Italy art tour III: Venezia

Venue: Venezia

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Plastic Made Sofa – Lizards on a wire (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu7_C79P900)

The last city on the way to the Venice biennale was, unsurprisingly, Venice itself. As one of the world’s top destinations there’s hardly anything left untold and unseen from Venice. The statement that every street and little piazza is an art tour in itself is true here even more than anywhere else in Italy. Unfortunately the number of tourists is slowly destroying the city itself, but the beautiful façade remains together with small pockets of normal life in the more remote areas. Here I present you a random collection of photos that are not representative of almost anything of the above said, but are hopefully enjoyable to look at.

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A nice piece of street art on a small side street, I’d say the 4-eyed woman is Venezia itself.
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The contrasts are everywhere around Venice, with the big yachts of rich people parked near other people’s underwear drying above the street.
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More of the typical small side streets with less tourists and more laundry.
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The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) and the gondolieri driving tourists up and down the canal.
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A small snack break with the famous Venetian cicchetti, the local version of tapas.
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More canals and bridges, everywhere around you.
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Early dinner for some people in a more remote area of Venice where tourists and restaurants are (only) slightly more rare.
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A restaurant waiter walking up another tiny “vicolo”, or alley.
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Another day, another canal and another bridge (from which the photo is taken). Not a bad way to finish the Italy art tour series, right?
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Italy art tour II: Padova

Venue: Padova

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Plastic Made Sofa – Midnight in Remada (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rqty6-YCxRE)

The next stop on my way to the biennale was Padova (20-30km southwest of Venice), another medieval pretty town hosting a very big and old university (the second oldest in Italy after Bologna and overall fifth in the world according to Wikipedia). It is also less crowded and touristy than Venice, making it a good and somewhat cheaper option to stay if you want to visit the Venice biennale. Padova itself has a lot to offer, as I’ll try to convince you with the photos below.

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Starting with two nice examples of modern street art in Padova…
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..and moving to the examples of medieval art and architecture.
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This is the same small artificial canal, part of the big Prato della Valle square. There are 78 statues of important people for the city in the renaissance times.
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The fountain right in the centre of the same square.
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The basilica of San Antonio is nearby. It’s a major pilgrimage site during the day and a quiet nice place to walk by at night.
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Moving to another old church, that is now a major tourist attraction. The Cappella degli Scrovegni painted by Giotto and his team and rivalling the more famous Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo in Rome.
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A close-up of my favorite part of the chapel, depicting the Last Judgement.
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From religion to medicine. This is a view from the bottom of the famous Anatomical Theatre in the University of Padova. It was one of the first places in the world where students were thought dissection, and is truly magnificent. The visitors are not allowed to enter the hall and take photos (I illegally took this shot), but I urge anyone interested to check more photos online.
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We end the virtual trip of Padova with a photo of the gorgeous ceiling of the Palazzo della Ragione, the medieval town hall situated in the very centre of the city and surrounded by numerous cafes, shops, and markets.

 

Italy art tour I: Bologna

Venue: Bologna

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Plastic Made Sofa – Noodles for breakfast (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5l3ruLhCtBQ)

On the way to the Venice biennale I also visited several Italian cities and of course took some pictures. I didn’t aim to take travel shots with the main tourist spots as I’ve been to these places many many times over the years and find more interesting to explore the side streets. So I’ll present you a bit of a less known take with some street art and side street shots that I find very much worth seeing. At the end of the day, Italy itself is probably the biggest open air art museum one can visit. The first city on the list (due to the presence of a low-cost airport) is Bologna. Probably best known outside of Italy for the famous ragu (in English speaking countries known as Bolognese sauce, for pasta dishes), Bologna is actually home to the world’s oldest continuously working university. So apart from being a great place to eat, it is actually very lively and young at heart with all the students roaming its streets. But as always in Italy, you’re never too far from an old historic building or an ancient tradition…

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Some graffiti in a very small side street at the very centre of Bologna. A small human-like creature seems to be riding a bigger camel-like creature, it would seem.
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Another form of street art: a printed picture (anyone recognizes the lady?) posted on the wall with various messages written all over it.
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The old backyard of the musical conservatory. Another beautiful hidden spot right in the centre of Bologna, on the back of one of the numerous historical churches and monasteries, free to visit by everyone.
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Inside the music school.
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The two leaning towers of Bologna, Asinelli and Garisenda, named after the two most powerful local families at the time. Garisenda had to be partially destroyed a few centuries ago because it started tilting too much and became dangerous.
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The main cathedral in Bologna has a solar calendar inside, based on the sunbeam coming from the tiny hole up there.
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Another little piece of street art that one can easily miss.
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A little canal running in the back of some buildings, right next to our lunch spot.
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A bit of ancient tradition as a contrast to the modern graffiti photos, with these catholic monks performing a religious ceremony in a monastery complex.

 

Southeast Bulgarian road trip II: shades of blue

Venue: Burgas, Sozopol, Varvara, Sinemorets

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4

Music: Tonika – Burgas evenings / Тоника – Бургаски вечери (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-owelvYNEw)

After Plovdiv, the continuation of our road trip eventually took us to the southern Bulgarian seaside. Although I’ve already shown you some of it (https://kirilson.com/2016/08/25/burgas-and-the-black-sea/), I think one never gets tired of the sunset by the sea (of the sunrise neither, but I can never wake up so early unfortunately). I think the title and most of the photos are self-explanatory in this case, but of course I’ll try to add my ever-so-insightful comments where appropriate.

