Lillis Photography: Blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Lillis Photography lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Sat, 31 Dec 2016 19:22:00 GMT Sat, 31 Dec 2016 19:22:00 GMT http://www.lillisphotography.com/img/s/v-5/u735428961-o710154278-50.jpg Lillis Photography: Blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog 85 120 Abandon Your Daily Hell: Oddities and Odysseys in the Empire City http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2016/1/abandon-your-daily-hell-oddities-and-odysseys-in-the-empire-city An early morning departure from Union Station in Washington, DC began our four day venture into legendary New York City. Rising at zero-dark-thirty, we didn't take time to eat breakfast at home. After arriving at the train station, my son Sam and I meandered through the departure area searching for those familiar golden arches. Locating them at the very end of the hall, we opted for hot java and the #5 Big Breakfast with Hotcakes. We had time to sit in the eating area of this charming establishment, so we found a booth and began drizzling our artificially flavored maple syrup packets over our hotcakes. We took a few sumptuous bites and then realized that the woman seated directly adjacent to us was delivering a very long lecture concerning the historical significance of lesbianism in the Catholic church over the last dozen centuries. She made a seven minute departure into the significance of sailors who left their women behind for long stretches of time, emphasizing the essential role of the wife left behind to protect her nether regions from strange men. It was much like being in college again as she was droning on and on in a serious demeanor. However, no one was sitting with her, and no one, other than we, was actually listening. Except for the ladies room custodian, who gave an occasional nod as she passed the table, the lecture was noticed by no one in particular. We were courteous and listened for a good five minutes, actually picking up some well-buried facts of religious history. We then noticed another woman across the room in another booth who was holding herself in a fetal position and rocking back and forth. Sam and I quickly understood that we were the only people in McDonalds that morning who were sane, or mostly sane in Sam's case. We snatched up what was left of our hotcake stack and headed for our departure gate. It never ceases to amaze me how many travelling couples dress in twin outfits. Sitting across from us were Mr. and Mrs. lavender shirts and denim pants.  A few seats from them were Mr. and Mrs. North Face/South Butt carrying matching camouflage backpacks and motorcycle helmets. There were more odd twins, but I will spare the details here.

The 3.5 hour train ride to New York City is generally rather uneventful. We pulled out our David Baldacci novels and began our escape into our respective mysteries as we enjoyed our wide, cushy seats. I brought my ipad to catch up on some old Sex and the City episodes. One has to mentally prepare for New York. I suddenly caught something odd out of the corner of my eye. The couple seated across the aisle from us were clinking crystal champagne glasses and we heard the loud pop of the cork as they poured and toasted each other. All this on the quiet car no less. This seemed rather sweet, but as we rode on down the tracks passing Baltimore and then Wilmington, their celebration continued. The woman had neatly arranged a large wooden cutting board with a six cheese wedge display surrounded by sliced apples, red Chilean seedless grapes, and three varieties of wine crackers. Their snack delights were making us hungry. Personally, I am a steadfast baguette and baguette alone kind of consumer with my cheese but we were duly impressed of their careful avoidance of the overly prevalent garlic and herb crackers which appear all too frequently on cheese boards. As we arrived in Newark, the celebrating couple had switched to tasteful wine glasses, ditching their champagne stems and had begun the dessert course consisting of chocolate truffles, strawberry tarts, and a healthy portion of dripping baklava. On the window ledge, they had perched a miniature fondue pot filled with warm chocolate.

Time had elapsed, and pressing on down the tracks, we finally arrived at New York's Penn Station. Feeling satiated from the odiferous four-course lunch of our fellow travelers, we decided to skip lunch until we had checked into our hotel. We ascended the escalator from the station into the brisk, exhaust-filled air of New York City. We could smell lilacs, and garbage and expensive perfume all at once. Bumping our suitcases down the hectic street, I started taking photos of all the crazy things I saw along the way. Sidewalks were jammed with Caramel Macchiato carrying locals who appeared to be dressed for some type of office environment, but were not in an office. My first thoughts were that these people do not work in an office; the skyscrapers are just for decoration. Their offices were in places like Dean & DeLuca, or Starbucks, or the Shake Shack. Even the red metal tables and chairs on Times Square were occupied by men and women diligently "working" on their laptops. In this city, no one talks to anyone, but they talk to everyone online.

After 45 minutes of continuous walking, we arrived at our historic hotel, the Warwick, very close to Central Park. After securing an internet bomb scare sale, the Warwick proved to be a reasonably priced hotel for New York, and we were awarded a secluded interior room. There is absolutely no street noise in an interior room and the view from the window is a solid brick wall. We felt honored, though, that our quiet interior room was only 3 doors down from a room where Elvis had stayed in 1964. There was only a couple of drawbacks to this beautiful old hotel. Other than the $60 breakfasts, the toilet flush strength was not up to par and we successfully clogged our toilet in the first 15 minutes of room occupation. We instantly alerted two maids passing by in the hall, the housekeeping staff via telephone, and two front desk clerks at reception. This bold move on our part to let all the staff be aware of our problem resulted in a combination of seven different plunger wielding workers visiting our room over the next 2 hours.

We decided to venture further afield after ruining the hotel's plumbing so we headed to Times Square for the evening to see all the illuminated insanity. One of the most memorable street performers we encountered was the Times Square Baby. He is an adult man, fully waxed of any body hair, who dances wildly in an oversized diaper, light up running shoes and dons an enormous latex baby head that resembles the Chucky doll on crack, China Blue, or some nasty combination of the two. His skin tone uncannily matches the latex head so he appears as a freak of nature. He also wears a bib around his neck with the embroidered words "Little Blue Sailer". Over our shoulder was a 6 foot, 4 inch Batman strutting briskly, cape flowing. We continue only 20 steps and were greeted by a gaggle of furry, blue smurfs, one very short Hispanic Mini Mouse, two 7 foot tall Statues of Liberty (obviously suffering from a pituitary gland disorder), and one very large and unfriendly Chewbacca. The streets were glowing with reflections from the yellow taxis, stretch limos and a few men dressed as M & Ms, (two yellow and one green). A salesman hocking comedy tickets shouted to my son that he has a beautiful wife. I think to myself "My retinol cream is working!"

As our stay in New York was brief, I was on an uber mission to photograph as many oddities as possible and in particular, street scenes and people. There is no want of good photo ops in this magnificent city. Our next day was delightfully spent with good friends who live in Ridgewood, Queens. We travelled via subway from Rockefeller Center on the last elevated train in New York, which afforded fantastic views of the city along the way. Ridgewood is the up and coming New York nabe filled with diverse ethnic cafes and shops, with beautiful homes. We were treated to a fabulous Albanian lunch at Pravue. During our visit, the lotto rose to $1.3 billion and two of the million dollar winners' tickets were purchased in Ridgewood. Sadly, we did not win. However, Sam did find a $50 bill on the floor of a bakery later that night, right by the cheesecakes.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Madame Tussauds wax museum. I treat this special place like a party with mute celebrities who let you touch them. We find ourselves highly amused posing for the camera with some of the most famous people, dead and alive. I reunited with Golda Meir, Idi Amin and my dearest old friend Yasser Arafat. Sam had an intimate conversation with Earnest Hemingway about his last novel, and I played piano with Ray Charles. I kissed the Pope and did high kicks with Katy Perry. My best connection, though, was with Dorothy as we hooked arms and skipped down the yellow brick road. Unfortunately, I tripped on her red shoe and broke off Toto's left ear, but no one noticed.

A midday stroll through Central Park led to the discovery of a food kiosk called Waffles and Dinges which became a fast favorite of Sam's. We ordered the Throwdown Waffles, described as the legendary and glorious victor of the battle with the Great Flay. Smothered in spekuloos spread and whipped cream, it dazzles the beholder. We consumed these culinary treasures on a cold park bench in the blustery wind. With our laps covered in syrup and strawberry sauce frozen to our cheeks, we walked on to explore Literary Walk and the Balto Statue. The park was bare of leaves this time of year, but never bare of beauty.

Our final day of our visit, we explored the Lower East Side, including one of its most notable destinations, the Jewish deli called Katz's. This place is famous for many reasons, primarily its $20 corned beef sandwiches. Proclaimed as the greatest pastrami sandwich in New York City, it is famous for the movie "Where Harry Met Sally". I'll have what she's having, as it says on the wall. Located at 205 Houston Street, this deli serves 10,000 pounds of pastrami each week, 82 lbs of which was stuffed between my two slices of rye bread on my paper plate. There was an old Tom Lehrer song written in war time that has become the catch phrase for Katz's Deli. It goes, "Remember Mommy, I'm off to get a Commie, so send me a salami". We purchased several bagels to bring home to Virginia so we smelled of garlic and onions until we bathed the next day.

The Lower East Side is chock full of great photo ops. As Irving Berlin said "Everybody ought to have a Lower East Side in their life". There are old stores and shops on every corner, many with antique neon signs that are things of the past. Nostalgia runs high in the neighborhood, as it is home to the Tenement Museum which brings history alive through the restoration of a series of old apartments. Originally a working class area, the LES has, over the past decade, made vast improvements. In fact, the Trust for Historic Preservation has listed this neighborhood as one of America's Most Endangered Places.  Another cherished survivor remaining from the old Jewish stronghold is the specialty shop called Russ & Daughters. A peek inside reveals cases of Jewish foods including smoked fish, salmon, cream cheeses and Matzo Ball soup. There was also a series of kitchen supply stores that stacked industrial sized pizza dough mixers on the sidewalk, just waiting for a needy restaurant to adopt them.

We topped off our visit with a trip to see the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center. We soared 70 floors in a lighted elevator to the promenade with unobstructed 360 degree views of the city. Large Plexiglas screens keep the suicides under control, but you can take a small staircase to the very top with no Plexiglas obstructing the view. Jumping from that level would only allow a one story fall, so the highest level is for those who are only mildly depressed. This building is the site of one of the 20th century's most famous photos. You probably know the image: a group of construction workers nonchalantly eating lunch on a steel beam, feet dangling 69 stories above the street as they eat their bologna sandwiches. You can recreate this pose with your loved ones as you enter the Top of the Rock on a beam of the same width and a back drop of the city behind you. You can even pretend to shove your loved one off to his or her death. This makes for very special memories. In any event, this activity comes highly recommended. From any point of view, it's a good one.

Yes, New York City is one of my favorite places to visit, time and again. It is never the same twice. I encounter something unusual, weird, educational, fascinating, or wildly fashionable on every visit. From midnight marching bands of Scots in kilts playing bagpipes, to a man playing Chopin on a grand piano in the middle of Central Park, there are things that happen in New York that you would never see anywhere else. From the famous "no pants" day on the subway to the painted naked women on Times Square, New York is one of a kind. The city is effervescent and it thrives. When I'm in New York, I just want to walk the streets, take it all in, and envelop myself in its splendor. You can belong to New York as easily in 10 minutes as you can in a decade. It is bewitching. If ever in need of a destination, New York is always a good idea.

"I can't with any conscience argue for New York with anyone. It's like Calcutta. But I love the city in an emotional, irrational way, like loving your mother or father even though they're a drunk or thief. I've loved the city my whole life. To me, it's like a great woman."

  Woody Allen

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Manhattan Ridgewood Rockefeller center architecture blog city food fun hotels humorous katz deli lillis Photography lillis werder lower east side new york city photography photos sites subway top of the rock train travel views visit http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2016/1/abandon-your-daily-hell-oddities-and-odysseys-in-the-empire-city Tue, 26 Jan 2016 02:12:55 GMT
Abandon Your Daily Hell: Attend Your High School Reunion http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2015/9/abandon-your-daily-hell-attend-your-high-school-reunion When that invitation comes in the mail about your high school reunion, you generally have one of two reactions. It could be "Count me in!", or "Not no, but hell no!". There is always some hesitation before making that decision to go or not. You wonder, will the hair transplant look natural by the time of the class photo? Returning to my hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas, was a bittersweet experience, an emulsion of varying emotions, some positive and some sad.  My old high school is somewhat unusual in that reunions are held once every five years, and they are all class reunions so generally, more than 2,000 people attend starting at the earliest graduating class who still has living members. Hotels are booked years in advance in anticipation of the bonanza of activities that are delightfully crammed into two exceptional days of reunion bliss.

2015 marks the 173rd year for the founding of Fort Scott by the US Army and the 158th year since the Fort Scott Town Company was formed to organize a town. My family arrived in this place in the mid 1700's and built one of the very first homes in the old fort. At one time, a lovely old colonial home with wooden shutters and white columns lining the front porch, my old home now sports an actual porcelain toilet in the front yard, which conveniently doubles as a flower bed. Approximately seven to eight cars occupy the driveway and any one time, and the house is in tatters. I guess that Thomas Wolfe was right when he said "You can never go home." At least he was correct for me, as the current owners would not even let me in to take a peek at my old home front.

Reunions themselves can be quite confusing. Today, with the omnipresence of Facebook, we find ourselves connected at the hip, or at least at the smart phone, with even the remotest person on your list of life acquaintances. I am very happily connected now to a great number of my high school classmates, right down to a girl who walked to school with me every day in the second grade. We may not have actually seen this person in real life for over 30 years, but in our mind's eye, we have their faces engrained in our virtual memory. Even so, after my arrival at my first class activity, I found that name tags come in quite handy. Most people were not easily recognizable. When in doubt of an identity, I would gaze deeply into a person's eyes, as the eyes never change much no matter how much the rest of the body has progressed. There are also those nagging fears. Will the football player who you rejected at the Twirp dance now weigh more than the Dodge Ram pickup truck he is driving? Will the girl who failed PE class and occasionally vomited on your shoes in the breakfast line be a highly successful executive and doing much better than you? Evidently, there is a statute of limitations on telling a fellow classmate that you had a mad crush on him or her after 30 years as well, so be ready for some surprises in that area. At my reunion, it was deemed you were "hot" if you made the "People you would still want to do" list that was being battered around after the class became more inebriated.

I found that the fleeting years also wreak havoc on the memory. One guy came up to me recalling all the special moments we shared at the junior prom, the photos we posed for, the stolen kisses on the dance floor, and I swear I had never met him before. And then there's the guy who rushes to embrace you, and even the eye recognition technique failed me. I relied on the "N.A.S." policy: Nod And Smile. At least if  he decides to take everyone hostage, he might let me go first. Another classmate, Kevin proudly informed me that he did not own a computer, nor did he have even an email address. I was not even able to respond to that remark.

For my special class dinner, we all drove over to the historic part of Fort Scott and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant called La Hacienda. I admit I did hesitate for a few seconds, but then meandered in amidst a crowd of low hanging smoke and people smiling like idiots. Instinctively, I began hugging everyone I saw. After a few minutes, I remembered some of the people from long ago as they had plucked at my most filed away memories, and then suddenly I realized that I had not only hugged my old friends, but also some of the wait staff. About half way through my burrito picante con queso, one of my highly successful realtor classmates made a mad dash for the door with her smart phone and briefcase to negotiate a long distance transaction between North Carolina and Singapore. Alas, her burrito sat sadly alone and congealed while money was to be made on the sidewalk. The questions people asked one another were fascinating, and sometimes, the answers were even better. One guy in my class proudly reported that he had sold his business for almost $2 billion and now owns another high flying company building horse barns across the country. Funny, I never read his name on the last Forbe's Millionaire list, and I did actually read it. Sexual activity was judged based on how many children you have, and success was measured by the number of grandchildren. (You see in Kansas, folks get married young. I think 43.5% of my classmates got married at age 14).  One heated argument ensued over the actual date when one woman lost her virginity. Her friend insisted it happened in summer camp, while the other swore it happened in Gunn Park behind the swings.

After a rather sordid discussion of personal trivia, I left La Hacienda to visit the dead in sharp contrast to the bustle of activity at my class dinner. I drove to Evergreen Cemetery to visit the graves of my grandparents and my recently departed mother. We took flowers for the graves. Walmart offered the most choice selection of plastic flowers in town, with a total of three floral varieties in two "designer" colors: white and red. As I drove from the historic part of town to the cemetery in the rural outskirts, a drive which lasted all of seven minutes, I realized how different driving in Kansas is. In Northern Virginia, I often drive 30 minutes just to buy a gallon of milk.  There are no two points in Fort Scott that are more than 10 minutes apart, which is sometimes more of a detriment than a benefit.

On my final day of reunion weekend, my class all congregated for our final luncheon at a work shop of one of my classmate's husband's. Amidst table saws, nuts, bolts, work tables, sheets of plywood, and construction materials, we ate delicious pulled pork sandwiches, and enjoyed hot peach cobbler for dessert. I took it upon myself to interview the one man in my class, Brian McFall, who has somehow purchased a monthly supply of water from the fountain of youth all these years. He looks precisely as he did in his high school senior photo. I will actually go beyond that and say he hasn't aged since his sophomore year!  His secret? Simple: daily exercise and eat whole foods.

Well, that dreaded moment for the hair transplant recipients finally arrived. It was time for the class photo. As I was asked to be the photographer for this year's photo, it was up to me to arrange the 30 plus individuals in an appealing way. I asked the tallest to stand in back, the middle row of women to be seated, and I carefully chose those of low to medium height to be the sitters/front row kneelers. There was a prerequisite to the sitters/front row kneelers' position. Not only must they be able to get down on the ground to sit, but more importantly, they had to be spry enough to get back up without the aid of a pulley system or crane. It took a dozen or so clicks of the camera to get everyone's eyes open for 1/120th of second. At the risk of being crass, I had to tell the group that someone in one of the front two rows had farted in order to get them all to give me a big toothy grin.

