Euro Trip 2013, Part 5: Spain

About ten years ago, I took a trip to Spain with two of my friends. We capped the trip off with a few days in Barcelona, and on the way to the airport, I was robbed at a bus station, forcing me to stay there for an extra two nights. I left Spain with a bad taste in my mouth and had not been back until now.

Our plan was to visit Spain for ten days. We flew into Barcelona first and stayed at the Hotel Barcelona Princess, which was a really nice and modern high rise overlooking the Mediterranean. 

We scampered all over town for three days, checking out all the sights and eating as much local food as we could find. I kept a death grip on my gear and made sure I was especially aware of my surroundings. No thief was going to snag any of my stuff this time around.

image

image

image

image

image

image

After our fill of Barcelona, we hopped on a quick flight to Sevilla, where we were met with a massive wall of heat and humidity. Seriously. It kicked our asses. We came close to passing out during our first day there and barely made it back to our hotel room to cool off and rehydrate. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever felt heat like that before, and that’s coming from a Georgia native.

We managed to suck it up and wandered Sevilla for a few days, but it felt like we had the city to ourselves. It was August and many locals were gone for vacation. It felt like a ghost town at times.

image

image

image

image

image

image

The final stop of our one-month tour across Europe was Madrid. One last three-night stay and we’d be heading back to Atlanta for a short break before taking off to Asia for another month.

While it may not be the most photogenic city, Madrid is still one of my favorites. There’s just something authentic about it that I like. 

We checked out some sights, wandered about, found an insanely amazing restaurant that served a foie gras risotto that just blew us away. And then one night we ended up walking straight into a massive festival that we knew nothing about. I can’t even remember what it was called.

So with Madrid finished, our tour of Europe came to an end. We were pretty exhausted after a month, but we were only halfway done. We headed back to Atlanta for a few days to recover, and to pick up my mom, who we then whisked away with us for another month… this time across Asia.

First stop, Singapore!

Viajes National Geographic

Some of my images from Bora Bora were published in the February issue of Viajes, which is a Spanish National Geographic publication.

Euro Trip 2013, Part 4: French Riviera

After a week hiking through the Alps, we were ready for some beach time. From Chamonix, we went straight to the airport in Geneva and took a quick flight over to Nice. Our plan was to spend one night in Nice, two in Monaco, and another back in Nice before heading out.

image

image

image

image

image

image

We spent some time in both Nice and Cannes, exploring each city as much as we could, but I think we really enjoyed Monaco the most. It was the prettiest of the three and was more our speed. We found a few amazing restaurants, including a tiny one run by a married couple that had an affinity for all things Japanese. And gambling in the Monte Carlo Casino was pretty slick too. 

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

We had a blast in the Riviera, but it was a little crowded while we were there and I was definitely ready for ten days in our next destination: Spain!

(To read Parts 1-3 of our Euro Trip 2013, click on Archive at the top of the page.)

Euro Trip 2013, Part 3: The Alps

After Geneva, we had six nights planned for the Swiss and French Alps. This was the leg of the trip that I was probably the most excited about. While Inna had never been to the Alps before, I had about ten years ago on a five-week tour across Europe with an old college buddy of mine. I couldn’t wait for what was in store!

First up was Mürren, Switzerland. A tiny mountain village nestled up above the valley town of Lauterbrunnen, Mürren was the perfect base camp for some nice hiking. 

image

image

image

image

image

image

After two nights in Mürren, we hopped on a train and made our way through the Alps over to Zermatt, one of Europe’s most famous ski resorts. During the summer, it boasts some of the continent’s best hiking trails, not to mention killer views of the stunning Matterhorn. 

image

image

image

image

image

image

From Zermatt, we headed westbound and across the border into France, where we stayed in Chamonix for two nights. Chamonix, site of the first Winter Olympics, is perhaps best known for its skiing and mountain activities, but also for being the gateway to the EU’s highest peak, Mont Blanc.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

With all the hiking we did, not to mention lugging all my gear around, a week in the Alps was extremely exhausting. But it was definitely one of the most rewarding parts of our trip. I spent seven years of my life in the Rocky Mountains, and I was absolutely blow away by the beauty of the Alps. You truly feel tiny when you’re surrounded by such an epic landscape. It was quite a dramatic difference from what we were about to experience next: the French Riviera.

(To read Parts 1 & 2 of our Euro Trip 2013, click on Archive at the top of the page.)

Cover of the luxury travel supplement to the Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung.

Euro Trip 2013, Part 2: Geneva

The next stop on our trip was Geneva. I had never been there before, and our friend Francois lives there, so we had a chance to meet up with him for a bit. He drove us to the top of Salève, which is a mountain that overlooks the city. Unfortunately, it was really hazy that evening and the view was pretty limited.