 

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Our first stop along the sea was Burgas and its famous “bridge” – this is how the locals call the pier you see here.
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This elderly couple was chilling on the beach just next to the pier, but I decided to only include them and the open sea in the photo frame for a nicer perspective.
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A deserted at the time (late September) beach bar on the central beach in Burgas.
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Later this day we arrived at the Kavatsi beach just next to Sozopol, where we set up our tent. The weather was not great, which meant nobody came to the beach and we had it all for ourselves!
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Clouds + sunset + sea + sand = not a bad combination…gets even more fun if you try to be creative as on the top photo.
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An almost identical shot to the one above, except for a bit longer exposure time resulting in a burgher and less pink sky. You decide which option is better.
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Later in the evening we went to the town of Sozopol for dinner and had time for a few more dramatic sky shots.
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A small picture gallery in the old town of Sozopol.
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This is the “fake” windmill on one of the ethnic style traditional restaurants in Sozopol.
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After a stormy night with some beautiful lightnings in the sky over Kavatsi beach (unfortunately it was too dark to get a decent photo), the morning looked much more sunny and calm.
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After another hour and half drive to the south we arrived in Sinemorets and one of its three or four beautiful beaches. This is Veleka beach where the river with that name enters the sea, next to the rocks at the back. Too bad I don’t have a drone, the view from above this place must be amazing.
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The surfing school shack on Veleka beach, suggestively called “Wind and water”.
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The small port for fishing boats in Varvara, the village next to Sinemorets where we spent the night.
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The beach in Varvara is rather small, but the view is not disappointing.
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The same sunset view from the then deserted beach bar.
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On the next morning it was time to head back to Sofia, but not before we visited a small fishing village near Burgas where some local fishermen built semi-legally (most of them fully illegally) their small shacks. The place is not picture-perfect as most of the fisherman are (clearly) not very rich, but the feel of the place is truly special.
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The view from the terrace of one of the shacks where a very nice old couple invited us (two random strangers aimlessly walking around) to have a look and offered us snacks and drinks. The authenticity and hospitality of the people in this fishing village make it a truly special Bulgarian place that unfortunately foreign tourists cannot easily experience and appreciate (it is really hard even for a local to find this place on the map as it officially doesn’t exist).

Southeast Bulgarian road trip I: Plovdiv

Venue: Plovdiv

Lens: Nikkor 24-120 mm f/4

Music: Equinox – Bones (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uvy_R3fTHQ4)

After many posts from various places, we are (temporarily) moving back to Bulgaria with some photos at the end of last summer from a road trip for the last weekend of the season on the seaside. On our way to Burgas and the southern seaside (which you’ll see in my next post) we first decided to spend an evening in Plovdiv, more or less midway between Sofia and Burgas. Some of you might have already seen winter photos from Plovdiv in one of my very first posts (https://kirilson.com/2016/03/31/a-winter-day-in-plovdiv/), but I think it’s also worth having a look of Plovdiv in summer.

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We start at one of the central squares in Plovdiv, dominated by a big mosque from the Ottoman times of Bulgaria.
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Further down the main walking street is the main advertisement of Plovdiv for next year, when it will serve as the European capital of culture together with Matera in Italy (which you’ll also get to see soon in one of my posts).
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It was a rainy September evening and the usual liveliness of the town was not that obvious from the mostly empty bars and restaurants.
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Fortunately the rain stopped and didn’t prevent us from a walk in the nearby park with lots of nice fountains.
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The most interesting were the “singing” fountains that do a sort of program with changings lights, water patterns and music. It’s one of these cases when taking photos is not really suitable for conveying the beauty of a place.
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We also decided to spend the morning in Plovdiv before driving off the seaside, so we had breakfast in the hipstery “Kapana” district.
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The underpass with the Bulgarian flag graffiti taking you from the modern centre of Plovdiv to its old town, dominated by 18th and 19th century houses in the typical style that you see on the top photo.
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It was still early in the morning without too many of the usual tourists in the area, but these street musicians were already playing and singing happily.
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A detail on the roof of one of the old houses, not really sure what it represents but I found it cool for a photo.
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The ancient Roman theater is still used for various concerts and cultural activities.
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A typical little street in the old town, I took an identical photo of the same street covered in snow two years ago in my previous post about Plovdiv.
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Passing by one of the little shops in the old town, it looks like they’re offering to the tourists to take photos while dressed in traditional Bulgarian clothes from back in the day.
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One last view of Plovdiv before heading east. Fortunately for the photographers like me, Plovdiv is built on a series of small hills that allow you to get a nice clear view of the city.

Tel Aviv and around

Venue: Tel Aviv-Yafo, Jerusalem, Galilean Sea

Lens: Samsung S7 camera

Music: Netta – Toy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CziHrYYSyPc)

Last summer I got the chance to visit Tel Aviv for one week on a work-related conference. I expected I’d have very little time for sight-seeing so I decided to not even bring my camera along as it is quite heavy. As it turned out I indeed had a busy schedule, but in the same time managed to do so much more than anticipated and had a truly amazing week. Not only I explored almost every bit of Tel Aviv, but also went on half-day trips to Jerusalem and the Galilean Sea. I had certainly underestimated heavily the beauty of Israel, but to partially compensate for this I of course took plenty of photos with my smartphone (and the worse camera quality could hardly spoil most of the sights anyway). So I hope I’ll still manage to convey a bit of the atmosphere of the impressive places I saw (for the amazing food I tried unfortunately you’d have to go there yourselves).