My time in Fort Scott was even more meaningful on this trip. Not only did I see my high school boyfriend, who is now gay and married to a man, and whom I still love desperately, ( a thing which would normally require years of therapy, but because I am so balanced and normal, it doesn't bother me), but I renewed many old friendships as well. I drove to all the old places where I had spent my youthful days. I cruised up and down National Avenue like we did on Saturday nights looking for who knows what, only this time driving a Jeep Grand Cherokee rental car with my 19 year old son riding shotgun. We ate chicken sandwiches at the Sonic drive through served by young high school girls wearing roller skates. I photographed the grand Victorian mansions where my grandmother's lady friends lived and hosted high teas. I found and reunited with my 100 year old nanny who still looks like Halle Berry. What a wonderful site to see. I walked through the historic old fort buildings where I once played tour guide in a hoop skirt. I drove to the old country club where my family had special dinners and we swam in the pool. It was sadly just a ruin now, with only half the golf course in use. Many of the old Main Street buildings had burned down a few years ago. However, I did make it to the infamous chicken house south of Fort Scott called Chicken Annie's. It is a tried and true tradition and should never be omitted from a visit to Fort Scott. All in all, however, the town I hold so dearly in my heart and mind seems now but a shell compared to its robust and bustling feel when I was a kid. The structures remain intact in most places, but the family and many friends I loved do not. It seems that the filling is missing from that sweet chocolate Hostess cupcake. Still, I wouldn't trade even a minute of the time I spent there.

On my last night in Fort Scott, I visited an old family friend, Ken, who owns one of those grand Victorian houses on Crawford Street. We drank lemonade, sat on his porch swing and rocked back and forth for hours reminiscing until finally the sun set and cast its gold and orange hues over his trees and front yard. What a wonderful "small town" thing to do, and it was pure bliss. It took me back in time, and made me feel young again.

My reunion, after all, had provided an escape from my daily life, while producing illusions of what might have been "had only…". Reunions are reminders that no matter what we do, material success is not a guarantee for a path to happiness. Nothing is for certain. The bad often do well in the end, and sometimes good people go bad. The heavy girl in your class could very well be a super model in Milan now, and the guy who was voted most likely to succeed could be on death row. It is a good thing to see your classmates again. You can't escape your past and you certainly cannot relive it, but you can enjoy it. Without that random group of people we travelled through time with since we learned to read, we would not be the fascinating people who we are today. And Kevin Darling, I hope this blog doesn't make you mad if you ever do get a computer and read it, which I doubt you ever will. Either way, I apologize. As I left Fort Scott, I felt joyful, tearful, sentimental and blessed. I suddenly got a warm feeling spreading through my chest, but then, after a minute or two, I realized it was fallout from that burrito picante con queso from La Hacienda the previous night.

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Fort Scott Kansas Lillis Photography blog high school reunion humor lillis werder memories small town travel travel blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2015/9/abandon-your-daily-hell-attend-your-high-school-reunion Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:48:04 GMT
Abandon Your Daily Hell -Venite a Venezia http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/12/in-venice-life-is-a-carnival Usually at this time of year, one begins to recount the joys and adventures of the year. It seems that no matter where I travel, I learn something new and find incredible adventures.  The most unusual trip I took in 2014 was to Venice, Italy where I traveled during Carnival, something I had longed to do for years, but never managed to arrange.  For me, a trip to Venice is tantamount to a mountain climber reaching North Base Camp of Mount Everest.  I never tire of that city, and yes, I have visited there eight times so far.  It was evident I was headed to Venice before I left the city of the first leg of my trip, Munich, Germany.  After I was seated on the plane leaving Munich, I glanced over to the seat directly across the aisle from mine. There, in a clear plastic tub, similar to those old fashioned cake carriers sold at Tupperware parties in the 60's, was a gorgeous, blond, curly, voluminous Louis IV style wig, encased in all its glory like a severed head waiting for its death mask, tied up with a red, shiny, satin ribbon.  I knew at that moment that my week in Venice would be grand. I heard chatter all over the plane in Italian, English and German, and saw many oversize suitcases being loaded into our plane, most likely filled with Baroque creations for Carnival.  The conversations I understood were all about contests and parties in palazzos on Venice's Grand Canal.  I was not coming to dress in a Marie Antoinette gown or even as one of her ladies in waiting, but to photograph this famous yearly ritual.  The anticipation was palpable.

Carnevale is the last celebration before lent begins on Ash Wednesday. Lent has historically been the time before Easter when many Catholics deprive themselves of something they enjoy. The thought is to party until you drop and spend the period of Lent recovering.  Celebrations are held all over Italy from Venice and Milan down to the villages and towns of Sicily. The celebration of Carnevale is the Italian version of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. In Ivrea, a small town in Piemonte, Carnevale has been around since the 1600’s. The celebrations begin with a masked ball followed later in the week by the Battaglia delle Arance where people throw 400 tons of oranges. The throwing of the oranges is an enactment of an uprising by the people against those in power.  After all the oranges are thrown, the various combatants sit down to a feast of codfish and polenta.

Each spring in Venezia, Halloween meets haute couture.  This ultimate, over-the-top, flamboyantly surreal masquerade party draws nearly three million visitors each year.  As soon as I disembarked the motor boat which took me from Marco Polo Airport to the main island, trudged through the stony streets bumping along all my luggage and camera gear, located my hotel beside the famous Fenice Opera, and ditched all my belongings in my cozy room, I hurried to the streets with my camera to observe the masses.  There, I saw feathered headdresses, flowing capes, and a bevy of bejeweled masks as costumed beings spilled onto the streets in every direction.  I soon discovered that Piazza San Marco is the epicenter of the frenzy as the Maschera piu Bella contest runs daily to name the best costume.  A temporary outdoor theater is erected on Piazza San Marco where dozens of masked men and women culminate to parade their showy selves down the runway of the Gran Teatro.  I saw everything from the utmost elaborate costume such as kabuki princesses, queens with hooped skirts so wide they could only walk single file down a sidewalk, or court jesters in screaming chartreuse tights, to simple blue smurfs, tacky overweight inflatable chefs, sequined angels and glittering wolves and rabbits.  Most costumes are quite elegant, but some are in very bad taste. I found that the later the evening wore on, the tackier the costumes became.  The masks, however, make the outfits, and all tourists are encouraged to wear a mask even if they do not choose to don a velvet cape from the 17th century.  The costumes are judged by famous costume designers who feel that in order to win, the costume must be not only stunning but original with explosive color and design. 

Wait! There in front of me are two men posing.  One is wearing a gilt tapestry dress with effervescent ruffles. He resembles a slice of lemon meringue pie.  His face is painted but he is wearing no mask.  He stops, poses for the crowd with oddly stiff expressions.  His companion is so overweight, he can barely stand in his 1.5 inch buckled leather shoes.  He is clad in an off the rack King suit and carrying a Diamonique scepter in his pudgy hands.  On his head, sits a three pointed hat decorated in three pounds of ostrich feathers.  I go in for the shot, but have to trip an Asian man to throw him off course so he can't walk in front of my camera.  The photographers here are quite aggressive at times, and people are stepping in front of me.  I raise my camera high to capture that bright orange thing over there.  And then I see it- a man wearing what appears to be a three-foot wide chandelier on his head. Next to him are two other characters who seem to be horses galloping sideways through the campo.  These are men on stilts wearing horse heads and embroidered saddles. I wonder who is playing the horses asses.  It is so Cirque du Soleil. A Spanish woman bumps my arm as she meanders through the crowd.  I watch her bulldoze her way in front of the photographers and take a shot, then wander off toward the Vaporetti.  Perhaps she's inebriated. I always feel a bit more courageous after a glass.

Suddenly, the carnival seems to have its own set of rules. Letting tourists take pictures whenever and wherever, as far as I can figure, is some sort of unspoken rule in Venice.  There is a method to this madness.  As Chandelier Head tires of being photographed and walks away from the crowd, another tourist approaches him for a photo.  He stops, which creates an entirely new crowd of onlookers, and the situation replays.  Quickly, I learn to maneuver, push ahead, hip check anyone in the way, and get the shot.

As I spent an entire week in Venice, I observed so many people, and such a cornucopia of costumes that I came to understand the underlying sense of freedom that one attains when wearing a carnival mask.  The mask is actually a portal for the imagination to have a sort of out-of-body experience.  When you wear a mask, it gives you a special freedom to hide who you really are from the world, or at least who the world thinks you are.  You disengage from your real self and become suspended in a lost era. It is more than simply attending a party.  It is a transference of soul, body and mind to another time, another place, and another personality.

As I photographed these ethereal costumed beings, they posed willingly and longingly as they gazed dramatically into my camera lens, sometimes caressing my camera with a gloved finger.  (I wondered where that glove had been.) They would walk on, after a paparazzi frenzy of about ten minutes of posed shots, then slither through the crowds seeking another vantage spot from which to draw attention from more cameras and onlookers.  The eyes are all I could see of their actual bodies.  The masks hide expressions and emotion, dewy young skin, or sagging lines. Even inadequate dental care is not obvious.  I didn't  know the age of the person behind the mask, and sometimes the sex was an enigma.  After a person puts on a mask, the transformation became evident.  The masked person is playful, energetic, glamorous and outgoing.  A masked person actually becomes a character in a perfect film. 

One of the most memorable moments I had that week was when I stopped to peer into a glowing window of the famous Caffe Florian alongside Piazza San Marco.  The man sitting at the window was wearing a fully masked head of a wolf, in a white cotton Pirate shirt and billowy silk trousers, as he photographed his partner dressed as Queen Elizabeth, complete with fan and pearls.  A more thorough look around the room revealed a flock of women wearing tall white wigs and 18th century gowns made of velvet and lace, all pouring themselves tea from silver services and eating crème broulee. I soon found out they were disguising themselves as Marie Antoinette's tea servants.  For at least 15 minutes, it seemed as if I were also in their dream.

As the Venetian culture seems so inspired today by Carnival and all that it entails, I found it hard to believe that this festival was actually banned by Mussolini's fascist parties in the 1930's and only relatively recently revived by local Venetian artisans in the late 1970's.  There were parties in countless palazzos the  week I was in Venice, and many tickets sell for more than 500 Euros.  The origins of the masked carnival remain a mystery although many believe that the festival originated in the 12th century to mark a military victory.  Today, the city showcases Venetian culture during this time frame and many of the entities behind the masks are hired by the city of Venice to add charm to the ambiance for tourists.

As I wandered the streets, I explored a plethora of mask shops where authentic Venetian artists create these works of wonder by hand on a variety of substrates.  Venetian masks can be made of leather or porcelain, or can be created by using the original glass technique. The original masks were much more simple in design and decoration. Nowadays, most of them are made with the application of gold leaf and gesso and are all hand-painted using natural feathers and gems as decoration. It is a shame that many knock off masks are infiltrating the market from China, causing a great deal of concern to the authentic traditional mask artists who pass their trade down from generation to generation.  Nevertheless, the real thing is available in Venice, and many artisans will allow you to watch as they create their masterpieces.  I felt particularly fortunate that I was allowed to photograph them at work as well as their finished pieces.

My one piece of solid advice from this experience is this: Do not attempt to dress in costume for Carnevale.  No, I did not buy a ticket to a masked ball. I did not even wear a small Cat Woman mask as I ran the streets with my camera to capture all the glory for posterity.  I firmly believe that you can come to Venice as an onlooker, (a traveler or a photographer) and not as a participant in this infamous Carnival, and still revel in its uniqueness and eccentricities. There is plenty to experience about Carnival by walking the streets, partaking meals in the cafes, and attending the theater. In fact, I did see hoards of teenage girls from Nebraska who painted their faces with sparkly butterflies, and several elderly Germans whose makeup was so harsh they glowed from across the Campo.  I saw youths from Bologna wearing three-faced masks with peacoats and scarves, and goth girls with pink hair and black capes, but I chose not to be one of those.  I strongly advise leaving the pageantry of this event to the professionals who are either paid by the city or to those who employ their own live in seamstress who can create these other worldly outfits and Voguish cover shots.

Venice is definitely one of the most interesting cities I have ever been in.  It's flavor changes with the events of the seasons.  I never fail to enjoy exploring its alleyways and canals, nursing a latte in a sidewalk café, or boating out to surrounding islands filled with crystal and lace. Venice is, of course, picturesque, charming, magical, a city that floats on water.  It has become a sort of Disneyland for adults.  It is an unreal place of romantic charm, but come to Carnival one year and be transported through time. You will not regret your visit. Come see the throngs of fabulous fashionistas who hide behind the masks!  Come throw some oranges and then sit down to a feast of codfish and polenta!

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Europe Grand Canal Italy Lillis Photography Lillis Werder Mardis Gras Piazza San Marco Venezia Venice art blog carnival costumes decor fashion festival humor image mask masks party photography photos tradition travel http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/12/in-venice-life-is-a-carnival Mon, 29 Dec 2014 06:24:21 GMT
Abandon Your Daily Hell - Nothing Boring in Budapest http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/9/abandon-your-daily-hell---nothing-boring-in-budapest Karpesi CemeteryThe grief here is palpable.

Budapest is quite picture-perfect, and being a photographer, I rank this high on a destination's list of desirable characteristics.  Composed of Buda and Pest, you get two cities for the price of one.  The regal past of the Austro-Hungarian Empire is evident but the grimy industrialism of Communism remains in the mix to this day.  Pest's landscape is quite flat while Buda is perched on high hills overlooking Danube sunrises and the Gothic architecture of the Hungarian Parliament building.  I chose a hotel adjacent to Fisherman's Bastion and the Castle where views were stunning both day and night.  The neighborhood where we resided is old-world and chock full of ancient doorways, parks, old churches, and the Royal Palace complete with its grounds of lively equestrian statues and sparkling fountains.  Walking seems to be the transportation mode of choice as several winding paths lead up to Castle Hill culminating near the famous Chain Bridge. 

Upon arrival to the city, however, walking to our hotel was not an option.  We hoisted our carry-ons off the plane and made our way to the main arrival gate to find a local taxi company to drive us to the Hilton Hotel high on Castle Hill.  I didn't realize the taxi drivers here are dare devil race car enthusiasts who don’t give a second thought to driving down the wrong side of the road to screech past a car on narrow two lane highways.  I know I screamed more than seven times on that ride to the hotel.  I heard myself praying out loud and fumbling for the middle seat belt to give me added protection from being hurtled out the window at the next intersection.  It was an excruciating 40 minutes to our hotel.  I was never so grateful to exit a vehicle.

Our room overlooked the beautiful brownish (not the sunny blue that Strauss wrote about) and somewhat muddy Danube (there had been several days of rain prior to our arrival) with outstanding views up and down the river.  After a much needed three-hour nap, we made our way out of our room for the evening to explore the surrounding neighborhood.  The hill town of Buda grew up around its castle and Matyas Church from the beginning of the 13th century.  Buda flourished under kings and wealthy German merchants who set up shops to supply the royalty.  The area was later destroyed by the Turks and again by their evictors and later rebuilt after World War II.  Fisherman's Bastion, located in our hotel's backyard, and a Unesco World Heritage Site, was designed by Frigyes Schulek in 1895.  By its name, one would think it was built as a defensive structure, but no, it serves instead as a viewing terrace.  Some of my most memorable shots in Budapest were taken from 5:50AM to 6:30 AM (I am grateful for jet lag at times) watching a stunning golden sunrise through those magical arches.  The conical towers of the Bastion were made to resemble the tribal tents of the early Magyars.  Many nights, we sat on the stone benches of the Bastion to gaze at the fully illuminated Parliament building and the other famous iconic structures along the river, talking with others who were visiting this magnificent city.  There is no worry of crime or concern for safety in the wee hours, and the streets are rarely overcrowded.  People are friendly.

To appreciate the remarkable views in the city, the next best thing to renting a helicopter is taking the funicular railway that starts in Adam Clark Square.  The Budavari Siklo was originally intended as a quick and inexpensive commute for workers employed in the Castle district at the top of the hill.  It is now entirely a carnival ride for the tourists.  The quaint wood-panelled carriages look like tiny, antique garden sheds, and seem to be in excellent shape for their age.  Their near perfect condition is explained, however, by the fact that the original machinery of the 1870 Siklo was destroyed during the WWII.  The current railway is a replica that was built in 1986.  The ride lasts a mere 90 seconds and, and costs 1,000 forints (almost £3) per adult.  It's a cheap thrill, but you barely have time for one good photo.

Being the cemetery enthusiast that I am, our first day's priority was Kerepesi Cemetery.  It was a long two-hour walk across the Danube and through a maze of city streets in Pest before we finally arrived at Kerepesi on the opposite side of town.  Exploring at street level, though. is always best as it reveals countless small surprises along the way.  Since 1847, Karpesi Cemetery has served as final resting place for many of Hungary's most prominent citizens.  Achingly poignant, distraught statues adorn many of the graves.  I was searching for the most mournful, wretched and miserable figures and they were here in this place.  I was not disappointed.  You could cut the sorrow with a chainsaw.  The stone people seemed to be ironically alive with pain and torment as their grief was palpable.  Those not buried in single tombs reside in ancient mausoleums, some crumbling in ruin.  It was magnificent.  There are tombs of poets, actors, writers, sculptors, painters composers and architects sprinkled throughout the gorgeous green park-like setting.  Tree-lined roads lead to several smaller areas of the cemetery where off in the distance, you could spy a distraught female figure kneeling in the overgrown grass, weeping into her robe.  Giant stone angels stood tall with wings outspread guarding their departed.  Many have called this place the Père Lachaise of Hungary.  We were the only people there that afternoon which added to its mystery.  Karpesi is a remarkable cemetery and well worth an afternoon stroll.   

