Solar eclipse

March 23rd, 2015

On Friday, March 20th, as we were driving towards our first planned destination for the day alongside Loch Ness, we came to realization that Europe was experiencing a partial solar eclipse. Of course, we stopped and attempted to take a few pictures. Here is the best result. With heavily overcast skies, hand-held, using no filters, at a small aperture and fast shutter speed, it actually came out reasonably well if I say so myself.
 

Solar Eclipse, March 20, 2015

 

Photography

Back from Scotland

March 22nd, 2015

My oldest friend and I undertook a trip to Scotland this past week with the expressed goal of trying as many different Scottish whiskies as was humanly possible. Ok, not exactly true – this was his expressed goal. Unlike him, I have been on a Scottish whisky trail before and I am not what one might call a whisky lover, so my goal was to get a better look at Scotland the country than what I had managed in the past. Along the way, I did not mind getting a whisky taste or two.

The picture below was a fairly common still life occurrence on this phenomenal trip.
 

 
We did not take a single picture with the tasting-glasses empty, but believe me when I assure you that they were all duly emptied.

We visited twelve Highlands and Speyside distilleries in total, in addition to three World Heritage sites to boost up my total, two interesting stand-alone castles, and frequent random picturesque stops along our route. As I progress through photo post-processing, all of the highlights of the trip will appear in this space.

Travel

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #50 (Medici/Boboli)

March 19th, 2015

This serial UNESCO World Heritage site contains 14 properties, all inscribed together in 2013. We have visited a single one among them and it was in 2008, which makes it one of more borderline entries on my personal roster.

The villas and gardens are recognized for the ground-breaking ways they were constructed in harmony with the environment, offering a blueprint for many future blue-bloods to build their leisure retreats. I do not have enough evidence to either support or challenge this purported universal value on the basis of just Boboli Gardens. The gardens are nice, but it is hard to recall a stand-out defining feature, and although they are on my recommended Florence to-do list, they are not in the top tier of recommendations.

Here is one shot taken in the gardens.
 

Boboli Gardens, Florence, Italy

 
Palazzo Pitti is not mentioned on the UNESCO inscription – in fact, Boboli Gardens appear as one of just two properties that are not considered “villas”. Stangely enough though, the map of the protected property includes the palace within its boundaries. Which gives me leave to include this picture of the palace and the piazza in front of it.
 

Pitti Palace, Florence, Italy

 
The palace and gardens are located just up the street from Ponte Vecchio on the Oltrarno side of Florence. You can visit just the gardens or just the palace or both. The gardens are extensive enough that a leisurely visit can be stretched to a few hours.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Пандора и Эпиметей

March 16th, 2015

Это 2002-й год, одно из первых наших выступлений на традиционных тематических вечеринках в дружеском кругу. Темой тогда была древнегреческая мифология, нам выпало задание изображать историю Пандоры, которой в пару был привлечён значительно менее известный Эпимeтей (Wikipedia расскажет вам миф о Пандоре значительно ближе к первоисточнику, чем мы.)

Это выступление остаётся одним из наших самых лучших, хотя мы конечно и достигли новых высот профессионализма в недавнем авиационном скетче. И интересно всё-же смотреть на себя столько лет спустя.

Контекст сексуальный, поэтому rated “For Mature Audience only”.
 

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Family Videos

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #35 (Cologne Cathedral)

March 13th, 2015

As with a couple of other grand churches, we specifically targeted Cologne Cathedral as a stop of interest on our first journey around Germany. One of the most impressive Gothic churches in the Christendom, it is recognized on the UNESCO list both for what it represents artistically and as a symbol of Christianity in medieval and modern Europe.

I have long ago exhausted my epistolary skills to describe my affection for cathedrals. I am not religious in general – and would not be a Christian in particular – but that does not stop me from applauding the execution of the architectural manifestation of divine glory. Soaring pillars, scintillating stained glass, intricate stonework – I can find a lot to admire without the need to worship, and Cologne Cathedral definitely delivers as a masterpiece to be admired.

The best external fragment of the cathedral in our archives comes as a backdrop to the Christmas market, from our second visit to town.
 

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

 
As an aside, although Cologne has a number of interesting Romanesque churches that are worth exploring and some other points of interest, Christmas markets have got to be the second-best attraction in town after the cathedral. If you are ever thinking of going to Germany in December, Cologne and its markets have to be near the top of your list.

