We drove to Sanibel Island from the DC area because we wanted to avoid flights, and while there we experienced some of the coolest thunderstorms ever. Here’s the only lucky shot in the dark – literally – I got of one flash of lightning during the nighttime, from the balcony of our condo.
There’s a phrase in Chinese: pao lai pao tu. It translates to “running here, running there.” My college roommate’s father, after hearing about my various travel shenanigans through the four years, one day declared that I was very pao lai pao tu and my own family agreed, and I do not dispute this.
Our trip to Maine two summers ago (2018) is exemplary of this motto and my personal philosophy, even though it causes those around me to grumble while I plan all the details. We decided to embark on a two week trip camping trip to Maine (with a two-day stop in Boston and three nights in an Airbnb farmhouse in southern Maine). This includes, but is not limited to, driving about 12 hours to Maine with a 4- and 6-year old in the backseat of our CR-V and then sleeping in a tent with them for nights on end. Now, a CR-V is a nice small-medium SUV which is not really designed for a two-week camping trip to Maine, especially when your kids are still confined to carseats, but in all my years of pao lai pao tu I had succeeded in packing everything tightly, from suitcases to car trunks, like a winning Tetris game. Our kids may have complained about having their feet propped up with bags underneath.
Because we had a then-4- and 6-year-old, one of whom gets carsick from watching an iPad for more than 2 minutes, I planned out our trip to break up with a stop at Rye Playland in Rye, New York, where the end of Big was filmed and where I spent my summers as a kid; then in Boston for a few days where Jon could work from the Cambridge office of his company while I dragged the kids around the Freedom Trail; then an extended lunch at the Chauncey Creek Lobster Pier in Kittery, Maine where I ate many a lobster when I used to work in Boston; and a stop at a waterpark in southern Maine before we reached our first destination in Lincolnville, Maine before we headed into Acadia National Park. We spent a few days hiking and checking out the cutesy New England towns before we went into the woods to camp lakeside in Acadia for a week. To make things extra complicated, I piled some camera equipment with me, of course, to document the whole experience, though I did leave my flashes behind – we were going au naturel on this camping trip.
There’s a difference between a photoshoot and photographing your vacation. I didn’t take pictures the whole time—for example, whenever sand was involved. Or if it was raining, which was most of Boston, so there are no Boston shots except on my iPhone. My camera weighs a lot and sometimes I just didn’t feel like dragging it up a mountain. I also didn’t want to be stuck behind the camera the entire trip—I wanted to actually be on the vacation itself. Also, when you have two kids tugging at your clothes or complaining through a hike, there’s only so much creativity you can have.
In any case, I was able to capture a lot of great moments, anyway, so here are some of my favorites.
Ah, France. In May, I met up with my friend Ha in Paris and we traveled to the South of France, just because. It had been ages since I had an uninterrupted conversation with a good friend and sat in a cafe for hours eating and drinking. And was even able to take photos of pretty places without having a little person tug at my arm every few minutes or trying to make sure one didn’t wander out into the street or off a cliff. You’ll notice there are far more images from this trip than from previous ones I might have posted.
I went to the South of France a few weeks ago. Because sometimes you just need to go to France. Here is my friend Ha, who met up with me from Shanghai, and we’re hanging out on the beach in Cannes, right outside the Cannes Film Festival. More to come from Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Cassis, Nice, more Cannes, and Monaco!
Outside the Blue Lagoon
When on earth would we ever go to Iceland? And then the opportunity arose – thanks to a very clever marketing scheme between Iceland Air and the Icelandic government to lure people to their little frozen island. Fly Iceland Air on your way to, say, Amsterdam, and have a free layover up to seven days where you can wander around the island. We rented an awful car from a place called, appropriately, SAD cars, which rents them for dirt cheap, and drove ourselves through the Golden Tour to hike around waterfalls, rock fissures, a crater lake, the original geyser, and other scenic beauty that looks like Mars. We also took a dip into the very expensive but worthwhile Blue Lagoon, wandered Reyjavik, didn’t even try to understand any of the Icelandic language that was spoken, and ate lots of seafood. I was busy wrangling two small children that it wasn’t very easy to take all the amazing landscape of Iceland, but here are a small, select few.