We spent another day walking around the city and taking in the sights. It’s a beautiful city… almost like a cleaner, smaller version of Paris tucked away at the base of the Swiss Alps. The water in Lake Geneva has a gorgeous aquamarine hue to it and everything feels so fresh. It was definitely a nice teaser for what was to come: one week of village-hopping in the Alps.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

(To read Part 1 of our Euro Trip 2013, click on Archive at the top of the page.)

Euro Trip 2013, Part 1: Lithuania

As you may know, my wife is originally from Lithuania and still has family there. We try to go back to visit as often as we can, so when she got two months off last summer to travel, naturally it was our first destination.

We spent about a week in Lithuania before heading off to the rest of our European journey, which included Geneva, the Swiss Alps, the French Riviera, and Spain. This was my fourth trip to Lithuania, so I’ve pretty much seen everything there is to see in Vilnius. But it’s always nice to walk around Old Town, especially in the summertime.

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

I had never been to Kaunas before, which is the second largest city in the country, so we took a day trip there. Here are some photos of Kaunas:

image

image

image

image

image

image

And it wouldn’t be a trip to Lithuania without the food!

image

image

image

I absolutely love visiting Lithuania. It doesn’t have the huge attractions or sights of Western European cities, but it’s an underrated cultural gem tucked away in Northeastern Europe that has a lot to offer. If you’ve already explored a lot of the major European cities, then you should definitely give Vilnius a try next time. You’ll be pleasantly surprised!

Screensaver-ville, USA: the Palouse region, Washington

When my wife told me that she was headed to Seattle for work, I knew immediately that I was going to tag along with her and make a side trip to the Palouse region of Eastern Washington. Most people may not be familiar with that name, but they’ve definitely seen photos of the area. Brilliant green, lush, rolling hills of tall wheat that seem to go on forever. Baby blue skies with fluffy white clouds. The surreal image on your Windows desktop. Yet it’s as real as can be, and it exists right there in Washington, just west of the Idaho border.

image

The Palouse Scenic Byway stretches 208 miles, weaving in and out of these amazing green hills of wheat. Some of the farm towns along the way include Colfax, Palouse, and Pullman, where I made my home base for the week. I took my little Nissan Versa rental and left Seattle early Monday morning to make the 4.5 hour trek eastbound. Only it took me about 6.5 hours because I stopped every 20 minutes to take photos.

I spent the next three days driving my Versa on every dirt road in the county, and then some. Like every trip I take, I spent the prior weeks scouting locations from the comfort of my own home, mainly via Google Maps. I created a custom map with about twenty places I wanted to explore and used my iPhone to help me navigate through countless dirt roads. Every now and then, I’d find a beautiful red barn or an old beat-up truck, and I’d just pull over on the side of the road and start shooting. Sometimes, I’d shoot for 30 minutes without even seeing one car.

image

I could have easily spent an entire week in the Palouse, but I had to be back in Seattle by Friday afternoon, and I still had another place I wanted to visit. About an hour and half west of Pullman lies Palouse Falls State Park. While people visit the park to hike, grill, and camp, the main feature is the grand waterfall that drops almost 200 feet into a swirling pool below. I was absolutely blown away that such an amazing waterfall exists within this canyon out there in the middle of nowhere. I spent a few hours hiking around the falls, waiting for the best light and trying out different angles. I wanted to stay after twilight to get some star trails, but the clouds were too thick to see anything. So around 9PM, I headed north to my hotel in Ritzville before making my way back to Seattle the next morning.

image

My four days in the Palouse were definitely memorable. And while I’ll still say that Bora Bora is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, strangely enough the Palouse region is almost as pleasing to the eye, albeit in a different way.

Here’s a full gallery from the trip.

image

image

image

Aerial Shots of Bora Bora

One of the several excursions we took during our trip to Bora Bora was a 30-minute helicopter tour. This was at the top of my list of things to do there. It was a little bit pricey, but well worth it.

The InterContinental has its own helipad on the property, so we took a short ride with the concierge on a golf cart and within minutes we were in the air. The pilot flew us out to a small neighboring island called Tupai, which is famous for its heart shape. Normally, we would have been able to fly at a higher altitude to get a nice overhead shot of the island, but the clouds were pretty thick that day and the pilot said it was better not to go too high up. So we circled Tupai and saw the lone house where the island’s keepers live. We then flew across the open ocean back to Bora Bora and began an amazing tour of the most beautiful island in the Pacific.

I spent 90% of the tour watching the LCD on the back of my D800 to make sure I was getting good focus and proper exposures, so it was kind of bitter sweet. But it was definitely worth every dime and I’m so thrilled that we had a chance to do this tour. Unfortunately, I think I’m now hooked on aerial photography and my wallet isn’t too happy about that. 

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

Bora Bora: A Photographer’s Heaven

When Inna said yes to my proposal back in February of 2011, one of the first things we agreed upon was the location of our honeymoon… Bora Bora. It’s always been at the top of my list of destinations. And although it took almost a year after getting married, we finally made it happen.

