Looking back at my travels of 2012
After an awesome year of travel to some incredible places, I’m home for a while and able to catch up on things like writing this year end review looking back at my year in photos. In the last few months it has been extremely challenging to maintain the blog and update it as much as I would have liked to and I’m looking for ways to make sure that I can post on a more regular basis in 2013.
2012 was a special year full of interesting adventures with a host of wonderful people. All that was missing was a soundtrack to accompany the roller coaster ups and downs. Thankfully, the good times far outweighed the bad and the proof is in the photos!
“Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.“
While the travel began in January of 2012 when I went to St. Louis to visit the good folks at f-stop, the year in photos really began in April when I went to the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in Umbria to give a talk and lead a photowalk in Perugia. These conferences are a perfect blend of networking, learning, and fun. I got a chance to meet so many nice people and also catch up with friends that I had met at previous TBU conferences.
Umbria is a delight for all the senses and if you are planning a visit to Italy, I’d suggest that you add some of the beautiful towns of Umbria to your itinerary. Umbria has wonderful wine, delicious food, friendly people, and did I mention the wine? I was fortunate to be able to visit Todi, Orvieto, Narni, Perugia, Spoleto, and Asisi. That’s quite the itinerary for just a few short days and not ideal for being able to do a lot of photography but I did love this stunning part of Italy and would be thrilled to return one day to spend some serious time exploring Umbria and all the amazing photographic treasures that are just waiting to be discovered.
After a sleep deprived time in Umbria I was thrilled to be heading back to the art capital of the world… Florence!
The first time I went to Florence it was around Christmas and was cold, snowing, and rather quiet since I was travelling alone during a low tourist season. This time? Nothing of the sort. It was quite crazy busy with zillions of tourists from the four corners of the planet, the weather was much nicer, and I was able to hang out with some wonderful friends. After a rather hilarious train ride from Umbria to Florence that I shared with several of the bloggers from the TBU conference who were on their way to Bologna, I met up with my incredibly talented blog designer Nikola Lazarevic who is the editor of Web Expedition 18 for the first time. It amazes me how we can now meet and work with people for years in an online environment and never meet them face to face. Nikola is based in Serbia and I’m in Montreal. Even ten years ago it would have been nearly impossible to collaborate on a project like we did. Email, Skype, and other means of online communication have revolutionized how most of us work today.
I was with Nikola when I took this shot of Florence bathed in the warm glow of a Tuscan sunset. I had been hoping for good weather on this day so that I could get this shot and we lucked out. This is one of my favourite shots of the year. This is one of the best views I have ever seen and looking back at this image reminds me of how cool it was to be able to share the moment with such a good friend. Thanks Nikola!
As one friend left, another shows up! Fellow Montrealer and blogger extraordinaire Jodi Ettenberg and I joined forces to eat and drink our way through this wonderful city and she even made sure that I had a nice birthday surprise of Tiramisu and Prosecco while we were on a heavenly food and wine tour. What a wonderful memory with one of my favourite people who I don’t get to see nearly enough.
The cherry on top of the trip to Florence was yet more meeting up with my friends Dave and Deb who are inspirational to me in so many ways. These are people who have biked from Egypt to South Africa, driven from England to Mongolia, swam in the icy waters of Antarctica, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Last but not least was lunch and the best coffee I have ever had with local friends Erica and Michela. I rarely take the time to hang out with friends like I did in Florence, so it was a wonderful treat to be able to do so with so many exceptional people.
“Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears.”
Iceland has been on my travel wish list for quite some time now. I had heard amazing things about the natural beauty and pristine quality to the whole island but nothing could have prepared me for one of the best trips I have ever had in my life. I teamed up with two of the best photographers I could have hoped to share this exceptional experience with and along with them went on to experience what just may be the most naturally spectacular and diverse landscape on the planet. When Colby Brown, Patrick Di Fruscia, and I arrived in Iceland it was wet, windy, and cold. Pretty much what you’d expect from a country named Iceland but the climate just like the landscape could change quickly and drastically.
