Dublin – The City Outside the Pub

[…Dublin, Ireland June 10, 2011…]

Sunset colors trying to break through the clouds over the Samuel Beckett bridge after a rain storm.

 

They gave me a room on the 4th floor overlooking the Liffey river. It’s one of those windows that does not open all the way in case some nutcase wanted to jump. Definitely no jumper here, just wanted to see if the barrel of my lens would squeeze in through the gap, and it wouldn’t. Too bad, because I have a nice view, and although it has some blind spots, it still gives me a decent visual sweep of the south bank which seems to contain most of the attractions. I have the three-masted Jeanie Johnston ship almost directly below me, the Sean O’Casey bridge to the right, and Calatrava’s Samuel Beckett bridge is not too far downstream.

I’ve been skeptical about the weather since I got here. It looks like two different stories written in the sky. It has been sunny for the most part, with passing rain showers at least once a day. On the third day though it was just unforgiving rain – a bitter reminder of how photographers are always at the mercy of the weather. It is also a true test of one’s faith; I seem to pray more often when it rains.
[…Read more about Dublin…]

Zaragoza – By the River Piedra I Shot In the Rain

[…Monasterio de Piedra, Nuévalos – Zaragoza, Spain May 29, 2011…]

Cola de Caballo - "Horsetail" - the tallest of the waterfalls in the monastery's rainforest measures about 50 meters high.

 

Fans of literary genius Paulo Coelho will recognize the play on title as being inspired by his bestselling novel “By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept.” The river Piedra, as you might know, was one of the settings for this novel about love and spirituality. Being a Coelho fan myself, it was a pleasure to see the same river that his heroine Pilar came to, although unlike her, I did not come here for spiritual cleansing or deep meditation. I have seen photos of this place during my research on Zaragoza, and that triggered my desire to see it for myself.

I’ve read that it is believed that anything you give up to the river Piedra will disappear forever. Its geological location being high in calcium carbonate, makes it so that whatever the river touches turns to stone, thereby it is also known as the stone river, “piedra” meaning stone. I did not have any intentions of making wishes when I got there, but it turned out that I was forced to make one – and that is, for the rain to stop!
[…Read more about Zaragoza…]

Zaragoza – Watching Time Go By

[…Zaragoza, Spain May 28, 2011…]

Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and the River Ebro, late afternoon

It’s not your most popular Spanish city, that’s for sure, but it’s not missing any of that Spanish flair and spunk. With 200 years of trying to keep up with the rest of the country, present-day Zaragoza gives the impression of a city eager to modernize itself while still keeping its nostalgic past of Roman and Islamic influence intact.

There are not many countries where I’ve been to that a vacation turns out to be really what it should be – non-stressful and just plain indulgent. Spain, to me, is one of those places I enjoy – yes, even during the hours in-between dawn and dusk. It has that certain atmosphere that encourages one to take it slow and allow time to take its course. The Spaniards are, after all, known for their relaxed pace and love for celebrations as is evident in their year-round fiestas. They enjoy their late leisurely-long lunches and dinners, greet each other with a kiss, touch when they talk, and are generally fun and company-loving people. While sitting in the airport bus on the way to the city late last night, the endless loud chatter around me could feel exhausting to some, but here, it’s a testimony of their tireless zest for life regardless of what time of day it is.
[…Read more about Zaragoza…]

Riga – Day 2 – A Walk Around Vecriga, The Old Town

[…Riga, Latvia May 19, 2011…]

The spire of Riga Dom Cathedral, with Vansu Tilts spanning the Daugava river. Seen from the tower of St. Peter's.

 

When I first looked at Riga’s map, it seemed to me like a huge city, so at first I was concerned about having to get to one place to another in a short span of time. But arriving here, I quickly found out for myself that it’s compact, walkable, and as an added plus – has easy orientation with well-planned street layout. The landmarks are distinguishable, and when you’re walking around old town, all you need to to do in case you lose your bearing is to look up at the church spires – sort of like the North Star guiding your way.

