Asia Trip 2013

So 2014 has been pretty busy for me so far and i haven’t had much free time to post about the rest of my 2013 travels. I wanted to create a separate post for each leg of our Asia journey, but instead I’ll just put it all together in one post.

After only three nights of rest back in Atlanta, we packed up our stuff once again and headed out to Singapore via Tokyo. We spent one night near Narita airport and arrived in Singapore the following day. It was ridiculously hot there and we spent three days sweating as we explored the city. We easily could have spent a week there and it still might not have been enough. 

Our next stop was Phuket. I had always wanted to see the beaches of Thailand, so I was very pumped about this part of the trip. We stayed at the Twinpalms resort, which was absolutely stunning. The service was on par with the InterContinental Bora Bora, but the prices were only a fraction. Phuket was so nice and relaxing, and we even took a boat trip through the Phi Phi Islands to Maya Bay where “The Beach” was filmed. Lots of tourists, but still an amazing paradise.

After Phuket, we took a short flight over to Bangkok, where we stayed at the Sofitel So, another beautiful hotel with top-level service. I never knew Bangkok was such an insanely large city. And the traffic is absurd. Makes me never want to complain about Atlanta traffic ever again. We spent three nights in Bangkok and had a chance to visit the Damnoen Saduak floating market. Simply awesome. We also spent some time walking the grounds of the Grand Palace and exploring the incredible artwork and architecture. 

Our final stop before heading back to Japan was Hong Kong. I remember my mom telling me stories about her visit to Hong Kong when I was little. Ever since, I wanted to see the city and I’m so glad I finally got the chance to do it. The food. The views. Such a kickass city. I definitely want to go back and dig deeper into the heart of Hong Kong.

So I finally got a chance to see Asia outside of Japan, and while I loved loved loved every single one of these cities, my heart will always live in Japan and after these two weeks I was so ready to get back to Tokyo. And because I love Japan so much (and because we spent two whole weeks there), I will put up a separate post just about our trip to Tokyo and Kyoto. Yes, I know I’m being biased.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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(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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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