Thoughts on Photography from an Amateur

I’ve always liked taking pictures. I remember when I went to Washington D.C. on an 8th grade trip with my school, it was my first time to go far away without my family. It was also the first time I got to be in charge of the camera! I took 800 pictures over a 4 day period. Most of them were bad, several were just while driving by on a bus – blurry and importance forgotten. But it was the beginning of something.

When I went to France a few years later, we were 7 days into a 10 day trip when my camera was stolen. I had over 1,000 pictures on there. My whole purse was snatched, and the “remains” were found about an hour later. My phone, my money, and my camera were all gone. I was fortunate though that they at least left behind my passport and a visa gift card. Still, I was heartbroken and crying. Firstly, because I was afraid of getting in trouble with my parents. I did not enjoy making that phone call, though they were sympathetic. But mostly, I lost all of the memories from my perspective.

Now that I have taken literally thousands of pictures abroad, I’ve been learning and developing my photography skills. I am most definitely an amateur since I have no formal training. But more and more often I am capturing photos that I am truly proud of and like sharing.

I started off mainly only taking pictures of buildings. I love cool architecture, and that’s why I enjoy sightseeing buildings and monuments in the places I go. I used to take just head-on shots. I’ve since discovered something called getting the “right angle.”

I also still take a million photos, just because the more I have, the more likely I’ll have some decent shots.

But the main thing I’ve discovered more recently, is that my favorite photos always end up being pictures of people. The pictures I take of people are always attached to a memory. Whether it was a conversation I had with them, or just simply observing a cultural custom – these photos bring along the joy of being in the moment. The tricky thing is though, that I’m pretty shy. I don’t feel comfortable always going up to people. Sometimes I’m afraid they will interpret what I’m doing in a negative way. So often, my photos are snapshots that I took with my camera still around my neck at my waist. My sneak shots. Oftentimes too though, the people I’ve met are the ones who started engaging with me, making it easier to take a great photo of them.

I have some below with a little story attached to each one. I want to start with the man that inspired me to write this post though. This man below was in the Old Town Market in Hyderbad, India. As I was walking through the market with my guide, I VERY clearly stood out. I was white. I was dressed in Western style clothing (as in American, not cowboys). I wanted to take pictures in the market because I found it very lively, interesting, and beautiful. All the foods brought out so many colors. All of the fabrics brought out colors in the saris, and the representation of different religions (primarily Islam and Hinduism) was very apparent. However, I didn’t want people to think that it was just another tourist attraction for me. If I snapped a photo of them, I was afraid they wouldn’t understand the amount of respect and appreciation I had for them. I remember going through a market in Haiti, and several people not wanting to be photographed. So I tried to take some of my “sneak shots,” and even those were few and far in between. As we were exiting the market for the main road, this man started talking to me in Telugu. I had no idea what he was saying, and I had actually assumed it was something negative about me being there or having a camera. Then my guide translated for me…”He wants you to take his picture.” It took me a second to process, but I then proudly and happily picked up my camera and snapped a shot. Then he smiled, we waved, and I continued on. It was so simple. And I don’t why he cared; he wouldn’t ever get to see it. Maybe he just noticed how few pictures I was taking and was helping out. Maybe he wanted to show off his lifestyle and culture to my people back home. I don’t know! But I’m so glad he reached out to me.

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The following photos were from my most recent trip in Japan. Three of the pictures are from my experience observing the traditions of visiting and praying at the temples. The one with the two boys running was when school released for the day, and the kids were running home. The yellow hats were part of their uniform. Last but not least, the cute baby was staring at me the ENTIRE time I was watching the water parade at the DisneySea park. He was so adorable; I just had to snap a photo to remember him by.

 

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I also visited India this year, and since the nature of the trip was very focused on meeting locals, I had many opportunities.

 

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I have some others below.

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Appian Way in Rome
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Swiss Guard at the Vatican
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local market in Leogane, Haiti
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In Haiti, we went on a scavenger hunt through the market. He had one of our items!
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These girls and boys came up to our group at the beach, and we painted their nails!
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A Shipibo girl in Peru
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Shipibo children
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Shipibo monkey

I know the monkey isn’t a person….but he’s just cute.

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5 Memorable Meals Abroad

I love food. The older I get, the worse my obsession is becoming. It’s what I like to do for fun. When I first started traveling on my own (as in, without my parents), I didn’t care about what I was eating. But over the years, I’ve increasingly dedicated more and more of my budget to trying different meals, desserts, food, tours, etc. while traveling.