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We start our photo-tour in the north of Tel Aviv, at the Hertzliya Marina where I was brought by a good old friend of mine that moved back to Israel after our student years together in the Netherlands.
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Luckily we were right on time to catch the sunset just like the people on all those boats sailing towards the sun.
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A few busy days later I finally managed to explore the southern part of Tel Aviv: the old town of Jaffa and the view back to the beach and the modern city built more recently.
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A sunset from Old Jaffa, just like on the top photo. You see the dome of one of the uncountable Christian churches in Israel built on Biblical places. St. Peter was a fisherman in Jaffa, as far as I remember.
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Yet another shot of Tel Aviv as seen from Old Jaffa, where maybe you can see more properly the calm atmosphere of the place and the people chilling around.
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A typical little street in Old Jaffa, where one can find lots of small restaurants and souvenir shops.
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What really amazed me in Tel Aviv is actually the atmosphere in the modern parts of town, all the liveliness and spirit of the locals. So I had to make a few shots of the more hipstery parts of town.
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A fairly typical side street in the modern part of the city.
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Most of all Tel Aviv is famous for its nightlife, and I surely confirm the fame is well-deserved as pretty much everyone in this city goes out at night.
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I was particularly fortunate to catch the “Laila Lavan”, the white night at the end of June when the street parties don’t stop. This is a “headphone” party where you can’t actually hear any music out loud.
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The next day I took a half-day trip to Jerusalem and its old town with the market that you see here. I can’t imagine two places more different than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, yet they are less than an hour drive from each other.
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Jerusalem is very old and very holy for so many of the big world’s religions. It is also a place of huge tension between different cultures and is extremely far from being “chilled” like Tel Aviv. I won’t go further into politics and religion, but here you see the entrance of the church built on top of Chirst’s tomb.
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And here you see the place where Christ was buried, or at least what people built over it. I suppose it is especially hard placing the burial ground of someone who was resurrected and didn’t leave any bones.
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Here you see the other holy place in Old Jerusalem, the remains of the Western Wall of the Second Jewish Temple. There are many religious Jewish people praying there at any point of time. Accidentally, and quite unfortunately for the course of history, the Western Wall is also of great significance to the Muslim people.
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Continuing the religious path away from Tel Aviv, here we are seeing a church in Nazareth, in the north of Israel. Nazareth was the hometown of Jesus Christ, but it is now a fully Muslim town with several newly-built churches.
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The day trip to the Galilean Sea was essentially full of places that hosted major events described in the bible as this was the region where Jesus and his disciples lived. This photo is from a place where Jesus performed one of his miracles, I believe.
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A catholic nun ringing the bell in one of the many churches along the way.
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Capernaum on the Galilean coast is another Biblical place with lots of ancient ruins a several newly built churches (the pink-domed one in the back is a Greek orthodox church I believe).
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The last place of my Biblical trip was on the Jordan river where many Christian people come to get baptized in the true original way. Several hours later I was back to Tel Aviv and heading to the airport, thinking of the extreme diversity of the people and places I encountered in Israel. Now, almost one year later, I still find it a truly unforgettable experience.

Rainy Boston

Venue: Boston, MA

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Boston – More than a feeling (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSR6ZzjDZ94)

My last photo story from my American trip is about Boston, where I spent two very rainy and cold days last June. I managed to see most of the historical places and walk along the Freedom Trail, but the weather was so foggy, windy and rainy that most of the photos ended up being very dark and grey. As a consequence I decided to include more photos from inside of various buildings, which are hopefully still worth a look (and of course you already saw my separate post about the MFA, https://kirilson.com/2018/04/07/us-art-mfa-boston/).

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The view from the Boston Public Garden to various business buildings surrounding it.
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There were plenty of squirrels in the park, and this one was polite enough to eat it’s nut and pose for me without moving too much.
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A slightly longer exposure shot in the metro with its interesting “T”-logo, on my way towards the start of the Freedom Trail in Charlestown.
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Somewhere along the trail, after a number of historical buildings, churches and ships hidden in the fog, I ended up in this backyard with a very saintly looking statue.
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Somewhere next to the historical Old State House (on the top photo) I found this dramatic memorial of the Irish famine two centuries ago.
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Another historical landmark along the trail with a peaceful donkey outside, symbolizing the Democratic party.
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On the next day the rain persisted so I decided to spend some time in the Boston Public Library, which is a truly gorgeous building.
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A sneak peek into the main library hall.
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A more proper look at the main hall of the library where I was careful enough not to disturb the anyone.
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Probably this shot gives you a more proper perspective on just how impressive the main reading room is.
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A last shot from the library backyard before venturing out into the rain.
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The view towards the Financial District from across the river.
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A last rainy shot of the beautiful Chinatown Gate on my way to the station.
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The impressive dome of Boston’s South Station on my way back to NYC.

Montauk and New Haven

Venue: Montauk, NY and New Haven, CT

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t fear) The reaper (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClQcUyhoxTg)

In one of my last posts from my not-so-recent-anymore trip to USA, I’ll show you photos from two short one-day trips away from NYC. The first set of photos is from Montauk, on the tip of Long Island, while the second part is from New Haven in Connecticut. There are probably more differences than similarities in these two places, one being a vacation beach party place and the other a very traditional university town, but hopefully you can still enjoy seeing them together.

 

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Starting near the train station in Montauk from the view of a small seaside restaurant.
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Lobster roll with sweet potato fries for brunch, a good start of the day.
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The hike after brunch took us all the way from the centre of Montauk to the tip of Long island through a series of parks…
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..until we finally reached the lighthouse on the top photo and the small beach full of these man-made rock figures.
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Another view of the lighthouse on the way back from the beach.
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Back to the main beach in the centre of Montauk, surrounded by many restaurants and bars. Unfortunately it was still too cold for dipping in.
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Changing suddenly the states and the atmosphere, here we’re seeing the entrance to one of the Victorian gothic buildings in Yale university in New Haven.
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The fittingly gothic cemetery is probably the second most popular tourist attraction after Yale university.
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Another typical Yale building with the official university logo on tip.
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Unfortunately it was a cold rainy day with very few people on the streets in New Haven. On the other hand the weather probably helped this little squirrel to comfortably roam the streets.
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Another rainy shot of the Yale campus, looking very similarly to its overseas analogs in Oxford and Cambridge.
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The house of the head of that particular college. I guess Harry Potter fans wouldn’t be surprised seeing one of Harry’s teachers coming out that door.

Happy New Year from Bansko

Venue: Bansko and Pirin mountain

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Nasko Mentata – Shushana / Наско Ментата – Шушана (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRk7AgrRD7g)

Happy new year and my best wishes to everyone for 2018!