One of the few inside shots of the cathedral that does not truly convey the brilliance of the stained glass.
 

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

 
And a night-time shot that reinforces “Gothic” for me.
 

Cologne Cathedral, Germany

 
The cathedral, as it frequently is in Europe, sits in the very center of town, easily accessible by any mode of transportation. An hour to two should be sufficient for an in-depth visit.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Emily and the Snowman

March 8th, 2015

 

 

Children

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #49 (Gwynedd, Wales)

March 7th, 2015

Of the four properties listed in this UNESCO World Heritage site we can claim reasonable familiarity with two. As unabashed lovers of medieval castles that we are, we planned on seeing at least one of the group of castles in Northern Wales as a definite part of our itinerary when we undertook a Welsh journey during our years of living in the UK.

The castle of Caernarfon is an excellent example of what these monuments are recognized for on the UNESCO list: a well-preserved medieval military edifice which is an integral part of the surrounding fortified town. Here is a partial view of the castle from one of its own towers.
 

Caernarfon Castle, Wales

 
Caernarfon is a relatively popular tourist attraction. Although the interiors of the castle rooms and keeps are mostly barren, there are several activities in the courtyard demonstrating crafts of the era. Here is a video fragment we took on our visit, with the girls participating in the work of rope-making.
 

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Here is another look at the castle from the ground level.
 

Caernarfon Castle, Wales

 
The gentleman in red medieval dress walking towards us in the right part of the frame introduces himself to all willing visitors as the architect of the castle, James of St George, and engages them in chit-chat rich on anecdotes about castle’s construction.

Conwy, another location inscribed on the list, was an overnight stop on our itinerary. We did not actually go to see the castle but instead explored the town, which offers a number of attractions including the reputedly smallest house in Great Britain.
 

Conwy, Wales

 
This is obviously not part of what UNESCO recognizes as World Heritage material, but Conwy and Caernarfon towns, not just castles, both feature on the inscription as ensembles.

We did walk by the walls of Conwy castle. We also took this great picture of it and of the town rooftops from the windows of one of the town’s museums.
 

Conwy Castle, Wales

 
I suspect that visiting only one of the inscribed locations is sufficient to get a good insight into what they represent. Caernarfon is certainly highly recommended in that respect. You would need between 2 and 3 hours to get a proper taste of it. All locations are situated quite close to each other in the northwestern-most part of Wales. It is about 5 hours away from London by car, so not a day-trip destination (much closer to Liverpool, though), but should be a must in any itinerary across Wales.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Потому, потому что мы пилоты

March 1st, 2015

Вот так мы вчера выступали на вечеринке под названием “Все работы хороши”. Нам кажется, получилось неплохо.
 

 
Реплика из зала в конце видео относится к широко известному факту, что муза вдохновения меня чаще всего посещает в душе. Так оно и есть.

Family Videos

Pueblos Blancos

February 27th, 2015

Another place that I think should be on UNESCO World Heritage list but isn’t, Pueblos Blancos is an area peppered with little villages all boasting distinctive white-washed look. Although this architecture is not exclusive to this part of Andalusia, the name of the area – “White Villages” – certainly reflects the high concentration of this particular style. With houses frequently adorned by bright flowers, the villages are quite easy on the eye, too.
 

Zahara de la Sierra, Andalusia, Spain

 
Repeating my usual lament, I do not find in our archives many pictures of Pueblos Blancos worth exhibiting on this blog, but that is a negative reflection on the photographer rather than the place.

Villages vary among themselves in tourist entertainment quotient, and aside from Ronda, none could probably support more than a few hours of exploration. Which makes it possible to visit four or five of them in the course of a couple of days. Zahara de la Sierra has most attractions of all little villages and Ronda can definitely occupy you for a full day or more. It is about a 2-hour drive to Ronda from either Granada or Seville, and a bit over an hour from Costa del Sol.

Photography, Travel

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #38 (Greenwich)

February 21st, 2015

Greenwich should rightly claim the 9th sequential spot on my World Heritage roster, as I definitely visited Greenwich Park and climbed up to the Royal Observatory on my first trip to London in 2000. That fact somehow got lost in the shuffle when I first put the list together, and Greenwich was chronologically numbered with the start of our residence in London. But as we officially resided within the borders of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, this World Heritage site is undoubtedly the one we visited most frequently of all.