Most visitors leave Budapest without ever trying one of the famous spa baths that are a relic of the Turkish occupation of the area centuries ago.  The water here comes from natural springs and is rumored to have healing properties.  Budapest has more thermal springs than any other capital city in the world.  An amazing 70 million liters of thermal water rises to the surface daily.  The hot springs have given birth to dozens of medicinal baths and to a bathing culture dating back to Roman times.  In lieu of actually getting into one of these famous spa baths, though, we opted to do the next best thing.  We visited one and took paparazzi photos of all the bathers.  It is amazing what you can capture with a long lens and a little patience.   

One of the most enjoyable activities we did was to rent a replica Model T car complete with suicide doors and a uniformed driver.  This well-informed guide drove us from the hotel, all the way to Hero's Square, through neighborhoods where local Hungarians lived, down the fanciest of shopping districts, through famous landmarks, and back across the Danube to our hotel, all in an hour and a half.  There are only four of these special cars in Budapest.  It was so unusual that people on the street stopped, stared, waved and photographed us as we passed.  We felt like the Royal Family in this classy convertible.  I found myself waving with a backwards hand like Queen Elizabeth by the end of our ride.  After our tour ended, I suddenly realized I had forgotten to ask the driver for a receipt for our payment.  I ran back out to the car and said, "May I have a receipt?".  He promptly replaced his cap and strode back to the rear of the car and opened the back door so I could "reseat" myself.  It took me a minute to realize the misunderstanding.

Of course, no trip to a famous European destination is quite the same without stopping in for a couple of t shirts from the local Hard Rock Café.  My son always wants a new t shirt along with his burger and fries.  We had the best view in the house in front of their largest music video screen and hundreds of rock and roll relics framed and hanging on the walls surrounded us.  From cheesy burgers to something far more sophisticated, that same day, we chose a late afternoon fete at the Four Seasons.  Stopping by for a bathroom visit, we couldn’t help but become entranced by the ballroom music emanating from the grand piano in the Louis 14th style dining area of this magnificent palace.  The hotel resides in Gresham Palace, one of the most graceful Art Nouveau buildings in the city, and was commissioned by the London-based Gresham Life Assurance Company.  It occupies a prime location in the square on the Pest side of the famous Chain Bridge.  I was actually quite comfortable in the ladies room, complete with overstuffed upholstered antique chairs, piped in music, thirsty terry cloth towels and scented Provencal lotions.  I spent a good 20 minutes in that royal toilet enjoying the ambiance and luxury of the Four Seasons.  I finally emerged, smelling of Lily of the Valley and feeling rejuvenated to find my son fast asleep on a marble encased lavender couch in the lobby, covered in our backpacks and camera gear.  I could have remained in the throne room longer, but hunger overcame me, and petit fours and finger sandwiches called my name.  For a mere $30 each, we enjoyed the most delicious steaming pots of Jasmine tea, and three plated layers of intricate, sinful delicacies, all warm from the oven.  What we could not consume, were neatly packed in cardboard containers surrounded in tissue and placed in a fancy, colorful shopping bag, tied neatly with ribbon.  I photographed the magnificent and very tall Paris flower market style floral arrangements that surrounded the lobby chairs on the way out.  We also posed with the Ferraris and Porches that were for sale in the circular drive in front of the hotel.  I did check the rates for the Four Seasons and the rooms started at $350 per night with a view of an ordinary alley ranging to $3000 for a pent house suite.  Maybe we should upgrade for our next visit!

Budapest is home to the third largest Parliament building in the world.  The Parliament Building covers an area of 193,750 sq feet, has 691 rooms, 12,5 miles of stairs and it is 315 feet high.  There are 90 statues on the façade and 88 pounds of 23-carat gold was used to decorate the interior.  Almost all literature about Budapest features a photo of this striking building.  We spent an afternoon walking its perimeter and caught a couple of wedding couples having their photos taken on the lawn.  We also witnessed the changing of the guard with strutting soldiers struggling to hang on to some sense of decorum amid the camera-clicking hordes.

St. Stephen's Basilica was the next stop on our itinerary.  Dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Hungarian Christian king, this church was begun in 1851.  It was built in the classical style and its dome is as high as the dome of the Hungarian Parliament.  We chose to photograph the ceiling of its interior, a magnificent golden, painted mural.  Afterward, we took the lift to the dome for panoramic views of the city.  Perhaps the most unusual relic in Budapest resides in this church.  The mummified forearm of King Istvan is housed in the aptly named "Chapel of the Holy Right Hand".  I like the fact that they label things so concisely.  If you look closely, you can see that King Istvan was in dire need of a nail trim before his demise.  All the details of his hand are eerily and pristinely preserved.

I was on the lookout for ancient and ornate doors and windows on this trip, and there was no disappointment on the famous Andrassy Street, a very swanky shopping area with loads of expensive and very desirable retail therapy.  I was a total door whore.  There were doors with naked stone women supporting the side balconies, doors with old metal locks and arched tops, doors of every color and texture, doors to make your mouth water.  The Hungarian State Opera House is also on this famous street, complete with Egyptian sphinx statues and heavy, wrought iron lanterns.  Opened in 1884, the State Opera House was built to rival those in Paris, Vienna, and Dresden.  Its beautiful architecture and interiors were the life's work of a great Hungarian architect named Miklos Ybl.  The symmetrical façade of this building follows a musical theme.  A sculpture of one of Hungary's most prominent composers, Franz Liszt is featured just outside the front entrance.  Strolling down Andrassy Street took a good part of an afternoon as we were lured into several shops to explore, including a delightful Nespresso shop, where we sampled 12 different types of expresso, feeling really awake by the time we left, and then explored a fabulous sunglass shop, and investigated a number of fancy dress shops.  My most unexpected fabulous fashion find was a handmade, white cotton blouse made in, of all places, Bolivia.

One day, we decided to leave the hustle and bustle to explore one of the famous Danube towns called Szentendre (Saint Andrew).  It lies only 16 miles north of Budapest.  The most scenic way to get there was by boat which was close to our hotel.  We walked several staircases down to the Danube and boarded a vessel in the early morning.  Most of Szentendre's older buildings date from the 18th century.  Upon early examination, we thought this town was a mere tourist trap, but as we explored, we didn't want to leave.  We began our visit with a steaming bowl of goulash soup served at a small cantina near the docks.  It was our first local fare, and it was delicious, served with oversized hunks of fresh bread and smeared with globs of paprika sauce.  We wandered the cobblestone streets, found enchanting old churches and courtyards, shops, cafes, and fresh foods being cooked by street vendors with sizzling fish and vegetables in the bright sunlight.  This charming town boasts handmade ceramics, sculptures, and markets that show the real deal for small-town Hungarian charm.  There is a plethora of handmade Hungarian items to bring home.  If you go to Budapest, you simply must take a daytrip detour to one of the smaller outlying towns.  There are three that are recommended: Szentendre, Vsegrad and Esztergom.

Another remarkable structure in Budapest is the largest synagogue in Europe, aptly called the Great Synagogue.  It was built in a Byzantine-Moorish style by a Viennese architect in 1854.  It has three naves, and following orthodox tradition, separate galleries for women.  Together, the naves and galleries can accommodate 3000 worshippers.  In the courtyard, there is a famous holocaust memorial of a weeping willow sculpture honoring the 600,000 Hungarian Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.  This memorial was partly funded by the Hungarian-American actor Tony Curtis.  We spent an hour here, learning of the history and examining the graves.

A trip to any city would not be complete without an in depth visit to the local market.  In most countries, market stall vendors do not like photographers.  They scream obscenities at me or throw raw fish at my camera when I photograph their food, but not here.  I felt most welcomed to capture all types of meat (including fish) and produce with my camera, never fearing aggravated assault.  It was almost soothing to be so welcomed near strange food.  We made a morning journey on a Saturday to Central Market Hall filled with home grown produce from local farmers.  This giant market was rebuilt in 1999 and is a perfect place to find local delicacies such as kolbasz, or spicy salami and sheep's cheese.  Our souvenir of choice was paprika which comes in a large variety of heat and consistency.  We chose three types to bring home.  The most interesting one is the very hot and spicy creamy type which is spread onto bread much like you would spread grape jelly on toast.  It is blood red and very tasty.  Don't miss this market if you are a foodie.  The upper levels are home to a myriad of vendors who sell everything from Russian stack dolls to white, lacy aprons.  The best stack doll I saw consisted of several US Presidents, ending with Clinton who opened up to a very small doll of Monica Lewinsky.

Often described as the "Little Paris of Middle Europe", there are plenty of things to see, do, feel, taste, experience, and enjoy in Budapest.  The monuments here reflect its 1000 year old culture, and the remains make evident the Roman and Turkish occupation, and also the Communist era.  There are over 60 museums and galleries in this grand city.  The nightlife is buzzing.  We passed at least a dozen sex shops on the way in from the airport, so someone is having fun, and the restaurants offer such a variety of food, that your palette will surely never be bored.  I think the most memorable times for me were at sunrise and sunset.  That early dawn golden light over the Danube is mesmerizing and the long walk around the Royal Palace that I took one evening was truly unforgettable.  The sculptures in the city range from heart rending, sorrowful creatures to majestic, ornate, regal forms that capture the true history of the city.  Budapest is a city for all moods, for historians, for travelers, for day and night, for the inquisitive, for those who want to enjoy culture, good food, handmade crafts, spectacular views, good coffee, and especially for those who want to try and capture it all with their camera.  While Budapest is still affordable, as Hungary does not use the Euro as its currency, it's also one of the friendliest and most welcoming cities on the continent.  The Hungarian currency, the forint, is strong.  Foreign investors in the past decade have pumped billions of dollars into the country for factories and high-tech corporations.  There is $1.1 billion originating from General Electric alone.  Next year, Hungary is slated to join the European Union, and an American air base has been built 110 miles southwest of Budapest.  The economy is doing quite well.  Still, it is difficult to spend more than $30 for an excellent meal, even in the trendiest restaurants with good wine and gypsy musicians.

Trying to describe this magnificent city in just a few words is difficult.  If I had to compare Budapest to something, it would be an actress and a vegetable.  They would be Katherine Hepburn and an onion.  The more you watch this classic beauty, the more entranced you become with her charm, sophistication, and talent.  Budapest has amazing layers, both architectural and human.  The more you peel away, and the closer you get to the core, the stronger the flavor.

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Buda Budapest Castle Danube Europe European Hungarian Hungary Lillis Parliament Pest Photography Szentendre Werder adventures architecture blog cemeteries churches communism crafts dawn food four seasons hotels lillis photography lillis werder luxury markets monuments palace paprika photography restaurants river royal palace sites statues sunrise sunset tour travel http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/9/abandon-your-daily-hell---nothing-boring-in-budapest Thu, 04 Sep 2014 01:13:45 GMT
Barcelona Chic http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/7/barcelona-chic Traveling to Barcelona for the second time allowed me to undertake my new photo mission with ease and confidence.  I knew what was there, what architectural wonders to see, what renown geese resided in a specific cathedral's atrium, what cafes prepared the most delectable paellas, which views were best, where the best mimes mimed, and which bus to take to one of the world's most idyllic amusement parks.  Las Ramblas left an indelible imprint on my memory and when my son and I arrived again for our second time in Barcelona, it was familiar and warm. 

Planning a trip with a teenager, one must remember to plot the day's journey around key food establishments and to ensure that each stop provides menu choices to add up to at least an 8000 calorie daily input.  This task is quite easy in Barcelona, as there is, with the certainty that the Erotic Museums are run by transvestites, a Starbucks around every corner.  We spent over a week in this bustling, jovial town, and most days found ourselves wandering in for a quick caffeine infusion at the Las Ramblas Starbucks.  The menu there offered many of the same items we see here in the States, but also a smattering of pasta salads, chipotle sandwiches, and a few exotic and very sinful cupcakes.  My key piece of advice remains the same here. When travelling with a teen, ensure regular ingestion of either starch, sugar or just pure chocolate.  I have never had a bad day travelling with my teen when I planned for the proper food items.

Speaking of the Erotic Museum, it became a regular topic of discussion as we strolled among the myriad of pickpockets on Las Ramblas each day. (You know you are in trouble when the hotel posts a sign in the lobby that reads "The world's best pickpockets live in Barcelona.")   We would pass below the Museo Erotica on our journey to Starbucks, and on the balcony above us, we would see what appeared to be a dazzling, glamorous woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe, electric fan at her backside blowing her skirt above her head, much like those iconic scenes of the real Marilyn standing on top a subway grate, skirt blown high.  Many times, my son would squeal in delight, that blond haired Marilyn, sunglass clad, girl with the just whitened toothy smile was waving to him and actually blew him a kiss.  My son felt special, that is, until, he realized that Marilyn was actually a shapely young man with toned thighs and beefy calves.  Woe, the disappointment and embarrassment when he realized a man was throwing him kisses in the wind.  In any event, we journeyed into the museum one evening, only to find several very odd exhibits.  The most peculiar was a room with potted plants that contained vegetables that had grown in the shape of either a penis, or a female organ.  It reminded me of the people I had read about in South America who saw the shape of the Holy Mother in a potato chip.  There was also a pornographic film taken from the king's library from 90 years ago.  It was a silent movie, but the action made up for the lack of sound.

Aside from the Erotic Museum, one of my favorite attractions in Barcelona, being the cemetery enthusiast that I am, was the Poble Nou Cemetery. The Poble Nou Cemetery was built in the mid 18th century and then rebuilt and extended during the 19th century.  It is divided into three sections.  The first section is a labyrinth of seven-story high burial niches which are typical of Spanish cemeteries.  The second section is chock full of extravagant Neo-Gothic and Neoclassical tombs, ornate mausoleums, and chapels built by some of Barcelona's wealthiest families.  The third section is a mixture of niches, monuments and what is called the "fossar", or common grave where the poor were interred.  The best ornately poignant gravestone and most famous in the cemetery is called the "Kiss of Death".  It adorns the grave of Joan Fontbernat and sculpted in 1930 by Jaume Barba.  This work is so disturbing, that it completely justified our visit to the cemetery.  It is my understanding that there is a long local debate on whether or not the young, masculine man featured in the statue, is surrendering to the Angel of Death with resignation and glee, or pure disgust.  It depicts an oversized skeletal, claw endowed beast sinking its teeth into a kneeling man's neck, much like a vampire sucking on a victim.  I so enjoyed this statue and spent the good part of 20 minutes photographing it from every imaginable angle.  (For those on foot in this area, there is an excellent bathroom stop directly across from the cemetery in a large hotel.  I also rank bathrooms in cities, and this one was a firm 10.) We spent several hours inside the cemetery walls, and captured many a stone angel, some in very contorted positions, so very Cirque de Soleil style, but graceful nonetheless.  Don't miss this cemetery if you adore graveyards as much as I do.

My Russian hairdresser, who travels just as much as I, if not more, has always recommended the double decker buses to visit absolutely all the highlights a city has to offer.  We remembered her advice and bought tickets for the Hop On Hop Off bus to last us two full days.  It was just like having our own personal taxi service.  We could get off if something caught our eye, and in just 10 minutes, another bus (our own personal driver, we called him) would stop to pick us up and drive us to the next fascinating location.  The first day of our extended bus ride ended with the mountain top amusement park called Tibidabo.  I had seen this park way off in the distance from the bathroom window of our hotel room while seated in a particular place.  The park resides on the highest point above Barcelona, and boasts magnificent views.  We took the Blue Tram (Tramvia Blau if you are Spanish) half way up the mountain, but to get to the very tip top, we had to catch a funicular train from the half way point.  There is also a breathtakingly beautiful church, 575 meters above sea level, at the very summit of the mountain.   The rides in the park date back to 1889 when the park was built, but the rides are whimsical and safe, operated by sane, normal Spaniards, unlike fairs and carnivals in America, that are run by strange men featured regularly on America's Most Wanted.  On the tram's journey up and down the mountain, you will pass through Barcelona's most affluent residential area.  I took in the leafy surroundings and made sure to sneak a few pics of the homes of the rich and famous!

What is a visit to Barcelona without seeing as many of the buildings designed by Antonio Gaudi as possible?  We trekked to Parc Guell our first day and were rewarded with gigantic cypress trees providing a shady canopy over comfortable benches, and Gaudi's garden complex of elegant curving benches in the form of a sea serpent, situated on the hill of El Carmel in the Gracia district.  The bench forms small enclaves to ensure a social atmosphere for residents. It was built in the years 1900 to 1914.  To create his colorful mosaic designs, Gaudi would instruct his workers to pick up discarded ceramics and glass bottles on their way to work each morning. Gaudi incorporated many motifs of Catalan nationalism and elements from religious mysticism and poetry into his park.  I was scolded by a guard for standing on the serpentine bench to secure an elevated view for my photo, but we totally enjoyed our visit to this most famous Barcelona attraction. We also visited the infamous and very incomplete cathedral called the Sagrada Familia, and his famous Casa Batllo, a renowned building located in the center of the city.  This place is a Gaudi masterpiece.  Designed in 1904, it is nicknamed the House of Bones for its skeletal design.  It was originally designed for a single family in the Modernisme or Art Nouveau style.  The house has a unique styled roof that is arched and likened to the back of a dragon. Being inside this house makes you feel a bit like you are Jonah inside the whale.  It is a remarkable building and worth a visit.