The Blue Lagoon
Last August we took a maternity leave trip to sunny, humid Outer Banks for a week. This is one of my new favorite beach spots to rent a house—long stretches of seashell-flanked beaches, cool oceans, quiet evenings without the collegiate bar scene, beautiful homes with beautiful balconies overlooking the water and sunset.
Arc de Triomphe
Paris! Paris! Paris! We took a last-minute trip to one of our most favorite places on Earth in December, before the Christmas holidays descended on us and right before I started a new job. It had been six years since I’d spent four months there finishing up my MBA. Little had changed other than that we got married and had a kid, and the locks that cover up the seated river view on the Pont des Arts. For six days we wandered to all our favorite haunts with toddler in tow, taking in tea and macarons at Ladurée, playing by the Eiffel Tower and Tuileries and Jardin de Luxembourg, window shopping along the Champs-Élysées, and getting lost up in Montmartre. I also took a number of city-in-lights photos with the intention of creating a Paris-by-night series, but since Paris is beautiful all of the time I’ve included some daytime shots.
Jardin de Luxembourg
Jardin de Luxembourg
Pont des Arts
A week ago, I flew out to Colorado Springs for work for five days. In between meetings, my co-workers and I managed to sneak out and check out some of the amazing sites and scenery. We popped into the Garden of the Gods and took the cog railway all the way up to the top of Pikes’ Peak at 14,000 feet. For a work trip, it wasn’t too shabby! Here are some of the pictures I shot.
The remains of Temple of Castor and Pollux (Dioscuri), Agrigento
Jon brilliantly scored a paid conference trip to Sicily in July, so of course Little One and I had to tag along on the ride. Sicily is truly the “land down under” Italy, with its grand history of once being Greek, then Norman, then Italian. We visited Greek ruins, Norman palaces and churches, Italian gelato and pastas. Our first stay was to Selinunte di Marinella, along the Mediterranean coastline, where we had views of the Selinunte archaelogical park. We drove our rental car to Agrigento, another UNESCO world heritage site of Greek ruins, and to the small town of Erice on the mountaintop, and visited Selinunte archaelogical park, before spending the rest of our week and Jon’s conference in the city of Palermo. Thanks to strep and a resulting tonsillar abscess, I got to experience a little of Sicily’s emergency room healthcare, all in Italian. Here are the photos I did get when I was not being treated for an enlarged tonsil.
“Temple S” at Selinunte, overlooking the Mediterranean
“Valley of the Temples” – Agrigento
Temple of Hera at Selinunte
Temple Concordia, Agrigento
Sicilian flower blooming at Agrigento
Jon and little one playing in the waves of the Mediterranean, Marinella di Selinunte
Outside a ceramics shop in Erice
Near the Castle of Venus in Erice
The Duomo in Palermo
Dusk falls over the Duomo, Palermo
The alcazar in Segovia
Finally! I have gotten around to posting some pics from our travels to Spain back in May. With this wonderful vacation time called maternity leave, Jon and I rushed to have a passport issued for baby and packed a travel crib, carseat, stroller, Baby Bjorn, and one giant suitcase of mostly her clothes and some for ourselves. We spent three weeks wandering through Spain, beginning with eight days in Madrid, followed by a train trip north to Basque Country (San Sebastian and Bilbao), then a flight south to Andalucia. It was more than just matadors and women in frilly dresses who danced with fans; it was a whole Arabian world, a land of late lunches and dinners, of narrow alleys and cultural perseverance, evenings of 2-euro wine and Picasso, siestas and economic turmoil and rapid-tongue language, ever-changing scenery, roasting late spring weather, plasticky diapers, strong religion and historic cobblestone streets that ripped up our stroller wheels. I believe taking such a crazy trip with an infant forced us all to become very flexible, accommodating, patient and efficient – all of us. She’s been the easiest baby ever since, as well as the most well-traveled, and for that we were able to enjoy our time there. Here are some select pictures from the first week of our trip, through Madrid, Toledo and Segovia, at random.
Parque de Retiro, Madrid
Conservatory in Parque de Retiro, Madrid
Marche San Miguel, Madrid
Parade of giant heads, Festival of San Isidro, Madrid
Ceramic piggies, Madrid
Catedral Primada Santa María, Toledo
Toledo train station
Tapas menu, Toledo
Alcazar from hiking trail, Segovia
City gate, Segovia
Segovia Cathedral, Segovia
A matador faces down the bull in Sevilla.
Apologies for the grand hiatus from updating this photo blog. I’ve been busy transitioning all my photo editing to a new Macintosh and – oh yeah! – had a baby girl in February! During this wonderful vacation they call “maternity leave”, we were able to embark on our first family voyage to Spain. The next several series will be photos from our trip as we traveled through Madrid, Toledo, Segovia, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Seville, Cordoba, Jerez and Cadiz, the Pueblo Blancos, Ronda and finally Granada. I am exhausted, happy and combing through several dozen gigabytes of photos to post here. Stay tuned!
Shoal Bay East, Anguilla
The tiny British island of Anguilla, three miles from St. Martin in the Caribbean, is so exclusive that it’s like a country club in many ways. For one thing, anyone familiar with the island clearly has money, or has prioritized their annual budgets to include a trip here because they know it’s worth it. And members of this exclusive club can talk “island talk” to each other, as my doctor did to me today during my visit. “Ah, Anguilla, he sighed. “Uncle Ernie’s is the best,” referring to the little beach-front ribs shack that is so popular and famous on the island for reasons still unbeknownst to me (they’re just $8 chicken and ribs, they are tasty, and I suppose they come with an ocean view). It was once one of the best-kept secrets of the Caribbean, a beautiful strip of tranquility without the cruise ships, the mobs of tacky tourists, the noise of casinos and the drunken stupor of college kids at a strip bar. Anguilla is above all that, and on purpose, too: in the 1980’s, the island government made a deliberate decision to target the high-end customer and never to build a casino. In exchange, it welcomed travelers who would not only respect the island and beautiful azure waters and white sand made of crushed sun-bleached seashells, but to grow to love Anguilla as much as the locals did. Outsiders are “guests” of the island, not tourists, and everyone treats each other equally.
Sure, entrees at the award-winning restaurants start at $40 and it cost us nearly $100 just to get off the island back to St. Martin (taxi to the ferry, ferry ticket, departure tax). But why leave the island at all? Jon and I seriously contemplated never coming home while we were there on our ocean-front studio with kitchen, snorkeling and sunning and getting sand between the pages of our paperbacks. When the tide was fierce outside our studio, we took the rental car to a random trail and ended up at quiet Junks Hole Bay for a morning of swimming and seashell gathering. For a few days, we were island folk, people who lived a simple life out of a single carry-on suitcase and two backpacks. And of course, my ever-growing bulky camera bag, which caught a few Anguillan moments when I wasn’t too lazy on my beach chair.
Junks Hole Bay
Scilly Cay fishing village
Sunset over Shoal Bay East
Church in Island Harbour
Sunset over Shoal Bay Villas
Palm trees, Shoal Bay East
Autumn is my favorite season… warm sunshine, apples, pumpkins, and of course, magnificent foliage colors. Even though our camping trip to Shenandoah was snowed out over Halloween weekend, we gathered the obligatory pumpkins for carving (covered in snow) and headed to Philadelphia the following weekend where I caught some sunny foliage and farmers’ market around Rittenhouse Square.
World Trade Center Memorial
Even though I grew up a half hour outside Manhattan, I (shamefully) didn’t really know where the World Trade Center was. I never ventured below Chinatown. Years later I realized all I had to do was look up and that was the guiding symbol pointing me south, an obvious landmark I used to gather my bearings after emerging from the depths of the underground subway.
My clearest memory of the World Trade Center is the elevator. Particularly the one leading up to Windows on the World, taking me specifically to a bar known as the Greatest Bar on Earth, on the 107th floor. The elevator was the size of my room on the Upper West Side. My friend Marjorie, with whom I always went to Windows, and I would discuss how to arrange bedroom furniture around the elevator.
Other than the elevator size, the company with us on the rides were always was an experience. Many of the passengers donned name tags, usually out-of-towners in for their first Twin Towers experience. They didn’t just stare at the floor numbers lighting up. They gasped as the elevator took off. Riding to the top of the city took a New York minute. And as everyone poured out of the elevators to the top of the building, discussion about the incredible elevator speed always followed, maybe with a comment about someone’s stomach being left down below as the elevator shot upwards. And then they would all ooh and aah at the magnificent view, usually a festive sunset over the harbor. New Yorkers hustling about during rush hour disappeared far below, and the vast maze of Manhattan shone golden from the setting sun, in the same way the immigrants imagined golden streets as their boat approached the Statue of Liberty, also visible from our table. We would sit and sip wine and munch sushi while the city darkened around us from pink to orange to purple to navy, specks of light flicking on the city like a Christmas tree.