The inscription on the UNESCO list mentions over a dozen of different places. We have been to the Royal Observatory no less than half a dozen times, in or around the Royal Naval College on more than occasion, and simply enjoyed the Greenwich Park on warm weekends as anyone would their neighbourhood parkland. I have little doubt that in our years living in the area, we at the very least walked by every single edifice recognized by UNESCO in Greenwich.

Here is a perspective of the twin buildings of the Royal Naval College, viewed from the terrace of the Queen Anne’s House.
 

Royal Naval College, Greenwich, England

 
Canary Wharf, the business district that was my erstwhile place of work, is in the background.

Taking a picture of oneself straddling the Prime Meridian – one foot in the Western Hemisphere, the other in the Eastern – is as common in Greenwich as pretending to prop up the Leaning Tower while in Pisa. A child, of course, can be forgiven.
 

Straddling Prime Meridian, Greenwich, England

 
This next picture holds similar significance to one of the shots presented in the Westminster entry. It was taken on our very first family foray into Greenwich historic area. It depicts Cutty Sark, the famous clipper that sits on the bank of Thames in Greenwich. On that very first visit to Greenwich, we decided not to go to the Cutty Sark Museum. The following Tuesday or Wednesday, ongoing renovation works caused a fire on the ship, and the museum closed due to damage, not to be reopened several years later after we had departed back to the US.
 

Cutty Sark, Greenwich, England

 
Maritime Greenwich is not directly served by London Tube, but taking Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and changing to DLR towards Lewisham will deposit you by the main attractions at the Cutty Sark station. A stroll through the town, the park, and the royal buildings ensemble, a visit to the Observatory, and possibly a visit to one or two other points of interest would require at least half a day.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #7 (Westminster)

February 15th, 2015

My very first visit to London, nearly 15 years ago, happened sometime before we started travelling extensively abroad, which explains London’s sites’ relatively early sequential numbers on my World Heritage roster. On that week-long business trip I ended up with sufficient spare time to check out main attractions of the British capital, including the magnificent Westminster Abbey.

It remains to this day the only named part of the World Heritage site that we stepped into. In our time living in London, we frequently walked through Parliament Square where all parts of the site reside and even lingered on the benches facing the palace – those benches provide unexpected serenity akin to an eye of the storm that is the busy square. But we never ventured inside the Gothic Saint Margaret’s Church nor partook in a tour of the Parliament. I suspect we are unlikely to ever rectify the latter, but might rectify the former the next time we are in London.

The site’s recognition on the UNESCO list is due to both its historic and symbolic significance. It is also one of the London icons, photographically speaking. The view of the Westminster Palace from a south-east angle is one of the most frequent photos taken in the city. The addition of the London Eye to the South Bank landscape in 1999 opened a hard-to-pass-by aerial perspective of the entire Westminster complex.
 

View of Westminster Palace and Abbey from London Eye, London

 
The palace and its instantly recognized bell tower dominate the foreground; the Abbey and the Church can be seen on the right-hand side.

The next picture already featured on this blog in the favorite sights of London entry but it is one of my all-time favorites despite the tree that crept into the prominent leading role. This perspective is from not so commonly encountered south-west angle.
 

View to Westminster Palace, London

 
And this fragment of Saint Margaret’s Church with Big Ben in the background is taken from near the main entrance to the Westminster Abbey.
 

Big Ben and St. Margaret Church, London

 
The next picture has a bit of family significance. This is the very first family outing to the central London after our relocation. Natasha and the girls are still on their first week of living in the UK at this juncture. And on our first excursion around the city, we made the Westminster Abbey the highlight of the itinerary. It is a fascinating place to visit.
 

In front of Westminster Abbey, London

 
Finally, Big Ben on its own. You cut the rest of the palace from it and it remains just as instantly-recognized iconic London sight.
 

Big Ben, London

 
And a rare blue sky in a London photograph to boot.

I suspect no visit to London passes without some viewing of the Parliament Square’s edifices. As World Heritage sites go, this is among the most easily accessible ones. However, a tour of the palace and the Houses of Parliament is available only in very limited quantities on specific days, so planning is required if you wish to get inside the building. The Abbey is not open on Sundays and closes earlier than most of the other major sights on the days when it is open, so some planning is also required here. Give it at least an hour and a half for a good visit to the Abbey.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Sending your child to study in Europe

February 10th, 2015

This coming summer Kimmy will follow in the steps of her big sister by taking a language program in France. The organization that we are using for the second time for this purpose, SPI, invited me to contribute a guest entry for their blog on the topic of why we are sending our child to study abroad. That entry can now be found at this location.