Always remembering to stash a few extra bread slices or doughy rolls in all of our empty pockets at breakfast, putting aside the fear that we looked unusually pudgy after our morning meal, we would head out to Barcelona's Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, one of Barcelona's largest religious buildings.  The site of the cathedral has long been a place of worship.  The first basilica was built during the Roman occupation in year 343 AD.  This basilica was later burned and destroyed during an invasion by the Moors but it did not take long until a new cathedral was built in its place. The origin of the Cathedral's name comes from the co-patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulalia.  According to legend, Eulalia was a young virgin who suffered martyrdom during Roman times in Barcelona.  She was killed at the ripe young age of 13 for refusing to denounce Jesus. In front of the altar are stairs to the crypt which encases the beautiful sarcophagus of Eualia.  The site's most splendid feature, in our minds, is the 14th century cloister which consists of a charming courtyard with a lush garden where one can find different types of trees and small statues.  Also located in this delightful courtyard is a green, mossy pond known as the Well of the Geese.  The center houses a flock of white geese, exactly 13 in number, each one representing a year in Santa Eulalia's short life.  This courtyard is definitely the loveliest oasis in all of Barcelona.  Sam and I were drawn to this place each day we were in Barcelona.  It emanated a sense of peace.  The geese, however, were quite aggressive with their bread demands.  We fed them all equally, as we tried not to show any preferences, but a couple in particular, were very vocal and pushy, and, yes, geese do have lots of teeth.

Ready for something completely different after several days in the big city, we decided to venture "further afield" as Frommers guide books like to call it.  We took a 40 minute train ride to a small, lively, party city, with sandy beaches, topless sunbathers and old monasteries.  We visited the seaside town of Sitges.  There are a total of 17 sandy beaches in Sitges. My son preferred the naked ones. For over a century, Sitges has been celebrating nonstop between the months of February and March.  The festivities begin on Fat Thursday with the arrival of King Carnestoltes' spectacular appearance.  From the moment this character shows up until the burial of the sardine, which is late afternoon on Ash Wednesday, it is safe to say that Sitges moves to its own beat.  Sitges is a popular destination for gay and lesbian travelers and is now known as one of the most gay-friendly places in the world.  We ate squid at a café on the beach, photographed dogs in tutus carried around in Paris Hilton style purses, and purchased designer souvenirs from intriguing shops all along the cobblestone streets.  Sitges' praise is well- deserved and a must-see seaside town if you travel to this area.

Barcelona is a huge city with over one and a half million people.  About one third of those inhabitants visit the glorious public market each day called the Mercat de la Boqueria. One can find everything from chocolate covered insects to cold, icy smoothies, to hot meaty sandwiches to whole lamb heads stacked tall in a cold refrigerated unit.  The first record of this market dates back to 1217, when tables were installed near the old city gate to sell meat.  After 1470, the site was used as a pig market.  After 1794, it was a straw market. It was not until 1826, that the market was legally recognized and an official structure was completed.  The inauguration of the site finally came about in 1853.  In 1911, a new fish market opened and the metal roof that exists today was built in 1914.  We didn't let a day go by that we didn't stroll through this market, watching the butchers carve a leg of prosciutto or ogling a candied fig.  The photo ops were other worldly and the food was incredible.  The most colorful and unique booth housed gummy candies in every shape and size to include semblances of worms, snakes, insects, fruits, animals and odd objects.  If you watch carefully, you will likely see Anthony Bourdain or Andrew Zimmern in an adjacent booth munching a sheep's eyeball on a crusty roll slathered in hot sauce.

These were just some of the wonderful things my son and I did in Barcelona but I have covered the highlights.  Situated on the coast, complete with modern beach sculptures and locals running in the 6 AM sand, the city is filled to the brim with an unending list of exciting things to do, see, feel or eat. This is a city for anyone, a jewel in the sun.  Barcelona is unlike any other city I have visited.  It has its own culture, atmosphere, and modern, yet classic feel, with something fresh around every corner. It is weighted in history. There is avenue after avenue lined with architectural gems in stained glass, wrought iron, ornamental brick, colorful ceramic tile, spiced up with a devilish gravestone here and there. Put this city on your bucket list.  It is well worth a visit.  I've been to Madrid and I can say that Madrid is a man, but Barcelona is a woman, an extremely stylish, vain, vibrant, hot, chic woman.

 

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Spain antonio gaudi art barcelona beach blog cafes cathedral cemetery chic erotica europe food gaudi geese lillis Photography lillis werder market monuments museum parc Guell park photography restaurants sights sitges teenager tibidabo trams travel travel blog trip http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/7/barcelona-chic Mon, 21 Jul 2014 06:20:52 GMT
Travel Trauma http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/2/travel-trauma Throughout my varied journeys abroad, there have been moments, not only of sheer beauty in ancient sights, intricate architecture, fascinating people, and exotic foods, but moments that protrude in my memory like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.  There are so many souls traveling that we are bound, at one point or another, to intrude, step on, crush, break, knock over, anger, poke, squish, smell or otherwise offend a fellow traveler or resident of the country in which we are visiting. The real test in our character is in how we take these occurrences in stride, learn from them, and appreciate the humor that life tosses us like a crunchy milkbone.
 
London has long been a favorite destination of mine starting at an early age with annual visits to England with my grandmother.  I continued the tradition and visited London again during college with friends from my university.  Jet lag had always gotten the best of me and being overzealous to begin my city exploration process the very next day after my arrival has had a price to pay.  My two friends and I hastily purchased theater tickets to see Agatha Christie's Mousetrap at the Palladian Theater.  We scored large with securing front row seats at the performance.  As we watched with intrigue through the entire first two acts, we all three simultaneously began to lose consciousness as Mister Sandman took over all our motor control and we slipped into a sleep induced coma, twitching and drooling onto one another in plain view. Having slept like the dead through two solid acts, we finally awoke startled as we heard the roar of applause.  The cast were taking their bows and it had been an excellent play.  We were disappointed in our behavior but thought, we will read about the performance in tomorrow's papers to see how it all turned out.  The London Times did in fact, have a review.  It was quite the descriptive assessment of our evening.  The article, printed boldly on the front page of the paper, as we had attended on opening night show, read "The play was a complete success, the performance of the actors was indeed superb, despite the sleeping Americans on the front row." Bucket list item #512 was now checked off.  I had always wanted to be on the front page of a newspaper.
 
Eating out can sometimes pose unusual problems.  While in London on another trip with my older brother, we decided to try out some ethnic restaurants, trying desperately to escape the doldrums of British culinary arts that were, unfortunately, not so appetizing during the 1990's. London has since become a gastronomic paradise and overflows with delectable cuisine.  We ate a complete Italian meal near Victoria Station in a quiet, unpopulated restaurant.  This should have been our first clue.  Since then, my number one rule is to never enter a restaurant or café unless it is filled with people and difficult to find an empty table.  Only then do we know it is inhabitable.  After my Italian meal in Britain, I requested a cappuccino to top off my spaghetti carbonara.  As I took my first sip, something in the foam ticked my nose.  At first it seemed like the barista had added a small curl of chocolate to top off my fancy drink. How creative was this man to add my favorite sweet to a hot drink. No, it wasn't the foam, and it wasn't a tasty bit of chocolate.  It was in fact, wings…insect wings, wings that were still attached to a cockroach.  This was a very unpleasant moment. Never have I been served a "creepy crawly" as a garnish! I shrieked and loudly told the waiter about my discovery.  He quickly offered to make me a new cup of joe.  There was not even an apology. I did not leave a gratuity.  I don't think I ate much the next day.  I couldn't shake the feel of the tickle of those wings off my upper lip.  Later in the week, we decided to avoid Italian and try a Chinese restaurant near our hotel.  The food was quite good and after the main course, we quickly moved on to dessert.  My brother ordered a frozen item called a Chocolate Mint Bomb.  It had evidently been in a sub zero fridge for quite some time and was frozen so solidly that it was impossible to eat with a spoon.  The concoction had a glossy chocolate and slippery shell on the outside and boulder-hard ice cream on the inside.  In frustration, my brother took a steak knife to the bomb to crack it open and to our great surprise, it shot off his plate like a hockey puck in a Montreal Canadiens game.  The dark brown flying saucer landed three tables over on an unsuspecting couple's plate, precisely centered in a saucy Peking duck.  For the remainder of the week, we stuck to fish and chips.
 
Most of these memorable moments seem to happen during a meal.  While in the Netherlands, on a daytrip to Delft, I was enjoying a warm schnitzel and latte in a sidewalk café, giving myself a much-needed break from exploring the town.  I was seated underneath the famous Delft bell tower of the Oude Kerk (old church) nicknamed Oude Jan or Old John, a Gothic Protestant church in the old city center.  Its most recognizable feature is a 75-meter-high brick tower that leans about two meters from the vertical.  As I cut into my hot meal, the waitresses at my café began screaming in horror and people in the market below the tower all were staring up at the tower from which I had just descended.  Police cars arrived and the entrance to the church was cordoned off with yellow police tape.  Instinctively, I affixed my zoom lens to my camera to get a closer view.  The man who had just minutes before been admiring the cityscape from the summit of the tower, who stood next to me on the highest level, was now precariously perched on the railing of the tip top with his limbs swinging wildly as he was preparing to commit suicide by plummeting to the square below.  Minutes seemed like hours as we all watched and waited.  The young man eventually was coaxed down, carted off in a straight jacket, market stalls reopened and all was well in the old center that day. Although upsetting to watch this, I went on to a healthy dessert after my schnitzel in celebration of life. 
 
Not all my indelible moments have occurred while eating.  I must say that Venice is one of my top ten favorite cities in the world and the photography in that city is intriguing and always gives me a head rush.  On a trip to Venice a couple of years ago, I decided to concentrate on gondola and gondolier shots.  I found that by standing close to the bridges, I could get a very appealing perspective of the gondoliers as they passed beneath me and emerged from an old stone bridge.  I had captured a first shot of one such gondolier as he began passing through a bridge, and decided to sprint quickly to the opposite side of the bridge to catch a shot of him coming out.  In my haste, I knocked over a blind man who had just started ascending the bridge steps.  His name was Giovanni and I apologized profusely. Giovanni had fallen down the stairs dragging his white stick behind him clicking on every stone step as he descended.  I didn't realize I had such brute force in my step.  A shop owner who knew him came to his immediate aid and the man was unharmed.  I got my incredible photos from that bridge, but never do I look at those photos without thinking of Giovanni.  
 
On another trip, while in the gorgeous old city of Granada, Spain, I recall a homeless man sitting on the ground with a couple of lovely dogs listening to Madonna's "Material Girl" on his portable stereo.  He was dressed in a pair of formerly cream-colored shorts and sporting flip-flops that had been sewn together innumerable times.  I had thought that I was dressed casually. He had written boldly in large letters on his cardboard sign, "Please give generously.  I accept the following", as he proceeded to list the various forms of potential donations to his livelihood such as cash, gift cards, weed, clothing, favorite foods, mobile devices, first generation Ipads, and dog biscuits. He offered me a taco.  I politely declined.  Even homelessness, it seems, has evolved as a true profession.
 
One spring, I decided it was time to visit Amsterdam to witness the place where the world's most treasured bulb plants are harvested for the rest of us gardeners to enjoy.  I was wandering aimlessly along Amsterdam's sunny canals photographing the old stone bridges and rows of gables houses when I noticed a sign atop a drinking establishment called the "Banana Bar".  Oddly enough, I had heard of this place from a former colleague who had visited Amsterdam with friends for a bachelor party.  He had told me of the things that happen inside the Banana Bar, unmentionable things. I am still going to mention them here however. Story has it that bananas are placed inside a woman's private areas for men to enjoy their desserts. Naturally, condiments such as whipped cream are applied along with gooey syrups and such. My face: those of you who know me are already picturing it and those of you who don’t, well…use your imagination.  Their menu also featured a various assortment of other drugs listed directly under the "Appetizers" section. The Red Light district looks strangely normal during the day, although I was met with hostile faces when the prostitutes spied my big camera.  From what I have learned, the women of that district often work regular day jobs, like mortgage broker, proctologist, or dental hygienist, and don't want to be photographed doing their night jobs.  Before I left the Red Light District, I decided to have lunch in what seemed like a very pleasant sandwich shop.  As I said before, most of my memorable moments have occurred during the course of a meal.  I began to relax at a table as I perused a menu.  The petite blond waitress strutted over to my table and asked what I would like to eat.  I ordered a cheeseburger and salad.  Then I watched her as she walked away.  She reached into her deep apron pocket, took out a pouch of white powder, placed it on the bar, and began snorting lines of cocaine.  No wonder she was so thin.  No restaurant food for her.  I then noticed that she didn't wash her hands afterwards and was handling dishes to bring to my table.  I knew that drugs are legal in Amsterdam, but thought I would find a different café in another part of town, someplace where dishes didn't come with a light powdering.  I told her I had forgotten that there was someplace else I had to be, made my excuses and left.  It was a bit awkward since I had already ordered my meal, so I decided to act a bit demented as if I had recently suffered brain trauma, and she seemed less offended by my sudden departure. 
 
One would never imagine that the sheer act of photographing fresh produce would incite vitriolic rage, but in Lisbon, Portugal it can.  I was zooming in close with a macro lens on a stack of very red, glossy peppers at one of the largest, most diverse markets in town.  So deep was I in my creative zone, that I did not hear the shrill screaming of a large boned woman in a red apron behind the counter in rapid Portuguese.  I looked up to see her wielding a meat cleaver aimed at my camera.  She came running after me, apparently quite upset that I had photographed her peppers, artichokes and eggplants.  Boy those Portuguese! They have a different word for everything! I fled the scene as fast I was able, ran up a flight of stairs and hid behind a large pallet of raw fish and a gaggle of cops. Simple childhood games like hide and seek can certainly come in handy in adulthood. She searched fervently for her perpetrator for several minutes before retreating back to her station at the cutting board.  I never quite understood the cause of her rage. Perhaps she had a personal relationship with each and every vegetable, and she felt that they would be exploited in an unknown art gallery or internet site. I'm still not certain.  The moral here is: if you photograph vegetables in a foreign market, do it surreptitiously or not at all.
 
As Samuel Johnson once said, "The use of travel is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking of how things may be, to see them as they are".  Yes, travel trauma can occur anywhere and it often does. It stalks, lurks and waits for the unexpected traveler.  I have concluded that it is actually nature's way of making you look like your passport photo.
 
 
 
 
 
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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Amsterdam Delft Europe Lillis London Photography Spain Venice Werder anger blog cafe food funny humor lillis Photography lillis werder market misadventures mishaps photographer photography produce restaurants roaches trauma travel travel blog traveling http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/2/travel-trauma Wed, 12 Feb 2014 17:47:12 GMT
Ten Things I Hate About Traveling http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/1/ten-things-i-hate-about-traveling First, let me preface this by saying that I don't really hate anything. I prefer to say "dislike".  Traveling and travel adventures are excellent fodder for the mind, as it forces you to think outside the box, and solve problems analytically.  You may not always know the local language or have the needed information at your fingertips, but if you think it through logically, and remain calm, any problem can flow to a reasonable resolution.

 

 

1.  Too Many Tourists

 

“When there is noise and crowds, there is trouble, 
When everything is silent and perfect, 
There is just perfection and nothing 
To fill the air.” 
― Dejan Stojanovic

 

Problem: Peak seasons, which are typically the summer months, can pose the largest threat to your serene travel plans. If you have ever been to Venice during August, you will understand.  The locals there hide to escape the throngs, or they photo bomb your best shots in spite.  It is body-to-body on the streets and the temps are often sweltering.  The pleasures of the environment are shrouded by cloying, impassable crowds, large groups of tourists following a guide with an umbrella that has a flower attached to the tip, or children en masse from far-away schools on field trips with intent to explore the most beautiful destinations on earth, places which make you wish you had avoided.  Every person strives for a citadel where he or she can seek refuge from crowds and the masses.  Using some key strategies can ensure that it is still achievable.  

 

Solution: Book a trip off or slightly off season.  The temperatures can be quite mild, and all those annoying gaggles of students are doing what they should be doing...studying in a school somewhere far away from where you are.  If there are still too many souls circulating your destination, walk off the beaten path to explore the roads less travelled, and find those bends and hidden views that reveal the indigenous culture that the tour buses omit.  Carrying the "off the beaten path" tip even further, select a destination in the first place that is not the most popular, but still fascinating and affordable.  For example, choose Lisbon over Paris.  While on your trip, be an early riser and fall out of bed just before dawn to capture the real city as the sun rises over the river, and the pinkish hues of morning gently drape the rooftops.  Seeing a city at dawn, while others are still in bed with the Sandman will ensure a far more private viewing.  To avoid a six mile queue of a famous museum, book a visit and entry time online for the day of your choice before you ever leave the comfort of your computer chair at home.  This gives you immediate entry on the day of your visit, leaving all those unorganized, inexperienced tourists in the dust.

 

2. Trip Packages Cost an Arm and an Armed Robbery

 

Problem: Let's face it. Trips abroad are expensive.  Even a trip planned well in advance can put a large dent in the pocket. 

 

Solution:  I scan the news on a weekly basis for those terrifying and horrible events, such as plane crashes or cruise ship tragedies.  While it may sound morbid, these things are regular occurrences in our contemporary world.  Who can forget the ship that left its passengers stranded for over a week with stopped up toilets and a food supply consisting of only onion sandwiches?  Some of these events are non-life threatening, but still yield spoils to the alert and flexible traveler. As soon as you read of an unfortunate event, be it with an airline, cruise line, or train, keep your fingers close to your Ipad or smart phone.  Load your devices with several of the best travel apps.  You will soon see a drastic reduction in online prices for airline tickets, or cruise packages.  Some occur the very same day of the tragedy.  The affected companies will do everything it can to spare their profits, or worse, closing their companies down due to one unfortunate incident.  I call these travel opportunities "Crash Sales".  Don't be afraid to capitalize on them for your vacation plans.  Even something as simple as a passenger falling off a ship into the ocean unharmed can drive down luxury cruise prices for a good week or two!

