Category Archives: Travel Journals
As part of a much-needed vacation last month, I took a trip to New York, where I spent some quality time with old friends and got a chance to explore parts of the city that I haven’t seen before.
After spending Labor Day weekend in Penfield, a cozy, albeit sleepy upstate town, Manhattan seemed as vibrant as ever. I happily explored the lively Greenwich Village, took an extended stroll through Central Park and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge at night. I had potato dumplings (“vareniki”) and smoked fish at a Russian restaurant just off the boardwalk on Brighton Beach (where I also tasted Baltika beer for the first time); sushi at a joint on the Upper West Side and a falafel/hummus/pickle platter at 12 Chairs – a great Israeli-Eastern-European fusion restaurant in West Village. I visited Strand Bookstore, which had the largest collection of art and photography books I have ever seen. I also stopped by the gigantic Barnes and Noble on Union Square, where I picked up David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish and ended up reading the whole thing in its entirety, right there in the store. Quite an inspirational little book, I must say.
Coming back from vacation, no matter how long, always requires some degree of re-adjustment on my part. Hence, it took me almost two weeks to finally sort through the photos I’ve taken on this much-needed getaway trip. Without further adieu, enjoy!
On the way to the Cascade campground, just outside Buena Vista, CO:
An abandoned drive-in movie theater:
Home away from home:
Last weekend, Stephanie and I went on a wonderful 3-day camping/road trip to southern Colorado. We stayed in a cabin at Cutty’s Resort Hayden Creek, a scenic area surrounded by a beautiful mountain range. I suppose, this technically doesn’t count as “camping” per-se, since we did not sleep in a tent and had access to such amenities as running water, a flush toilet and even a shower and mini-fridge. Still, we were in nature, and that’s what counts, right? :) We had an amazing time, despite late-afternoon rain showers and the abundance of noisy kids on the campground premises. We went on a couple of beautiful hikes where we enjoyed the autumn colors in all of their brilliance, caught up on some reading, and at night we sat by the fire, eating canned vegetarian chili and mac-and-cheese, listening to the creek’s running water and looking at the stars that magnificently twinkled in the night sky.
On our second night, I took some incredible starfield photos, something I didn’t expect to get out of my 40D without a tripod and a remote trigger, but it’s amazing what ISO 3200 and F2.8 can do with a :30-second exposure! We got really lucky, as the skies were superbly clear, providing a breathtaking view of the heavens. We could see the Milky Way, and once we even briefly spotted a meteor. Living in the city, I almost never get the chance to see the night sky in all of its glory, so being away from all the light pollution, in the deep blackness of the night, it was quite a revelation to see the majestic myriad of stars and galaxies that populate the night sky. I can honestly say that it took my breath away. I’ve always had a fascination with astronomy, but seeing this with my own eyes really reminded me of how small we all really are, how insignificant on the grand scale, in the millions of light years of distance that penetrate through the Universe. All this bullshit with declining economy, mortgage crisis, wars, global warming, terrorism… None of it matters. We are nothing but a speck of dust; a dim flash lasting less than a fraction-of-a-second, a flash of life and so-called intelligence lost in the billions of stars and billions of years of the Universe’s existence. THAT is terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time.
On the way back to Denver, we stopped in Salida to get gas, drove through Buena Vista, and made a stop in Leadville to get something to eat at a cute little diner, followed by coffee at a place across the street. I found Leadville a quaint little Western mountain town, a mixture of cowboys and hippies, quiet and surrounded by gorgeous views. Certainly worth a stop, if you are ever in the area.
Going north, we drove through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen, and once again I marveled at the incredible abundance of land in this country. Miles and miles of open fields, forests and beautiful mountain ranges. This whole talk about the world’s overpopulation – we could fit billions of people here, if we wanted to. Of course, feeding them would be a different problem :)
Completely unexpected, we came across the breathtaking Clinton Gulch Reservoir in Summit County, located about 11,000 ft above sea level. Both Stephanie and I pondered the idea that we may have died and gone to heaven, or alternatively – were spontaneously teleported into the Swiss Alps.
Finally, we got on I-70 and drove to Idaho Springs, the last leg of our little road trip, where we indulged in a much-needed relaxation in the natural hot mineral springs and swimming pool. Not as large as the one in Glenwood Springs, but still cozy and beautiful, and less than an hour’s drive from Denver! The indoor pool was enclosed in a translucent dome and was a miniature tropical paradise, complete with flowers, plants and live banana and palm trees. I wish we could have stayed longer, but the weekend was over and eventually we had to drive home.