The skyline of Riga is dominated by church spires. I lost count of how many churches there are but the famous ones are the Riga Dom, St. Peter’s and St. Jacob’s Church. Not only the churches have the pointy tops, even the town hall and the Latvian Academy of Sciences bear it. Of course, they look great across the river at sunset or twilight when their silhouettes stand out against the blue sky.
[…Read more about Riga…]

Riga – Day 1 – Sunny Smiles Bring Sunny Skies

[…Riga, Latvia May 18, 2011…]

Zvirbulu Peteris

 

Arriving in Riga very late last night under a drizzly and heavily-clouded sky, I could only hope for a better day today. It was hard to predict how today was going to fare weather-wise. Every few minutes, the skies would change its palette from fierce grays one minute to bright blues peeking through clouds the next. If there was anything constant and unpretentious today, it was this man’s – Zbirbulu Peteris – sunny smile and disposition. Although it was the least of things I had expected coming to Riga, a smile from a stranger was what made my trip memorable.

The city of Riga sure has taken a bad rap from travelers’ forum and reviews on the web, from being dubbed as the drunk capital of Europe to having the most rude and unfriendly people in the Baltics. Although I don’t want to arrive at my destination on a clean slate as far as impression goes, I also try take these bad reviews with a grain of salt and find things out myself. After all, this city had endured quite a beating from its turbulent history of occupations, and has not too long ago just broken free from a confused and oppressed rule. Difficult times, they say, build character and perhaps that’s what it’s just all about.
[…Read more about Peter…]

Florence – Day 3 – Food and Drink Italian Style

[…Florence, Italy April 19, 2011…]

Florence Cathedral, Giotto's Campanile and the Baptistery, at dawn, before the mad crowd.

 

Although still hesitant to get up for the sunrise call, I was able to make it out early today. I also found out that the hotel’s main doors are padlocked during wee hours, a discovery that was not very reassuring, to say the least. So I had to wait until they opened them, and as I stepped outside, I was greeted by the brisk, cold morning air. It felt invigorating to be out there with a purpose. Ah, Italy. It’s like being in another place and time. Just the thought that men like Da Vinci and Michelangelo had once walked these same streets makes me feel like I’m part of something great.

Naturally, I stayed clear of suspicious-looking street corners and took the fast route to the Duomo, but really, it did not seem too bad at all. There were a few folks walking to work, early birds who are clever like me were already out enjoying the freedom of empty piazzas, and the whirring noises from the street sweepers could be heard from a distance. Nothing like waking up to see a city come to life.
[…Read more about Florence…]

Florence – Day 2 – A Visit to Siena

[…Siena/Florence, Italy April 18, 2011…]

Piazza del Campo from Torre di Mangia

 

My decision not to shoot at dawn today was based on my fear of being out there in the dark in a city I did not feel comfortable in. I read a couple of warnings and bad experiences from female travelers on Virtual Tourist just before the trip and that planted the fear in my head. Still, with all good intentions to go, I set the iPhone to alarm at 5:50 this morning. I stood up, peeked out the window and saw the sky had already turned blue. Went back to bed.

That’s always the dilemma I face when traveling. There is of course the reluctance to wake up so early when the bed feels so much more comfortable. And then when you’ve managed to get out of bed, you second-guess your safety to be out there, still in unnerving darkness, before all of the city wakes up. If I detect the sound of street sweepers outside, I would feel more at ease, but they don’t usually show up until 7. Otherwise, the empty streets and what could possibly be lurking in the dark alleys bother me quite a bit.

So, I had planned for a day trip to Siena today. I left on a SITA bus at 9, a little later than I had wished, but still early enough. The 75-minute ride was enjoyable; it was nice to just sit down, listen to my iPod, look out the window, and re-assess my itinerary and the photos I’ve taken so far. The bus made a number of stops to pick up passengers but soon as it hit the motorway, we were smooth sailing.
[…Read more about Siena…]

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