Update: If you went to read the post right after I announced it, you may have seen a picture of unfamiliar girls on Siena’s famous Piazza del Campo. That picture was added by SPI into my post. After I pointed out to them that it would be better to actually have a picture of my own child, they replaced it with a photo that I myself provided.

Children

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #32 (Gaudi)

February 4th, 2015

I love Barcelona nearly unconditionally and it contests with Paris and Rome the title of a European city that I know best aside from London. It has a lot to offer to any type of visitor but works of Antoni Gaudí are likely to feature on every itinerary, however brief or otherwise. And you could hardly do worse than tour his Modernist creations.

Gaudí is one of the few architects whose name is likely known worldwide even by those who have never seen his buildings up close. The style and creativity of his designs put him apart even amongst his fellow Modernists, whose works are also on ample display in Barcelona. (As an aside, I always say that if you can only see one sight in Barcelona, go for Sagrada Familia; but if you can see two, the second one should be the Palace of Music, architected by Gaudí’s contemporary Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and a World Heritage site on its own merit.)

The short and long versions of the UNESCO inscription give slightly diverging lists of properties that comprise the recognized Gaudí collection. The five main ones that are in or around the center of the city are Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Casa Batlló, Parque Güell, and Palacio Güell. Of those, only the latter never made our itineraries on the trips to Barcelona, which likely puts it near the top of attractions for our next visit.

Sagrada Familia, though, we visited on no less than four different occasions. Here is the view of four towers and the Nativity Façade, completed while Gaudí was still alive and in charge of construction.
 

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

 
The great church has been under construction for over 130 years, and the work is not yet complete. On the very last visit, in 2011, I was able to view the completed interior (but did not take any pictures). On our previous visits, the church was an active construction site even during the touring hours.

Here is the view of one of the church walls with stain-glass windows from an earlier visit.
 

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

 
And here are the palm-tree-inspired pillars in the central nave, also from the time of on-going construction.
 

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

 
Casa Mila – or La Pedrera, as it is colloquially known – is a remarkable example of inventive civic architecture, a building where no two walls ever join at a ninety-degree angle. But those who toured the building probably remember the most its roof, a maze of fantastically shaped chimneys.
 

On the roof of Casa Mila (La Pedrera), Barcelona, Spain

 
One other Gaudí masterpiece, Casa Batlló, neighbors three other Modernist buildings by different architects. They are all so unlike each other that the block on which they are located has a semi-official designation of “the Island of Discord”. Because Gaudí is the most recognized of the names, Casa Batlló is the most visited of the properties on the block. I cannot vouch for others, but it is certainly worth the visit.
 

Casa Batlló, Barcelona, Spain

 
Parque Güell, which I do not have good pictures of, is slightly further afield, reached by subway and not very long uphill walk. It is certainly a contender for a place in the top five sights in Barcelona, so don’t let the required extra effort keep you from going there.

We have once done all of these four sights in one day, with plenty of leisurely walks in between, but it was in the “shoulder season” – ticket lines were reasonable. Those lines at busy times can readily take over an hour each, so buy tickets in advance whenever possible (we still spent an hour and a half in line to get up the Sagrada Familia towers on that same day, but that part of the attraction may be run more efficiently now that the interior construction is over). If I remember correctly, Palacio Güell requires advance ticket purchase at all times. I have serious doubts that any reasonable itinerary (by “reasonable”, I mean no rushing between sights and no hurry during any individual tour) can fit all these properties into a single day even in the relative off-season. But Barcelona offers attractions to fill a week and a half, easily. Sparing a couple of those days on Gaudí is a fairly obvious choice to me.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #27 (Toledo)

January 29th, 2015

We visited Toledo twice on day-trips several years apart and definitely left some places unexplored there even after two visits. Recognizing two millennia of history on display in Toledo, the UNESCO inscription mentions over a dozen sights by name, of which we can claim good familiarity with no more than half. The religious monuments, most importantly the cathedral and two major synagogues, have been our main targets, and we extensively explored the city on foot bypassing interiors of a number of other attractions.

At the Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue, we found ourselves completely alone on our first visit. The space, empty of anything but mudejar columns and arches and remnants of Christian frescoes from its turn as a church, felt especially evocative without anybody else in sight.
 

Santa María la Blanca Synagogue, Toledo, Spain

 
The second time we visited the synagogue hosted an exhibition of Jewish symbolism, which somewhat dulled the impression of the great hall.