Once again, I’m amazed at how many beautiful locations there are in Colorado, many of them within a relatively short drive from Denver. Sometimes, it is like entering a different world. The fact that I opted out of any long-distance travel this year is, thankfully, compensated by these little trips. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a few more of those before the end of the year. And now, it’s back to the real life and the mundane household problems like cleaning the kitchen and paying bills. At least, I don’t have to be back at work until next week!
The daily grind inside the mean machine of Evil Corporate America(tm) got the best of me, but thankfully my birthday rolled in, and along with it a week of vacation. For quite some time, I’ve been considering what to do with this much-needed time off. Unfortunately, the trips to Vancouver, Montreal and Quebec (as well as Europe, Hawaii, Alaska, Australia and South America) I originally hoped for were not entirely feasible at this point, for both logistical and financial reasons. Instead, I opted for something I desperately needed – a true getaway vacation that would not be just another exhausting tourist excursion. All I wanted to do was to go someplace where I could relax, enjoy myself and completely forget about the mundane daily activities I’ve been inadvertently a part of, such as showers and having to work for a living.
What’s really great about living in Colorado, is that there are so many amazing places within a relatively short driving distance, most of which I have yet to see. Glenwood Springs, for example, is a quaint little mountain town that is famous for its incredible hot springs pool and resort, as well as its gorgeous surrounding scenery such as the Glenwood Canyon, White River National Forest, and numerous hiking and camping destinations. It seemed like exactly what I needed – to spend several days in the mountain forest, bathe in the mineral hot springs and to get some serious relaxation on. I really wanted to let my inner hippie/mountain man out.
Despite considering myself a nature-friendly person, I have never been camping. This has been a subject of much ridicule among my friends and co-workers for quite some time now. Mishka got me an awesome 20F rated sleeping bag for my birthday several years ago, which I haven’t had the chance to use until last weekend. But, as the tagline of The 40 Year-Old Virgin proclaims, better late than never.
After what was arguably the best birthday dinner of my life the night before (Bistro Vendome – my tongue melts into a rose-colored moosh just thinking about you), Stephanie and I packed my appropriately-named Subaru Forester with camping equipment and beer and set out for the mountains, leaving the conveniences of modern technological civilization for the beauty of the natural world, the first signs of which manifested in the form of splattered bug brains on my windshield.
The 3-hour drive to Glenwood Springs from Denver was about as scenic as it gets, and the stretch of I-70 through the Glenwood Canyon was positively breathtaking. However, our final destination was Avalanche Creek Campground, about 13 miles south of Carbondale. To get to that somewhat remote location, we had to brave several miles of unpaved rocky dirt road and cross a stream along the way. When we finally reached the campsite, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It was that beautiful.
To be continued (with photographic evidence)…
I arrived at JFK on Thursday evening, more than an hour late due to my Jet Blue flight being delayed (apparently, a common occurrence these days). A little worn out from what seemed like an entire day of travel, plus the 2-hour time difference (I must be getting old, it never used to bother me), I met up with my friends from Rochester at the baggage claim. Hugs, smiles, bags off the carousel, out the door and into the humid, drizzling New York night we went. Took a cab uptown to our hotel on 94th and Broadway. People everywhere, lights, cars, dogs, newspaper stands and food markets – oh, how I missed this city. We checked into our room, unloaded, walked a few blocks to a nearby Vietnamese restaurant – we were all starving. The food was out of this world, I could barely keep myself from making indecent orgasmic sounds as I devoured shrimp spring rolls, vegetable dumplings and grilled chicken with rice noodles and vegetables. This is going to sound silly, but that is the thing I absolutely love about New York the most. Yes, it’s the food. The abundance of restaurants open late into the night, even on weekdays (staying open until 12am is normal here – Denver definitely has something to learn from this). And the incredible, as well as very affordable, quality food. “This is it, I’m moving here,” I kept telling my friends. Wishful thinking on my part, but I can dream just a little, can’t I?
Friday – breakfast at EuroPan café down the street (french toast, fresh bagels, coffee), a trip to the MET, then a stroll through Chinatown in the pouring rain (for which, of course, we bought a couple of cheap umbrellas on the street). Somehow, all Chinatowns are starting to seem pretty much the same to me. The one in San Francisco is probably the best of the bunch, while NYC is a close second, followed by the mediocre LA. Still, it was fun to walk around and look at the fake brand-name items and cheesy-yet-cute souvenirs. I finally got myself a pair of balls I’ve been eyeing for some time. You know what I’m talking about. The ones that fit nicely in the palm of your hand. The ones you can play with. They even make sounds when you juggle them. And they’re green. You know. Balls.
