A Video Tour of Charming Copenhagen

It took me 2 days to fall in love with Copenhagen. Now, 5 years later, it’s my adopted home. Here’s a quick mixture of footage filmed over the past year in Copenhagen that shows some of its more (and less) famous spots. Join me for a quick run around the city and enjoy a taste of what makes Copenhagen so charming.

Music: The Creek – Topher Mohr and Alex Elena

Cambodia in 20 Instagram Photos

I’m currently hard at work sorting through the 4,000+ images I snapped during my visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. However, while the final “National Geographic Standard” shots are starting to go up on flickr (view them here) I’ve been posting Instagram edits taken during the trip. For those that follow my photography, for Instagram I post unique images, a blend of dSLR and iPhone 6 captured shots and/or HDR edits of the photos you’d see on flickr in a more true-to-life format. So, without further delay, here are 15 of my favorite Instagram shots from Cambodia.

 

An old Cambodian gentleman resting in front of Aangkor Wat.

A photo posted by Alex Berger (@virtualwayfarer) on

Vietnam in 15 Instagram Photos

I’m currently hard at work sorting through the 4,000+ images I snapped during my visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. However, while the final “National Geographic Standard” shots are starting to go up on flickr (view them here) I’ve been posting Instagram edits taken during the trip. For those that follow my photography, for Instagram I post unique images, a blend of dSLR and iPhone 6 captured shots and/or HDR edits of the photos you’d see on flickr in a more true-to-life format. So, without further delay, here are 15 of my favorite Instagram shots from Vietnam.

 

The mighty Mekong | Vietnam

A photo posted by Alex Berger (@virtualwayfarer) on

 

Planting cow grass in a freshly harvested rice paddy one stalk at a time. #vietnam #mytho

A photo posted by Alex Berger (@virtualwayfarer) on

 

The Human Safari

As children, we often assume different roles while re-enacting grand fantasies. All hail to Cesar, riding atop a palanquin, or to the Astronaut floating above the world looking down at it.  The doctor saving lives, or the war photographer documenting the rawness of the human condition and the horrors of society as it fails. Then, we grow up.  We settle into our role within our socio-cultural strata and send subtle ripples across the fabric of the society that surrounds us.

As tourists, we recapture some of that wonder.  We gain the opportunity to stand in the midst of the Coliseum, to stride casually down the halls of grand empires and to snap photos of exotic peoples, destinations, and in some instances candid moments.  These rich experiences add to the substance of who we are and let us get back in touch with the beautiful sense of exploration which defined our youth. They are, for many, what make travel wondrous, expansive and oh-so addictive.

But, what happens when that sense of exploration leads us to moments and experiences which carry with them a taint of exploitation or dehumanization?  What happens when we suddenly become a modern incarnation of the aloof Roman dictator, well fed, wealthy, and separated by an invisible but nearly impenetrable wall from the people we’re visiting?  It’s something that happens easily, innocently and far more often than we’d like to admit.

The Stirrings of Realization

For me, two instances stand out. The first tickled my awareness with a mild sense of intangible discomfort. The second brought clarity slamming into place combined, strangely, with a sense of helplessness.

Faces of Zambia

The first was during my time in Zambia.  We’d elected to do a Safari with a fantastic company in the South Luangwa region. They invest heavily in protecting the animals, a light footprint on the land, and in the local community.  Yet, as we sat in the back of a large safari Landcruiser rolling along the pockmarked blacktop I looked out at the hundreds of locals that could readily be seen along the side of the road working their yards, walking the road, or going about their business.

Faces of Zambia

Often they’d look up at the four of us, often smiling, and in the case of the children, waving…then bursting into laughter when we’d smile and wave back.  We stuck out like sore thumbs, and not just because of the color of our skin. It was nearly everything about us – from our clothing, to our glasses, camera, and the way we were traveling. Just as often as I waved back, I’d sit, camera raised to my eye, set in sports mode snapping away while watching the landscape race by through my extended zoom lens.  Each shot allowed me to capture a candid photo of daily life. And, if I’m to be honest, each shot was much more comfortable than had I been on the ground, walking from house to house, snapping photos.  Just as fast as I snapped the photo or they looked up, the Landscruiser had spirited me away, erasing any possibility of a confrontation or interaction.

Faces of Zambia

It was only as I sat in that same vehicle the following days, snapping photos in the same fashion of wildlife that I started to register the stark and uncomfortable similarities between the two situations. Somehow, without intending it, I had gone from great explorer on a grand exploration to Dictator atop my palanquin utterly separated and detached from the local people who I was there to meet. True, I was there, but in this instance it would be far more accurate to say I was in actuality just seeing them, not truly meeting them.