 

3.  Annoying Passengers Seated Next to You

 

Problem: Your socially challenged seat mate wants to begin a conversation with you the moment you are seated and continues to attempt conversation during the entire 8 hour trip.

 

Solution: I take magazines with me when I travel.  My magazines, just like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's infamous brooches, send a message to those around me which I hope discourages unwanted friendly exchanges.  I have been known to break open a copy of Bitch Magazine as soon as I strap in, or another long-time favorite of mine, Guns R Us.  In addition, I avoid smiling at anyone (if I am feeling reclusive, and my seat mate isn't cute), and sport a look on my face akin to the one worn if I had just seen a roach on my shoe. If all else fails, wait until your wannabe paramour utters a few words to determine his or her native language.  Then, pretend not to speak that language.

 

4. Jet Lag

 

Problem: Arriving at your destination too exhausted to enjoy your first couple of days is a hassle .  What I strive to avoid is becoming acclimated during the very final days of my trip, and then returning home to another several days of adjustment.

 

Solution: Take Benadryl on board, just after eating that "fabulous" dinner served by the airline.  Benadryl has an amazing ability to cause drowsiness on command while skipping the drool phase.  In addition. book an evening flight out of your home city to assist with natural body cycles of sleeping overnight.  Upon arrival, just as soon as your hotel admits you into that oasis of soft sheets, and overstuffed and overfluffed pillows in your room, take a long nap.  Rest yourself and get up just in time to fortify yourself with a large, delicious ethnic dinner, before hitting the hay once again to sleep through till morning.  This tactic has worked well for me, and I have felt energized and charged for the next day at full speed.

 

5.  No Public Toilets and Diarrhea

 

Problem: Unusual foods in foreign places can cause a gastrointestinal upset.  The most common problem is that there is no public restroom nearby when you need one.  The operative word here is "need".  The second issue is that the condition of these so-called restrooms can be so deteriorated and abominable that they offend all of our senses.  Often, there is no toilet seat, no toilet paper, and at times, there is no real toilet.  There may only be a mere hole in the ground, on top of which one must squat.  This does have some benefits.  It increases muscle tone in thighs and can be better than some advanced yoga positions, developing a balancing ability that rivals the skills taught in the classes at your gym.

 

Solution: Never leave home, or even your hotel room, without loperamide and a packet or two of tissues in your backpack.  As a backup, remember to take extra napkins to stuff in your pockets while eating at local restaurants.  These can come in quite handy. When entering a foreign "water closet", as they are so often termed, have tissues ready in hand as maneuvering inside can be tricky in small spaces.

 

6. Tenacious Solicitors and Beggars

 

Problem:  Solicitors and/or beggars who follow you around and pester you to purchase something or give them money.  These individuals are often quite skilled in individual and collective persistence.  They see you reject the advances of their sales associates, and still they badger, beg, or annoy.

 

Solution: Avoid any and all eye contact with these sales predators.  If you see them at a distance, cross the street or change your route to avoid them.  If all else fails, try to sell them stuff, or ask them for money to help finance your own trip.

 

7.  Delayed Flights and Missed Connections

 

Problem: One of my most memorable delays occurred in Atlanta, which is now an airport I avoid like SARS or a doctor's waiting room during flu season.  I boarded my plane on time, and we all sat, seat belted into our chairs for an hour until we were told to disembark as there was a "mechanical problem" with the airplane.  We impatiently waited in the gate area for an additional hour until we were informed that the crew never arrived for our aircraft.  At that point we were all directed to rearrange our itineraries and reserve a hotel in Atlanta for the night.  The next morning's flight was again delayed due to an unexpected Presidential motorcade blocking the entrance to the airport.  These unexpected delays changed all my plans for arrival in Italy, and shortened my carefully planned and meticulously organized stay.  My flight was ultimately delayed for an entire day.

 

Solution:  I asked the airline in Atlanta if it was possible to change my return date in order to allow me one more day in Florence.  They said "of course, for an additional $1500."  Very frustrated I went on with the next leg of my trip, arriving in Paris before my connecting flight to Florence.  I waited in line at the Air France ticket counter and explained my situation once again.  The attendant behind the counter accommodated my request without the blink of an eye, and with absolutely no additional charges, extended my trip an additional day.  My tip here is don't give up.  Ask more than one person in charge at the airline to extend your trip an additional day if your delay has cost you valuable time at your destination.  Another tip here is to always be pleasant and courteous when dealing with airline personnel.

 

8. Puking Children on Airplanes

 

Problem:  Many passengers get airsick.  A large number of passengers are children who tend to experience projectile vomiting.  These children do not appear to understand common social courtesies of turning their disengorging heads the opposite direction of an adjacently seated or standing person.  I have been an inadvertent target for more than three episodes of exorcist vomiting on an overseas flight.

 

Solution: Be sure to use that in-flight blanket strategically.  As soon as the flight begins, open that cellophane prison that contains your courtesy blanket, and carefully lay it about your lap, being sure to cover the tips of your shoes.  This is particularly effective if you are so unfortunate to be next to a mother holding an infant.  In my experience, the feeding process generally goes smoothly.  However, it is during the burping phase that infants regurgitate the contents of their stomach randomly in my direction.  Having this protective blanket around your lap, legs and shoes will give you the added protection that you need.  Another all-important tip: warily observe those around you.  If you see a child, or  even a teenager run for the bathroom gulping for air, rest assured that a vomit session is eminent.  Avoid that person at all costs.  Change lines for the restroom or go to the opposite end of the plane.  Even if you use the same restroom after the vomiter has purged his partially digested score of fast-food, the restroom will be in no condition for a pleasant visit.


9.  Drawbacks of Flying Coach


Problem:  Airplane cabins can be noisy and those around us often discuss the most intimate details about their lives as if they are on stage.  Food choices are limited and movies and shows may be things you have already seen, or things you never wanted to see in a million years.

 

Solution:  Bring your own eye mask, ear plugs and slippers.  Make your little area a flying first class spa.  Pamper yourself with either Bose noise canceling headphones, or ear buds connected to your Ipad or other device equipped with 16 episodes of Sex and the City.  Do whatever it takes to sweep yourself away into a mental dreamland.  I also like to pack my own snacks so I am not dependent on two Danish butter cookies from the flight attendant or 12 honey roasted peanuts with a half glass of Sprite.  Bring your own gourmet meal if you want, and your fave beverage.  Surrounding yourself with the comforts of home, such as movies of your choice, fleece lined bunny slippers and Toblerone bars are my recommendations. 

 

10.  Lost Luggage Nightmares

 

Problem:  You lose your luggage and it never appears on your vacation.  You end up purchasing emergency underwear at your destination and buying essential clothing from designer stores.  Grand total spent replenishing your necessary items: $2,000.  After six months, you believe you have surmounted the pain of being deprived of your cherished items inside your Louis Vuitton rolling suitcase.  Months later, while watching the Travel Channel's Baggage Battles, you are stunned to see a Louis Vuitton rolling suitcase in hotrod red, exactly like the one you lost, gracing the screen.  After it is purchased in an auction, garnering a price tag of $5,000, it is opened to reveal your leopard skin thong given to you as a Valentine present from your husband, or a bottle of a prescription sex-aid medication with your name on the label.

 

Solution:  Only take carry-on items.  Never.  Check.  Your.  Luggage.  Enough said.

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) amenities baggage battles blog children delays flights funny hotels humorous illness jetlag lillis Photography lillis werder lost luggage photography problems solutions stories tourists travel travel blog vomiting http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2014/1/ten-things-i-hate-about-traveling Fri, 03 Jan 2014 20:32:22 GMT
50 Mindblowingly Easy Things to Accomplish Before You Die http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/12/50-mindblowingly-easy-things-to-accomplish-before-you-die As I have wandered around the book stores this time of year, I continually see those annoyingly robust books that read "100 Things to Do Before You Die", or better yet, "1000 Places to Visit Prior to Your Expiration Date".  Well, I decided to create my own far simpler list of vastly more affordable items for a better bucket list.  My items are not only easier on the money belt, but simple to accomplish, and still touch on that irresistible urge to travel and explore our world .  Here are "50 Mindblowingly Easy Things to Accomplish Before You Die". Let me know how you score, particularly if it is higher than 30%.

1. Ride an elephant.  If India is too far to journey for this, attend the annual pet expo and pay $10 for a five minute ride.

2. Eat so much of one thing that you feel unable to walk, stand or sit comfortably.

3. Buy a bottle of Chianti, a prosciutto ham and some melon.  Rent the Italian Job and wear your sunglasses while watching the movie.

4. Learn to say one key travel phrase in five languages, preferably "I'll take ten of those and mail them to this address."

5. Fly to Amsterdam and order an opiate off the lunch menu of a sidewalk cafe.

6. Ask strangers on the street what day of the week it is and then offer to take their photograph.

7. While in Barcelona, insist that you thought you were eating in a topless bar, not a "tapas" bar. Become so annoyed that you leave before paying the bill.

8. Buy a beret in Paris and stubbornly never stop wearing it, even in summer.

9. Take off your shoes and socks while visiting a local fountain.  Wade in and sing La Vie En Rose softly to avoid attention.

10. Take a cruise to nowhere from Norfolk, VA. Gamble once you've reached international waters and return home the next day.

11. Eat several tablespoons of raw brownie batter.

12. Write a poem.  Any haiku will do.

13. Drink tonic water with lime at a Christmas party.  Act increasingly inebriated as the evening wears on.

14. While online, participate in an unsavory chatroom.

15. When a stranger asks you to take her photo, photograph her cleavage only using the zoom option.  Thank her when you return the camera.

16. Pretend to recognize the person in the adjacent seat on an airplane as a long lost high school classmate.

17. Try not to laugh when someone's umbrella is blown inside out during a torrential storm.

18. Eat at least one chocolate covered insect while visiting a foreign market.

19. Carry uneaten bread with you to feed random ducks encountered during your day.

20. Purchase travel books at Barnes & Noble for five different countries explaining to the sales clerk that you have a very busy week planned.

21. Wear rubber galoshes on a hot, dry day.

22. Celebrate New Year's Eve in Florence, Italy. At midnight, greet everyone you see by saying "Banana" instead of "Bon Anno".

23.  Wear unattractive, but comfortable walking shoes intended for the opposite sex on your next trip.

24. While exploring a new city with your camera, go somewhat out of your way to photograph someone who is hot.

25. Order a Star Wars robot from the Sky Mall magazine on the airplane.

26. Photograph someone's bottom.

27. Order a special meal whenever you fly always trying out various ethnic menus.

28. Forget to pack underwear for your next trip.

29. Eat out at a very fancy French restaurant and carefully photograph each course before consuming it.

30. On your next plane ride, take a copy of the Kama Sutra as reading material.  Make note of other passenger's reactions.

31.  Offer nametags to everyone getting on an elevator.

32. Play with a calculator in a restaurant until it spells "Hello" upside down.

33. Purchase vintage clothing impulsively.

34. Wear Leprechaun socks while travelling.

35. While using a computer in a hotel lobby, send random responses to people in the contact list of the previous person using the computer, who left his email open.

36. Fly to London and dye your hair blue at a beauty salon.

37. Ask fellow passengers if they want to join the mile high club, while winking at members of the same sex.

38. Watch a sunset from a gondola, after the gondolier has gone home for the day.

39. Buy expensive perfume from the duty free list on an international flight, then spray yourself heavily before disembarking the plane.

40. Eavesdrop on conversations at expensive restaurants. Contribute to the conversation at appropriate intervals.

41. Order five desserts at a pastry shop in Paris and eat them all at once while people are watching.

42. Choose an ordinary object such as a doorknob on a house and take 50 photographs of it from every angle until others begin photographing it too.

43. Wear 3 D glasses instead of sunglasses while riding a public bus.

44. Wear a color that is not in your own personal color palette.

45. While in a restaurant, insist on ordering an entree that is not on the menu.

46. Use airsickness bags for lunch bags.

47. Offer unsolicited fashion advice to others while shopping in a foreign country.

48. Disinfect all chairs before sitting in them.

49. Sit uncomfortably close to an unknown person on a park bench.

50. Hire a taxi. When the driver asks where you want to go, say "To infinity and beyond."

 

And your score is????

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) 50 things airplanes before you die blog bucket list buses funny humor lillis Photography lillis werder list photography restaurants travel travel blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/12/50-mindblowingly-easy-things-to-accomplish-before-you-die Sat, 07 Dec 2013 22:47:42 GMT
Cities' Eccentricities http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/11/cities-eccentricities Kutna Hora, Czech Republic: The Ossuary: 

I have visited the Czech Republic two times, and on both visits made it a priority to travel to the charming town of Kutna Hora, an hour's drive from Prague, to visit the Ossuary (affectionately known as the Bone Church).   Upon arrival in Prague, I promptly arranged a day trip to Kutna Hora through the concierge at my hotel.  The next day I found myself in the middle seat of a minivan, wedged in between eight other travelers from various parts of the world heading madly down the highway to the Ossuary.  But how did this place begin?  Legend has it that in the 13th century, Jindřich, the abbot of Sedlec monastery, returned from a visit to Palestine to the grave of the Lord, returning with a pocketful of holy soil and sprinkled it on the cemetery surrounding the Chapel of All Saints. The direct connection to the holy land led to the graveyard's transformation into the most sought-after burial site among the European aristocracy and all of those living in Bohemia.  In the 17th century, there were more deceased bodies than grave sites, however, and this required an unorthodox resolution.  As a result, many remains were exhumed and stored in the chapel by a mad, half blind monk.  It is estimated that today, there are bones from over 40,000 people decorating the elaborate chapel.  The story is that a local woodcarver, Frantisek Rint, was commissioned for the artistic arrangement of the thousands of excess bones.  He discovered his creative dark side with his designs which includes six skull pyramids, among countless other creations.  He designed the grand chandelier composed largely of femur bones, but is said to contain at least one bone from every part of the body.  There are glossy skulls, all of which he bleached for a uniform effect, strung like popcorn on a Christmas tree, hanging on strings from a balcony. There is a display case filled to capacity with skulls containing wounds that were inflicted by various mediaeval weapons. My personal favorite is a coat of arms of the Schwarzenberg family, the landowners at the time, which depicts a raven clawing an eye out of a severed head of a Turk.  For the equivalent of a mere $4, one can purchase a ticket to take as many photos as desired.  The chapel is small, but brimming with bones and skulls for unprecedented photo ops.  There is an enormous pile of skulls neatly stacked on either side of the chapel behind a caged wire. Rint had a special skill for geometric designs and he possessed such an artistic flare.  Rint's unique signature is still visible on the wall today and using his favorite medium, his name is spelled out in bones. It may seem creepy and unsettling to some, but make no bones about it, this place is a "must see" if you are in the area.  

Basilica San Domenico in Siena, Italy:

While on a journey through Italy's Tuscany area, I decided to spend a day in Siena.  Wandering through the breathtakingly beautiful Basilica of San Domenico, at first, seemed like many other cathedrals until further and closer investigation of some of the smaller chapels. I saw a sign on one wall that simply read "Testa de Santa Caterina".  Naturally, never leaving home without my Italian dictionary, I quickly flipped the pages to the T's until I located the word "testa". "OMG" I thought! Testa means head. 

Legend tells that Saint Catherine, at the early age of seven, began having visions.  She saw Jesus on a throne surrounded by saints.  As a young girl, she chose to take the vow of perpetual virginity and gave her life to nothing but worship and prayer.  Her family tried to marry her off, so in protest, she cut off her hair, scalded her body and became a nun.  Soon after she became a nun, she had more visions, this time of Jesus marrying her with a special ring made from the baby Jesus' holy foreskin rather than gold.  She never stopped seeing that ring on her finger for the remainder of her life.  Later in life, it was written that Catherine had received the stigmata, piercing her hands, feet and heart.  Witnesses said that she was often seen levitating during prayer and a priest once reported that the Holy Communion he was administering during mass flew straight from his hands into the mouth of Catherine like a holy flying saucer.  The really interesting part of this story is that she died young at age 33 and was canonized over 100 years later.  Although she died in Rome, her home town was Siena and Siena wanted her body for burial.  Realizing that it was impossible to get past a pack of guards in Rome, they decided to take her head only, hiding it in a paper bag.  The suspicious guards stopped the thieves anyway, but by some miracle attributed to the dead Catherine, the guards only saw a bag full of rose petals when they looked inside.  The head was withered like a dried prune, but again, by some miracle, it had rematerialized whole and rejuvenated after its return to Siena.  Her head was then placed in a glass-encased niche at the Basilica San Domenico in Siena, and later seen by people like me.  Not far from her head is one of her severed thumbs, another bullet on Siena's Top Ten list.  Her foot is reportedly in a chapel in Venice. (That's another itinerary to plan from Lonely Planet's "Off the beaten track" list.)  So, what I was looking at in this chapel, was the actual rejuvenated, supple head of Catherine, albeit eyes closed, but lifelike nonetheless. Her skin was fresh and dewy, much like a model's from an Age Perfect Loreal skin cream commercial. It was just unbelievable! She looked better than Cindy Crawford! Another shockingly impressive item I discovered on my travels and one I will not soon forget.