What we were about to witness over the next two weeks is impossible to describe. Neither words or images can do the place justice but I tried my best and I’ll have a whole lot more to share in the weeks and months ahead. For now, let these few images be a small preview of the incredible beauty that is around every corner in this magical country.
“Be stupefied by how glorious, miraculous, breathtaking, wonderful, awesome, spectacular and amazing each day is.”
~ H. Lyons
I could not have asked for better travel companions than Patrick and Colby. I can’t remember laughing so hard or so much in quite some time but enough about Colby’s cooking. :P This trip taught me that I really don’t want to travel alone as much any more. The experience of witnessing such mind-blowing vistas without anyone to share it with would have been a pale shadow of the wondrous adventure that this trip was with good friends around to share the experience with.
My hat is off to both of these talented, kind hearted, and hilarious guys. I truly hope that we get a chance to do something similar again very soon. Cheers boys.
In the next few weeks I’ll be announcing a tandem photo workshop in Iceland that I’ll be hosting with Colby Brown, it will be taking place in June of 2013 . Look for an update regarding the upcoming Iceland workshop on my blog or my Facebook, Twitter, or Google + pages. We’ll be taking participants to some of the most awe-inspiring places you can imagine. Get ready for the trip of a lifetime!
Thomas Edison’s last words were “It’s very beautiful over there.” I’m guessing that he was talking about Iceland.
No rest for me! It was home for a couple of days and I was off and flying again, this time to Sweden. I was in Stockholm to do a shoot for Quark Expeditions. I love this company and the fun people that work there. They put together some of the coolest adventure expeditions for travellers in the world and when I say cool, I really should say cold! Imagine taking a nuclear powered icebreaker to the North Pole and then going hot air ballooning there. Yeah, they’ve done that. Wanna retrace Shackleton’s voyage to Antarctica without getting marooned on a frigid deserted island, you got it, Quark can do that and get you in front of more penguins than you can shake a stick at.
While the work I was doing for them was behind the scenes stuff, it did give me the opportunity to go to Scandinavia for the first time and yes… The women are all tall, blonde, and beautiful. It really is quite horrible I tell you.
I was on my way back to my room at the Scandic Grand Central hotel when a light drizzle began to fall just as I arrived at Sergel’s Torg (Square). One of the interesting things that happens when using my Canon 17mm tilt/shift lens in the rain is that the bulbous piece of glass that protrudes from the front of the lens gets water droplets on it and creates the beautiful flare that you see in the sky around the bright street lights. It makes for some fun night-time bokeh effects as you see in this photo.
With only a few days of free time in Stockholm, I didn’t get nearly enough time to explore and hope that I am able to return to this part of the world. Norway and Sweden have such interesting and unique landscapes and architecture, perfect for a photographic expedition.
I was home in Canada for July which is a great time to be in Montreal. Unfortunately most of that time was spent at my computer working on projects and editing images. It wasn’t long though before I was back on the road and this time for a big project I was doing for SpringHill Suites from Marriott. My Art on the Road tour began in August during a crazy heat wave that hit the east coast of the USA. Washington DC was brutally hot and humid but I’ll take that over the crazy snow that we just got hit with here in Montreal.
Like most people, I can’t stand politicians but I sure do love DC for all the cool places to photograph, especially around the National Mall. As I approached the White House to attempt this shot I was sure that I would be stopped by security or police. In my typical Nostradamus like fashion my prediction came true but it took longer than I expected before they asked me to stop shooting with the tripod. I had snuck in between several other people who were also trying to get a shot of this killer pink sunset and folded my trusty tripod legs so that they barely protruded. I was in full stealth mode baby and no one could stop me now… Muahahaha!
It wasn’t an easy task getting this shot. As I braced the camera and positioned the lens through the bars of the gate one pesky young lad decided that this was the opportune time to shake the fence vigorously every few seconds and my long exposures were around 15 seconds long. I did manage to get one series of shots done with no camera shake just before I was asked to stop shooting. Mission accomplished!
