FONTANA DEI QUATTRO FIUMI

The Fountain of the Four Rivers created by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1651 is the centerpiece of Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy. This was the second major landmark I visited in Rome after the Pantheon, which was right behind my hotel. This impressive work of art represents the four major rivers of the four continents where the pope had supreme religious authority. These rivers are the Danube representing Europe, Nile representing Africa, Ganges representing Asia and Rio de la Plata representing the Americas. I was overwhelmed with emotions being in Rome for the first time and at the same time seeing all these monuments that I’ve only seen on pictures and films. Rome is such a beautiful city and photographs do not give justice to its real beauty. I may have taken at least 200 photos during my first five hours in Rome and I feel like I have not captured enough. I look forward to my next trip to Rome in a few months and I hope to capture a few more hundred photos to share with you all.

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK

imageWhile exploring the charming neighborhood of Greenwich Village in Manhattan, I found myself stepping into this park featuring a huge square marble arch and a central fountain attracting a good number of people obviously there to take advantage of the cool waters and escape the summer heat. The park is named Washington Square Park  in honor of George Washington, the first president of the United States of America.  The park is also adjacent to the New York University  (NYU) campus, in fact, the square is surrounded by a number of NYU buildings. This square also draws a huge number of tourists being one of the many famous landmarks in New York City. I remember this park very well in the movie I Am Legend starring Will Smith with those zombies giving me quite a few good nightmares. Thankfully I did not photograph nor encounter any during my walk around that park.

AYASOFYA

The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya in Turkish), which means Holy Wisdom, is a grand piece of architecture that beautifully defines the Istanbul skyline. According to our tour guide, it was originally an Orthodox church which was turned into a mosque and eventually converted into a museum. It was truly a humbling experience to stand before this ancient wonder and be able to walk along its endless halls and explore its grand chambers.  Inside was generally empty except for a few relics and lighting fixtures, however, the walls and ceilings are covered with a spectacular array of religious artwork. It was fascinating to see Christian and Muslim symbols beautifully complementing each other. I think the world can learn from the walls of Ayasofya on how to coexist harmoniously despite our differences.  Sadly though, recent developments in Turkish politics may eventually lead to reviving this museum back into a mosque. I just hope the people of Istanbul decide to retain this as a symbol of secularism where people from all faiths can enjoy the beauty and wonder of this great human achievement both in construction and architecture.

SAX AND THE CITY

imageIt was my first trip to New York City and a visit to Central Park was obviously inevitable. It was quite an adventure walking through the maze of busy streets and skyscrapers and then finding myself standing at the edge of this oasis right at the heart of a concrete jungle called Manhattan. I immediately dashed for the park and found myself walking through landmarks I was familiar with from watching movies and tv shows since I was a kid. While exploring the park, I found myself at this underpass with a man and his saxophone right by the entrance of the tunnel. I paid him little attention until I was at the other end of the tunnel when I looked back and saw this beautiful silhouette-like image of him romancing his saxophone. Too bad I missed to capture the moment when he arched his back and pointed his sax up in the air.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

While cruising out of Nassau, Bahamas, our ship sailed past Paradise Island before heading out for the Atlantic Ocean towards our final destination. At the tip of the island before the open ocean was a lighthouse standing in solitude as if sadly bidding  us goodbye at the same time wishing us a safe sail home. Upon further research, I discovered its name as Paradise Island Lighthouse although it is more commonly known as the Nassau Harbor Lighthouse. This piece of architecture was built in 1817 making it the oldest lighthouse in the Bahamas and the oldest surviving lighthouse in the West Indies.  I took this photo 2 years ago using my iPhone 5 and is quite impressed by the color quality and sharpness. I can’t wait for the release of the iPhone 7 with hopefully a better camera as it comes very handy on days when I feel too lazy to carry my DSLR around.