Below I am listing experiences I’ve had outside of the United States where either the food was absolutely delicious, or the experience was unforgettable. These are in no specific order.

1st Memorable Meal – Scones; Bath

When William and I were in the United Kingdom, we went on a tour by bus that took us to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath all in one day. While in Bath, we basically were just dropped off to do what we pleased with our time. Our guide, David, had mentioned on the bus ride to Bath that he would be spending his time in a scone shop right behind the Bath Abbey. He said he had already called in advance to make sure they had lots of scones. He also talked about how much he loved them, how they would be fresh, etc.. My priority was seeing the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey, so I thought we would only get to try a scone if we had enough time. Luckily, we did (barely). David was in there and we joined him with a couple of other Americans. The American guy started to use a knife to break his scone apart, and David exclaimed, “No, no, no, no, no! Jesus broke the bread with his hands; you must break the bread apart.” Sure enough, it broke perfectly in the middle. Then he taught us that you spread the jam, but just put a “dollop” of cream on top. You don’t spread the cream. All of this was apparently symbolic, and the order mattered (upon further research though, I know other parts of England put the cream on before the jam). This scone was literally not only the best scone ever, but one of the best pieces of bread I’ve ever had in my life. I think about it all the time. The rest of my trip in the UK, I kept buying scones in other places but they never were the same. I tried to buy all the ingredients here back home but failed miserably at creating even a semi-close attempt to what these were. I did not remember the name of the shop, but after walking on Google maps, I believe it is the shop called The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

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Bath Abbey

2nd Memorable Meal –  Anticuchos; Lima

On my trip to Peru, I had read that anticuchos (cow heart) was a popular dish there. I wasn’t sure how I felt about trying that prior to the trip, but once I had been in Peru for a week and felt really comfortable, I wanted to test it out. The only problem was I was out of time and on my way to the airport. My group and I had an excursion in Lima at the Indian Markets, and across the street there was a little mall. We tried running around to see if we could find any place selling anticuchos but failed. Then we were on the bus going back to the airport, so as a desperate last attempt I asked the guide if he knew a good place in the airport to try it. Luckily, he did. He recommended a Peruvian restaurant in the food court just after security called Manos Morenos. My friend Randy and I ordered a meal’s worth, and it essentially just looked like steak on a kebab. It came with a sauce – I have no idea what it was. BUT IT WAS GOOD. The sauce was delicious. The anticuchos was delicious. If I ever go back to Peru, I will be ordering that a lot more often. It wasn’t the best meal of my entire life, but the fact that something that seemed scary and weird was so tasty, and that I was brave enough to try it, made it very memorable for me.

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3rd Memorable Meal – Food Tour; Rome

In Rome, William and I went on our first ever food tour. I highly recommend this tour, but make sure you are starving when you arrive. We all met up at a metro station and then walked to our first stop, a Sicilian coffee shop. We tried coffee there, and even though I don’t care for coffee, I actually drank my whole cup. If someone forced me to drink coffee, I guess I would prefer Italian! We also tried a cannoli and it was magical and amazing (we returned to the shop later in the trip for one!), but more on cannolis in another post. Our next stop was Bonci’s, a “fast food” pizza shop. Bonci is a famous, TV featured chef, and one of his main beliefs for making his pizza is that you should always stick to just 3 ingredients on top. However, think more outside of the box than what Americans typically put on pizza. The ingredients varied from different types of greens to macaroni and cheese. And they all were so good. Each person in the tour picked a type of pizza available at the time, and then we all got to try each other’s. There were some that sounded gross to me that ended up being amazing. William and I returned to Bonci’s because we were so impressed. We wish we had one here! A good tip for ordering pizza from these places too, is when you ask for your piece, you need to tell them an approximate weight (or at least show how big of a piece you want with your hands). It’s basically just a giant rectangular pizza and they cut off however much you want, and weigh it to price it. Continuing on, we went into a little shop to try different jams, spreads, truffles, and cheeses. I learned about the importance and deliciousness of Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese. The cheese was so fresh (for cheese anyway), and I didn’t think I would like combining the truffles and jams with the cheeses but our guide knew how to make the perfect tastes blend together. We visited a butcher and cheese shop, and then continued onward to try different meats like prosciutto. I’ve never had meat literally just melt in my mouth the way these slices did. We continued onward again to a place where we tried various pastas. I wasn’t as impressed with the pastas (I’m a red sauce kind of girl and none of these were). However, William ended up discovering Carbonara pasta. He loved it so much, he ordered it for every meal on the rest of the trip. Finally, at the end we stopped by a legitimate gelato place that makes it fresh and had a wide variety of unique flavors. I tried a blueberry with some type of Southern American chocolate. This tour was amazing, and really filled you up. Our guide was kind too, as well as the Welsh couple that joined us. We even all hugged and kissed goodbye at the end. I also loved this tour because our guide was so knowledgeable about food, the Italian laws behind food, where food came from, what different regions of Italy were known for, etc. It was so much to take in, but so absolutely interesting!

