Saturday, October 26, 2013

Night moves: Travel photos after dark

My five favorite structures to photograph at night. 

Just because the sun goes down, doesn't mean your camera has to go away. Night time brings out colors, light, shadows and movements impossible to capture during the day. And with modern cameras, anyone can snap clear photos after dark. 

But given the propensity for action shots to blur in low light, I find static objects to be excellent evening subjects. Not to mention, some of the most beautiful things in the world are man-made structures. And as tourist attractions go, the most popular ones around the world more than likely have already perfected the art of nighttime mood lighting. 

The Vienna Opera House was one of the most extravagant buildings I had ever seen, naturally. In a city where music and architecture move together like two ballroom dancers, there are bound to be stunning sights around every corner. When the sunlight dims and the street lights buzz on, the whole city comes erupts into new life. The Opera House is just one of the more beautiful uplit structures, almost surreal in its effervescent glow.

Vienna is not alone in its knack for nighttime sights. Visit the Harp bridge in Dublin in between pubs or grab a gellato in front of Rome's Pantheon - two well-known tourist stops that take on a whole new light after dark. Two of the most well-known buildings in the world - the Eiffel Tower and the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. - are prime examples of the transformative power of nighttime.

So I say get out there at night and try out some of those strange settings on your point-and-shoot or your iPhone. The night belongs to the adventurous.

Below are five of my favorite spots to snap nighttime pictures.

Statsopera, Vienna, Austria

Harp Bridge, Dublin, Ireland

U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC

The Pantheon, Rome, Italy

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Traveling for the People

Travel, for many, is about arrival at a chosen destination. Other people enjoy the souvenirs they acquire at various stops. For me, when it comes to travel I'm a people person. 

The focus of my most memorable travel stories always seems to revolve around a random conversation, a street performer or a chance encounter with a lovable local lunatic. Aside from tips on where to go, what to do and what to see, the people of the world, more often than not, offer perspective – a unique view that you just can’t get from a guidebook. At its root, that’s what travel is all about: interacting with people, places and things that we normally would not interact with. In the process, we exchange ideas in a sort of international lifestyle best-practices roundtable.

You don’t have to debate the meaning of life with every Frenchman along the Seine, or chitchat with a goofy street performer while he dances a jig on a sidewalk. Interacting and observing both provide an opportunity to appreciate the locals doing what they do best. It takes very little effort to enjoy the kindness of strangers abroad.

I have been astonished, embraced, intoxicated, amused, educated and inspired by locals the world over.

One evening in Munich I met Alex. He was a blonde bear of a man, large and wide with a shaggy beard and shaggier hair pulled back underneath a traditional, wide-brimmed German hat. We were at the city’s world-famous Hofbrauhaus when he slammed his stein down onto our table and dropped himself onto my bench. More than a few suds sloshed over onto his lederhosen and traditional Bavarian garb. But Alex didn’t care. In fact, I doubt Alex had a care in the world that night. We spent hour after hour drinking down steins and exchanging stories about our home, his home and everywhere in between. In the late hours of the evening Alex yanked me up by my shirt collar and taught me how to sing the traditional Bavarian drinking song, capped with a crash of the beer mugs.

Regardless of where you are, even if you don’t speak the language, it can never hurt to strike up a conversation while traveling. You may be ignored or scoffed at, or you may get the directions you needed or a good restaurant recommendation. At the very least, you will have made the attempt at indulging another culture.

Dublin, Ireland is another city itching to embrace its visitors. Enter almost any pub and raise a pint of Guinness with the locals at the bar. The Irish are happy to engage anyone in storytelling and if you have the time, they have the words to fill it.
On a recent trip to Dublin, I ditched the lines of tourists standing on cobblestones waiting to see the Book of Kells and instead popped into a nearby pub for some food and drink. Immediately upon entering, I was greeted by a wave of Dubliners cheering on their hometown Irish Football team, who happened to be playing a semi-final playoff match against Mayo. Over a few pints, the rowdy locals taught me the brutal rules of Irish Football and urged me to cheer along with them.
Learning about a location’s culture does not require a conversation, though. People watching can provide information and entertainment in any corner of the world.
Salzburg, Austria is a picturesque mountain town nestled amongst fortresses and fairytale buildings. Everything here is full of whimsy, including their board games. On a stunning sunny morning I stumbled upon a courtyard in the shadow of one of Salzburg’s beautiful churches. There, two men were engaged in a heated chess match with an oversized chess set, right in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by the city's soaring, gorgeous spires. A gentleman in orange was playing an older gentleman dressed in his Sunday best. They were a couple of Austrian pugilists doing battle in a checkered, concrete arena.

I lingered along with a few dozen other passers-by. When a horse-drawn carriage trotted by in the background, the whole scene gained a strange nostalgic ambiance. A few moves later, the man in the orange won the match to his foe's great dismay. Instead of sulk, the loser approached the winner and they shook hands politely. They immediately began setting up for a rematch.

To truly experience a place, you should get to know those who know it best. Most of us don’t have the time to do so very intimately, but it only takes a moment to say hello in a foreign language or sit on a bench to listen to a street musician. The locals can give you a more intricate perspective of the city or town they inhabit. If they’re lucky, they will gain a little perspective from your outsider’s view in return. Whether you travel for business or pleasure, at home or abroad, you should always travel for the people.