EYEing LONDON 

imageDuring my trip to London last year, I made sure a ride on the London Eye was part of the itinerary as I wanted to photograph the city from above. I booked their “Champagne Experience” assuming there would be fewer people as it costs more and probably no kids due to the alcohol thereby allowing me to move around freely and take photographs from all angles without elbowing my way to the front.  I also scheduled the ride to synchronize the time my capsule reaches the top and the sun setting in this historic and magnificent city. The best thing about the champagne experience is that you don’t have to line up outside like everybody else. Instead, they appointed a waiting room with a bar at the ticket center and a guide will walk you to the capsule who at the same time will serve as the bartender during the ride. The whole experience was fun seeing London and its famous landmarks from above and watching the lights around the city turning on one by one. The only downside was the glass casing of the capsule was a tad dusty so all my photographs turned out a little hazy. Anyway, this photo I’m posting came out as the most decent one capturing another capsule, the river Thames and the illuminated Big Ben on the right. The London Eye experience was worth every dollar spent and next time I visit London I will try it again but will no longer go crazy with the photography. I will instead spend all my time enjoying the breathtaking view and cheer the sunset with a glass of bubbly or two.

4th OF JULY

imageToday the United States of America is commemorating that fateful day in 1776 when thirteen American colonies adopted the Declaration of Independence and formed this great nation by declaring freedom from the British Empire. Being of Filipino descent, this date is also significant in my home country’s history as this commemorates the day the Philippines ceased to be a US territory and became an independent nation.  This year I celebrated the 4th of July at a friends condo where we had an amazing view of the fireworks from his building’s rooftop.  As I was taking this photo, I noticed lightning flashing inside this huge dark cloud in the distance creating an interesting backdrop to the fireworks. This photoshoot was a true test of my patience as I wanted to capture the lightning together with the fireworks and it took me 165 shots to finally capture this. While everybody was busy lighting fireworks, nature also joined in and flashed her spectacular version of fireworks display. Happy 4th of July to everyone!!!

ISTANBUL

The great city of Istanbul has recently been a victim of unnecessary violence resulting to a wasteful loss of innocent lives. However, I do not wish to dwell on this negative incident but instead focus on what is positive about this mesmerizing city. I visited this mystical metropolis two years ago on a cruise and had the best trip of my life. The colorful culture, ancient architecture, rich heritage and friendly people makes Istanbul an amazing destination for those who want to see a perfect blend of  east and west as well as that of the past and present. This photo was taken at the top deck of the cruise ship while docked at the Istanbul Cruise Port, which is located right at the heart of the historic section of the city.  The tower on the left is the Galata Tower, which is a medieval stone tower built to spot fires and now home to a restaurant, cafe and a night club. Istanbul may have hit a road bump a few days ago but it will bounce back just as it did for centuries. Stay strong Istanbul…I will see you again, soon!

LILY

img_0146I never had a pet my entire life and the decision to have one was totally unexpected and unplanned.  I did not anticipate that a trip to the Broward Humane Society would transform my life significantly…in a good way. The decision to visit the pound was made after I saw on their website a litter of 8 cute puppies. Curiosity may have brought me there but somehow I had a hint of suspicion that I may end up taking one home that day. Imagine my disappointment when the receptionist informed me that all puppies have been adopted except for one and that I was 5 minutes late as someone just confirmed to adopt the last puppy.  With a heavy heart I headed back to the exit when suddenly this woman came running towards me. She advised me to stay put as she was trying to match the puppy with her dog and in case of a mismatch I can adopt the puppy instead. I immediately requested to meet the puppy (a female) to check how she would interact with me and as soon as they laid her on my arms she immediately  started licking my face and climbing all over me like she has known me for so long. I felt a strong connection with her and I knew at that very moment that she was meant to be my pet.  The woman who was supposed to adopt her saw everything and happily gave her up to me. I immediately rushed through the paperwork and scooped her out of the pound just in case the woman changes her mind. I decided to name my new bestfriend Lily after the beautiful flower which symbolizes purity and perfection. This happened almost three years ago and Lily and I have been inseparable ever since. We have been through a lot together and I know we still have a lot to go through. Lily is a Chiweenie (a mix of Chihuahua and Dachshund) and today is her third birthday. I am featuring her on my page to celebrate her special day, her presence in my life and for the unconditional love she showers me everyday. Happy Birthday, Lily!