After the flashbacks to 2015 and 2016 in my last posts for 2017, today I’m coming back to the present with some photos from my first weekend of the year that I spent in the winter ski resort of Bansko at the foot of Pirin mountain in southwestern Bulgaria. The photos are a mix between the more traditional Bulgarian (and slowly diminishing) side of the town of Bansko and the natural winter wonderland look of Pirin mountain.  Enjoy the photos, once again have a great 2018, and visit soon for the continuation of the “US art” series.

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We start with the most crowded point in Bansko and probably all of Bulgaria during the winter season – the entrance to the gondola ski lift in Bansko, the main starting point for all skiers.  Bansko is one of the biggest ski centres on the Balkan peninsula with many people visiting from the neighboring countries as well.
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I myself am not a big fan of skiing and prefer hiking in the mountains. In my preparation for the next day trip in the mountain I had to first strong and warm traditional food in the evening.
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A typical gypsy band playing around the tables in the traditional restaurant we visited (known as “mehana” in Bulgarian, which translates essentially as tavern in English). Here and on the top photo you only see three of them, but in total there are typically four guys playing and singing together.
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The fourth guy plays the local sort of flute that can be disassembled in several parts and the different parts can still produce sound separately. Here they left it on our table as a sort of special gesture for us, and we were expected to leave some money in the instrument thankful for the nice music.
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Energized from the dinner party, the next day I was ready for a hike up the mountain. I started early in the morning and passed on the side of the ski path that was not yet lit by the sun. Far away in the distance one can see the opposing mountain, Rila, which is slightly larger and taller than Pirin.
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Climbing further up I stopped for a break close to the main ski centre, where I had some tea with my skier friends.
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Further up the hike I finally got away from the skiing crowd and had the mountain, the snow and the sun all for myself. On the right you see the Vihren peak which is the highest point of Pirin at 2914 meters above sea level. It’s the third highest peak in the Balkans, but only comes 11 metres short of the top one. Climbing up there during winter is actually quite dangerous and requires a very serious preparation, so my final goal for the hike was much more modest.
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This is Baikushev’s pine, the real goal of my trip. This is the oldest known pine tree in Bulgaria, estimated to be above the age of 1300 years. The official state of Bulgaria was established by khan Asparukh around the time this pine was sprouting, making it a very symbolic tree.
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Unfortunately the nice little mountain restaurant and the refuge next to Baikushev’s pine turned out to be closed in winter, which changed my lunch plans and I had to head back down to the ski center area. Not before one last shot of Vihren peak behind my back.
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Afternoon on the ski slopes, still on my way to lunch.
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Finally down at the ski centre I had my lunch and enjoyed the last rays of sun for the day. Then I spotted this statue of Batman as a skier, which turned out to be very popular selfie spot for the skiers around me.
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After a few hours of rest in Bansko I had some time to walk around the streets of the old town, which were quite deserted at the time. The light mist and empty cobblestone streets were a nice reminder of the traditional atmosphere in Bansko before the tourist crowds of the past several decades.
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Another evening in another “mehana” decorated with another type of typical Bulgarian music instrument from the mountains.
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And another gypsy band playing the same music for me and my friends. A pretty good start of 2018!

 

Cape Town flashback

Venue: Cape Town and around, South Africa

Camera: Nikon Coolpix P7700

Music: Toto – Africa (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FTQbiNvZqaY)

Sometimes to go forward, you must go back.
This is why after a few months blogging-break I decided to go back to the first time I started realizing consciously that taking photos can be a fun hobby and that maybe I should get a camera of my own. I have tons of more recent photos waiting for their appearance here, but they will have to wait their turn in the new 2018. Here instead I’ll show you my first really amateur photos I took on a 10-day trip with friends to Cape Town in January 2015 (I used a compact camera borrowed from my sister). I actually lost most of the photos from this trip and the ones I managed to recover were from low quality facebook posts that only barely cover some of the main sights, but I hope you’ll still manage to appreciate just how amazingly beautiful Cape Town is. I would personally rate it as my world-top destination that combines a lively and interesting city in a unique natural setting giving the visitors a very wide range of meaningful activities (Rio is a close second) – but I am certainly open for other suggestions that you might have. In the same time it’s clear that the photos you’ll see are not my greatest achievement, giving me personally the satisfaction of seeing how I have developed my hobby in these past three years. Enjoy!

Hout bay
A string of seagulls in Hout Bay‘s harbour, roadtripping from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope.
Noordhoek beach
The next stop along the way was Noordhoek Beach – a vast empty land for anyone to enjoy and explore. Unfortunately the water temperature of the ocean here is not as welcoming as the beach.
Boulder beach
Another beach with a pleasant surprise – the cute African penguins made Boulders beach its home, and inadvertently one of the main tourist attractions around Cape Town.
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Not only the penguins were cute at Boulders beach. This must accidentally be my first girl photo shoot.
Ostriches
Moving further south to an ostrich farm on the side of the road. And one of my first tries at an image post-production.
Cape of Good Hope
Finally at the Cape of Good Hope, with the rough but beautiful landscape of Africa’s most south-western point.
Cape Point
A baboon family passing our car at Cape Point, a few kilometers further east.
Table mountain
Back to the city, and some distance above it on top of amazingly flat Table mountain. One can see the beautiful football stadium in the Green Point area that co-hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
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Still up on Table mountain, my friends are trying to show where we are at the moment (they seem to be pointing at different places though).
Kirstenbosch
A lady feeding the birds at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.
Stellenbosch
The view of the mountains around Stellenbosch from one of the several wine estates that we visited checking out the local wines.
Muizenberg beach
The flag warning legend in the official English, Afrikaans (old Dutch), and Xhosa language at Muizenberg beach where we went surfing (at a black flag). The good news was that shark season was only coming in a couple of months so it was very safe… only to discover we all suck in surfing!
Twelve apostles
The sunset view to the Twelve Apostles mountain from Camps Bay – the best place in Cape Town to enjoy a “sundowner” drink and to contemplate at the end of the day. Well, maybe the best place anywhere for that purpose.

