit of fun.

We found the striped shirts they wear as well as straw hats with the ribbon streaming from the back. I threw on a pair of black slacks and from there, when we finished haggling the price down to something dirt cheap, we headed to a small wine store. There we picked up a number of bottles and set to taking advantage of Europe’s liberal drinking laws. Dressed up and looking like idiots with wine bottles in hand we meandered the city exploring canals, alleyways, small shops and larger streets. The looks we received from locals and tourist alike were priceless. During the remaining two days we spent in Venice we bumped into a number of people that recognized us and I imagine we’re in a good number of photos. Given some of the attention we got, I think people may have enjoyed our antics more than they were actually enjoying Venice.

Eventually we met back up with the girls at the appointed time…it turns out that they had been on the same wavelength. They were dressed in the striped venician shirts, though they had skippers caps (think of the skipper from Gilligan’s Island). With a laugh and a few jabs back and forth we all set off to poke around the city a bit more. We explored the city, hitting up major monuments before eventually finding dinner and settling in at a few of the local bars. All in all the night was a blast.

That’s all for now. I also have some new photos up which I’ll try and link to soon.

Florence, Italy

After an exhausting train and ferry ride I eventually arrived in Florence. I had pushed hard in order to ensure that I arrived in time to meet up with an old College/dance friend studying outside of Milan. I arrived Wednesday evening and had set up a meeting time & place the following day. Because I’d spent so much time traveling and the trip on the ferry had been somewhat last minute I had failed to book a hostel online. That meant that upon my arrival I had a bit of an adventure ahead of me. It was getting later and of course, raining. I made my way to the first computer cafe i could find and printed off the location of two hostels. After wandering around a bit, I eventually found them. Unfortunately, both were fully booked. So, with two one star hotels marked on a map the concierge had given me I set out into the cold rain again and eventually found one with a room for one night. I snatched it up, though a little more expensive, it was still reasonable. The hotel itself though was garbage…loud, cold, with a lockout, odd hours and minimal services. I thawed out a bit then struck out to find food, ate and called it a night.

The next morning I found an internet cafe, a kebab shop and set to checking to make sure there had been no changes to Emily and my rendezvous spot/time and to write a blog update. That took most of the morning and by three o’clock I made my way to the train station where with only a little difficulty, Emily and I found each other. It’s amazing how the internet, e-mail and cellphones have changed things. Traveling without a cell phone, or a phone of any sort for the matter, really has emphasized the differences in how we do things, plan things and how different it is when we get separated or have to meet someone.

After a funny adventure and inquiring at a few locations where we repeatedly got offered the marital suite, we found another one star hotel with two single beds and reasonable room prices in a great location. It served as our base for the two remaining nights we would stay in Florence. We dropped off our bags, then set out to explore the city and get some food. As we walked we quickly found the main Cathedral which was beautiful, the streets despite a light drizzle, were still energized and exciting. Eventually, we found our way to the main bridge where we paused and took in the sight for a long while. The river was beautiful, the bridge lit up as the sun set. The bridge, laden with shops, is full of windows and odd protrusions where rooms have been added or extend out over the water. To either side the buildings are a tight mixture of various colors, designs and levels. The windows have beautiful shutters and often plants or vines. The sun was such that it reflected serenely on the river below.

From there we returned to the hotel, found a small store, picked up some wine and relaxed after a long and event-filled day.

The next morning we woke up early eager to see all of the sights and make the most of our only full day in Florence. We set off by foot wandering through the city streets. As in so many other cities they are a fun/beautiful mixture of cobblestones, sidewalks, parks and old buildings full of character. First we made our way north toward the castle, which was extremely disappointing. The castle walls are made out of red brick, but lack any real definition or flair. Inside of the castle walls is a small mishmash of modern buildings and warehouse like museums. All in all a dud so we quickly moved on and headed south toward the Academia that houses the David. However, there the line was rather ridiculous and eager to be as efficient as possible with our time (and not stand in the rain) we decided to return later. Museums & major sights are typically best seen after 3 as that is when, in my experience, most tourists are starting to wind down, having started early and gone straight to the major sights.

