Beijing, China: Adventure in the New East

Beijing, China: Adventure in the New East

Beijing, China: The New East

While many Americans opt to visit Europe for summer vacations, a handful will take the plunge and go a little further: Beijing, China. Even though this is not your usual travel destination, you will not be sorry you booked that 12 hour flight. China is home to some of the oldest civilizations in the world. This is in striking juxtaposition to their cutting edge technology that seems to be ever evolving and changing the way we live our lives. These two factors though are what makes Beijing a traveler’s dream city.

Historical Sites to Visit in Beijing

For the historically inclined, there is of course stops like the Forbidden city. Plan a whole day of your itinerary to walk through the entire thing because the size is nothing short of massive. The imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, the 500 year span of rule from this seat influenced culture, architecture, and government in east Asia. It is now a world heritage site and under control of the Palace Museum. Nearby, there’s a park where you can stand on the exact center of Beijing and soak up an incredible view of the city.

Another historical site is Tiananmen Square. If you plan to visit this site, there’s no shortage of learning opportunities. However, it is highly controversial in Chinese politics, so being aware of that and respectful of that is a must when there.

Of course there is the Great Wall. One of the 7 wonders of the world, you cannot miss it. Some of the earliest sections of the wall date back to the 7th century, but most of the existing wall dates to the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century. Apart from being an engineering feat of strength, the wall demonstrates the vast power and organizational strength of the Chinese government for millennia. It’s truly awe-inspiring to try and conceptualize the man power it took to construct such a massive fortification. There’s a section that is very close to Beijing and accessible by bus. Once you get to the top, you can pay to luge down the Wall- certainly a fun and relaxing excursion after a great deal of uphill climbing.

Eating Out in Beijing,  Not for the Faint of Heart

When it comes to dining, while you might be more comfortable eating in a place that has a bilingual menu or is catering to tourists, you’ll find the best food in places that have Chinese menus. Don’t be afraid to try street food, and try everything!

Some administrative tips for your trip are to exchange your currency, download a translator, and apply for a visa. Unlike traveling to places like France or Greece, you need a visa for any amount of time while visiting China. It’s best to get this out of the way and sorted as soon as you can to cut down on time crunch stress.

Beijing is truly a city of never-ending marvel, from history to architecture, to food and technology, Beijing offers visitors a look into a powerful society that has roots older than the Greek and Roman empires. It might take some added legwork on your part, but your trip to China will be a once in a lifetime opportunity, grab it if you have the chance.

Have you already visited Beijing? Share your pictures with us!

Scuba Diving Fiji, the Soft Coral Capital of the World

Scuba Diving Fiji, the Soft Coral Capital of the World

This one might be a bit different from my usual tune – but I recently got back from a scuba diving trip at Fiji and what an experience! I was so blown away that I’ve been inspired to write a blog post just about it. If anyone is looking to go diving, I highly recommend Fiji – you can even capture some awesome underwater shots as well!

Fiji is home to 333 beautiful islands, with two major island groups: Viti Levu, where the capital Suva is located, and Vanua Levu. It is blessed with fine sands, palm-lined beaches, lagoons with coral reefs, and the abundance of soft corals, which gave its identity as the Soft Coral Capital of the World. Also known as the Fiji Islands, it is a popular tourist attraction for people drawn to the ocean. With its natural beauty, it is home to vast beaches, friendly people, and clear waters which offers a lot of activities for leisure and recreation. Aside from beach activities, Fiji is also a plus for hikers and environmental enthusiasts because of its luscious forests and protected natural habitats.

Fiji- The Soft Coral Capital Of The World

Fiji was given its nickname, the Soft Coral Capital of the World, because of the display of soft corals in lagoons with the help of the water currents. It is known in the country that the currents are what sustains the idea of life and beauty, especially in the sea. Whenever the currents flow in directions, the movement of the corals goes along with it, thus creating a beautiful imagery in the sea. The currents also have roles in the clarity and visibility of their oceans and lagoons. Inwardly directed currents bring clear water into the lagoons, while those in an outward direction clears off the waters with dirt, mosses, and other particles that contribute to its haziness.

And because of these currents, it contributes greatly to a diversity of activities which can be done in Fiji. The conditions of the waters and currents vary accordingly. It can contribute to a tranquil place for learning and nature appreciation, or it can be a venue for higher level sporting activities, such as free swimming, snorkeling, and swimming. One of the most sought after activities in the Fiji Islands is scuba diving.

Scuba Diving Fiji

Scuba diving is a perfect activity for first time tourists in Fiji. It allows the participant to witness firsthand what Fiji has to offer to and protect from the world. Vast fields of coral reefs in different colors and sizes, vibrant fishes swimming in schools and solo, harmless predators of the seas like sharks, and the awareness of conservation and protection are a few learnings people can have through scuba diving.