 

Northeast Bulgarian road trip II: the Black Sea coast

Venue: Cape Kaliakra, Yailata nature reserve, Shabla, Balchik

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Vasil Naidenov – Blue / Васил Найденов – Синева (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6jDn1D8ndg)

As explained in the previous post of the road trip series, the final goal of our spring journey was the Black Sea coast and the wild peonies there. We left Silistra on the Danube river and headed towards Balchik, Kaliakra cape and the wild nature reserve Yailata. Along the way we did find plenty of flowers together with some other nice sights that I’ll show and describe below as always.

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An arch remaining from the old ruins of the Kaliakra fortress close to the tip of the cape with the same name.
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Some of the other remains from the old fortress are now used as a small orthodox chapel, “St. Nicolas”.
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This is the view from the western side of the cape to the mainland, while the top photo shows you the eastern side. You can see a small mussel farm in the water and the wind turbines further back implying the typical windy weather in this region of the Black Sea coast.
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Another 20km further north is Yailata where the nature and the seashore look very similar to Kaliakra. This is the place to look for the wild peonies, which are supposed to be particularly beautiful to observe at night with the moonlight and the sea behind. We only managed to walk around during the afternoon but it was still quite pleasurable.
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Another small chapel, this time constructed within a cave inside the nature reserve. People carved some religious messages inside the walls and places small icons wherever they could find a spot in the cave.
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And here are the legendary wild peonies, hidden in the bushes among the other spring flowers. Unfortunately we couldn’t find any wild peonies growing right next to the cliffs in order to get the best photo possible, so maybe I should think about a second try next year.
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And this is the lighthouse in Shabla, another 10km further north. I was a bit disappointed by it in real life, but it doesn’t look so bad on the photo, does it?
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We spent the evening in Balchik, which is the largest town in this part of the seaside. It was still early for the busy tourist season but there were still quite a few nice restaurants close to the port.
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Blachik is actually best known not for its beach but for its botanic garden and palace. The botanical garden is a property of the Sofia University and hosts a large variety of plants, among which many cacti (as in the plural of cactus).
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The nice red blossoms of one particular cactus species (of course I forgot the name) in the botanic garden.
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Inside the botanic garden there are also some typical old houses from the end of 19th century, some of which are kept untouched and others are turned into small shops or restaurants. The one here was used as a wine cellar and shop offering some very old looking spirits. I tried the rakia (hard fruit liquor) made from pumpkins and it was very good.
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Still in the botanic garden, but close to the beach now. There was an oriental looking construction of arches with a small pool in the middle.
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More flowers and arches near the sea.
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And this is the Blachik palace, which was the summer villa for the Queen Marie of Romania during the decade when this region of the Bulgarian coast was part of Romania. Apparently Marie was very open to diverse religions because the extravagant minaret that tops the building coexists with a Christian chapel right beneath.
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One final view of the strange palace and the lone boat in the calm sea from a bit further up in the botanic garden. With this our time was up and we headed back to Sofia.

Northeast Bulgarian road trip I: along the Danube

Venue: Pleven, Ruse, Srebarna nature reserve, Silistra

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: Johann Strauss II – On the beautiful blue Danube(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHt2tW_nvp8)

The spring season in Bulgaria offers a number of public holidays and we used one of the three-day weekends in the beginning of May to make a road trip to the northeast side which is relatively far away from Sofia. The final goal was the observation of the wild peony blossoms along the Black sea coast (coming in the next post of the series), but the first part of the journey took us along the Bulgarian coast of the Danube river which has its own magnificence. I’ll try to show you a bit of the beauty of this region in my photos adding below my usual (hopefully insightful) comments.

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The first evening of the journey we traveled from Sofia to Pleven, a town in the middle of the Danube valley which is a bit further away from the river. This is a photo of a delicious little pizza restaurant in the centre of Pleven which was nicely decorated with many light bulbs and blue wires.
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On the next day our first stop was Ruse, the largest Bulgarian city on the Danube river. Ruse has a lot of beautiful end of 19th century architecture, but unfortunately in the recent years population has been decreasing and many of the houses are rundown. At least the theater building that you see here is still well-maintained.
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The park along the river in Ruse is also rundown, but there are still some cute looking benches and statues.
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This is the opposite view from the same spot as the photo above. On the other side of the river you already see another country: Romania.
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A last glimpse of Ruse city centre after a short lunch break. This old guy on the balcony of the old house was calmly watching the people below and contemplating life.
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On the road again: the way between Ruse and Silistra goes right along the river and passes through some very picturesque places. We stopped by to enjoy the view of this yellow field of rapeseed I believe.
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I had to take a few shots of the yellow field that contrasted dramatically with the grey skies above.
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These are the pelicans in Srebarna nature reserve, a swampland near the town of Silistra which is home to a list of endangered bird species. This is why we were only allowed to observe the birds from far away via binoculars. The camera here managed to capture a mix between the zoomed image from the binoculars and the actual view with naked eye.
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A short walk from the nature reserve one finds some small wooden houses along the river belonging to local fishermen. These are their boats and another view towards the Romanian coast.
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Shortly before the sunset we finally arrived in Silistra, our final stop from the journey situated along the Danube. The park in Silistra is freshly renovated and offers some great spots for observing the sunset along the river.
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A “love” statue where couples in love can legally leave their locks.
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Another view from the park in Silistra, here from the ancient ruins of the Roman town of Durostorum that was situated here two thousand years ago.
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It was only natural to finish the evening at a nice fish restaurant along the river, offering us a last glimpse of the sunset from its humbly decorated terrace. It was pretty much all we could hope for – fresh fish, amazing view and complete tranquility.
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A final shot from Silistra and the Danube river at night with a few lights from the north side of the river. As beautiful as the towns along the Danube are, they are also some of the poorest and fastest decreasing in population in Bulgaria which explains the lack of people enjoying the parks.