Torture Museum at the Torre del Diavolo (Devil's Tower) in San Gimignano, Italy:

Where, do you ask is this well-executed museum located in this small town? After passing through the main stone gate to San Gimignano, head straight through town, pass the second well and turn right.  It is in the third stone building on the left.  Devil's Tower is one of the more perfectly preserved of its type. Imprisonment was not considered a punishment in and of itself.  It was simply a way to take a criminal out of circulation until the trial.  To actually punish an evildoer, the offender had to be tortured, publicly humiliated, or executed in some dreadful manner. There are the usual devices in such a place: thumbscrews, flesh pickers, iron chastity belts, a guillotine and the infamous Maiden of Nurenburg, a sarcophagus with 1000 inwardly pointing spikes. Just by opening and closing the door on this device, the victim could be impaled over and over.  The walls are so thick that screams of the victims were completely inaudible.  Who would imagine such a grisly place would be nestled so discreetly in the charming countryside of Tuscany? Oddly, wine shops, sidewalk cafes, pottery stores, bakeries, and sleepy dogs surround this macabre place.  Don't forget to inspect the unwelcoming spiked inquisitorial chairs and the heinous device called the heretics fork. There's also an adjacent museum called the Museum of the Death Penalty where you can see firsthand, a collection of ancient instruments used for final punishments prior to the delivery of a death penalty.  The breast rippers might be enough to send you running for gelato in the piazza outside the museum.  The museum is quite robust and offers engrossingly fascinating descriptions of each instrument and their origins and history.   Not only do these types of places give an impression of an interesting window through which to glimpse some of the darker moments of human history, but also serve as a reminder that torture, albeit not in the same form still exists in our world today.  Frankly, the worst form of modern torture I can think of is watching episode after episode of the Kardashians after listening to Paris Hilton sing "Stars are Blind" about 50 times.  That would do it for me.

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Bone Church Europe Italy Kutna Hora Saint Catherine Sedlec Siena blog bones cathedral cities czech republic eccentric head lillis Photography lillis werder museum photography relics saints skulls torture travel travel blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/11/cities-eccentricities Sun, 03 Nov 2013 20:54:44 GMT
Full of Hot Air http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/10/full-of-hot-air  

Travelling to Albuquerque to witness an event I had long heard of and someday hoped to see, was a dream realized.  I could only imagine the exhilaration of seeing these magnificent objects as they inhale and exhale hot air, the life blood of their existence.  They are serene and gentle as they float up, up and away, carrying their owners in a vulnerable straw gondola that is suspended by wires beneath their bellies.  Vibrant, thin but sturdy, these gigantic shapes glide through the darkness each morning as the dawn patrol consisting of a dozen or so balloons, explores the sky to determine the safety for the others before the events of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta begin each day.  The sentries on patrol flicker and twinkle as they illuminate the skies for just an instant,  owners flashing their interiors with burners to sustain their buoyancy in sublime heights. 

The first time I saw these giants in person, I was in awe of the roar of the flames as they licked their way inside the balloons like a Madagascar chameleon's tongue stretches out to snag its prey.  The balloon itself is made of heat-resistant nylon to resist burning from the flames.  After being around the balloons during a session of "gassing up", one becomes accustomed to the rhythm of the flames and it becomes almost instinctive to have the camera ready at the precise moment to capture the scene. 

On September 19, 1783, Scientist Pilatre De Rozier launched the first hot air balloon called 'Aerostat Reveillon'.  The passengers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster and the balloon stayed in the air for a grand total of 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground. The first manned attempt came about two months later on  November 21, with a balloon made by  French brothers  Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier. The balloon was launched from the center of Paris and flew for a period of 20 minutes. This was the birth of hot air ballooning!  Today, balloons are used for three primary purposes:  sport and adventure flying, commercial advertising, and weddings.

There are three parts to a balloon: the basket, the burners and the envelope.  The envelope refers to the actual balloon part that fills with air.  The basket is the bottom part of the balloon which carries the passengers, pilot and propane gas cylinders.  Baskets come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, some smaller for the more intimate flights of two to three people.  The larger balloons hold twenty or more and are used for public flights.  These days, most baskets are woven from Kooboo and Palambang cane as these materials are extremely sturdy, flexible and relatively lightweight.  The cane has proven to be the most hardwearing and durable material, proving more favorable than even aluminum or composite plastics. The basket needs to be dependably strong as it is constantly on the move, being shifted from place to place.  When the balloon actually lands there is a large amount of force exerted on the basket as it hits the ground and comes grinding to a halt. The flexibility of the cane helps with the balloon landing as wicker material flexes a little, absorbing some of the energy.  It is possible to have your basket completely tailor-made to a set specification, from everything to the wall height and width, material used for padding, the floor of the basket,  and whether passenger seat belts are required.

There are two main types of basket: open and T-partition. The open is obviously an open space where the passengers, pilot and fuel are all housed in the basket in just one compartment and T-partition is where the basket is split into sections so the passengers can be separated from the pilot and canisters. The T-partitions are actually a stronger structure due to the extra struts and also allows the balloon to remain more balanced overall as weight can be spread evenly over each compartment.

­Essentially, there are only two ways to control a balloon: heat to make the balloon rise and venting to make it sink. This raises an interesting question.  If pilots can only move hot air balloons up and down, how do they get the balloon from place to place? As it turns out, pilots can maneuver horizontally by changing their vertical position because wind blows in different directions at different altitudes. To move in a particular direction, a pilot ascends and descends to the appropriate level, and rides with the wind.  Since wind speed generally increases as you get higher in the atmosphere, pilots can also control horizontal speed by changing altitude.  As this doesn't always go as planned, I looked out my hotel window one morning, located only a mile from the launch field, and saw a balloon floating rapidly down into the freeway.  It was an alarming site to see this, but the balloon somehow maneuvered itself back and landed on an SUV in the hotel parking lot instead. 

One of the most fascinating things I found through this experience is that balloons do not come in just one shape or size.  Of course, there are plenty of traditionally shaped balloons consisting of rainbow colors and designs to make the best of the LGTB community envious.  There are also scores of balloons aptly dubbed as "special shapes".  These include such celebrities as Elvis Presley, Snow White, Humpty Dumpty, Spider Pig, Angry Bird, the Wicked Witch of the West, a Creamland Holstein Cow, and Darth Vader, just to name a handful.  Some of the larger special shapes, such as a pair of conjoined Siamese bumble bee twins, proved to be a little cumbersome and despite multiple attempts, remained vertically challenged.  They lay flaccidly on the ground, desperately in need of a lift. 

To see all these wonders, one must rise at a brisk 5:00 AM, and arrive at the park by 5:30 AM in order to be there when the sun wakes up.  Preparations for the day begin before dawn, and as soon as daylight breaks, the balloons begin the mass ascension.  One balloon starts to rise, and then another, and so on, until the sky is saturated with around 500 spectacular orbs.  As a photographer, it is difficult to know which way to turn.  All directions offer amazing views and scenery.  The sky is ablaze with color, and the crowd is surrounded by surging gas flames. The heat from the burners transports me back to summer camp and roasting smores.  Referees blow their whistles to clear the way as another balloon elevates to the sky, and the crowd cheers them off with whoops and hollers.   I can't feel my toes as the grass is wet and cold and I find myself racing between balloons to freeze the moment with my lens . 

The most scenic point in the week was on a morning of a competition.  The balloons have contests between pilots for dexterity and skill, and attempt such daring feats as hooking a pair of car keys from three stories up in order to win a new car.  When the balloons perform like this, they hover like alien spaceships on the horizon, approaching the launch field in increments with careful precision.  At this point, they are perfectly still and arranged in striking clusters to resemble Christmas ornaments suspended from a tree branch.

I can always tell if something I do is really worthwhile by the way I feel about going back and doing it again.  The International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico is definitely something I would do again.  No two shows are alike and I was pleasantly surprised at my own sense of thrill over parachute fabric.  The colors are so unbelievably surreal, and the rush of anticipation is so heady, that I would be compelled to return another year to experience these phenomena again.

If you actually need to get somewhere though, a Vespa is a far more sure bet.  A hot air balloon is a fairly impractical mode of transportation.  You can't actually steer it, ­and it only travels as fast as the wind blows.  However, if you simply want to enjoy the experience of flying, there's nothing quite like it, they say.  Many people describe flying in a hot air ballo­on as one of the most serene, enjoyable activities they've ever experienced.  The silence, such sweet silence is what people find so captivating.  No screaming babies and no roar of engines.  There's only the occasional whoosh of the butane burner to break your solitude.  Floating wicker propelled by fire can be a great thing.

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Albuquerque Lillis Photography Lillis Werder adventure aviation balloons blog fiesta hot air balloons lillis Photography lillis werder photography photos prints travel travel blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/10/full-of-hot-air Sat, 12 Oct 2013 20:46:27 GMT
Turbulence: Does Anyone Know How to Fly a Plane??? http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/9/turbulence-does-anyone-know-how-to-fly-a-plane In my mind's eye, I foresee my next destinations as a starry eyed kid would envision his first prom date, sexy, mysterious, dreamy, and coupled with youthful vigor and scintillating companionship.  The journey overseas to some foreign lands, though, is not always what we envision in our veiled anticipation of perfection.  There is first the hardship of simply remaining seated for hours on end in a cramped airplane.  Those on-plane videos warning passengers of the possibility of coming down with deep vein thrombosis always come to my mind, as I sit oddly in my seat flexing one calf muscle then the next, always remembering to extend the toes and arch the foot.  Worse than the fear of blood clots, though, are the perils of bizarre seating companions with the Gods wreaking havoc on the odds of who will occupy the adjacent seat.  I recall one journey I made to the Netherlands with my sister.  On the way to Amsterdam, I was seated next to a man who weighed in at a hefty 400 pounds.  Unfortunately, there was not much room for me to squeeze around him for bathroom breaks, and at one very turbulent moment, when attempting to crawl over his tray full of hot cheesy chicken lasagna, I unexpectedly landed butt down in his plastic tray of delectables.  I had to do some emergency clothes shopping at my layover in Frankfurt.  After spending a full ten days in Amsterdam and enjoying the tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, I happily boarded my plane home, only for my bliss to be dashed as I realized the same bestial man claimed the seat next to mine on my journey home.  Oh what random luck was this!  Which God was angry with me today?

Of course, the companion issue is one thing, but it is altogether different when a fellow passenger suffers a heart attack at 3200 feet.  On one trip to London from Washington, DC,  I was enjoying in flight entertainment videos, when suddenly, a flight attendant came whishing through the cabin.  There was a cacophony coming from the seat behind mine.  "Are there any doctors on board?", she screamed.  There was a rush to find a bottle of digitalis pills, but the plane hit some unexpected turbulence and the bottle went rolling all the way back to the bathrooms at the end of the aisle, screeching to a halt as it hit a warm pile of vomit.  It took a good 15 minutes or so to locate the medicine before the situation had been alleviated.  The man recovered soon after an emergency landing in Iceland.  Not on my itinerary, but a pleasant stop nonetheless.   

Of course there are the notable Americans that one can meet on travel.  So far, I have had to pleasure of meeting the real Colonel Sanders of fried chicken fame.  He wore the white suit, boots, and hat and sported the distinguished white mustache, and thin black tie.  He appeared exactly as he does on the bucket.  I met the actors Sidney Poitier, Rex Harrison, and Food Channel Chef and TV Host of Restaurant Impossible, Robert Irvine.  You never know who lurks behind or in front of you. 

One of my worse memories was of a woman who lurked behind me on a flight leaving St. Louis, Missouri.  I had stopped off at the St. Louis Bread Factory (predecessor of Panera), and purchased four large loaves of Asiago cheese bread to carry on the plane and bring home to my family.  Little did I realize the cheese developed a pungent, fetid odor as it became warmed on the airplane floor mid flight.  The aroma levitated and swirled around the woman behind my seat.  It nauseated her, and caused her great gastric distress.  Needless to explain further, It taught me to think long and hard before bringing home  food souvenirs.

There was also that flight to Tangier.  The usual seating arrangement on most planes accommodates a seating plan for three, but not for Royal Air Moroccan (names slightly altered to protect the guilty).  This airline has decided that the most economical way to go is to simply throw up the arm rests separating the three seats in the cabin and squeeze in four individuals.  In the blistering summer heat, such proximity to your fellow man was not welcome.  As if that were not enough, some passengers were allowed to bring onboard burlap sacks containing baby goats and small pigs, some of which were allowed to wander after we had reached 8000 feet.  This flight originated in Paris, and seemed to be normal in all other aspects. There were really no prior clues that the airline had abandoned all typical protocol.  In fact, I believe they are now on that blacklist of airlines that are not allowed to land in major airports.

On a flight from Kansas City to Manhattan, Kansas, I booked a small Cessna for the hour- long romp through the skies to see my family one Christmas.  I approached the counter at the Kansas City airport, and was greeted by a man in a suit who took my identification and gave me a boarding pass.  He then asked me how much I weighed.  A bit personal, I thought, but being a Midwesterner, I felt friendly too and went along with his query and gave him a fairly accurate number, give or take a pound or two for the ham sandwich I consumed at lunch.  He then donned a hat and gloves and told me to follow him out on the tarmac. The counter attendant was in fact the pilot too! I boarded a miniscule plane and found that there were three other passengers who completely filled the back seat.  The only place for me was in the co-pilot's seat.  So, there I sat, next to the pilot, my own wheel in front of me.  Coyotes chased our plane down the runway as we took off, and when we got hot mid-flight, we rolled our windows down for a breeze.  It was one of the most unusual flight experiences I have had to date.

And then there are the scary passengers who sit next to us and wear camouflage cargo pants, and slowly break out into a sweat as others board the plane.  As I saw this passenger's choice of pant style, I immediately recalled the man from Thailand who had been arrested a month ago. He had worn cargo pants because he was smuggling sedated baby monkeys inside his trousers.  Wondering if this was a repeat performance or a copy cat smuggler, I watched him more carefully to see if his pockets moved.  I was on a trip to the West Coast, and it was just after 9/11, so senses were heightened and fellow passengers were on the alert for anything unusual.  Of course, as luck would have it, this strange man was seated right next to me.  I heard fevered mutterings coming from him as the word "gun" was vocalized.  A few minutes rolled by as I sat in agitation wondering how I would survive a six-hour flight with this individual.  Suddenly seven crew members accompanied by two air marshals asked the man to vacate his seat and get off the plane.  I was never so relieved.  I never did see any monkeys.

Fear can grip many passengers, but none show their trepidation as much as the Ecuadorians.  I took a quick hour-long flight from Quito to Guayaquil for a Spanish language program one summer.  I was relaxing comfortably in my seat preparing to read a good Sidney Sheldon novel when I glanced over and spied a woman with her tray down, a real "no-no" when taking off.  She had hastily set up several rosary beads complete with jeweled crucifix and began to fervently pray in muffled Spanish.  She crossed herself and screamed out "Maria, Santa Maria!" as we lifted off.  I wasn't even slightly afraid until I saw her display, only then realizing that the airline I was on might be somewhat disreputable.  Perhaps she knew something I didn't.

No matter where I go, or for how long, I can always count on some kind of flight mishap as a precursor to the wondrous adventures which await me at my destination. I have long ago learned that the rings of Saturn are actually composed of lost airline luggage.  Just remember those charming quips of advice that  airline employees leave with the passengers as we prepare to disembark their craft .  "Thank you for flying our airline. We hope you enjoyed giving us the business as much as we enjoyed taking you for a ride." "In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, masks will descend from the ceiling. Stop screaming, grab the mask, and pull it over your face. If you have a small child traveling with you, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with more than one small child, pick your favorite."  Last but not least, as heard on Southwest Airlines just after a very hard landing in Salt Lake City: The flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "That was quite a bump, and I know what y'all are thinking. I'm here to tell you it wasn't the airline's fault, it wasn't the pilot's fault, it wasn't the flight attendant's fault, it was the asphalt."

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) adventures airline blog fear flying heart attack humor lillis Photography lillis werder photography scary travel travel blog turbulence vomit http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/9/turbulence-does-anyone-know-how-to-fly-a-plane Tue, 01 Oct 2013 03:32:25 GMT
The Trials of Traveling with a Teenager http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/9/the-trials-of-traveling-with-a-teenager I thoroughly love traveling, and I thoroughly adore my teenage son, and putting those two elements together, at times, has proven to be quite the Ninja Warrior challenge for me.  I usually begin our trips with an intensive well-thought-out list to include all those must-not-leave-at home items, namely, a backpack filled with bags of teriyaki flavored beef jerky for constant grazing, dried fruit and nuts to add a bit of healthy ingestion, the indispensable pack of chocolate bars, a travelling DVD player for marathon airplane endurance contests, MP3 player with a 1000 song play list, and let's not forget the little bottle of imodiums.  However, no matter how finely tuned my planning, at this point in my life, I have conceded that at times we are going to be miserable, and we are going to love it.  As long as my crucial items do not totally deplete during our usual ten-day romp in a foreign land, the trip can be relatively stress free.  I carefully plan our site seeing itinerary with unparalleled geekery along the routes of important restaurants, crepe stands, the local McDonalds, popular pubs, available toilets, and gelato stores.  
 
Along our paths, however, we have had a few misunderstandings, but not between ourselves.  When I book hotels online prior to the trip, the web sites can be somewhat deceiving. I must cite a fairly recent trip to Napa Valley, California when hotels were scant, mostly full during the smoldering, last hurrah week of August before school started back up.  I booked us into a delightful place called the Rose Mansion, (names have been changed to protect the innocent), a small, intimate, private inn where you are pampered and can enjoy the perfect Napa wine tasting experience.  Little did I know that this was a honeymoon destination.  When we arrived, we were greeted with admiring glances and smirks by the hotel staff.  We were quickly escorted to our "love nest" of  a room complete with oversized bed, fluffy down comforters, extra pillows, claw foot tub, and special DVD's.  I overheard the chef when he whispered to the desk clerk, "Well, she got herself a young one!".  Sam looked a bit out of place as he took a swim that evening in a pair of Hawaiian style swim trunks as crooning couples watched, nursing their wine glasses and small herbed crackers in poolside chairs.  This feeling was only amplified when we arose the next morning to a formal breakfast room of newlywed couples, holding hands while trying to consume a poached pear glazed in raspberry sauce.  We got a few stares but smiled back with a satisfied smile, never disclosing our true relationship as mother and son.  I started to actually find this pants-off amusing after I thought about it.  Keep them wondering, was my motto, and eat dessert first.  Life is short.  A subsequent trip to Sicily yielded a similar situation in the ancient town of Ragusa.  Little did we know, but we had booked yet another romantic interlude in a place that accented the bedrooms with red light bulbs and supplied us with his and hers deluxe pink terri cloth bathrobes.  I simply disregarded those chocolate heart shaped bon bons the maid placed lovingly on our pillows at night, and realized that anyone with a brain and a pulse could see that we were not a couple in love.  Yet, none of this put a damper on our trip.  We felt oddly comforted by these amenities, and left the hotels stellar reviews.
 