(In case you don’t feel like reading about the trip and you want to skip straight to the pics, here’s a direct link to the full gallery of photos from Bora Bora.)

Getting to Bora Bora from Atlanta isn’t quick. It’s a five-hour flight to LA, three-hour layover at LAX, eight hours to Tahiti, an overnight stay there, another hour or so flight to Bora Bora the next day, and finally a twenty-minute boat ride to the InterContinental Thalasso. Once you get there, you truly are on the opposite side of the planet, and it sure feels that way.

The InterContinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa is one of the top resorts on the island, along with the Four Seasons and St. Regis. It’s absolutely stunning and I’m so glad that we chose this resort over the others. From a photographer’s perspective, it turned out to be perfect because the InterContinental has the best angle of all the resorts of Mount Otemanu. We were upgraded to one of the best overwater bungalows available, so the view from our deck was unbeatable. I can’t say enough about the resort, and if you’re actually planning a trip to Bora Bora, you should read my review on Trip Advisor. I can’t imagine any of the other resorts being any better than the IC Thalasso.

All images Copyright © 2013 David Kosmos Smith

image

image

image

image

image

During our eight days there, we took several excursions. The first was a 4x4 jeep safari on the main island of Bora Bora. We got into the back of an open jeep with three other couples and headed up into the mountains. Moana was an awesome tour guide and made sure we had a blast sitting in the back of that jeep. He showed us coconut farms, a Tahitian pearl farm, and leftover American bunkers scattered throughout the island from WWII. It was a great way to learn about the history of the island and the local culture.

image

Our next excursion was a 30-minute helicopter tour of the island. Our pilot showed us an amazing birds-eye view of Bora Bora and even took us out to a small neighboring island called Tupai, which is unique for its heart-like shape. I’ll include my aerial shots from this trip in a later post.

image

Our third trip was a private snorkeling tour with yet another amazing guide, Alfonse. This may have been the most memorable tour as I nearly lost my right hand to a blacktip shark. We had several stops on this tour. The first was a little spot where people come to swim with stingrays and blacktips. It was a little crazy being completely surrounded by thirty or so sharks and maybe just as many stingrays. But the fear subsided fairly quickly and it was a lot of fun to swim with them.

image

The next stop was a coral garden and the main attractions here were two moray eels. Alfonse coaxed the larger one to come out of his hiding hole with some food, but the second smaller one was a bit more aggressive with us. He came at me, snaking through the water with his mouth wide open, and he wouldn’t back down. I pushed my Ikelite underwater housing at him, hoping to scare him off. He didn’t care, and he kept coming. I ended up kicking my flippers at him to make him back away.

image

Next up was swimming with lemon sharks. Because of my longtime obsession with marine life, I’ve always known what lemon sharks were. What I didn’t know was how big they get. We ventured outside the surrounding reef and into the open ocean to a spot where some lemons usually hang out. As we pulled up, a bunch of blacktips approached the boat and I ignorantly put my GoPro into the water, hoping to get some nice video of the sharks. I had my hand just under the surface of the water and I thought the hull of the boat was protecting me from any sharks underneath us, but with all the action going on, I must have dipped my hands too deep and a nice blacktip saw the GoPro shining in the sunlight. He came out of nowhere and decided to take a bite, but the tip of his nose smacked my right hand and I was able to pull back quick enough. Keep in mind, this all happened before I was to jump in and swim with the massive lemon sharks. Alfonse took the plunge first and laughingly called for me to join him. At this point, I was a bit more nervous than I would have been if that blacktip didn’t just scare the shit out of me. Hesitantly, I stepped down the ladder into the royal blue waters and I looked straight down. Two fat eight-foot lemon sharks circled below. I didn’t venture too far away from the ladder, but Alfonse didn’t think twice to dive down to them, even grabbing one’s dorsal fin lightly and going for a short ride. Now, I’ve stood fishing in chest deep water with some small three or four-foot sharks cruising by me in Destin, Florida, and never felt an ounce of fear. But this was on a totally different level. These sharks were huge and they were circling five to ten feet below my feet. Talk about adrenaline rush. Bucket list: check.

image

image

The three excursions we went on were incredible, but even exploring the island on our own schedule was just as amazing. Bora Bora is truly a photographer’s heaven. Everywhere you look, there’s a beautiful shot just waiting to be taken. The sunsets each night were insane with rich cotton candy colors, the water as blue as you can imagine, and the clear night skies showed off the infinite number of stars in the universe. This was paradise in its truest definition. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to find a more perfect place on Earth, and I’m not sure that I want to. I couldn’t have asked for a better honeymoon and I’m glad it happened in a place that I’ll never forget. 

image

image

image

Copyright © 2013 David Kosmos Smith