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”
~ Groucho Marx
The Art on the Road tour would take up most of my travel for the rest of the year and the next stop was Boston. While I loved visiting Beantown for the first time it proved to be a challenging place in several ways. I’ll talk about this at some point in the future but for today I’d rather concentrate on accentuating the positives. Three of those positives in Boston were friends and fellow travel bloggers Randy, Beth, and Kate who I had a wonderful dinner with at a very eclectic restaurant. It’s always such a treat to spend time with fellow travellers and I was lucky to find these three at home in Boston while I was in town.
Another one of the highlights of the Boston stop was a quiet night shoot in Cambridge and seeing another architectural masterpiece designed by Frank Gehry. I was able to see several of his incredible designs this year in places like Seattle, Los Angeles, and just outside of Boston on the grounds of MIT.
Another first for me was beautiful Seattle and once again I had just a couple of days to try and photograph as much as possible during the brief time I was there. I got a chance to see how glass blowing is done and see one of the best collections of glass art in the world from world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The weather was perfect and there was such a nice vibe in this pearl of a city. Like so many places that I visit, I wish that I had more time to to spend exploring what treasures I can discover. At this point in my 2012 travels I knew that I wanted to travel in a different way next year. It feels like I’m missing out on so much when the visits are so brief and I obviously can’t get a true sense of a place in 48 hours.
New York City
“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.”
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald
That is one hell of a quote by Fitzgerald and far be it for me to try and follow that statement with something nearly as eloquent. NYC was the next stop on my Art on the Road tour and it was sweet to be back in one of my favourite places on the planet. If I could live in any city in the world, New York City would be my choice (can Paris be choice 1a?). Art, architecture, food, photo opportunities, business, culture, shopping, music, and the list goes on.
It saddens me a great deal to think how the greater New York City metropolitan area was ravaged during the recent hurricane but in typical New York fashion the people rolled up their sleeves and got to work immediately on working as a community to help everyone get back on their feet again. Way to go New Yorkers!
The above shot is one of my better memories of 2012. I took a few days off after my work was done to spend some time with friends in Manhattan. It was perfect timing for me to be in New York as my awesome friend Gaby from Mexico had just moved there to get her Masters degree from Columbia. I had always wanted to take a walk on the High Line yet never had, so this was the perfect opportunity to catch up with a good friend and do something new at the same time. When I saw this stunning mural by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra my heart skipped a beat. I knew this would make for a killer shot and as usual, I was right. ;)
I was really looking forward to visiting London in September as this would be my first visit to the UK. I had heard such positive things about the English capital that I figured it would be a place I’d truly enjoy. I figured wrong.
The weather was cold, rainy, and dreary but that’s to be expected in London so that wasn’t it. Maybe I was tired, perhaps it was a lack of support from the tourism board who seemed uninterested in helping me showcase their city, perhaps the city was just not as pretty as so many of the other European cities I’ve visited. It could be the fact that I was almost robbed when some scumbag tried to steal my iPhone as he rode by on his bike, or it could be the high cost of everything in the city. I went there with the best intentions and high hopes of liking London but the truth is that I found it quite disappointing for a whole lot of reasons.
Of course there were some good things too. The apartment I rented through Wimdu was perfectly situated and very cozy. Even when the hot water stopped working on a week-end, the issue was addressed immediately and fixed within a few hours. You can’t ask for better service than that.
I also had the pleasure of meeting up with Greg Brand of Travizeo to do a video interview with him which you can see below. It was a pleasure talking with Greg and I love what he did with the interview edit.
I’d like to give London a second chance at some point but I’m in no hurry to get back.
“London calling, yeah, I was there, too
An’ you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!”