There have been other somewhat embarrassing situations which have arisen from teen travel adventures.  As I take these trips to photograph various parts of the world to sell fine art in galleries, and on web sites, I strive to find a unique perspective on the otherwise painfully ordinary.  Again, while on the Napa Valley trip, my son and I had finished consuming a local specialty of a heavy version of Mexican burritos smothered in a jalepeno cheese sauce.  We were in the town of Napa, and decided it would be ideal to drive into a nearby winery to photograph the robust, plump grapes that were dangling from the lush green vines. Oh, what a fabulous photo op this would be, but I wanted a different angle (literally). My son began to suffer from post traumatic digestive syndrome, and wanted to remain in the car while I wandered out into the vineyard with my camera.  I left him seated in the passenger seat while I took my photos.  A deep slumber overcame him, and he reclined his seat and passed out as the digestive enzymes possessed him like an evil spirit.  At that same moment, I decided to actually lie down on my back between a row of vines to allow my camera to swoop in, zooming in and out, to find the most unusual view of the purple orbs from the world below.  A vineyard worker, who had just ended his shift, drove his pick up truck past our car, saw Sam limp and seemingly dead in the front seat, and eyed me lying off in the grassy underworld of the juicy grapes.  Fearing the worst, he immediately called 911 as he thought we had been attacked and left for dead.  Lucy, you got some "splainin' to do". We had to wake Sam from his vegetative state to corroborate my version of the events, but all's well that ends well, and we continued on our way through the valley after making headlines in the local paper with the little disturbance we had caused. 
 
Something quirky that we have started to adopt in our travel routine is to not settle for the usual, mundane, dull airplane meal that is served to the masses, but to request, at the time of purchasing the airline ticket online, a "special" meal.  We have chosen this option on the last six trips overseas, and enjoyed cuisine ranging from Halal to Kosher.  It is a rewarding experience to have your "special" meal served first before any of the "regular" tourists, and the meal, depending on its origin, is usually tasty, hand-selected and one-of-a-kind, at least on that particular flight.  I recall being awakened by a flight attendant who shouted in a loud whisper across the row, "Mrs. Werder! Are you Jewish??".  For a moment, I had forgotten about the "special meal", and wondered why anyone would want to know my religious preferences at 3 AM Paris time.  She handed me a foil-wrapped sandwich from Saul's Deli in New York City, overstuffed with an outrageously delectable corned beef on yummy rye bread.  Everything was Kosher and it was a meal I will not soon forget.  Sam has become a follower of my desire to sample a variety of religious menus as we circumnavigate at 3000 feet.  We leave no rock unturned as we have our list of untried cultures on the drop down menu for Air France, Virgin Airlines, Aer Lingus, United, and a multitude of other airlines.  On our next trip, which we have already scheduled for Barcelona, we plan to dine either Hindu, gluten-intolerant, or diabetic. 
 
I recall another misadventure in Portugal when overcome with a feeling of starvation, and hastily driven by Sam's hunger pangs to find a dining establishment, we plunked ourselves down into a very pleasant, outdoor restaurant equipped with wooden tables, colorful tablecloths, pitchers of cool fruit punch, and hot crusty bread.  We quickly sat down, and poured ourselves a long tall glass, smothered our bread with creamy butter and started to unwind from our 112 mile hike around the city.  After the bread came the seafood, the vegetables, the hot soup, more meat, and then on to dessert, hot coffee, a bit of fruit.  I had never tasted such a superb meal.  The waiter seemed to know what we wanted, and we were delighted.  This must have been a standard tourist fare menu as everyone in the restaurant was enjoying the same dish. We ate our fill, after relaxing for at least two hours in this fun filled atmosphere, people all around us, speaking the buzz of Portuguese and truly loving life.  We figured if the locals liked this place, it must be one of the best in all of Lisbon.  I decided to highly recommend it on Fodor's Best Bites.  After 10 PM, we decided it was time to get the bill, and head back to our hotel.  We waited and waited, scanning the crowd for the man who had served us all night, but to no avail.  Our waiter must have gone home.  After 30 minutes, we heard someone speaking English and asked her where we should pay our bill.  "Bill!?? " she exclaimed.  "This was the wedding reception for Armando and Carolina!!"  "Oh, so we were at a private party", I thought.  And we came with no gift.  
 
Yes, we have fallen into a few crevasses along our travels, marinated in trouble from time to time, but always managed to crawl our way out.  We have discovered that we are "survivory" in nature. We feel quite happy moving between places, not knowing what we will encounter in the next bend, and never allowing ourselves to settle for too long.  I have traveled alone, with friends, husband, extended relatives, and my teenaged son.  The most amusing adventures by far, seem to occur when I travel with my son. My tip is to keep him entertained, laughing, well fed, properly hydrated, and close to a source of sugar (preferably one that contains chocolate) at all times.  Follow my advice and you, too, can endure any unexpected mayhem on the road with your teen.  Just remember, on some subways, you can get fined for spitting, but you can throw up for nothing.
 
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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) California Lillis Napa Photography Portugal Valley adventures art blog fine food humor lillis lillis Photography lillis werder misunderstandings photography restaurants teenager travel travel blog vineyards werder winery http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/9/the-trials-of-traveling-with-a-teenager Sat, 14 Sep 2013 20:37:54 GMT
Life is a Highway; a Philosophic View of California's Pacific Highway http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/9/life-is-a-highway-a-a-philosophic-view-of-californias-pacific-highway We left the concrete and urban sprawl of Northern Virginia for the most exhilarating driving experience we could find.  We went where waves are beaten to froth on ragged rocks, a place of surging power that can make human affairs seem inconsequential. We flew to San Francisco where we stayed for several days before renting a cherry red Jetta to make our way down the famous Pacific Coast Highway where mountains plunge into the sea.  It was on to Big Sur and all that surrounded it.  I had read about this road as an adolescent and remembered that Kim Novak, of Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo fame, had moved there and retired to be close to all that was natural and ethereal as she lived out her later years.  I, too, wanted to see what Kim saw, and feel the way Kim had felt.   My son, Sam and I had devoted ten days to explore this area of California, and after seeing it and driving it, I realized that it rivals the beauty of the Amalfi Coast in southern Italy.  That was a sacred comparison, as nothing rivals Italy's beauty in my mind, but, alas, I had been wrong. The United States does have a big chip in this game.

We drove a length of coastline that should have taken only two hours, but instead lasted us seven.  We stopped at every vista, every pull-off there was, and not only to soak in the view, but to get out of the car and wander down crooked paths and worn out staircases descending to the sandy, pristine beaches.  Once there, we would wade into the cool ocean and sink our toes into the wet sand.  More often than not, we were the only ones there.   I photographed more rocks than the photographer for the David Yurman Christmas catalog.  What I learned from this trip was unexpected. The drive we were making was not so different from our journey through life.  At one point there would be smooth sand, calm, dainty waves, and tranquil scenes, but as we journeyed down the road, we would encounter the heavy fog, and then, as Jane Austin would say, the waves that would "dash one to atoms on crag points".   I could see the calm vistas as pleasant points in our lives, and the crashing waves as tumultuous and difficult, reminding me of bad bosses and errant relatives.  In the very early morning, there was fog so thick we could not see much of anything on the ocean side of our beloved Pacific Highway.  For all we could imagine, there was land on that side too, but we knew, in reality, there was an infinite ocean waiting below, and never at any point, were we far from that treacherous edge. 

When we would round a bend, not knowing what the next turn would bring us, we were ready to explore. There would be some trepidation, but the further along we drove, the more confidant we became, even in low visibility. It was those moments of exploration when I captured what I saw through my lens, that I felt so connected to nature, and set apart from the bustle of our overly hectic routines.  These moments of "truth" or connection to our world, are so similar to those sublime times we hold in our mind's eye and our hearts.  I'm talking about moments we spend with loved ones, or those who have passed, but still remain in our memory, moments which bring them back to life by simply remembering.  This was the kind of beauty we experienced on those California shores.  The lighthouse was there to guide our path, even though it wasn't even visible until we reversed our direction to drive back up to San Francisco.  You see, the sunlight had changed later in the day, and so had our perspective.  We knew the lighthouse was there all along, but only on the way back when the fog dissolved, did we actually see it. 

At one curve, we suddenly realized that we were actually above the clouds.  Oh yes, we had our heads in the clouds up to that point, but we eventually rose above them to look down on the clouds from our vista point hovering high over the ocean.  It was surreal.  It was, actually, heavenly.  There were others on our journey down that road.  Some were rude and blasted their horn if we stopped too long to admire the view.  A few though, were kindred spirits and they too, lingered to truly look and connect with the natural surroundings. We felt linked to them as well.

Sam explained his feelings to me in one of his most early forms of communication.  He drew a comparison to a favorite movie from his childhood.  He remembered that famous comedic character, Ferris Bueller, who said, "Life moves pretty fast.  If you don't stop and take a look around once in awhile, you could miss it." We seem to do that a lot in general, in our everyday lives.  We miss things when we are so frantic, working on our daily list of tasks.  There was a sense of freedom and elation in making that extended drive along the coast. At no point were we intent on arriving at our destination, which was also very beautiful.  In fact, as we drove, our destination seemed very unimportant.  It was not point B that beckoned us.  It was the journey from point A to B.  This had overtaken our thoughts and emotions and become what we enjoyed the most. Sharing this journey was even better, because the experience we had together is something we will always hold dear to us, no matter how much time passes.

Who knew that California's Pacific Highway is so much of a life lesson? We did not expect to learn so much about ourselves in making such a drive. It is a lesson that reminds us to savor our paths as we travel through life because those paths are, most definitely, the prime ingredients that make the trip worthwhile. 

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) 1 Big California Coast Highway Lillis Pacific Photography Sur Werder art blog car cliffs coast coastline drive driving fine lillis Photography lillis werder ocean photography photos road travel travel blog water waves http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/9/life-is-a-highway-a-a-philosophic-view-of-californias-pacific-highway Thu, 05 Sep 2013 03:21:08 GMT
No Sissies in Sicily: A Commentary on My Driving Misadventures http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/8/no-sissies-in-sicily-a-commentary-on-my-driving-misadventures One of the surest signs that you are driving in Italy is the observation of other drivers around you.  If you see other drivers with both hands in the air in wild gesticulation, and both feet on the accelerator, with their head turned backwards talking loudly to someone in the back seat, then you know, you are somewhere in Italy.  Driving is undoubtedly one of the most adventurous ways to discover Italy, bearing in mind that the speed limit in most places is 80 MPH, and no one actually observes traffic rules, lights or stop signs, let alone mothers with babies in crosswalks. The basic rule is: drive and get on with it. No rules are involved.  Everyone turns whenever they feel like it. Push or you don't get anywhere.  When I decided to spend spring break vacation with my 17 year-old son Sam in Sicily last March, I had no idea that I would be taking our lives in my hands when I signed the rental car agreement. What was I thinking?  I even declined extra insurance when I rented the vehicle thinking that this was a piece of tiramisu.  No problems here.  How hard could it be, after all?  We rented a rather large car for the area.  It was a brand spanking new FIAT 500.  It was small, by American standards, but gargantuan for Italy.  The car had a grand total of five miles on the odometer, and we felt so regal in the state-of-the art FIAT.  The car was also a hybrid and it sipped diesel at a Southern sweet tea pace.  Mileage was phenomenal. 

Prior to our trip, we had carefully downloaded all European maps on our new Garmin, whom we lovingly dubbed Carmen.  Thankfully, as we pulled away from the airport rental parking lot, Carmen locked in on our position, and began an immediate conversation with us.  Just hearing her familiar voice (one I had chosen over the internet to have a sarcastic Australian accent) was quite reassuring, in and of itself.  I slithered through the rather inadequate exit lane, and simply flowed into traffic, content that I was on my way.  Onward to Catania, ancient ruins, fishing villages, erupting volcanoes, and the splendor of all that is Italy.  I came upon roundabout after dizzying roundabout, and noticed that other drivers were blasting me with their horns. Honking at me?  What could I be doing wrong??  I forged ahead, nonetheless, and drove continually as I searched for our hotel.  We seemed to have arrived in a frenzied rush hour in our first destination, and as I realized there was no asking other drivers in a polite hand gesture if I could gently merge, the path to success lied in accelerating greatly into any new street and then driving madly down it in a purposeful fashion.  Up and over a curb, sometimes through a blood orange vendor stand, or a clump of elderly men chatting by a church.  As long as I didn't harm anyone, I just kept the pace going, and it seemed to work.

One thing to remember when in Sicily, is that road trips are actually about double the time it should take in normal conditions.  A 60 mile trip might take as long as three hours, taking into consideration the hairpin turns, the inferior pavement, and the Herculean trucks which demand passage only at the precise moment you enter one of those hairpin turns. While we were staying in the ancient city of Ragusa, we desperately wanted to explore the oldest section of town called Ragusa Ibla.  From a distance, like from Cleveland, this town looked welcoming and easy to manage in our swarthy new FIAT.  However, there were several times when we proceeded down a street, only to find that we simply did not fit.  Bringing in the exterior mirrors would occasionally solve our dilemma, but most often the only way down a street was by reverse, something that incited road rage in considerable numbers. Likewise, when arriving in Taormina, a town situated on top of a mountain near Mount Etna, we soon realized that the road up was only one way, which meant there was no room for mistakes. Nevertheless, we made one anyway.  We turned one street too soon and ended up in the driveway of the radiology department of the local hospital.  We were soon surrounded by ambulances with sirens blaring.  We were not the most popular tourists when we had to force a long line of nine other vehicles to back up so we could extricate ourselves from the mayhem.  After ultimately reaching the tourist section of old Taormina, I expertly scanned the area to decide how to maneuver the car to our hotel.  In absolute horror, I saw a sign that said the entire historic section of town was pedestrian only.  In a panic, I parked the car outside a gelato shop, and left Sam to go into a sugar coma while I figured out what to do.  I saw no solution and was almost ready to go back down the incredibly long mountain to find parking several miles away when I spied a man in charge of a small parking lot.  He told me there was one space remaining at our hotel, a fact that he oddly knew and which made me feel like I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. He said that the streets were all only one way through the entire town.  I carefully followed his directions down a five foot wide alleyway and quickly located our hotel where, indeed, there was one space remaining, and where I left my car untouched for three days.  

Most of the time, Carmen was honest with us, and she told us where places really were located.  But there were a couple of times when she lied.  Not sure why, but we suffered for her quirky dishonesty.  Returning from exploring the 2500 year-old Greek ruins at Agrigento, the sunset came too fast and anxiety set in.  We simply stayed too long at the Temple of the Gods and were forced to drive in the DARK!  This was when Carmen decided to play with our sanity.  She sent us through a fruit orchard, which at first was a lovely detour, but then came a frightful noise as loud as a sledge hammer on the right side of our car.  We weren't exactly certain what caused the noise, as there were, inexplicably, several locals dressed in black, riding bicycles with no lights, aimlessly down dirt country roads.  We didn't hear a scream when the loud noise came, nor was there any blood or body parts on the side of the road, so we proceeded to drive.  We did see tree branch pieces protruding from our side mirror which was now dangling in mosaic fashion, shattered like a broken arm down the side of our car, so we realized that a tree branch had come out of nowhere to thrust itself into our car.  Relieved as we observed there were no dents anywhere else, we went on our not-so-merry way.  Stopping for fuel an hour or so later, a gas station clerk came out to look at our disfigured mirror.  He said in a loud voice, "Scotch??"  Yes, we thought with a bit of joy, we could surely use a drink after our harrowing drive.  We thought he was going inside to bring us a swig of whiskey when he returned with an enormous Costco-sized roll of Scotch tape.  Sam quickly got out and positioned the mirror so I could safely utilize it, and the attendant rolled the tape around that sad, tattered mirror for at least 30 times.  The attendant then proudly beamed at me, smiling as he said in broken English, "Now is FIXED!" 

Parking in small towns is also cause to remember the Excedrin bottle when you pack.  Space is at a premium in towns and Sicily's traffic wardens are annoyingly efficient.  Don't forget that petrol stations close daily between the hours of 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM.  We found we usually didn't require fuel until after 3:30 PM, so that normally worked out for us.  Most city centers are off limits for cars and the paid parking lots fill up quite fast.  Italian drivers are fast, skillful, and aggressive and I soon found that after only two days I had a silly sense of euphoria when I got behind the wheel.  I felt that I was suddenly Italian and that I could drive any way I liked.  I felt invincible, super-human.  It is a mindset.  I didn't ask permission to merge anymore.  I just merged.  I stopped expecting other drivers to slow down for me or let me out.  I seized the moment.  I became a Carpe Diem driver.  As soon as I saw a gap, I went for it.  Italians do not like ditherers, so I did what I had to and I did it decisively.  It worked.  For the record, if you do travel with children, even older children in their teens, remember to travel with plastic bags.  I speak from experience when I say that car sickness is an all too real possibility on winding country roads and things can turn messy on a dime. 