We ate at a delicious Chinese bakery, which was full of things that still make my mouth wet as I think about it. Sweet bean buns, fried chicken and onion buns, oh – and bubble tea. Looove the bubble tea. Very tasty. Then – more rain, more shopping, more wet streets and honking cars and people hurrying somewhere. People are always in a hurry in New York.
We took the train back to our hotel, recuperated a little, then walked up and down Broadway. Dinner at the much-beloved Vietnamese restaurant again (we couldn’t help it, it was just too good). Dessert at the French bakery down the street. We split a slice of chocolate cake, which melted in my mouth. It was almost too much. Food coma time.
Saturday – coffee, subway trip downtown, picked up Yana’s friend from the Penn Station, took another train to Brighton Beach (the hub of Russian community in NYC). What a surreal experience, like something from a bad movie or a hazy dream. It was amusing to observe the nearly caricature-like characters inhabiting this part of New York. Not the intellectual Russian elite, that’s for sure. On the other hand, the food was amazing, and it was cool to browse the Russian book and video stores. Being the typical tourist that I am, I bought myself a KGB t-shirt. Phear me, Russian mafia!
We took a walk on the boardwalk at Brighton Beach, it was sunny but chilly and windy as shit. Then, dinner at the restaurant “Primorski” or “Zamorski”, I can’t remember. Fancy place, and the food was great, of course. A very traditional Russian meal – various salads, chicken “Kiev”, fried trout, potatoes, pickled cabbage – yummy stuff.
We went back to Manhattan, dropped Yana’s friend off, back to our hotel, relaxed a little, then met up with a couple other Yana’s friends. Had late-night dinner at a kosher restaurant downtown – amazing hummus, chicken kabobs… More food coma material, in other words. Back to hotel, passed out.
Sunday – checked out of our hotel, left the bags in storage, had coffee across the street. Then, a long-awaited pilgrimage to B&H, the holy mecca of electronics, photography and video equipment. A store so massive, it takes up an entire city block! I checked out the ultra-wide Sigma 12-24mm lens, which I’ve been considering to purchase sometime in the future. Not quite yet, though; it’s still a bit pricey for my budget.
Then, I said goodbye to my friends from Rochester, met up with Amy (my lovely Euro-travel buddy from way back in 2005) and took the subway to 67th and Broadway. We met up with my old friend Alex, whom I haven’t seen in about 7 years, and his adorable little brother for lunch at a Chinese restaurant called Ollie’s. Then, Amy and I took a train to Times Square, where we wandered around, ate honey-roasted nuts and took goofy pictures of each other. We had dessert at some awesome bakery in a gigantic shopping center.
It’s crazy, but most of my memories from this trip revolve around food and spending time with my friends. Everything else was just a big, bright blur in the background. Four days in New York is just not enough time to fully enjoy it, but then again, it seems like there never is enough time for anything anymore.
It was time to say goodbye to Amy. I took the train back to the hotel, retrieved my bags and waited for the shuttle to pick me up and take me to the airport. The shuttle was almost an hour late, but I made it to JFK on time. Had my camera bag selected for a “random search”. Of course. ‘Cause, you know, my 350D is actually an improvised explosive device that needs to be scanned extra-super-carefully. Passed through security, had a slice of veggie pizza and a bottle of grapefruit juice at the terminal, then onto a plane, another delay with departure (of course), but amazingly – arrived in Denver exactly on time. Exhausted, retrieved my luggage from the baggage claim, got into my car and drove home.
Denver seemed so quiet, peaceful and familiar after the noisy, crowded hectic craziness of New York City. Which, once again, reminds me that no matter how much I love traveling and visiting far-away places, I love coming back home even more. And Denver really, truly feels like home to me now. Imperfect, sometimes wonderful, sometimes annoying, but home nevertheless. I’m so glad I got to see my old friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in many years. It was amazing, even if painfully short. But there is always a next time.
NYC METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART
MANHATTAN / TIMES SQUARE
BRIGHTON BEACH BOARDWALK
LA. This city was pretty much what I expected. Palm trees. Smog. Traffic. I’m glad we decided to stay in Anaheim for most of our trip; I don’t think I could deal with LA for two whole weeks. It is a city of cars, not people. Highways and freeways penetrate and envelop it like vessels of a cardio-vascular system. The steady pulse of heavy traffic keeps it alive. There is so much smog in the air that the downtown skyline is almost constantly covered in a reddish haze. This gives the city an ethereal, almost other-wordly look.