Weekend in Lombardia

Venue: Bergamo, Milano, Varenna, Belaggio

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: J-Ax – Maria Salvador (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrtpl9aDDrk)

This spring, for Easter weekend, I travelled to Italy in order to visit a modern art exhibition in Milano, the capital of Lombardy. Apart from the exhibition (coming soon in a separate art post) we had time to visit Milano and the nearby town of Bergamo, as well as the lake of Como. These are all places I have visited multiple times during the three-year period of my life spent in Milano, so I am certainly very biased towards Lombardy and the Italian style of life with its eclectic blend of modern and traditional. Hopefully I managed to catch some bits and pieces of the whole picture in my photos and comments below.

 

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We start with Bergamo and its “citta alta”, the “high city” which is the historic old town situated on a hill in the pre-Alps.

 

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A typical façade of a house in the old town of Bergamo, which could easily be found in pretty much every town and city all across the Apennine peninsula.

 

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Part of the main cathedral (duomo) of Bergamo and the baptistery building in front of it.
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Moving 50km southwest to Milano and its Navigli district with old canals and many bars and restaurants. Two ducks are disrupting the calm reflection of the houses on the main canal.
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This old lady is enjoying the cool shade in a backyard on the side of the canal, full of little art workshops.
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Opposite of Navigli from the centre of Milano one can find another hip neighborhood with many trendy bars and restaurants – the Isola district. This is my favorite piece of street art I have seen there, the flamingo astronaut. 
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Right next to Isola one can see the Milanese skyline where the most famous and interesting residential skyscrapers are the pair of “vertical forests” with various trees and other big plants growing on the balconies of each apartment. 
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The entrance of “Cimitero Monumentale”, one of the old historic cemeteries in Milan. It is a popular tourist destination for its abundance of artistic tombs and monuments making it a large open air free museum with a very special atmosphere.
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To show you a few examples of artistic gravestones, here are Filiberto and Albertina…
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…and here the monument of an older woman.
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A typical family tomb of a rich Milanese family from the 18th or 19th century. The cemetery is full of such imposing family monuments that keep the remains of many generations through the centuries. 
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Another medieval Italian tradition kept through the centuries and still exercised today: the confession. The green light above the left cabin is signifying the presence of the priest sitting in, while the red light on the right means the confessionary is occupied as clear from the kneeling silhouette.
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Changing the mood completely: time for sightseeing at Lago di Como. This is the view to the lake and surrounding mountains from the town of Varenna.
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A typical tourist café in Varenna with people enjoying the amazing views. 
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And a typical steep cobblestone street leading visitors straight to the lake.
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These flowers are also enjoying the spring sun and wonderful sights from the top of Varenna.
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After a short ferry ride we find ourselves in Bellagio on the other side of the lake. The view is not even slightly less stunning, and the colorful houses and street ornaments are as abundant here as in Varenna as also seen at the photo on top.
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A little restaurant overlooking the lake in Bellagio with plenty of flowers and lanterns used as decoration.
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Unfortunately on the way back with the ferry there is a huge line and lack of organization leaving us waiting for quite a while. On the positive side, queueing with such a view in front of you is definitely easier.
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And back to Milano’s central train station on the way home from the short trip. The modern sculpture right in front fits strangely with the dominant background of the huge concrete building from the fascist times and the historic old Milanese tram from the 1920’s passing by on the left. Eclectic and beautiful, just like Milano and Lombardia.

 

Utrecht and Amsterdam

Venue: Central Amsterdam and central Utrecht

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: Guus Meeuwis – Het is een nacht (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOy76zw0TrQ)

A few weeks ago I promised you an extended post from the Netherlands with plenty of bikes and canals, and here it comes! I had the opportunity to visit shortly Amsterdam and Utrecht and take some of the usual touristy photos, but the number of different bikes, boats, and canals I shot is so big that I am only going to show you a small fraction of my photos while still risking getting you bored.  So you’re warned of the coming typical Dutch scenery, which I myself find quite charming and slightly nostalgic (I used to live in Utrecht in my youth).

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We start our tour in Amsterdam, which doesn’t need much introduction or advertisement. The larger boats on the photo are actually houses one can rent in exchange for a substantial amount of money each month. Not that the actual Dutch houses on the other side of the street are any cheaper.
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Guinny was there with me as we walked around the canals. Here he’s resting on one of the bikes alongside a canal in the Jordan district of Amsterdam.
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Another bike along the canal, with a tourist boat passing right underneath me in this moment.
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More bikes, bridges over canals and typical Dutch houses, arranged in such a way that you just have to take a photo.
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Another international tourist sign – the love locks on the bridges.
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But it doesn’t get more touristy than here – the tulips in the small lake next to the “I amsterdam” sign in front of the Rijksmuseum.
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Nearby Rijksmuseum is Koekjesbrug, the “cookie bridge”.
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And another bridge that probably doesn’t have so tasty name.
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And just in case you didn’t believe me, the boat sign clearly agrees with me this is Amsterdam!
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Moving 20 km to the south-east and several hours later in the day, this is Utrecht around sun-set with its most notable landmark – the Dom tower.
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And in case you were worried – there are plenty of bikes and canals in Utrecht too! This is Oudegracht, the “Old canal” of Utrecht, which is more than 400 years older than all of the canals you saw in Amsterdam.
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A lone biker on a side street in Utrecht, just before the city lights get switched on.
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Back to the Oudegracht with more bikers.
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I am probably biased, but I always found Utrecht more beautiful than Amsterdam and a more fun place to live in.
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Café “De Poort” on one side of the canal, as seen from the side.
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This photo could have easily been taken half a century ago with the VW Beetle on the side of the canal.
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Unlike the canals in Amsterdam, the ones in Utrecht have a “cellar” level below the street which is perfect for various bars, restaurants and events.
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One of the most iconic bars in Utrecht, the Belgian café with hundreds of beers and at least that many memorable nights spent there by me and my friends. It’s the perfect place to end the night in and accidentally also this post!