Most of the driving etiquette comes from unwritten rules. Flashing the headlights to a car in front means "Don't pull out cause I am not stopping!".  Similarly, the car horn can mean everything from "Ciao", to "Watch Out", to "Let's Celebrate, the Light is Green!".  Yes, driving in the larger cities and towns can be a white knuckle experience for both driver and passengers.  Watch out for those scooters (or tree branches) that come out of nowhere. But alas, driving remains the only true way to not only see Italy but to actually experience it and genuinely feel Italian by the end of your stay.  If you don't have the skills of a Formula One driver when you arrive, you most surely will by the end of the trip!

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Fiat GPS Italian Italy Lillis Photography Sicily Werder accident accidents adventure anger art blog broken car culture driving fine garmin humorous kids lillis Photography lillis werder lost mirror misadventure parking photography photos road road trip travel travel blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/8/no-sissies-in-sicily-a-commentary-on-my-driving-misadventures Thu, 29 Aug 2013 23:46:23 GMT
The Lotus Sweetened by Summer Light http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/8/the-lotus These serene nymphs reside year round at the Kennilworth Aquatic Gardens in Washington, DC. Their graceful forms are at their fullest in sublimity around mid-July to the end of August. A lotus is actually quite different from a water lily. The lotus, scientifically called the Nelumbo belongs to the family Nelumbonaceae.  The genus Nelumbo contains only two species, the Nelumbo lutea and the Nelumbo nucifera.  By contrast, the every-day water lilies in the genus Nymphaea, include a plethora of 70 species.  Molecular studies and fossil records have shown water lilies to be among the earliest of flowering plants.  The lotus flowers in my series on this site convey a certain attitude that in my mind equates to ballet. If you look very closely, one can identify certain ballet positions; the cou-de-pied, carte, the petite changement, the arabesque, even the batterie in a strong gale.  As the lotus does not sit on top of the water, it rises from the water level to extend above and beyond, attracting those art deco symbols so well-known as dragon flies to cling to their petals. The individual flowers bend, and sway, point their toes, and curve this way and that, leaning and splaying themselves in all their nudity to reveal their inner selves to spectators.  The standing leg may be either bent, in plié or straight.  These beauties are native to southern Asia and Australia, having large leaves, pinkish hued flowers, and that infamous broad, round, perforated seedpod, which is commonly used in dried flower arrangements.  Their hyacinth-like scent floats above them in a bewitching cloud. Their extensive leaves allow plenty of shade from the boiling sun allowing fish and turtles to sun themselves without that abhorrent sunburn we all dread. 

Photographing these exquisite gems was something like a dream.  It was a dream with a subject that could do no wrong.  There is no "good side" to their profiles, no unattractive sagging parts or marionette lines under the mouth. All their sides are "good".  They are fully aware of their gorgeousness and they flaunt it.  They pose for the photographer allowing one to move around slowly and capture every elegant angle.  The nights are not rough on them, and they awake each morning dewy-eyed and refreshed.  No dark circles on their perfect skin.  In their religious meaning, they convey a symbol of rebirth, and represent all that is true, good, and beautiful, with a deeper meaning of good fortune, peace and enlightenment.  Lotuses are often portrayed in Japanese and Chinese art and are a common recurrent design motif.  You see, the humble lotus grows up from mud into an object of tremendous brilliance.  Therefore, the symbol conveys human nature showing a transformation from the struggle of life at its most basic level. Who could have imagined that a Sunday morning trip to the Kennilworth Gardens could expose one to such sage wisdom?

Moreover, the ancient Egyptians saw a powerful healing ability in the lotus flower.  The perfume was not only pleasing to their culture, but the flowers were used to counteract poisons, treat the liver, and regulate the urine.  Lotuses were used as an overall panacea for good health and for enhancing sexual vigor, creating a feeling of well-being and euphoria.  The blue lotus was found in the tomb of Tutankhamen scattered over the Pharoah's tomb when it was uncovered in 1922.  Fit for a king, these plants have long-held an indelible place in history.

So, perhaps, we can all identify in some way with the Lotus.  Delicate, fragile, but yet strong, we, as people, come from nothing.  Like the lotus, we float, unfold, and blossom into the life where we belong.

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Aquatic DC Gardens Kennelworth Lillis Photography Washington Werder art beauty blog exotic fine flower lilies lillis Photography lillis werder lily lotus nature photography photos plants travel blog water http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/8/the-lotus Sat, 17 Aug 2013 18:47:31 GMT
Incredible Cemeteries of Paris http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/7/lillis-second-post--paris-cemeteries Having recently returned from ten delirious days in Paris, France, I realize how other worldly and rich the city truly is.  I have made Paris my vacation destination many times in the past, and each time is different, and each time is better.  I learned from previous trips what parts of the city I found to be the most intriguing and written mental post-it notes of places I wished I had spent more time.  So, this time, I was prepared and ready, sleep deprived, cameras and flash cards in hand, to explore the very moment we arrived.  My 17-year-old son, Sam, accompanied me on this trip, and he also is captivated with the art of photography, which allowed me to make him my apprentice as well as my sherpa for helping to lug my heavy gear.  Being an avid cemetery enthusiast, I made sure the first place we journeyed was to the most famous and historic of all cemeteries in Paris, Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise.  It was here where we spent eight hours (with a small lunch break consisting of Salad Nicoise and Mexican coca colas) wandering and probing the dense stony population for not only the famous tombs, but the most ornate, the ones bearing the most anguished of breathtaking statues appearing as lifelike as a departed relative in a dream.  Some are laid splayed out atop their tomb as if slumbering in the shade on a hot summer day, clothing dangling off of their bodies onto the dusty earth below.  Others don the clothes they perished in as they were shot dead in a duel over a tawdry romance with another man's wife.  Some appear in stony grace standing erect or draped over the grave with their faces shrouded in yards of fabric, faces full of tragedy.  A few appear with their pets, alert, tails wagging.  One of the most famous ones is the grave of Viktor Noir, a man killed in his twenties, feet still clad in leather boots, top hat at his side.  His life-sized bronze statue, sculpted by Jules Dalou, portrays Viktor as though he had just fallen on the street, dropping his hat from his extended fingers.  The sculpture has a very noticeable protuberance in Noir's trousers.  This has made it one of the most popular memorials for women visitors in the Cimetiere du Pere-Lachaise.  According to local myth, if a woman places a flower in the upturned bronze hat after kissing the statue's lips and rubbing its genital area, the woman's fertility will be enhanced.  She will have a blissful sex life, and hopefully a husband within one year.  As a result of this legend, those specific components of his statue which would otherwise be a green oxidized bronze, are rather well-worn and shiny.  Other graves were, naturally, just as fascinating to us.  We made special care to see the famous ones, such as that of Frederic Chopin, Jim Morrison, and that infamous Irishman Oscar Wilde.  Wilde's grave, on my last visit, was covered, every inch, with lipstick kisses. On this trip, however, his grave had been protected by sheets of plexiglass to keep those wanton kisses off.  On the day of our visit, the grave of Jim Morrison was being power washed by a fairly large crew, but with some careful pleading, we were allowed close to the grave for a photo op.  In fact, the Morrison grave is the only one in the cemetery that has a full-time guard on duty, as there have been too many thieves stealing parts of the grave as souvenirs.

As it goes for enthusiasts of any venue or interest, one cemetery was not enough for our fix, so the following day, we covered two more.  We walked from our hotel to the Cimetiere Montparnasse.  Created from three farms in 1824, the cemetery at Montparnasse was originally known as Le Cimetière du Sud.  This place is the eternal home of many of France's intellectual and artistic elite as well as publishers and others who promoted the works of authors and artists. There are also monuments to police and fire fighters killed in the line of duty in the city of Paris. There are many graves of foreigners who have made France their home.  As our search for the most ornate stones had been highly honed from the day before, we were able to rather expeditiously scan the tops of the massive burial site to quickly locate the most ethereal of heavenly beings to photograph.  This cemetery is home to more stone angels than Pere-Lachaise.  Some were swaddling the deceased, barely clad, female with their tender hands as they whisked the newly dead to heaven.  Other notable stones were a pair of five feet tall hands clasped in prayer, and several nude females lying prostrate over the grave like broken puppets.  Having been the second long stint in two days in a cemetery, I lost Sam's interest for an hour or so, as he napped on a bench alongside the cobblestone path.  Claiming he was "dead tired", he could have passed for a memorial stone, had he not been wearing a black graphic t-shirt from Walmart and holding my backpack as his pillow.  Nevertheless, we soldiered on, in a sort of "death march" to the third most important cemetery in Paris, the Cemetiere Montmartre.

The Cemetiere Montmartre is located in, of course, the area of Montmartre not far from La Basilique du Sacre Coeur.  To get to this cemetery, we had to take a relatively long ride via the Metropolitan.  Fortunately, Paris was still experiencing cool temps so the resistance of some of the French to wearing deodorant was not yet an issue.  This particular cemetery is located in a former rock quarry and so we descended the steps to its entrance.  Located west of the Butte, near the beginning of Rue Caulaincourt in Place de Clichy, the cemetery in the Montmartre quarter of Paris has its entrance on Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.  A popular tourist destination, it is the final resting place of many famous artists who lived and worked in the Montmartre area.  I was immediately overcome with that adrenaline rush that we cemetery enthusiasts experience when we realize that we have hit the jackpot of all cemeteries.  It is a peaceful setting of almost 11 hectares in size, and shaded by some 750 trees – essentially maples, as well as a small number of thuyas, chestnut trees, and lime trees.  The streets are made of cobblestone, and there are feral cats, fed quite well by locals, slumbering contentedly among the stones.  We searched out and photographed several famous graves such as that of Alexandre Dumas, Michel Berger, a very successful singer and songwriter, central figure of France's pop music scene for two decades, who died young in life, the famous painter and sculptor Edgar Degas, and countless others.  The streets were lined with ancient mausoleums, windows ajar, revealing dried flower arrangements and cobalt blue stained glass windows of the Virgin Mary.  My most favorite stone in this cemetery was that of a bronze woman curled in an almost fetal position, head down so her face was barely visible, hands gripped in pain and arms thrown over her head in despair.  By contrast, one grave featured a man fully decked out in a clown costume complete with hat and ruffles around his neck, seated carefully on the corner of the grave. 

These cemeteries are stunningly well-organized on printed brochures for tourists, as well as fascinating web sites such as www.findagrave.com.  Before your trip, be sure to have in mind the particular grave you want to visit so you won't miss anything important.  Also, bring plenty of water with you and a picnic lunch, as most visitors find a bench or dilapidated tombstone to set up a baguette sandwich and some brie.  The cemeteries are viewed as parks in Paris and an intriguing way to pass an entire afternoon, or even a whole day, if you are like me.  In general, after two days of wandering in these fantastic cemeteries, I can fully understand why so many people are dying to get in.

 

 

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) Cemetiere Cemetiere Montmartre Cemetiere du Pere-Lachaise Europe Paris Pere-Lachaise blog cemeteries cemetery famous grave graves images lillis Photography lillis werder ornate photography photos stones tomb travel blog http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/7/lillis-second-post--paris-cemeteries Sat, 20 Jul 2013 18:20:10 GMT
The District, City of Vistas http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/7/lillis-first-post Washington, DC, or "the District", as it is affectionately called by locals, is a place that offers more variation in photo ops than so many other places.  The closest city I can compare to it is Paris. Of course, there is a reason for that.  It was designed by the same man, Pierre Charles L'Enfant.  This French-born American was an architect and a civil engineer and best known for making Washington the perfect marriage of art and geometry.  As a photographer, I find so many places of interest in this city and find it best to discover on foot.  Born and raised in Kansas, I left when I was 17 to attend Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.  As the Georgetown campus is relatively small, the city of Washington extended itself to be its true campus.  I soon discovered that Washington holds as much diversity in its inhabitants and their culture, as it does in its architecture, landscapes and views.  The city is ever-changing and at the same time, remains constant in its own way.  Today, each time I enter the city with my camera, I find different and intriguing subjects as my focal points.  No two trips have yielded similar images.  Amidst the sculpture, parks, monuments, inner roughness of street scenes, and the iconic landmarks that shine in both sunlight and moonlight, Washington offers spectacular sensations not only to visitors but to those who reside within city confines.  Constantly lured here, I retrace my steps as a Georgetown student, finding new establishments where old ones only live in my memory, but still recalling every pothole and broken brick in familiar sidewalks as I roam my old stomping grounds.  As I photograph it now, years after I graduated from college, I see the place under different light, changing seasons, matured perspectives, and altered juxtapositions.  It never fails to bring me a sense of warmth and familiarity, even a sense of home.  I lived in DC for a total of seven years, and those years left an indelible mark on me.  I often joke that I could be a taxi driver in the District.  I can find my way around the city in expert fashion.  

Some of my preferred places to photograph include the National Mall and all its monuments therein. Among these are the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, the WWII Memorial, the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial, and the Korean Memorial which looks exceptionally attractive after a snow storm which leaves crusted snow on the backs of these magnificent bronze soldiers. Spring days offer the best vistas for many of these venues.  Of course, the cherry blossoms surrounding the Jefferson Memorial are among the best places for photography, but crowds prohibit clear views unless you sleep on a park bench overnight and break out the camera before 6 AM.  I have a particular penchant for photographing sculpture and two of my preferred subjects are the glorious bronze lions by Sculptor Antonio Canova snoozing happily on either side of the entrance of the Corcoran Museum.  The pair are majestic, as one sleeps with eyes open, and the other eyes closed.  Another favorite sculpture is the Peace Monument, also known as the Naval Monument or Civil War Sailors Monument situated at First Street NW and Pennsylvania Avenue in the Peace Circle.  At the top of the monument stands two classically robed figures.  Grief holds her covered face against the shoulder of History and weeps in mourning.  History holds a stylus and a tablet that was inscribed "They died that their country might live."  This particular monument looks very striking when photographed with the Capitol building directly behind it.  Of course, the Capitol Building itself is one of my most beloved subjects.  One day, I arrived early in the morning and photographed just the dome in early light.  I noticed only after I reviewed my images when I returned home, that there were three workers on top of the dome cleaning windows.  I work for a wonderful nonprofit organization called American Friends of the Czech Republic.  In 2010, the organization honored former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel.  AFoCR gave President Havel that photo I took, matted and framed.  It was presented to him in Prague as a gift only two months before his death.  That image, I appropriately named, "Democracy, a Work in Progress", and will always hold special meaning to me.  

If you are a nature enthusiast, the bonsai tree collection at the National Arboretum offers varieties that only appear elsewhere on national postage forever stamps.  They convey a world in miniature and leaves change color in autumn, just like the big guys.  It is a magical place.  I also highly recommend the Botanical Gardens right next to the aforementioned Peace Monument.  With the seasons, the blossoms inside change in species and hue.  It is not to be missed.  

Those incredible vistas I mentioned are available from a number of dizzying heights. I sometimes hesitate nowadays to rise to the top of these tall places, having not so long ago witnessed a suicide attempt off a cathedral bell tower in Delft, Holland.  It was a harrowing experience for me. However, if you take the elevator to the top of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, you can see a sweeping view of the Avenue right up to the front door of the Capitol Building.  The Washington Monument, also offers a fantastic panorama, currently unavailable due to ongoing repairs caused from unusual earthquake activity a year ago.  But keep that view on your bucket list.  The top of the National Cathedral is also grand, and while you are there, take the gargoyle tour to photograph those macabre, stone creatures. The top of the Gloria in Excelsis Tower is the highest point in DC and has the most dramatic views of the city.  Arlington House in Arlington National Cemetery, home of Robert E. Lee, has been preserved as a memorial to this important figure who helped restore America after the Civil War.  This historic house sits on top of Arlington Cemetery, and provides one of the best views of Washington, DC.  The Netherlands Carillon adjacent to the Iwo Jima Memorial allows visitors to climb to its top during summer months.   The Mount Vernon estate, former home of George Washington, in its 500-acre glory, has a prime location along the shores of the Potomac and scenic views fit for a king or a President. The George Washington Memorial Parkway, also has several pull over areas where one can stop and see amazing views of the Potomac and Georgetown University.  Another rather unexpected vantage point is from the W Hotel's rooftop terrace.  Hosting top celebrities, politicos, socialites, and local photographers who write blogs, one can see unsurpassed views of the nation's capital.  Last but certainly not least, is the enormous panoramic view at Great Falls Park.  The views there are breathtaking and extend for miles along the river with hiking trails on both sides of the river in Maryland and Virginia.  

When I go to DC, I seek out new destinations, ones I have not yet photographed.  There are still several I have not visited, among them a couple of cemeteries.  When I take photographs, I try to bring unique perspectives to the ordinary and fresh perspectives on familiar subjects.  I have recently begun working with interior designers in the DC area and they are drawn to my architectural images of DC to decorate corporations and office buildings in the area.  Architectural photography has become a great passion for me.  My hope is that my images will instill a desire in you to acquaint yourself with places you may have missed also, or to see them again in a new way.    

 

Washington At A Distance entum.

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lillisphotography@yahoo.com (Lillis Photography) DC Jefferson Lincoln Memorial US Washington architecture avenue blog building capital capitol cathedral city district gargoyle georgetown hotel iwo jima korean lillis Photography lillis werder mall memorial memorials monuments mount national pennsylvania photography photos pool reflecting sculpture travel blog vernon vietnam vistas war http://www.lillisphotography.com/blog/2013/7/lillis-first-post Tue, 02 Jul 2013 19:05:43 GMT