~ Mick Jones/Joe Strummer
After the letdown of London, I was hoping for a better experience on my next stop in Chicago and my high hopes were met with a great time. I was able to hang out with Darris Lee Harris who was the featured artist for this stop of the Art on the Road tour. Darris is an architectural photographer in a city that is blessed with some of the best architecture in North America. I was fun seeing the city through his eyes and getting the chance to wander the streets of downtown Chicago, camera in hand, from before sunrise to well after dark was a real treat for me.
I could spend a lot of time in Chicago as the photographic opportunities are unlimited, the food is great, and I found the people to be extremely polite and nice. Once again two days was not nearly enough time and I’m itching to go back. Out of the ten American cities that I was to visit on the tour, Chicago would end up being the place that I enjoyed photographing the most. I can’t say that I had a favourite city overall since each one had it’s own charm and all of the artists I met were all wonderful to work with but there was something special about Chicago.
I really didn’t get much of a chance to explore Denver in the couple of days that I was there. It was rainy, snowy, cold, and as bleak as Mike Sowden‘s outlook on life. ;)
Highlights: Lunch with my buddy Colby and spending the day with artist Sue Bell at her toasty gallery and having a great chat about life, the universe, and everything.
Lowlights: Dealing with three stupefyingly drunk air force soldiers who I thought were either going to accost me, throw up on me, or pass out in front of me, none of which actually happened. Pity, that would have made for a far more interesting blurb about Denver. Then there was the incident on the airplane that I’m saving for a future blog post. Which airline you ask? I won’t say anything other than the fact that the staff is short sighted, wrongs were not righted, and I was far from delighted.
The weather went back to being normal for autumn once I reached Minnesota. I had been to Minneapolis once before but it was one of those hotel, event, and back to the hotel trips that doesn’t allow you to see any of the city. While this time the trip was also for a short duration, I did take a few extra days to meet up with William Clark, an old college buddy of mine who is a fashion photographer in Minneapolis. This was the first time that I had the chance to meet his children and see a bit more of the city. I also took the time to give a talk to William’s photography class at the The College of Visual Arts. It sure was nice to catch up with an old friend and talk shop over a few meals and drinks. I love it when it fells like no time has passed when you see friends that you’ve lost touch with for years. It’s the true sign of friendship. Thanks Bill!
I went to Las Cruces.
It had been far too long since I had been to LA and I was happy to see that Los Angeles was on the list of ten cities I’d be visiting for Art on the Road. Back in the day when I was working with Corbis and Jupiter Images I had the chance to visit the city of angels more often and I always enjoyed my time there. Many of the people that I worked with in those days have remained as friends and I was so happy to be able to catch up with several of them.
After my commitments for the tour were done I managed to meet up with my former editor from Corbis and his family. Markus now works with his wife Texas as fitness instructors/nutritionists at their company the Fitness Underground . It was wonderful to see my friend Ellen and her husband Simon. Ellen was the director of several of the JI brands that I used to shoot for and now runs Neat Productions. I had the chance to meet fellow traveller and photographer/blogger Jen Pollack Bianco for one of the best meals I’ve had all year at a restaurant called Tasting Kitchen. Go eat there, trust me. Another first time meeting was with Twitter friend Irene who runs Chix Creative, a branding, marketing, and design company.
It was good timing for me to be in Los Angeles since my good friend and talented photographer Dean Bradshaw had just moved to Venice Beach and I was able to go out shooting with him one night in Santa Monica where I was able to capture the above image. The best part of travelling is getting a chance to meet new people and the opportunity to catch up with old friends. Being able to spend some quality time with new and old friends… this made LA one of my favourite stops of the year.
“Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation.”
~ Tennessee Williams
Jordan is one of those places that will always have a place in my heart. I loved my first visit and my second trip there would prove to be an awesome experience with a truly wonderful group of people. This was to be the first photography workshop that I would host and I was thrilled to be partnering with my friend Colby Brown and his organization The Giving Lens to bring a group of 12 people to Jordan for this workshop in support of a great cause.