The first time I visited Windows on the World was in 1999, with Marjorie, to deliver pamphlets for our law office who was participating in some conference there. As we stepped off the elevator, we were greeted by a vision of white. Tall white walls, tall white glass, white everywhere. Where were the alleged windows as indicated in the name, Windows on the World? Turned out they shielded us from the white puff clouds outside, so thick I was led to believe the windows were sheets of white glass. I felt like I was either in heaven or on a misty soap opera. Even if I saw nothing that day, I remember the strange swirling sensation of the clouds mixing white with white, and how within two minutes I could rise from several levels underground on the subway all the way up to the top of the world.
Today, all that’s left are two dark stone squares that mark the footprints where these magnificent buildings once stood, a memorial to those who died on 9/11/01. You can touch the names of the deceased, who are forever embedded into the ghosts of the towers that once stood there. I found the name of a high school classmate and old friend, Peter Alderman, who died while attending a conference at the top of one tower. His family created the Peter C. Alderman Foundation, dedicated to helping victims of terrorism heal emotionally. Peter was a genuine, kind, light-hearted and jovial individual everyone liked. I like to think that Peter rode the elevator to the top of the world that day, and stayed there.
Peter’s name on the North Tower memorial
Boats, West Lake, Hangzhou
The Jiangnan region is a picturesque area outside Shanghai that includes the growing cities of Hangzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou and Nanjing. Hangzhou is famous for its beautiful West Lake, Nanjing for its rockwork, Suzhou for its gardens and canal system, and Wuxi for its fancy new Lingshan Buddhist Temple.
We toured through the region in a quick week, sampling a garden here, museum there, and many factories/ stores since, after all, our tour guide would receive commission for everything we bought. Nonetheless, it was cherry blossom season, and the pink flowers were in full bloom, the tea was fresh, and the weather was picture-perfect.
Sunset, West Lake Park, Hangzhou
Lake through trees, Hangzhou
Boating dock, West Lake, Hangzhou
Guardian dog-lions on a bridge, Hangzhou
Buddhist lanterns, Lingshan Buddhist Temple, Wuxi
Giant Buddha, Lingshan Buddhist Temple, Wuxi
Bells, Lingshan Buddhist Temple, Wuxi
Longjing Tea fields, outside Hangzhou
Sun-Yat Sen Memorial, Purple Mountains, Nanjing
Rock garden, Nanjing
Window in Liuyuan (Lingering Garden), Suzhou
Student drawing a rock garden in Liuyuan, Suzhou
Pearl Tower, Shanghai
Shanghai is China’s most modern, most populous, fastest-growing city. It claims to be the “youngest” city with the least history, although it’s been around since the 1100s. Once the city of opium and sin, the outlet to the Western World, a place where Europeans descended and built their empires on the Bund, the city is now open to all people, and all people have flocked to live, work and visit, including us.
Yu Gardens and Bazaar
Walkway, Yu Gardens and Bazaar
Wall of flowers, the Bund
Yu Gardens and Bazaar
Door, Tian Tan
1,100 photos later, I’ve finally plowed through the first part of our China trip and completed Beijing. A few random shots and the Olympic Village round out the rest of this series. Check back when I start posting Guangzhou, Shanghai and the Jiangnan tour!
Climbing a Great Wall Tower
Cherry blossoms at Jing Shan park
Kite flying at Olympic Promenade by the bird’s nest
A relaxed parent on vacation, Tian Tan
Bird’s nest, up close
The Water Cube, Olympic Village
The Great Wall of China – the Greatest Wall in the History of the World
The Middle Kingdom, indeed. You can feel the 1.3 billion people as soon as you descend on the newly rehabbed airport in Beijing (thanks to the 2008 Summer Olympics), and as you pack into the subway like sardines, and as you wander through the streets. Yet you can find such quiet and solace in the parks as people silently move through their t’ai-chi and sword practice, or at the highest point on the Great Wall, where tourists in high heels can’t reach and pushy souvenir vendors don’t want to haul their goods.
The concept of Beijing is difficult to grasp: the sheer size, the amount of people, the hugeness of the buildings (from the Forbidden City to modern day architecture), the length of history (nearly 3,000 years – with a unified “modern” China beginning in the 1200s), the promise of its powerful placement in the world.