Thessaloniki roadtrip

Venue: Blagoevgrad, Thessaloniki and around

Lens: Sigma 35 mm f/1.4

Music: Christos Kyriazis – Epimeno (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EzVGYjVMhkU)

Thessaloniki, or as Bulgarians call it Solun, is the main city in North Greece and is only a 4-5 hour drive away from Sofia. This makes it a perfect long weekend destination for Bulgarians that want to enjoy some great sea views and food. Strangely enough I myself had never spent much time in Thessaloniki and I’m glad I had the chance to go there in the first days of spring. The population of Thessaloniki is a bit less than a million people making it very lively and culturally eventful place that in the same time is not too big to be hard to navigate around. It is a typical Mediterranean city that reminded me a bit of Naples and Barcelona, but with the slight twist added by its position on the Balkan peninsula. Probably most importantly of all (for our purposes here) Thessaloniki is just amazingly photogenic, as I hope to convince you with the photos below.

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We start our photo trip from Blagoevgrad, a small student town that is the centre of the Bulgarian region of Macedonia. We decided to spend the night there on the way to Greece and found it eerily empty on a Friday night, probably due to a university spring vacation.
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The old town in Blagoevgrad was also very quiet and dark in the clear starry night, transporting you back at least 150 years or so.
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The next day we arrived instead at the Greek part of the Macedonia region and its respective main city, Thessaloniki. The first few hours were spent around some old Byzantine fortresses and religious buildings overlooking the Aegean Sea.
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The side window of one of the many beautiful churches. This one is Hagia Sofia, bearing the same name as the famous one in Istanbul and the slightly less famous one in Sofia.
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Not sure what the signs here mean literally, but its the place in the church where you can take and light up a candle in exchange for leaving some money. Greek people are quite religious so most churches were full of people on this Saturday afternoon.
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Moving on to the more modern sights in town: this is the entrance to the old dock area that is now converted into a place with a few bards and restaurants as well as some museums. I don’t know who made the small heart but it looks somewhat similar to the works of the urban artist Invader.
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Inside the photo museum, whose exposition was dedicated to the recent migrant crisis and the hard life of the thousands of refugees from Syria and the Middle East traveling to Europe.
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On the side of the photo museum people seemingly had much less problems and enjoyed the sunset sea views.
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The empty streets later that night when climbing the slope of one of the older neighborhoods of Thessaloniki. These small hilly streets were quite a struggle for the car, but truly beautiful and atmospheric for an evening walk.
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The big prize of climbing the hills was the view from the terrace of the place we rented. Not that they need any extra advertisement, but sometimes using airbnb can be really spot on.
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The next evening during the walk downhill with beautiful old houses and blue Sunday sky.
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Among all the other things, Thessaloniki is also a great place for street art with some truly amazing works.
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Back to the city centre where street art gets mixed with old Byzantine ruins and more modern city architecture.
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A fast stop for a bougatsa, or as we call it banitsa, a cheese-filled pastry. This small but famous shop offered also some sweet varieties that were really tasty.
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The umbrella installation on the sea promenade in Thessaloniki, probably the most popular place for selfie lovers and Instagram addicts.
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And of course also Guinny came with us! He quite enjoyed the view to this little yacht port and the amazing octopus dish at the sea-food restaurant right at the port entrance.
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We just couldn’t get enough sea food so we also stopped at a less fancy psarotaverna (fish tavern) for stuffed calamari. Many of the people around decided to make photos with the sunset which in turned helped me make some contre-jour photos of them.
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Somebody had just left their socks and sneakers on the side of the restaurant. A good opportunity to test if it’s true that everything looks great with the sea and the sunset on the background.
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This fishing boat, together with the two floating ones on the top photo, did indeed look great with the sea and the sunset.
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“The Old Man and the Sea.” At least its Greek version on the seaside street to central Thessaloniki.
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The seafront promenade seen from a slightly elevated public place where locals like to hang out.
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More people enjoying the warm spring Sunday on the seafront street stretching for 5-6 kilometers from the centre of the city to the suburbs.
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The umbrella installation was looking a bit more creepy and jellyfish-like in the evening.
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The big monument of Alexander the Great, the famous king of Macedonia.
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Another landmark of Thessaloniki: the White Tower, notorious for being a prison during the Turkish rule of the Balkans.
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The alluring front of a very cool store selling all kinds of nuts and candy.
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The numerous bars right at the seafront street were all completely packed with people. Given the very high prices and the great number of people going out (both relative to the Bulgarian standards) I can only conclude that the economic crisis in Greece is long gone.
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The next day we had to already go back to Sofia, but had a short time in the morning to visit the beach at one of Thessaloniki’s suburbs, Agia Triada (not Rio!).

Independence weekend

Venue: Zemen, Sofia, Vitosha mountain

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: My beautiful forest / Хубава си моя горо (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbo0RNIc7NU)

3rd of March is Bulgaria’s Independence Day and as it happened to be Friday this year everyone had an extended 3-day weekend out of work. Together with my girlfriend we decided to take it easy and decide what to do day by day without any big plans. And the outcome was that we went for a road trip to a nearby monastery on the first day, a gallery visit in Sofia on the second day, and a walk in the nearby mountain, Vitosha, on the third day. And as always I brought my camera with me and made plenty of pictures, here they come!