4th Memorable Meal – Grilled Cheese; Copenhagen

I visited Denmark in January, and on this particular day I had spent a lot of time outside. In the morning, I caught a bus to visit the Little Mermaid statue just off the river. Then I wandered along the coast through a park, back into the city, visited a castle, and then had been walking on wards for about 15 minutes to reach the SMK Art Museum. I was hungry, I was cold, and I was praying that the museum had food inside because I didn’t see any restaurants near me. They luckily had a café next to these giant glass windows overlooking some beautiful scenery. I ordered a grilled cheese and hot chocolate. It was such a relaxing meal. I was at peace, I was warm, and the grilled cheese is the best I’ve ever had. I think they used several different types of cheeses. The hot chocolate was on par as well.

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5th Memorable Meal – Kawaii Monster Cafe; Tokyo

The Kawaii Monster Café is really touristy, I’ll admit. It is located in Harajuku in Tokyo. The food was not that great and it was expensive. However, the theming and experience were awesome! We were fortunate enough to go during a time that was not too crowded at all. The concept is that you are entering through the monster’s mouth. Then once inside, there are 4 different themed rooms you could be sitting in: Mushroom Disco, Milk Stand, Bar Experiment, or the Mel-Tea Room. We sat in the Mushroom Disco area because it looked the coolest in the pictures. They do allow people to wander the restaurant to take pictures though, so you can definitely see all the spots. There is also a giant carousel in the middle, and the various workers there are “Monster Girls” who are dressed in crazy costumes. They put on a dance like show on the carousel every so often. It wasn’t super impressive, but still fun to watch. The food and drinks are also very colorful and neat looking. William ordered a green monster burger, and I got pasta that was rainbow colored! William also ordered an alcoholic beverage that came with blue and red phials, and he had to pour them in to mix his drink while looking like a mad scientist. The Kawaii Monster Café is definitely cool to check out at least once.

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I’m hoping to have several more amazing food experiences in the future. Specifically, I’ll be in Thailand next summer. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!

2 Aussies, 2 Brits, and 2 Americans Walk Into a Bar…..

I am always reading about these wild stories that people have on their travels. From partying and drinking with once strangers now turned friends to being invited by locals to eat dinner in their homes, I’ve always thought it sounds so magical and fun and exciting. I think to myself, I want to be like that!

But then reality sets in. I know bad things can happen too and I get scared. Can I trust these people or not? I’m also shy. I don’t really initiate conversations, and until just 3 years ago, I didn’t usually meet people while traveling. The more and more I do it though, the easier it gets. The more I’m choosing experiences that put me in a place where I can interact with others. I’m feeling more comfortable, and recently in Japan we had an awesome experience with some newly found friends.

When we went to Italy, we did a food tour in Rome. It was our first ever food tour and WE LOVED IT. I want to do one practically everywhere we go now! So when I received an email from Viator saying that a Tokyo Food Tour was currently discounted, I jumped on that deal immediately. This food tour was in the evening, and our guide Kiri was amazing. He was so helpful, kind, informative, and generous. Kiri took us to a restaurant to try yakitori (yum), a pastry shop, and a third stop to try Monja.

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The food tour ended around 8pm. We were all in the train station, and William and I are under the impression that we are about to call it a night. We had talked to most of the people on the tour and really enjoyed their company. Then, the British couple asked if we wanted to go out and have a few drinks. I’ve already spent 3 hours with them and know they are awesome. They invited two Australian girls too. We had Kiri help us figure out what area we should go to, and how to get there by train. We ended up heading to the Roppongi area in Tokyo, which is known for having a ton of restaurants, bars, nightlife, shops, you name it. Once we arrive though, of course we don’t know which one to pick and just keep aimlessly walking down the street. We see a patrol officer (who very clearly does not look Japanese, so we hope he speaks English), and ask him for advice. He recommended a British pub right across the street. So we try it!