The rental car we got from Hertz was actually very nice (Mitsubishi Gallant). As much as I hated driving in LA, it made this necessary (if unpleasant) activity much more tolerable. The little bugger had a kick-ass engine that accelerated twice as fast than what I’m used to. And, since California freeways don’t believe in speed limits, there were times when I was doing 95mph without even noticing it. I’ve never driven that fast before!
As far as the city itself, sure – there are many good things about it. The weather was consistently warm and sunny. The ocean was less than an hour’s drive away. There are some beautiful places like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and so on… But in general, it’s not a city I would like to live in. The driving alone kills me. It takes an hour and a half to drive the distance, which would normally take no more than 25-30 minutes in Denver, because of the goddamn traffic. People in LA seem to spend about a quarter of the day in their cars. Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer walking.
In the two weeks we spent in Southern California, we visited:
Anaheim: Disneyland, California Adventure Park
Los Angeles: Chinatown, Universal Studios, Hollywood Blvd., Sunset Blvd., The Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s “Believe it or Not” Museum, Guinness World Records Museum, LA Museum of Natural History, Science Center and the Tar Pits, Beverly Hills
Santa Monica: Santa Monica Beach and The Promenade
San Diego: San Diego Zoo, Seaworld
I’m not a big fan of Disney, but both Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks were a lot of fun. Rollercoasters, rides, 3-D film attractions and insanely over-priced food. I loved the Star Tours ride (where you are flying in a shuttle through a Star Wars-themed environment) and Pirates of the Carribean. Thunder Mountain rollercoaster was incredibly fun, too (I’m normally not a roller-coaster enthusiast). And I screamed like a little girl on the Hollywood Tower elevator. That thing drops you 13 floors! Terrifying, indeed.
Universal Studios was a blast. Despite the major disappointment of not being able to experience the famous Jurassic Park ride (it was closed due to maintenance), everything else made up for it. From the cheesy-yet-fun studio backlot tour to the awesome Back To The Future and Revenge of the Mummy rides, it was a fun day.
On Saturday night we stayed at Taos, a cozy little town, not unlike Santa Fe. And in the morning, we explored Taos Pueblo, an Indian reservation and the oldest continuously inhabited community in the USA.
After seeing Taos Pueblo, we finally headed back to Colorado, enjoying the beautiful scenery along Highway 64.
It was a quick 3-day road-trip, and now it seems like a whirlwind of impressions and activities, but I really enjoyed it. It was nice to get away and see some interesting places.
Last weekend’s road-trip to New Mexico was somewhat a spur-of-the-moment decision. Believe it or not, I have never gone on a road-trip before. A couple of years ago, a friend and I were planning on driving out to California, but ultimately it fell through. So, this time I was excited to jump at an opportunity to see the Southwest. I’ve heard many nice things about Santa Fe and was really looking forward to seeing this beautiful city.
It was the first time I have driven beyond Colorado Springs, and the vastness of Southwestern plains was almost overwhelming. You never realize the enormous size of this country until you have driven through it and witnessed hundreds of miles of almost nothing but desert, mountains, hills, and occasional forrests. It is truly amazing how much open space there is in this part of the United States.
For the most part, the drive was pretty uneventful. We occasionally stopped at some dilapidated small towns to get gas and rest for a little bit. Living in a relatively big city full of fast food chains and shopping malls, it was an interesting change of pace to see old shacks with faded signs like “B-Jay’s Cafe” and “Bub’s Diner”, and old, rusty 1950′s era trucks with window stickers that read “Normal People Scare Me”. It was quite amusing and terrifying at the same time.
We arrived in Santa Fe close to midnight on Friday and received accomodations at the Hilton for only $99 a night. Not too shabby, considering that we split the cost between 4 people. The next morning, after breakfast, we headed out into town.
Historic Downtown Santa Fe is a gorgeous neighborhood full of colorful adobe houses, restaurants, shops and art galleries. It was a bit touristy, even at this time of the year, but we managed not to get discouraged by the onslaught of people everywhere we went. The weather was cooperative, and while it was cloudy for most of our stay, it was perfect – not too warm, not too cold, and of course – very dry (it’s a desert, what do you expect!).
Santa Fe is home to a large and diverse community of artists and musicians (one of the main reasons I was curious to explore this city). No matter where you go, you are bound to run into an outdoor art show, gallery, museum, or a hand-crafted jewelry or pottery shop. Art is everywhere in Santa Fe – on the streets, building walls and even on sidewalks.
We also saw a the Loretto Chapel and the St. Francis Cathedral, which are both very old and for some reason reminded me of Europe. I am not religious at all, but there is just something majestic and beautiful about old cathedrals…