Although Fiji is a collection of beautiful islands, here are the top four spots to dive in:

Taveuni and the Koro Sea – It has the splendor of all soft coral beds, which gives it the privilege to own up to the country’s nickname. Its waters are rich and filled with nutrients, which supports large marine ecosystems in the country.

Kadavu – Coined to be the real Fiji, it allows people to fully experience the natural diving scene away from busy crowds and huge resorts. The local culture and breathtaking sites is all around the Great Astrolabe Reef.

Viti Levu – One of Fiji’s top quality scuba diving secrets is at Rakiraki with flamboyant corals and astounding fishes. Shark feeding dives are also conducted which the assurance of both safety and enrichment.

Beqa Lagoon – It offers a number of diving spots as well as pinnacles, corals, and wrecks to explore.

Diving season in Fiji is all year round. However, there are specific dates to remember. The winter months of April to October is the main diving season, but it peaks between July and December because of the warm waters. November to April is when the waters are the warmest, while the ideal time to visit is on November, April, or May because of the season overlap. Nevertheless, the best time to scuba dive in Fiji is the moment when we have a great company with, or a brave soul to spend solitude in the waters of an island paradise.

 

Strasbourg: A Well Known “Secret”

Strasbourg: A Well Known “Secret”

France is by no means a “best kept secret” of the travel world.

Boasting destinations like Paris, Nice, Marseille, and the French Riviera, France has perfected the art of combining relaxation with culture and class. One city, though, more than any other that I’ve had the pleasure of coming across, outshines even the City of Lights.

Strasbourg, located on the border of eastern France and western Germany, is the capital of the Grand Est/Alsace region. Its prominence as a European city is compounded by the fact that it is home to one of the three official seats of the European Parliament. Strasbourg is no stranger to the long and deep-roots of European history as the original foundation for the site was laid with the Roman camp of Argentoratum in 12 BC. From the humble camp, of which the ruins of fortification walls can still be found throughout the city today, Strasbourg grew into a bustling center of commerce, ideas, art, and architecture.

The very location of Strasbourg has seen to it that the city is no stranger to world affairs, drenching her in historical intrigue and character. The Cathedral of Strasbourg is perhaps the cities biggest attraction, and for good reason. Originally started in 1015 over the remains of a Roman temple on the very same spot, the cathedral didn’t open until 1439 due to the sheer magnitude of the building. It still stands as the 10th tallest cathedral in the world. Its gothic architecture is highlighted by the rust red of the facade and the intricate statues of the doorways leading inside. Perhaps the most breathtaking experience with the cathedral takes place in the warm summer months when the entire front and side of the church is lit up with a light show, first depicting what colors would have appeared on the statues and then moving into artistic shows of movement accompanied by music. To this day, the light show on the cathedral is the most mesmerizing event I have attended.

Moving away from the obvious attraction of Strasbourg, the city itself is a living memorial to the relationship between France and Germany over the last few hundred years. Strasbourg was a pivotal city in World War II and German occupation in France, changing hands several times before being held in permanence by France. Because of this, the city is known for its particular “Alsace” dialect, a mix of French and German tongues. Few people still speak it today, but most everyone at least knows someone who can still spout it off. Along with the particular dialect, Strasbourg’s melding of German and French culture is evident in their wood beamed architecture alongside ornate bridges, their sausage specialties served alongside crepes. With Germany just a bike ride away, visitors are able to explore the best of both countries all while calling Strasbourg home base.

While summer is an obvious popular travel time, Strasbourg’s appeal transcends the summer holidays. In the spring, flower shops offer visitors a real taste of the french countryside, cloaking the town in bright colors and aromatic draws. The winter months of November and December host the Christmas Festival that takes up downtown squares and streets. Handmade nutcrackers, wreaths, paintings, baked goods… anything and everything. If you’re lucky to visit during the Christmas festivals, you might even see the city blanketed in snow- a true winter wonderland fit for even a Hallmark movie.

While France offers a broad range of attractive destinations, Strasbourg should be at the top of your list. From the Cathedral to museums and festivals, it combines classics French and German culture into a truly unique experience. If you end up adding this beautiful city to your list of must- visits, I would love to hear from you.

Dublin Your Luck While Visiting Ireland

Dublin Your Luck While Visiting Ireland

 

 

Dublin, Ireland:  a place known best, perhaps, for its culture of song, dance, drink, and fellowship of friends and visitors alike. Dublin is a city that offers a wide variety of attractions for cheap and accessible rates. Even if visiting for a few short days, you can jam pack your trip with factory tours and tastings, walking tours, trips to the cliffs, and even plays for a low budget.