The Monastery of St John of the Kings is easier to photograph from the outside than the cathedral, which is hemmed in by the surrounding buildings in the center of the city. The monastery is located near the edge of town and is an impressive sight in its own right.
 

San Juan de los Reyes, Toledo, Spain

 
Walking uphill in the city, you come across gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside. Here is one such view with the top tier of the monastery at our eye level.
 

View in Toledo, Spain

 
Toledo is reachable as a day-trip destination from Madrid via a speed train, a regular train or a bus, with the total one-way trip lasting between an hour and two hours, depending on which option you choose. If you intend to see all of the major religious sights, explore the army museum in Alcázar, visit El Greco home-museum in addition to viewing his masterpieces in various churches, and peek at the Roman circus, you will probably need to budget an overnight stay. Or to come back again.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #15 (Avignon)

January 22nd, 2015

Our single day-trip to Avignon during our very first voyage to France ended up one of the best days of that itinerary. The tour of the Papal Palace took nearly three hours and exhausted us a little, so we shortened our sightseeing program, leaving quite a few hours until our evening dinner reservation. That time was spent wandering fairly aimlessly around town center, checking out shops and galleries, stopping for coffee and tea on a couple of cute intersections. An active day morphed into a rather lazy one, enjoyably so.

Avignon’s entry on the World Heritage list recognizes the city’s leading place in 14th-century Europe and mentions several specific monuments as part of the ensemble. Had I been more aware of the UNESCO list back then, I would probably insist on visiting more than a couple of those. As it was, we got a very in-depth look at the Papal Palace and lingered on the remains of 12th-century Pont St-Bénézet for a bit, but only looked at the Cathedral and Petit Palais from the outside.

Here is the austere and remarkable Papal Palace in the background.
 

Papal Palace, Avignon, France

 
It is also seen in the very back of the next picture, taken from near the surviving end of the St-Bénézet bridge. There is a tiny – in comparative chapel terms – Chapelle St-Nicolas directly on the bridge, seen on the left.
 

Pont St-Benezet, Avignon, France

 
A full day is about the right duration for a visit to Avignon, especially when casual perambulation is part of the program. We should do that again ourselves one of these days.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Re-counting World Heritage sites: #28 (El Escorial)

January 14th, 2015

The Royal Palace and Monastery of El Escorial attracts quite a bunch of superlatives on its UNESCO description, including an awestruck passage of “there is nothing [about it] that is not exceptional”. In my subjective view, all of those are well deserved. El Escorial is an architectural wonder of the highest grade.

You have to allow yourself time to let it sink in, though. On approach, the grandiose edifice looks too severe and even somewhat grim. It was meant to be not outwardly exuberant, built in fulfilment of a vow and intended as a contemplative retreat. Nonetheless, the spaces inside are richly decorated and, coupled with the sheer size of the monument, leave a remarkable impression.

Let me emphasize, the monument is gigantic. It is likely visited on a day-trip from Madrid, but you have to set aside about three hours just for taking self-guided audio-tour at a crisp canter. Lingering will require additional time, obviously, so you may have to plan for setting aside an entire day for the visit. And there are quite a few spots to linger at; for instance, the splendid library.
 

The Library, El Escorial, Spain

 
As is common to our early travels, photographic memories from the visit are limited. Another shot of yours truly with a fragment of the monastery in the background is all I can offer.
 

El Escorial, Spain

 
If I recall correctly, the train from Madrid takes about 45 minutes to get to San Lorenzo El Escorial station, from which you can either take the bus to the monastery or walk uphill for about 15-20 minutes. I’ll probably walk the next time – I’d like to see how it comes out to meet me now that I know what awaits me inside.

Photography, Travel, World Heritage

Becky’s excellent adventure

January 9th, 2015

Our eldest is off to Brussels for a semester of study abroad. Although she has traveled to foreign countries on her own in the past, this will be the longest and likely the bumpiest of journeys. We are all excited for her and obviously just a smidgen worried.

She promises to keep a journal of her adventures, resurrecting her long-dormant blog. The first post just went up there. Anyone who is interested, feel free to go there (or use the link on the menu) and give her your love and best wishes. And help us keep her from feeling lonely by coming back to the blog, checking it out and commenting. She’ll appreciate it. I will as well.