The pub was crowded, tiny (like the size of a bedroom), and we find a little spot at the bar with 3 chairs where we all huddle around until a table becomes available. We can’t really read the menu so most of us just select drinks based on pictures (or maybe that was just me). I had something that was neon green, but tasty. We take pictures, we eat the free popcorn on the table, we drink, and we are merry! The British couple decide to buy the round of drinks, and we just think it is too funny that British people are buying us drinks in a British pub in JAPAN. Then we come up with the idea…..maybe we could find an Australian and American themed bar too.

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Turns out….there was an “Australian” bar 5 minutes away! And off we go to find Quest. We have to go up the elevator, and we see a regular looking bar. We see nothing Australian about it, so we ask if this is the right place. The Japanese man says, “Yes. Good day, mate!” with a pretty horrible accent. I guess we are here! The Australians proceed to go around the entire bar to actually find anything Australian. They only found 2 things (and this bar was quite a bit bigger than a tiny room). The Australian girls decide to buy this round of drinks, and find a lone American at the bar named Steve that they invite over. Steve informs us that the British Pub we just came from is where men go to find their ladies of the night. Whoops. People keep coming over and introducing themselves to us (we kind of stand out). We got to see a wedding party come in and have a blast. Then we work on finding the final bar location of the night….an American bar. It can’t be that hard, right?

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Wrong. We couldn’t really find anything! We did find a Texas themed bar, but it was about 22 minutes away by train. We needed something closer as it as getting pretty late. Eventually, after about 15 minutes of googling I find something called The Elvis Bar. There is very little information, no picture, but it was only a 1 km walk away. And Elvis is a very American icon so surely it counts! The group is down so we make the walk, and find that Steve decides to tag along.

We get to the place labeled Elvis Bar on Google Maps and find nothing. Like I said, I’m shy and don’t like asking for help. I easily give up mentally. However, the British man is very friendly and great at talking to and approaching people. He finds a couple of Japanese men that look like hard core rockers with their spiked hair and leather jackets (may be exaggerating a little) and asks them for help. They don’t speak English so Elvis dancing and singing impersonations commence. Eventually, we are on the same page and these Japanese men start running around the whole area with our phones while the 6 foreigners follow aimlessly. I must give them credit – they were absolutely dedicated to helping us. I was already ready to give up. Three from our party went down the street to another local bar to see if it would work or not. Eventually, the men start asking other Japanese people for help. We come to the conclusion that the Elvis bar was at the building we were originally by, but it was up the stairs.

The people from our group that had split had rejoined us saying the bar down the street wasn’t really what we were looking for. So we all cram into the elevator, thank the men for their help, and go to the floor as instructed. We get there, and find nothing resembling an Elvis bar. We ask the lady greeting people on that floor, and she says we have to go down one level. Back to the elevator we go! Finally, we end up finding a bar….but it has low tables on the floor, carpets, hookahs, and we come to find out it’s Iranian. Not Elvis. We ask the people where the Elvis bar is. Turns out, the Elvis bar USED to be there.

We are tired at this point. William and I rationally decide that America is a melting pot of culture, so an Iranian bar is an American experience. We take off our shoes and gather around the table on the carpet on the floor. And as the Americans, we attempt to pay for the whole round of drinks. Of course, it’s just our luck that the bar we chose was about twice as expensive as the other places. The others in our party were generous and kind though, recognizing that and pitching in. In the end, I think all groups came out about even.

I would also like to point out how cool this last bar was. The servers were really friendly and seemed happy to have us. Steve and one of them bonded over being from Chicago. And we were the only ones in there which was kind of a nice way to end the night.

The others take the cab, but William and I decided it was close enough for us to walk back. Of course it felt like the walk took forever, we may have slightly regretted it, and we wandered through nightlife/club central where all these French men kept hustling us to come into their bars. It was definitely exciting. What is a William and AK vacation anyway without overestimating how close or far something is.

We got a good taste of local Japanese night life, we made new friends that I love following on Facebook, and this ended up being one of our favorite experiences of the whole trip. People are amazing, and connecting with people is was one of the best ways to spend your time.

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