MORADA BAY

Morada Bay Beach Cafe in Islamorada, Florida was a pitstop during my drive home from a weekend of fun and sun in the island of Key West. This restaurant, which was highly recommended by a coworker, does not only serve delicious meals…it also offers a breathtaking view of the bay from your table. The tables, chairs and umbrellas are painted with bright colors providing a festive atmosphere and complementing the spectacular scenery. I was truly lucky to arrive before the lunch crowd and got to photograph the place empty. This place will now be my official stop next time I drive down to Key West in the future.

SUMMER SOLSTICE

imageSummer has finally arrived and what better way to present it than a beautiful sunset on a tropical island in South Florida.  This photograph was taken during the last few minutes of sunset just as the sun was about to take a bow before diving deep into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was also great to capture the golden lights of the sun in the horizon at the same time capturing the deep blue expanse of the upper sky behind a bravura display of wispy clouds. Lastly, the silhouette of boats sailing across the ocean provided a sense of adventure as well as a romantic perspective to this composition.  What a beautiful world we live in and I find myself very lucky to witness breathtaking views like this as it also continues to fuel my passion for photography.

KEY WEST

imageIf you are looking for white sandy beaches, colorful coral reefs, breathtaking sunsets, rich culture, top rate dining and laid-back island vibe…then Key West, Florida is a must visit for you. The adventure begins when you drive down from Miami through the Overseas Highway passing through hundreds of islands home to amazing nature reserves. The long and slow drive ends in the island of Key West also known as the Southernmost Point of Continental USA and just 90 miles away from Cuba.  A trip to Key West has become part of my annual tradition and each trip is just as wonderful as the previous ones with new places to explore and more photographs to capture. The photo above was taken at the pier of The Reach Resort by Waldorf Astoria where I captured the emerald waters, sapphire skies and lime-colored buildings of a nearby resort. I was also lucky to capture this seabird soaring in front of me adding a touch of nature in this photo of a tropical dream. So if you are planning to visit South Florida, don’t miss a chance to drive down to Key West and let this spectacular view greet you everyday during your stay.

SUNSET WEDDING

A wedding is a beautiful celebration of life and love and is probably one of the most unforgettable moments in every couple’s life. I witnessed one this weekend as the ceremony was right below my room’s balcony, which had a great view of the resort’s beachfront. The wedding was celebrated just as the sun was setting in the horizon providing  a spectacular backdrop and a romantic touch to the occasion. The whole scene inspired me so much that I immediately grabbed my iphone and captured the moment on panoramic mode sweeping from the wedding party, the beach and water to the setting sun in the distance. May this lovely couple be blessed with all the love and happiness in the world throughout their marriage.

PIER AT THE REACH

imageI am currently in Key West, Florida for the weekend for some sun, surf and munch. I was a little worried that the weather would be horrible as we just had a tropical storm a few days ago. Thankfully, the Sunshine State lived up to it’s name and blasted this island with lots of sunshine and some nasty humidity.  Key West is the southernmost point of continental USA and is one of the most visited places in Florida. It is a very picturesque island town with an old world feel to it inspiring the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams who onced called this place home. Today, I decided to enjoy some island sun and beautiful blue waters by taking photographs of the pier at the beachfront of  The Reach Resort – Waldorf Astoria. I am not a beach person so I happily stood by the shore and took a few panoramic photos of the pier using my iPhone 6. After a few sweaty attempts to capture this photo, I immediately headed back to my hotel room for some much needed airconditioning and lots of pillow time…this is how I spend my vacations. LOL!

HALL OF MIRRORS

The Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles was constructed in 1678 during the reign of King Louis XIV of France. It is the central gallery of the palace and features 17 mirror-clad arches reflecting the palace gardens from the 17 windows across the hall. When I took this photograph, I wished the entire hall was empty although the chances of achieving that in the most visited place in France was beyond impossible. I visited Versailles during the last few weeks of summer right about the end of tourist season and yet the place was packed with tourists from all corners of the globe. I guess I’ll just have to be content with capturing this famous hall with a good number of faces expressing fascination and awe over the opulence of the French nobility. The last royal residents of this palace was the family and court of King Louis XVI and his infamous wife…Marie Antoinette.