From there we made our way south to the Cathedral which is an incredible sight. In addition to its sheer size, the colored marble is fantastic and adds life and flavor on a majestic scale. As we made our way around it we eventually headed inside. The inside is no where near as ornate or well decorated as many other European cathedrals, but in place of that ornateness the Cathedral offers sheer size. It is an incredibly large open space that leaves one feeling dwarfed. You could easily fit several small buildings inside of it and I won’t even bother trying to guess the height of the vaulted ceilings. With the large clock on the wall above the entrance it almost feels as though the inside of the Cathedral is a town square in a lesser town. In fact, as I reflect on it, it almost felt as though there was not a roof at all, but rather just a set of tall buildings enclosing the area.

As we exited the Cathedral we walked straight across to the beautiful bronze-gold colored doors that are famous for the sculpture work carved into them. The quality and brilliance of the artwork on them lived up to my memories and expectations. From there we headed back towards the river and the Ponte Veccio, but before we got there found a large square that houses part of the Uffizi. There there were a number of large marble reproductions of the David and other famous pieces. We looked at the pieces, snapped some photos, and took in the tower and architecture of one of the palacial buildings on the square before looking for the entrance to the Uffizi.

There we found something I never thought I’d see and which I didn’t think possible. I suppose it was one of those, only in Italy moments. The Uffizi was closed for the day, the reason? The Museum was on strike. Frustrated and dismayed we continued on to Ponte Vecchio and crossed it. The wooden shutters that they use on the shops there are really neat…dark aged wood with metal hinges…they look a bit like the sides of carriages built into each other.

With gellato in hand we continued to the large gardens north of the bridge located in the old palace. There we took in the sites, but decided to hold off on paying the outrageous entrance fee. Instead, we backtracked slightly and headed down along the river. From there we took a side street thinking it led to another set of gardens. While it did not, it wound up to the top of a larger hill which offered a beautiful look out over Florence. There we took in the city, the bridges, the duomo and other main sites before making our way back down toward the river. Once there we found a small market and picked up a snack which we ate in a small park besides the river. Tired but eager to finish the day out we headed back to see the David and walked in without a line.

There were 3 things that stood out in the museum above the rest. The first was of course the David itself. The way it is framed, lit, and its size truly is magnificent, especially when one considers that it is carved entirely from the same piece of stone. There is no denying the fantastic level of skill required to complete the task, or the beauty of the end result. The veins on his hands, the expression in the muscle and the pose. As you walk around him the entirety of the presence changes. Each new vantage point offers a different form and each is equally impressive.

The second element I found fascinating was a set of 6 sculptures he had also created. However, these initially appeared incomplete. The figures themselves were at best only halfway carved. The effect that the pose and composition had was fantastic as the figures appeared to be evolving out of the marble. The end result were figures every bit as powerful, if not more so than a completed sculpture.

The third thing I found really interesting came in the form of historical text attached to one of the frescoes. The text noted that the fresco had been designed as part of the introduction of religious dogma that described Jesus birth as an immaculate conception. It stated that the concept had been widely introduced in the 1500s and then adopted as official church doctrine in the 1850s by Pope Pius. A fascinating bit of information I had no idea about, and which I thought added to my understanding of religion in general and how it evolves.

There were also a number of religious paintings, molds done in the 1800s of major sculptures and a large musical instrument exhibit full of incredibly carved instruments. Some were covered in ivory and gem stones, others were covered completely in intricate carvings and designs. All were beautiful.

From there we returned for a quick nap, before heading back out to catch the bridge at night. The night time beauty of Ponte Vecchio is incredible. There, in a light drizzle, we walked along the water front as it was lit by street lamps done in the old style. Before long we were both humming singing in the rain and skipping along. All in all it was a beautiful day and a magical evening as we explored the city.

The next morning we woke up early eager to go and see the Uffizi before we left for Pisa and points beyond. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived the Uffizi had a line that would have taken hours to clear. Frustrated we explored the leather market and the city for a bit before catching our train to Pisa.

There I’m afraid I have to leave off.