The Wadden Sea – Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

The Black Sun – it almost sounds ominous doesn’t it? If you’re a small worm, grasshopper, or fruit tree around south-western Jutland in fall, I suppose it is.  But, for the rest of us, it describes a stunning bird migration which is one of those you’ve-gotta-see-it-to-appreciate-it experiences. While photos like these or video like this may help convey some of the wonder of the Black Sun – the annual migration of more than 14 million starlings – it’s only when you’ve seen the birds in person, heard their chatter, and the incredible whooshing sound of their wings as they move in unison, that you get real insights into why the Black Sun is special.

How does that relate to this week’s photo? It was the main reason that drew me to the historic Danish town of Ribe in southern Jutland.  And, while I was drawn to Ribe to see the Black Sun, I soon fell in love with the city itself, often hailed as Denmark’s oldest, is historic, charming and home to beautiful doors, wonderful architecture, and lovely people.  It also serves as the home-base for an exploration of the Wadden Sea or “Vadehavet” National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site which is immediately in/around/outside of the town.

I Decided Against Travel Blogging As A Career – Here’s Why

I recently accepted a full time job. With that acceptance I concretely closed a chapter of my life during which I came very close to pursuing full time travel blogging as my career. Make no mistake, VirtualWayfarer isn’t changing, it just isn’t going to be a platform for my full-time career either.  Over the last two years many friends have expressed surprise that I chose not to pursue travel blogging as a career. Here’s a somewhat simplified explanation of why I made the decision to return to the corporate world and how I shaped that return to maximize my travel opportunities and work-life balance.

Back in early 2012 I found myself on the ground floor of the travel blogging industry’s professionalization.  Between 2011 and 2013 the industry underwent significant changes as travel blogging grew up.  Now, granted, there’s still major room for maturation and the industry lags behind similar blogging sectors like Fashion and Food. Still, what has been accomplished and happened to the Travel Blogging industry is extremely impressive and has been driven, in no small part, by a handful of individuals.

I’ve had the deep pleasure of knowing many of these individuals and enjoyed the opportunity for candid conversations and late night brainstorming sessions.  I’ve also had the opportunity to observe as they struggled to re-shape the travel blogging industry, to stand out, and to craft their own business.  These conversations and observations combined with my own first hand experiences as a fairly well-recognized travel blogger guided me to where I am today and have played a pivotal role in my ultimate decision.

It wasn’t an easy decision but looking back there were two key watershed moments.

Traveling With or Without a Schedule – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here.  To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later.  Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike.  In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week.  You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from Matthew P. he asks,

Q. “Is it better to have a planned schedule or just fly by the seat of your pants?”

A. – In my experience the more an individual travels the less scheduled/organized they become.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way to travel for everyone but in this case, I think it’s a sound source of guidance.  While I’ve never been an overly organized traveler, I know I’ve followed this pattern as well.  I often travel without guidebooks, set itineraries, or advanced reservations whenever possible and have slowly pushed myself to accept people’s spur of the moment invitations to see a place, take a day trip, or embark on some new and surprising (though unexpected and unplanned) adventure. These last minute trips have often turned me onto some of my best and most memorable travel experiences.

I find that the geographic size of the destination(s) I’m visiting, transportation efficiency and cost of transportation play the biggest role in how much planning goes into my trip.  With my Turkey trip, for example, I only had 17 days and intended to cover a large geographic area.  After a little research I learned that flying would shave off three 14+ hour bus rides, for the same cost, if I booked ahead.  This meant that I had to choose my three primary destination cities several weeks in advance of the trip.  A fair trade off, and that’s where my planning ended.  With each destination I figured out what to do once in Turkey a day or two in advance, or once I had already reached my destination. These type of transportation considerations are a key factor when choosing the level of organization and scheduling your trip needs. Others include peak season accommodation and tour availability, or low season routes (eg: the Greek islands only run ferries 2-3 times a week in winter).

Ultimately, schedule disaster is bound to strike in the form of a strike, missed flight, weather cancellation, delayed ferry or something of the sort.  The more rigid your schedule, the more stressed you will be and the more damage these incidents will do to your trip.  Often you’ll find yourself forced to do at least part of your trip by the seat of your pants, no matter how thorough your planning and scheduling has been. So, evaluate your comfort zone and then choose a planning approach which is slightly outside of it and errors a hair more towards the seat of your pants approach than you’d initially like.  You’ll thank yourself and enjoy a much richer trip as a result!

Matthew, thanks for a great question!  To my readers – have a question of your own?  ASK IT!   Want to see previous questions? click here.

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.

Flagstaff

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!