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

The United Nations General Assembly established in 1972 the World Environment Day to create global awareness about environmental problems around the world. The celebration is observed every 5th day of June with a specific theme and a host country.  This year, Angola is hosting the occasion and the theme is “fight against the illegal trade in wildlife”. I have already posted my very few photos of wildlife so I’m using instead a photo I took of this waterfall at the Morikami Japanese Garden and Museum. I also decided to add an old Native American saying,  which was supposedly spoken by Chief Seattle, although no one really knows its origins.  Anyway, regardless of who spoke this saying the message remains the same that we are all responsible for the preservation of our environment and the protection of every life on it. In my part of the world, there is a huge debate about climate change with a significant number of people denying it and insisting it’s just a hoax. I believe this is a cause that is not negotiable and shouldn’t even be debated upon and politicized. Regardless of our political views, nature in itself must be protected and preserved for the very survival of humanity and its future generations.

FIERY SKIES

One of my favorite photography subjects is the sunset as it always bring out a multitude of rich colors creating a kaleidoscopic sky that can inspire the lover, artist, writer, poet and dreamer in each one of us…or in my case, the photographer in me.  The beauty of a sunset is further magnified by the presence of cloud formations as they add depth and dimension to the multihued sky. This photograph is one of my personal favorites as this made the sky look like a painting creating a moment that was worth capturing and cherishing.  I took this photo somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea while cruising around that part of the world during the fall of  2014. Rarely do I encounter sunsets as visually stunning as this so I’m glad I was there to capture that polychromatic moment. 

MAGIC KINGDOM

imageThe Cinderella Castle is the very heart of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in reference to its location and it being the access point to every themed land in the park. I took this photo of the castle from Main Street USA, a street lined with shops depicting early-20th century small-town America and inspired by Walt Disney’s childhood. I was about to head out of the park when I decided to take one last look and saw the magical magnificence of the illuminated castle in the distance. I thought its light blue illumination made it pop out in the darkness while the golden lights of the Main Street buildings framed it beautifully from both sides. Truly a beacon for every child’s dream (and adults too).

BLUE MOON

imageThe full moon last Saturday (May 21,2016) was called the Blue Moon being the third of four full moons this Spring.  Each season has three full moons but every two to three years, a season may have four making it a special and rare occurence thus the phrase “once in a blue moon”.  Apparently this year, the full moon in the month of June is about 11 hours earlier than the start of Summer making it the fourth full moon for Spring.   So when I heard about this on the news I knew very well that I had to photograph this moon. I drove to the beach with hesitation because it was raining that afternoon and the sky was partly cloudy. I was expecting a disappointment, however, the moon found its way out of the clouds to greet me. It was an amazing experience standing in an almost deserted beach watching the full moon slowly float up from the horizon. I will have to wait for another two to three years to witness this celestial show again.

VILLAGE LAKE BY DOWNTOWN DISNEY

imageEvery time I visit Orlando, I always allocate one night of my trip for an evening of strolling and dining in Downtown Disney. This huge collection of shops, restaurants, bars, cinemas and arcades wrapping around a lake (named Village Lake) is the pitstop for visitors after a day in the park.  The place has been recently renamed to Disney Springs but I prefer the old name because just like every city downtown, it is the very heart of the entire Disney complex. I took this photo on my way to dinner after noticing the beautiful colors in the sky just as the sun was about to set. The rich and bright colors reflecting on the water transformed the whole lake into a spectacular canvas of red, purple and gold. The amusing part of this photo, which I took in 2012, is that this was taken using an iPhone 4s.

WORLD WAR II MEMORIAL

The National World War II Memorial in Washington DC was built to honor and remember ALL Americans who served during the Second World War.  It consists of 56 pillars representing each US state, territory and protectorate involved in the war as well as a pair of  arches surrounding a plaza and fountain. As a Filipino, it was heartwarming to see a pillar for the Philippines as my home country played a significant role in winning this war in the Pacific being an unincorporated territory of the United States until our independence in 1946.  This photo was taken during a trip to Washington DC to conduct personal business with the Philippine Embassy. It was my first time in DC and gladly a friend based in this city was kind enough to tour me around giving me the opportunity to play with my camera.  I do hope to return again in the future to explore more places to photograph in this beautiful and historic city.