Dublin travel pass

During my visit, I only had 3 full days to explore and experience as much of the city as possible. In preparation for doing so, I pegged down some tips that I think any fellow Dublin goer would be interested in. My first and biggest suggestion is that you invest in a day travel pass. The Dublin Pass is offered in 1, 2, 3, and 5 day packages and ranges from 52 euros to 104 euros. While a pretty steep sum initially, this was a huge money and time saving investment. With the card, you get free entrance to countless attractions and discounts on many more. For instance, you get free entry to the guinness factory (normally 25 euros), free hop on-hop off bus transportation, free entry into the Jameson distillery, the cathedrals, museums, and more. By using the Dublin Pass, I was able to see more of the city via the bus and I saved roughly 100 euros thanks to the free entry the pass allowed for places like Guinness and Jameson. There’s also a discount on the pass if you purchase online!

Go on a walking tour in Dublin

My second piece of advice is to participate in a walking tour of the city with a guide. Usually, I’m not one for these. I like to go at my own pace and explore. However, a guided tour allowed me to see places I might have skipped while learning an immense amount of history, folklore, and charm that immerses Dublin. The tour guides in Dublin were extremely energetic and passionate about their city, and were happy to share their love of Dublin with us. Through your hostel, hotel, or even the Dublin Pass, you can find these tours for cheap or free, even.

Take a train ride to Howth

My third piece of advice is to take a train and go to the cliffs of Howth, just outside of Dublin. The train ticket will cost about 5 euros and takes you right to the lovely village of Howth. From there, you can walk by the quaint harbor and make your way up the cliffs. While not as famed as, say, the cliffs of Moher, Howth is quiet and not crowded with hoards of people making their way up the same path. We were able to pack a lunch, eat on the side of the cliffs, and enjoy traversing the countryside. It by no means is a challenging hike or walk and the generally cool climate of Ireland made it a relaxing afternoon.

Dublin has a world to offer her visitors. People on a time crunch or budget are able to experience the soul of the city without the stress that larger metropolis areas would present. Going in flexible and open to explore will leave you wanting to join in on all the activity.

 

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Historical Relaxation: 2 Stops In Greece Besides Athens

Historical Relaxation: 2 Stops In Greece Besides Athens

From the blindingly beautiful beaches of Santorini to the wonders of the Acropolis in Athens, there’s no shortage of Greek travel destinations worth your while. Greece is the perfect choice if you wish to marry leisure with learning, hot destinations with history.  And while you can easily spend all of your time exploring one-stop cities like Athens, some of the country’s most worthwhile destinations will take you off of the typical tour.

Corinth

Just under 70 miles from Athens, Corinth has been an epicenter of commerce, architecture, and culture since the time of the Ancients. Situated on a temped gulf, Corinth boasts swimming spots with views fit for the gods. Historically, this town was a bustling port for sailors making their way around the mainland. The isthmus and the situation of Corinth in between two different gulfs made it defendable both on land and on sea, with the Corinthians controlling both avenues. Because of the importance in ancient times, Corinth is now home to some of the most incredible ruins accessible to visitors. The archaeological site of Ancient Corinth boasts a museum full of artifacts from Corinth and the surrounding areas, the Temple of Apollo and Acrocorinth, along with remnants of an ancient road and market center similar to the Agora of Athens.

When on a time crunch, a hike up the Acrocorinth will be well worth the steep trek up to the top. During the assent to the apex of the acropolis, you get the opportunity to see firsthand how the site had been occupied from ancient Greek times all the way up to the early nineteenth century. Fortress walls that date to the Byzantine Empire can be followed around the site, offering an incredible hands-on approach to the history and culture that shaped modern Greece. If you’re resilient enough to climb to the very top, you’ll be rewarded with access to the Temple of Aphrodite. Although in ruins now and only the ground plan survives, the views you get of the entire Corinthian plain is unparalleled. On a clear day, some say you can see to Athens. The panoramic views are sure to be the highlight of your Corinthian excursion. Just be sure to pack plenty of water and sunscreen.

Crete

When looking for an island feel that only Greece can provide, but still wanting to explore large parts of the country, Crete is the perfect compromise. Accessible by a short flight or, more commonly, an overnight ferry ride, the entire island can be circumnavigated in a week time. I suggest starting off at Crete’s largest city- Heraklion. Take time to visit the archaeology museum as well as meander through narrow paved streets and fountain dotted squares. Charming outdoor eateries overlook the harbor spotted with sailboats, producing a picturesque night of lights, wine, and authentic Greek food. Just three miles from Heraklion is the famed site of Knossos, a Minoan palace that dates to the 15th century BC. Thanks to excavation and restoration efforts in the late 1800s, the Palace of Knossos is a great place to spend the day wandering around and seeing how the ruins would have been rendered in ancient times. With restored buildings, staircases, and floors, the palace succeeds at capturing the charm and intrigue of the Minoans. Moving around the island, several more palace sites are worth the educational visit such as Phaistos and Malia.