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On the way to the Zemen monastery we first considered having a picnic at lake Pchelina, but it turned out that the accessible places around the lake were occupied by local fisherman and we didn’t want to disrupt them.
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So we went on our way to the Zemen monastery, situated about 70 km away from Sofia. The church is the oldest conserved part of the monastery dating from 11th century AD.
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This is the painting at the entrance of the church. It is quite richly painted also inside including some unusual masonic symbols among the usual Biblical scenes, but I was not allowed to take photos unfortunately.
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The view from the monastery to the nearby small town of Zemen. At this place we finally managed to have our picnic on the loan next to the church.
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The Bulgarian tradition of martenitsa at the beginning of March – it is an old pagan ritual of wearing red and white wool dolls or pieces of string. Sometimes we also leave them at the blossoming trees to welcome the coming spring.
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On the way back we passed by the town of Zemen with its abandoned bus station (АВТОГАРА in Bulgarian) right next to the railroad.
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We stopped on the side of our road to Sofia for a few last photos of the quiet nature before heading to the city.
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Sofia greeted us with a gorgeous pink sky at sunset and eerily empty streets due to the national holiday so I had to stop for some more photos.
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The next day we decided to go around Sofia meeting some friends and visiting the gallery for modern art. One of the exhibits was on the theme of the naked male body.
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In the next room there were far less people, but at least they were all dressed.
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Some cool sculptures I thought would make a nice photo, but by now I already forgot who was their author and what was the emphasis.
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The last day of the long weekend we decided to be more active and hike up in the Vitosha mountain, starting from one of the neighborhoods of Sofia – Knyazhevo. This is at the last stop of the tram that took us there, with a nice graffiti wall depicting the old times when Knyazhevo was still a village outside the city and the tram was obviously more retro style.
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On the way up there was a nice playground in the forest with some kids running around.
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The yellow trail mark on some of the trees leading us up to some of the mountain cabins. Unfortunately the weekend was over so we had to leave the mountain woods and come back to daily life.

Stockholm and Örebro

Venue: Stockholm and Örebro, Sweden

Lens: Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4

Music: Abba – Happy New Year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Uo0JAUWijM)

Happy New Year everyone and my best wishes for 2017! Here is my post with more photos of Sweden as already promised last year (https://kirilson.com/2016/12/22/konst-in-and-under-stockholm/). Apart from the amazing metro stations in Stockholm I managed to explore a bit more on the surface of the Swedish capital, as well as visit one of the other big cities around – Örebro (pronounced more like Orebroo). So here are the photos with my usual (hopefully entertaining) comments below, and once again have a great 2017 everyone.

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We start from Stockholm and its Old town (Gamla stan) located on a small island in the centre of the archipelago that makes up the whole city. This old part of Stockholm is now mostly a touristy area with lots of little cobblestone streets and small cute houses serving as cafes and souvenir shops. This particular restaurant should be “under the chestnuts” as suggested by the name.
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The main square in Gamla stan, called Stortorget, was hosting a small Christmas market in the last weeks of 2016. The “Sockervadd!” sign with Santa below actually advertises cotton candy.
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Along the coast of the many islands in Stockholm you can find various boats with restaurants or houses for the people to live.
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A larger panorama of the coastline of central Stockholm as seen from the island of Djurgarden that hosts most of the museums.
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A part of an exposition in the Skansen museum that represents the way Swedish people used to live in the past. The woman dressed in traditional clothes from the past explained that in the cold Scandinavian winters with barely any food back in the day it was a standard practice to eat the bark of some trees.
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Another part of Skansen showing the traditional Swedish houses and means of living.
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Going further in the past – a Viking tombstone inscribed with runes (unsurprisingly also called a runestone). Pretty cool, right?
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And these are the raised wooden houses of the other local people living further up in the Scandinavian north – the Sami people.
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Last bit of Skansen – an exposition of a glass maker’s shop from the more recent past.
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And this is the view towards one of the other major museums – Nordiska. At 2:30 pm the sun was already under the horizon and the grey sky was turning darker.
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Evening in central Stockholm from one of the fancy rooftop restaurants in Sodermalm (the south hill).
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One last shot of the famous houses in Stortorget square in Gamla stan on the next day shortly before taking the train to Orebro.
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Two hours and 150 kilometers later it was already dark and time for an evening walk in the centre of Orebro.
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And here is my lovely host, who was very happy to pose for some portrait photos.
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This is the main tourist sight in this part of Sweden – the Orebro castle, intentionally made by me on the photo to look a more creepy than usual.
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The next day we found an extremely cosy little place for traditional breakfast – coffee with pastries next to a beautiful old sunlit piano.
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Some old kitchen tools used just for show – the actual kitchen of the cafe was much more modern-looking.
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Another look in the past – the Wadkoping area on one side of the centre in Orebro is built to resemble a typical small Swedish village from the past with the dark-red pointy-roof houses. Some of these houses serve as museums and souvenir shops, but many are home to the more nostalgic families in the region.
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One of the houses in Wadkoping with live grass growing on the roof – the typical Swedish red color of the houses derives from the iron ore that is abundant in these areas.
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Another cute piece of Wadkoping – the open air theater scene with wooden benches for the spectators. Unfortunately as you can imagine it’s not really used throughout the year in Sweden.
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On its west side Orebro is situated along one of the big Swedish lakes and one can experience some pristine nature and really feel the roughness and loneliness of the countryside. The little red “bookstore” remains always open on the path to the lake for anyone that enjoys reading a nice book with a view.
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In the fall and winter seasons however, one can enjoy more a little jog for warming up.
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This is what I referred to above as roughness of the Swedish nature. But even in the end of November there were a few eager bird-watchers hoping to spot some remaining life. In spring and summer the lake is actually home to thousands of birds (and a few mosquitoes).
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This empty bench put on a small elevation overlooking the lake is probably a great place to ponder over the great questions of life. But it was little bit too cold for that..
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..so we went to warm up in the cosy Erik Rosenbergs stuga – a small cabin on the side of the lake. It’s kept well-heated by the municipality and is freely open during the day so that passers-by can take some rest and have a snack or a drink (as long as they bring it themselves). With this the short Swedish trip  was over and it was time to fly back home.