I had no idea if I would enjoy doing this kind of work and I loved the whole experience. I’m so proud of the whole group who from day one got along like old friends. Our guide Mohammad Alawimer was not just great at his job but a true goodwill ambassador for his beautiful country. Special thanks got to Michael Bonocore who played a huge support role on the workshop in many ways and did a great job with all the fun behind the scenes images that I’ll be sharing here soon. Thanks for everything Mike. Everything except the worst Jerry Seinfeld impression in history. For the love of all things pure and sacred, I’m begging you to never do it again! ;)
I got sick at the end of the workshop with a brutal chest cold/infection and while that was not a great way to end my trip I had the good fortune of being a guest at the Four Seasons Hotel in Amman for a few days and was treated like royalty. I love the Four Seasons and not just because it’s a luxurious place to stay but because they really know how to make guests feel welcome and special. Without their warm hospitality I would not have recuperated in time for my next trip, I’m extremely grateful. Thank you to Sara and the whole staff for going the extra mile at every turn, it’s the people that work at the Four Seasons that make it such a special place. If you’re heading to Amman, do yourself a favour and book a room at the Four Seasons… Trust me, you’ll be smiling for weeks afterward.
Special thanks go out to Reine and Khaled and the whole team at the Jordan Tourism Board, Nayef Hmeidi Al-Fayez the Jordanian minister of tourism and antiquities, and to Colby a very special thank you for teaming up with me and helping make this workshop such a great success. Looking forward to working on another philanthropic workshop in Jordan again very soon!
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
~ Winston S. Churchill
As the Bard said: All’s well that ends well. The trip to Miami would be the last one of the year for me and I couldn’t have chosen a better place to end my travel year. For a short time back in the 1990s I lived in South Beach so this trip was much like a homecoming for me. After so many years away from this place I was curious to see how much had changed. Some of the more run down areas of South Beach were now polished and looking good but there was still a bit of the gritty side of Miami Beach that could still be found. I’m glad to see that some of the places remained as I remember them but some had long gone and were replaced with shiny newly renovated stores, hotels, and residential buildings.
In all the time I was living in Miami I never took the opportunity to visit Key West and I made a point of doing just that on this trip. In hindsight it seems rather foolish to drive seven hours in order to spend two hours visiting a place. Then again a lot of things I have done seem rather foolish in hindsight… Including not going to Key West so many years ago.
I’m a beach lover at heart and one huge goal for me in life is to own a small beach house, get a dog, name it Shark and take it for long walks on the beach. ;) But seriously, Miami Beach will always have a special place in my heart and it was good to be back if only for a few days. Walking around and seeing all the beautiful Art Deco buildings, eating Cuban food, and getting sand beneath my bare feet all brought back wonderful memories of what now seems to be a lifetime ago. I’m glad that I could end my travel for 2012 in such a special place for me and kinda wondering why the heck I ever left.
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.”
~ Niels Bohr
While I could use a break, I need to continue planning my 2013 travels. I have some interesting things in the works for the new year and over the next few months I’ll have some exciting new places to visit. My schedule was tight in 2012 and this year I’m looking for ways to be able to spend more time in one place. Being on the road and constantly moving from place to place is exhausting. This is not the way I want to travel and I’m glad to have figured that out. Knowing what you don’t want to do gets you closer to the goal of doing what you actually want to do. There is a whole lot of the world that I have yet to discover for myself and I’m hoping to be in several new and inspiring places in 2013.
I’ve been meaning to get to Thailand and I will this year. I’ll be back in Iceland in the summer and New York City and Toronto are sure bets as well. High on my wish list are Burma, Antarctica, Dubai and Bora Bora but that’s just a small sampling of where I want to go. For now, I’ll be at home doing a lot of writing and developing some projects that will get me closer to my goal of taking over the world, one photo at a time.
Something tells me that 2013 is gonna be BIG and it starts in less than 24 hours! I had better get started.
Happy New Year everyone!
Wishing you good health, happiness, and peace. May 2013 be a year to remember for all the right reasons.
For more fun photography and stories from the road, check out these previous posts: