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Easter Crowds in Prague

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Prague has been the complete opposite from Vienna. I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up, we had just crossed into the Czech Republic. I immediately noticed the different alphabet and constant advertisements for strip clubs, which inevitably allude to prostitution in this country. I thought the latter would be an inescapable issue as it had been in Amsterdam (and in Madrid). But I still haven’t found myself in an area in downton Prague where there is that kind of smut. 
So in addition to the districting of Prague, I really liked the architecture and number of churches on almost every corner. Churches in Germany and Spain were beautiful and I always think that cathedrals and basilicas are extravagant to instill awe from the believer/visitor. But here in Prague, the churches are packed full of tourists who gape and take pictures of all the artwork. Even though America is plagued by technology and a subsequent need to be visually stimulated by a smartphone, I am very surprised and pleased to find that the visual beauty in churches, which were undoubtedly and initially intended to invoke certain emotions, still have that effect today! One of the churches, the Loreta, is thought to be a replica or some sort of mystical duplicate of the Santa Casa, the Virgin Mother’s birth place. (I didn’t go into this church because its staff was on its lunch break). But the folklore from the past still draws crowds which I think says something about a certain post modern view of religion. In this present age of science ad technology, which is almost inextricably (and erroneously, if I might add) associated to a condemnation of faith, believers or just simple tourists still marvel at the views. I think the same could be said about people in the past; they may have just wanted to look at the artwork, or even some relics, just simply because they existed in order that one might look at them. Churches aren’t made for salvation, but they certainly have the power to move believers and tourists alike to experience something extraordinary. Even though people were improperly using DSLRs and camera phones to get pictures of the artwork, which annoys me to no end, I thought that the new technology of today distinguishes more clearly now than before that human beings have always been drawn to visual beauty, despite what post modern thinking says.
The streets were packed in Prague. It was hard to get some shots without a huge crowd in the foreground. I did aim up above people a few times, so we will see how those shots come out on a bigger screen. A Brazilian from the hostel deduced from her travels that there are usually two cities, when situated closely to one another, juxtaposed and compared to each other. Sometimes it’s a capital city and the artsy city, other times it could be a variety of characteristics that distinguish a region’s culture. Madrid to Barcelona, Galway to Dublin, Interlaken to Bern/Zurich, and Prague to Vienna. Aside from Madrid, I prefer the non-capital cities. I know Prague and Vienna are from different countries, but most people are heading from one to the other if they’re touring Europe. Vienna falls into the category that I’ve preferred: not the huge party scene, quieter, less of a tourist trap. Yet I really liked Prague, despite a lot of chain companies and a constant debauchery in the streets outside my hostel. I got out of the touristy area and liked it there even more! But the tourist attractions at the palace were really enjoyable and I didn’t have to go very far to out walk the heavy crowds. I guess my only complaint was arriving right before Easter because the narrow, maze-like streets were fairly packed. Oh well! Had a great time there!
(I don’t have a lot of images in my iPhone, which is a good thing because it means I took a lot with my 5D! So I’ll post those at some point…)

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Vienna, Not My Favorite Stop

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My time in Vienna seemed very transitional; arriving there awkwardly early in the morning from a night train, I had to wait to be checked into my hostel. The train ride was nice but I was still exhausted. There was a huge marathon in the city as well, so in addition to the bad weather, I wasn’t really getting the most out of the place. I quickly got the vibe that Austrians are not the friendliest of people, at least in comparison to the Irish, Germans, and Swiss. In Germany (and somewhat in Spain as well), the locals can quickly figure out you’re a traveller. Even if you’re trying to use some bits and phrases in their native tongue, they’re not very patient as you mispronounce everything. But they don’t really hold it against you that your accent sucks. They just switch to English and roll their eyes. Austrians, on the other hand, came across as disgusted or annoyed by my presence as a foreigner (probably because I scream “American”). I didn’t really say much to anyone while there, yet somehow I felt pretty unwelcome. Despite there being a marathon, I felt like I was the first foreigner they laid eyes on…or maybe the locals were just annoyed at the large crowds for the race. In any case, the best part of Austria was finding an Irishman in my hostel. I heard his accent, introduced myself as a student from Galway, and we then proceeded to go a bar and grab a few pints. I’d like to give Austria another chance because I had some high expectations before getting there. The true colors of a city are most evident when you are visiting between the touristic seasons. It’s the early part of spring in some places more so than others, but Vienna was definitely not beyond its winter.
I went for a hike outside the city in the hopes of getting some good shots of the skyline. The weather was overcast but I went ahead with no jacket (oops). I enjoyed the easy incline but the view was hazy, to no surprise, and the clouds were rolling in quickly overhead. I walked back down, past the numerous bus stops that take you up this hill for sight seeing. Then it poured. Still, it’s nice to be able to ride public transportation and get away with not paying. Dishonest yes, but no one else seemed to pay for the metro. 
I went to the Albertina Museum, and that made the city as a whole, worth I visiting. I really can’t stand Picasso’s work, especially when Monet is in the next gallery. A lot of the pieces on display had me reflecting on what it means to create art. The process, the studying, the critiquing–all of it seemed familiar to me even though my medium is different.
I’d just like to reflect what photography has unfortunately become, in contrast to these artistic legends I was reading about in the museum.
It cracks me up that people go into museums with hefty DSLRs to take pictures of pictures…what do they after they take them? Process a RAW file and do touch ups on a masterpiece? I can understand taking a photo of something that might catch your attention and you want to send it to someone or use it as a phone background or something. But you could easily just type in the photo’s name and most likely find the artist’s work online. It was just silly to have to wait in this procession of people focusing their lenses to get the perfect shot of a still image. (ie why do you have a DSLR in the first place?!)

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My Only Regret in Interlaken

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…was leaving. And not having a cool pair of sunglasses. Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, had a wild pair of shades. But I loved it here, if that much wasn’t made obvious in the previous posts. It’s just so expensive. I met a kid for Hong Kong last night in my hostel room and he said that their dollar is roughly 1:1 with the Swiss franc; why is the USD hurting so bad?!
A few nights ago, I met some guys at the Three Tells Irish Pub. The only other places nearby were hotel restaurants or I could’ve walked to a Hooters in the downtown area. Of all the restaurants to have a chain in Interlaken, I’m surprised they have that…But I was later told that the main tourists that come to Switzerland are noticeably from more conservative, eastern countries. Not to make any assumptions, but I got the feelin that the ill-placed Hooters and it’s neighboring casino remained in business by attracting somebody. So it made sense to me to park it at the Irish pub, go figure.
The guy wearing shorts, flip flops, and a pink sports coat turned out to be the owner. As the night progressed with the beer seeming to flow freely, Shebby, the owner, started discussing business theories with me. In terms of capitalism, I could think of a few pros and cons on my own, but this native Kiwi had a really bizarre concept. I was complaining that the conversion rate from the USD to both EUR and CHF was absurdly high, despite the noticeable difference in the cost of living in Interlaken. Shebby suggested that products, particularly in the service industry-which I have a background in-are visibly more expensive to an American because the US doesn’t charge enough. It was a pretty broad slap in the face to the free market concept, but I wasn’t sure if he meant how they tax here or how there are government funded programs that are made more accessible via higher prices. Apparently, the waiters/bartenders have an insane amount of vacation time as well as a 13 month of salary paid. So it kind of equates to not paying taxes, according to Shebby.
However that system works out, it obviously draws a lot of foreign workers. I didn’t know that EU members can just travel between countries and work as long as they have their EU card. But somehow, Interlaken remains particularly Swiss; it didn’t lose it’s identity to migrant workers or from the impact of the tourist industry. Then again, I was there between the main tourist seasons, which I thoroughly enjoyed! So I didn’t run into as many tour groups as I could’ve, but there were quite a few people packed into several areas with their cameras. I liked that dichotomy between the viewers and the doers. It’s expensive here so why not actively do something rather than pay more to photograph it from a distance? Interlaken is dubbed the adventure capital of Europe (or something like that). So I will certainly hope to find myself here again at some point while I’m still young!
I was in such a poor state last night; limited wifi and expensive exits from this town was not convenient to say the least. I’m training back to Zurich because northern Italy’s train system is on strike. That made getting into France more expensive as well. Going directly east was over 100chf, and hearing that Vienna is also expensive, I thought that getting to a main travel hub might be the wisest idea. I’m going to look to bus into Germany or maybe into France. I don’t think I’m doing the train traveling correctly because there are different passes for different countries that have different restrictions in different currencies. That might be easier for someone that can speak Deutsch, French, or Suisse-Deutsch, or all the above plus English…But I’m not timing things correctly. I saw on some travel forum that in Switzerland, there’s some sort of saying that goes something like “the smart person travels by train.” So maybe I’m an idiot for not coordinating efficiently. But Ireland, Spain, and Holland allowed for more spontaneity in travel plans, specifically when going shorter distances. I’m almost half tempted to look at what renting a car is like if the bus system is deficient out of Zurich…Until then, I’m enjoying the views from the train!

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Der Perfekte Tag

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I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to today. I was referred to a ski shop by a Kiwi bartender at an Irish pub in Switzerland. Went in, got a great deal in terms of skis and transportation. Basically, I crossed the street, caught a bus that brought me to a train station. From there, you train up into the mountains. So combining my favorite mode of traveling with my favorite landform (mountains) along with some skiing, I knew is gave a good time no matter what. But these Swiss Alps really are something else. The views are incredible to say the least. The slopes were pretty good as far as spring skiing goes. So what else can you ask for in terms of der perfekte tag? You walk off the train, buckle up, ski down. I think the pictures can tell a better story than I can, but I did meet some kids from Cambridge. 

I thought I skied fast but apparently everybody here does! The last stop I got off of was Kleine Scheidegg at 6,762 ft. You can get considerably higher with the chairlifts but most of the bowls were closed. (That didn’t stop me from dropping into one with the Brits). I don’t really know where else to visit after a day like today. My friends at the pub didn’t think too highly of Milan, which was the next largest city south of Interlaken. I’m considering this Cinqe Terra walk I’ve been told about on several occasions…

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Dachau Reflections

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Nothing screams voyeuristic existentialism like listening to the extended intro of “I Will Possess Your Heart” on a cloudy day on a train in Munich. Hokey, I know but heading to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial is a little sobering. On another note, I’d say I can comprehend some simple phrases (written) In German. It’s making traveling outside Munich’s city center less difficult. Picking out other Americans is pretty easy; as I write this on a bus, I already detected two college-aged girls on the metro heading to the same memorial. Those Northface jackets are such a giveaway…
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I feel like I’ve been to a concentration camp before, even though that’s not true. I must’ve dreamt being at one and everything about it matched today; the drizzly weather, the scenery, and the feeling I’d get while walking around the place of the deaths of thousands of people. Two things that struck me as I wandered around for a few hours. First, the role Dachau played in the concentration camp system. As early as 1933, prisoners were delivered there, like cattle. That’s six whole years before Germany’s invasion of Poland. Many of the prisoners that went to Dachau were Soviets, Polish clergy, and various “political prisoners.” political prisoners at a concentration camp added with some photographs in the museum had me wondering if the people there knew what was occurring, the prisoners and the small town right outside of it. Today, especially as an American, history is retold as if the mass extermination of people had been taking place and any and everybody knew that it was happening. I think the prisoners themselves might have had an idea that their living conditions were clearly leading them to their deaths. But the more modern view of the SS’s ingenuity of mass murdering wasn’t on the prisoners’ mind.

That brings me to point number two: the awesome extent that human beings can systematically and efficiently kill themselves. Dachau was actually a work camp that was taken over by the SS (from the local authorities running it), which then instilled this “new model” of running concentration camps. The networking that took place between camps proves just that; there was a schematic manner to control the non-Aryan population. Mass executions didn’t take place at Dachau. Prisoners would be shipped elsewhere to subcamps. But there was still a crematorium that was later replaced by a larger one for disposing the dead. So yes, thousands of people died there but my mentality really changed when I realized that there was a cunningness to the SS and their means for running Dachau that placed it as the new standard for concentration camps.
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(The prison within the concentration camp. I found this to be quite bizarre and it consequently formed this notion I have that prisoners didn’t recognize their status as we now do. A prison within a prison…what sort of implications does that give?)

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(The bunk beds that were initially suppose to house around a hundred men. I can remember the specific numbers but at some point, these long buildings had nearly 2,000 persons living in each structure).
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(The Jewish memorial among the other varying sects of Christianity’s churches).

Again, this was written from the iPhone so forgive me for any typos or grammatical errors!

Munich, Munich Take Me In

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(I’m just waiting for my phone to charge before I go to Dachau so I apologize for the typos and misspellings, I’m on my iPhone). Yesterday the couch surfing guy never got back to me and I was literally on his door step but with no wifi I had no idea how to get in touch with him. So I had to train back into the city and ended up doing this maybe 4 mile loop trying to find a hostel. I didn’t have wifi so I used some instincts like locating the nearest Starbucks. But my phone was dying and I was about 2 miles outside of the city center at that point. I know hostels don’t book the day of, or it’s difficult to do that, so I wandered through the city center again. I found a large group of kids with an older leader of sorts, and again, using some instincts I’ve picked up from traveling, a group like that must be heading towards a hostel. I stalked the youth group 😛 about a half a block behind them as to not seem crazy. They lead me right to this hostel that looked really crowded but fortunately, they had a room for me! I met a French Canadian named Xavier and shortly thereafter we went out for some German food. I had Munich schnitzel and a liter of dark beer (putting the Irish pint to shame). It’s nice to see a city on a weekday just because most European cities have a crazy night life on the weekends.

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Yehaw! Giant’s Causeway

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I know I was suppose to write a part 2 for my trek this past weekend. (I am getting around to it). But I got distracted with having Lightroom and 10 gigs worth of RAW files to edit.

iPhoneography is certainly nice to experiment with, but it’s way past time for me to be dealing with RAW files. There’s just something to be said when you’re out with the DSLR, working away to get that shot. Then you bring it back home, work on it, and make it perfect.

It took me about 10 minutes to slip and slide over rocks to get to this point in a low tide. I knew what I wanted to capture, premeditated how I would get it, and then plugged in the settings and just waited. The tide was coming in, so my heart was racing. The 50mm is not accurately showing how close I felt, even though 50mm lenses are typically considered to portray what the human eye sees.

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