One of the great things about Greece is the seamless coupling of historical sites and total relaxation. Crete boasts crystal waters surrounded by mountains and monuments. Just a simple drive from one town to the next promises spectacular views of plains and ruins and farms and villages; the warm weather and fresh diet inspire you to take more time to look and experience rather than rush from one spot to the next; the people are welcoming and love to talk about their own history and heritage and pointing out what makes their corner of the world an unforgettable stop. Corinth and Crete are two popular destinations, but seem to get skipped over as travelers opt for Athens or Santorini. When looking to immerse yourself in culture while also kicking off your sandals and feeling the ancient sands, they are a must see for your next Mediterranean excursion.

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Inspiration Taken From Visiting Rome

Inspiration Taken From Visiting Rome

Taking pictures in Rome, one of the world most famous ancient cities is an honor.

I spent days wandering around photographing everything I saw. Here are some of my thoughts for those of you who might be visiting this amazing city in the future.

Walk. And walk some more. And then, when you’re tired and want to call it a day, walk even more. Being one of the greatest cities in the world, there is over 2,500 years of history and experience packed along every cobblestone street and inch of the Tiber River bank waiting to be uncovered. Walking from the Colosseum to the Pantheon will undoubtedly take you a while; however, in doing so, you may pass by a partially collapsed column, a sunken forum, shops selling handmade leather journals, and architecture that looks like it was taken from your imagination. With so much to do in Rome in terms of culture and sightseeing, following any specific tour or guide book will only enable you to see portions, pre-selected. Walking gives you the freedom to change your course and travel down a few side roads, see the quiet side of Rome.

Rome is a city proud of its heritage and ancient civilization. They hold their heads a little higher, stand a little straighter, when you talk with them about their long-gone ancestors. Allow them to. Ask them their favorite spot in the city. Ask them why. While (like any other city dwellers) some may not be inclined to talk with you about the splendor of their city, some certainly might. In my experience, the shop owner whom I asked the best way to get to the Capitoline Hill was my best connection made. She gave me tips on how to get there, places to be sure to stop and take a deep breath at, cats to notice at the Torre Argentina, and a cafe to go to when I got hungry.

There is something about Rome that does in fact seem eternal. The buildings of Julius Caesar next to a concrete paved road; Aurelian Walls that shade houses built under Mussolini; carriage tracks for emperors with the sound of honking cabs in the background. The city is accessible to any type of visitor or tourist and has something for everyone. The trick is to really feel the power and the history of what has happened there. Imagine the triumphal processions after a war with Caesar at the helm, imagine Michelangelo walking to the Vatican to paint the ceiling down the very path that you are on now, imagine that all of this took place in this one very spot. And then walk.

 

Shooting Silhouettes

Shooting Silhouettes

Hey guys, today I am going to share with you an awesome photography tutorial. Photographer Gavin Hoey shows us how to shoot silhouette photos, then use Photoshop layers to transform the image. Gavin gives us some great tips about shooting silhouettes on location, but during the day! He speaks about the importance of contrast, and the best times of day for optimal contrast. Early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is coming up or going down create the optimal lighting conditions for shooting silhouettes.

In the video Gavin shows us how to make these shots work during the middle of the day while the sun is shining. We are given tips about subject placement. When shooting silhouettes during the middle of the day, you can have your subject wear dark clothing. You can also have your subject use different props to make the photo pop. Props also allow the viewer to see a photograph and immediately recognize what it is by the form of the prop. In the video, he uses the example of a bicycle that has a unique and recognizable shape.

Placement of your subject and the use of props are two important tips for taking silhouette photos during the middle of the day. However using the correct camera settings to filter out some of the light and change the exposure are just as important. Gavin recommends using the following settings:

Shoot in aperture priority mode

  • f/5.6
  • 1/800th sec
  • 200 ISO
  • Exposure compensation  -2

Gavin then goes on to explain how the use of smoke and flash can add even more to a silhouette photo. A lot of the time we do not have access to smoke or flash, so we can take many images and Photoshop them together using different layers.

Using these silhouette techniques to shoot travel and landscape photos

You can apply these tips to landscape photography also. Since you will not have as much control, a bit more patience will be necessary. Personally I love taking silhouette photos while I am traveling, it has been the reason I got interested in photography in the first place.

I hope you can go take some of these tips and try them out next time you are taking pictures. You can find out more about why I started this blog, and what the goals and objectives for sharing my photography and tips are here.

Enjoy!