Children

Travel and obligations

January 8th, 2015

In 2014, I visited 5 foreign countries – of which 3 were first-time visits for me – and added 11 World Heritage sites to my roster (admittedly, most of those featured on a single trip in a matter of two weeks).

Certainly far above the average American intake of overseas travel.

Definitely not too shabby in the broadest measure, for a guy who is office-bound in his professional capacity and has to ration his vacation time.

And yet, puny by standards of people who somehow manage to turn international travel into a full-time occupation.

There are quite a few of these modern nomads to be found on the interwebs. Some are kids just out of school. Others are location-independent entrepreneurs who run online businesses or earn with their writing. A few are escapees from the rat race. Every single one of them at one point or another posts a treatise on the topic of “Everyone can travel”.

I envy them more frequently than I should be admitting. I’d love to exchange sitting in my office chair for walking around cobblestone streets in a faraway destination with my camera in hand. Part of my ongoing mid-life crisis, I suppose.

What separates me from all of those travelers is obligations. I have them. They don’t.

They are, as a rule, unattached. Most are proud of travelling solo and exuberant about making new friends wherever they land, but majority are not in any long-standing relationship, to say nothing of matrimonial ties. A small segment of those who travel as couples are yet to convince me that they function as families rather than primarily as travel companions.

They are, practically without exception, childless. In extremely rare cases, a family may lead a comparatively nomadic lifestyle with small children who are too young to have adverse reactions to the lack of stability in their lives, but that only reinforces the general no-children rule. (I am not considering here expatriate families who relocate to be stationed overseas; obviously, we have done it ourselves and certainly found our opportunities for travel greatly enhanced, but that was still within “travel-when-you-get-time-off” paradigm rather than “travel-all-the-time”.)

In other words, if these people ever had to sacrifice something in order to start and lead their nomadic lifestyle, it was just themselves who had to make that sacrifice and not anyone who depended on them.

Me, family, children, level of income that is not high enough to have allowed me to retire by now and yet is too high to be easily replicated in any other accessible alternative career path – if I ever seriously considered a lifestyle change it would be hard to reconcile with my obligations to support our collective needs.

So, when a breezy 23-year-old, who admirably has been able to build a notable online presence translatable into a career as a travel blogger in just over a year, expounds the idea of choosing nomadic lifestyle, I recognize that I am not her target audience.

Instead, I’ll plan for as much travel as my office-bound existence allows.

Tentatively, in 2015, I will visit 7 countries – of which 3 will be for the first time ever – and add another dozen or so World Heritage sites to my list.

I still think it not too shabby, given the obligations.

Travel

Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber

January 3rd, 2015

Ever since I started paying attention to the UNESCO World Heritage list I have been extremely baffled why the Bavarian town of Rothenburg does not appear on the list. It has long and illustrious history. It escaped destruction at several important junctures of Western history (and each of the stories of those escapes, however embellished, should be an envy of any locale in need of a colorful past). It is simply one of the best-preserved Medieval towns in all of Europe.

Although my sample size of UNESCO sites is still relatively small, only at 7% of the total, I can already name places on the list that I do not rate as high as Rothenburg. Yet, as far as I can tell, it does not even figure on the future candidates tentative lists. Something inexplicable is going on here.

We spent just a little bit over a day in town as part of our itinerary around Germany nearly a decade ago. It is compact and easily walkable, with a few key points of interest situated around the main square which is overseen by an imposing Rathaus. You likely can cover the cumulative length of all streets within the boundaries of old city walls in the matter of a couple of hours. Seeing a couple of museums and churches is optional. Partaking in the Night Watchman Tour after the fall of darkness is highly recommended, so plan to stay overnight.

This photograph is quintessential Rothenburg for me. One of the city towers guards over a street full of artisan and craftsman shop signs.
 

Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, Germany

 
In fact, I cannot think of another town with such a high concentration of emblematic shop signs as in Rothenburg. I find that quite delightful.

The other picture is a corner of Burggarten, an oasis of serenity high over river Tauber.
 

Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, Germany

 
One of my favorite small towns, no question.

Photography, Travel

Holiday lights

December 28th, 2014

Last night we made a tour around the best-decorated houses in our corner of New Jersey. Christmas may be in the past already but they stay lit for New Year, helping us to get into necessary holiday spirit. Taking pictures hand-held at a high ISO turned out reasonably well, so here are a few examples. These houses would not be out of place in Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights.
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
At one house, we were greeted by a visibly relieved Santa.
 

 

Photography, Suburbia