The next few series of photographs will all be dedicated to our recent voyage through China, beginning with Beijing, to the southern Cantonese city of Ghangzhou (Canton), up to the European influences of Shanghai and its surrounding cities in the Jiangnan province.
Wall, Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven)
Man writing with water, Jing Shan park
Moat outside the Forbidden City
Dragon kite, Bei Hai park
Wangfujing night market
The Great Wall
Tian’an Men, entrance to the Forbidden City
Lady dancing with ribbon at Tian Tan park
Buddhist Temple at Bei Hai park
Rooftop at Forbidden City
Tomatoes at early morning street market near Fuli cheng
Entrance to the Forbidden City, Beijing
A 75-year-old kid flies a kite on the beach in Culebra
These pictures are a miracle. The snowstorm after Christmas cancelled flights out of New York and jammed phone lines to all airlines, and any available plane ticket was gone. But, alas, something went right for us, and within 48 hours all of us went from cold wet snow to hot warm sand.
Culebra is a quaint, rustic island removed from the main island of Puerto Rico once used as a bombing target practice by the U.S. military. Today it’s rated one of the top diving spots in the world, despite warnings posted to leave anything abnormal-looking alone on the ocean floor since it may be a remaining live bomb. (Snorkelers have nothing to worry about – they’re pretty deep in the ocean). Flamenco Beach is the best and most popular beach on the island, with campsites and little bungalow condos on the beach.
Everyone was a kid on this vacation. The little ones played in the water and built sandcastles, while the big ones flew kites and relaxed in the hammock. We also took a quick tour through old San Juan before our flight back home, through the colorful streets and the old fort.
Praying Mary, halfway up El Peñón
We took off on a bus from Medellín to El Peñón de Guatapé, this giant monolith rock which offers a great hike and spectacular views, with a praying statue halfway up to mark just how spiritual the place can be, even for non-religious types. Afterwards we headed into Guatapé to check out the brightly painted streets. It is actually a zoning requirement to paint your house loud colors with pictures of animals or plants.
The next day we jetted off to the seaside UNESCO World Heritage city of Cartagena, where we walked the old cobblestoned streets (often flooded from dumping rain), explored the city wall and ate a lot of ceviche. Olé!
Overlook from El Peñón
Typical street in Guatapé
Church in Guatapé
entrance to old city in Cartagena
Statues playing chess
At the fort
Botero’s work, Palacio Municipal
Here’s a city I never thought I’d visit… Medellín, Colombia. I mean, this is where drug lord Pablo Escobar made his fortune ruling the city and country with cocaine, and created such a horrible reputation for the city that nobody ever really visited. Today, it’s still not flocking with tourists (at least not yet, anyway), but it’s a vibrant city, pushing its residents into the parks, gardens, markets, restaurants, and promenades featuring the bulbous art of Ferdinand Botero and the wonderful public transportation in the form of metro and gondolas. Here are some pics I snapped while in town staying at the excellent residence of Noah and Marcela, at Su Casa Colombia.
Getting around town by gondola
Catedral Metropolitana, made entirely of bricks
Botero’s Bird of Peace, ironically destroyed by a guerilla bomb
Crates of mangos at the fruit market
Noah, Marcela and Jon peer into the stadium at Unidad Deportiva Atanasio Giradot
These avocados were as big as our heads
View from Pueblito Paisa, Medellín, Colombia
Zanzibar – the name alone evokes exotic images of old buildings, spice merchants, long stone alleyways and people shuffling by with silky scarves fluttering behind them. A page out of Arabian Nights, which I admit I’ve never read, but I imagined both would be the same. And that’s exactly what Zanzibar was like! Amazing! A step back 100 years, except with cars and cell phones in hand.
Photographing people was quite difficult because they really don’t like it, and will even get angry or throw things at you and I didn’t want to ruin hundreds of dollars in equipment. I tried the “Hey Jon, stand over there” and pointed the camera anywhere except at Jon. They’re not dumb, but they left me alone, since at least I tried to be discreet. However, I didn’t have the luxury of composing grand images of the women in colorful scarves and skirts, or the men in their traditional robes. I did manage to get some guys playing soccer who were happy to show off their skills for the camera. Here are a few select images from this mystical island off of Tanzania.