WINDSOR CASTLE

The Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world and it’s where Queen Elizabeth spends most of her private weekends.  The castle has been the family home to British kings and queens for over 1,000 years.  During my visit to Windsor the queen was not around, which is signaled by the Royal Standard flag flying from the castle’s Round Tower.  My tour of the castle included viewing of the royal apartments, state rooms, galleries, changing of the guards and the magnificent St. George’s Chapel. I joined a guided tour of the castle, which I think is the best way to experience it as you hear a good number of royal trivias and learn a generous amount of information and history about this famous home. Furthermore, being part of a tour allows you to skip the long lines to the ticket booth which can take at least an hour of your time. The castle is a reflection of the massive wealth of the British Royal family and throughout the tour I kept imagining how fascinating it would be to be a royal…even just for a day.

ROCKS OF AGES

The Stonehenge was created by a culture that did not leave any written record so every assumption about this ancient structure is debatable. During my visit to this famous site, our tour guide mentioned that this was once the site of musical concerts…made me wonder how many seasons of Stonehenge Idol ran on this site.  People also say that a visit to Stonehenge is like taking a spiritual trip…however in my case, it was more of a photo opportunity trip. The site is surrounded by a cordoned pathway to prevent visitors from touching the rocks and this photo was taken at the section closest to the ruins. Seriously though, I did feel a strong force of energy and an unexplained sense of joy while walking around this site. This has been on my bucket list for a long time and I am certainly very glad to finally write it off.

MOON FOR NISHKA

Early this year, I found myself in Leesburg, Florida to become the godfather of my friend’s daughter during her baptism into the Catholic faith. My goddaughter’s nickname is Nishka and I consider it an honor to be asked as her godfather. The baptism party gathered friends from different parts of the state and it also served as our mini-reunion. After the baptismal party at a hotel ballroom, we moved to my friends home for more food, drinks and karaoke (it’s a Filipino thing. LOL!). While everybody was busy singing and partying, I stepped out into the backyard and was greeted by this bright and beautiful full moon. I took a few shots and all I got of the moon was a solid ball of light. I decided to take a separate photo of the moon to capture more details and superimposed it on the foreground photo for a better effect. I was never a fan of manipulating photos so I was quiet hesitant to post this. However, I saw a photo of my goddaughter earlier today and decided to go ahead and dedicate this photo to her…thus the title of this post. May she grow up to be as lovely as the moon on the night of her baptism.

ISLAND OF THE WINDS

The island of Mykonos in Greece is famously referred to as the island of the winds but in Greek mythology, it is also known as the location of the great battle between Zeus and the Titans as well as the site where Hercules killed the giants after luring them out of Mount Olympus. I visited Mykonos two years ago and fell in love with this beautiful and mystical island. This photograph was taken at the town’s main section facing the Aegean Sea where this little boy was running around driving a flock of sea birds out into these beautiful blue skies. Luckily, I was about to snap my camera to photograph the town in this angle so the birds in flight came as an added bonus.

FLAMME DE LA LIBERTÉ

The Flame of Libety Memorial in Paris, France is a replica of the flame on the torch of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. It is common knowledge that the Statue of Liberty is a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States of America. On the other hand, this memorial is actually a gift from International Herald Tribune (an English language newspaper in Paris) as a token of thanks for the restoration work on the Statue of Liberty by two French businesses that did the artisanal work on the project.  The Flame has also become the unofficial memorial for Princess Diana who died on the tunnel right beneath this flame in 1997. I visited the memorial on my first day in Paris and my only wish for this photo was for that tree and lamp post blocking the Eiffel Tower to be gone. Glad also that there was nobody there to block the memorial as this usually gets filled up with people laying down flowers and cards for the late princess.

SEA FOAMS

A few hours ago I made a last minute decision to drive to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, a small town north of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and 10 minutes away from my house, to try to photograph the moon rising from the horizon. The town’s beach area features a pier, which I decided to use as subject for my photography. While waiting for the moonrise, I practiced photographing the waves trying to capture them in a foam-like effect. This one is my favorite as the spread of the waves were consistently the same from where I was standing all the way to the pier. As for the moon, I found out that moonrise was at 9:12PM and I already made dinner plans so I decided to pack up and head back home. I’ll just do my moon photography on the next full moon.

FORUM MAGNUM

img_4897The Forum Magnum, popularly known as the Roman Forum, was the heart of ancient Rome where commercial and political activities were once celebrated. Today, all that remain are the ruins of ancient buildings that once stood proudly around this historic square. I took this photo during a guided tour of the complex and I fortunately made the right decision to join one as it provided me with tons of history and trivias about this site. The tour lasted about 4 hours and culminated at The Colosseum, which is only a few steps away from this huge complex. This, Vatican and the Colosseum are probably the most interesting places I visited in Rome…although, there really is nothing in Rome that is not interesting.

LIVIN’ ON THE EDGE

img_4850In the Greek island of Santorini, low-lying and colorful cubical buildings cling on the side of the remnant of a volcanic caldera hundreds of feet above sea level providing an unobstructed view of the Aegean Sea.  The island also boasts of  its beautiful sunsets and due to the layout of the buildings, you get a front seat view of the sunset anywhere you sit. Tourism is the island’s major industry and it has been ranked as the world’s top island by travel magazines and websites. When I visited this island more than a year ago, I exhaustingly maneuvered myself for hours through narrow alleys with sharp turns and steep climbs in order to truly experience the essence of this ancient municipality. Unfortunately, my feet started killing me way before sunset so I decided to head back to my cruise ship and skipped the chance to witness one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets. I guess I now have a good reason to revisit Santorini in the near future so I can finally photograph its famous sunset.

MUSÉE D’ORSAY

The Musée D’Orsay is a museum in Paris, France showcasing the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world. The building used to be a train station and is one of the most visited museums in Paris due to its large collection of works by painters like Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh. Inside the museum is a viewing deck where you can look down into the main gallery and that was where I took this photograph. I personally enjoyed viewing the works of Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh…perhaps because they’re the more famous ones…or maybe because I am just one art ignoramous. LOL!

WHERE DREAMS COME TRUE

During my interview with the company who hired me for work in the United States, the interviewer asked me where in the USA I would want to relocate and I replied “anywhere near Disneyland”.  It may have sounded funny for the interviewer but I was dead on serious about living close to a Disney park. When I was 10 years old, a neighbor gave me a pictorial souvenir of Walt Disney World and I grew up staring at the photos dreaming of visiting it someday. Disney World was a childhood dream that always lingered deep inside my heart and mind so imagine my joy when the interview ended with a job offer to sunny Florida where Walt Disney World is located. My work assignment was in Miami but it was good enough for me as Orlando was just a few hours drive. Since my move to Florida, a visit to Walt Disney World has become part of my annual tradition and each time I step into the park and come face to face with Cinderella’s Castle, I pinch my arm to remind myself that everything is for real. I know I have come a long way from being that kid who once dreamed of coming to Disney and I am very proud to say that through perseverance and hard work I eventually made that childhood dream come.

TORII 

 The torii is a traditional Japanese gate usually found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine to mark the entrance to a sacred place. Contrary to tradition, this torii is found at the entrance to the Japanese Pavilion of EPCOT Center at the Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I took this photo using my iPhone 6, while in the middle of a thunderstorm, and the park was gray and misty with rain falling down like crazy.  Surprisingly, the dull and hazy background brought out the deep red paint of the torii creating a beautiful contrast in the photograph.

CITY OF GOLD

The Palace of Westminster and the Big Ben are iconic landmarks of the British capital and are probably the most photographed in the world. The palace is known as the heart of British politics as this is where the parliament of the United Kingdom meets. The city of London is very rich in heritage and amazingly the past and the present blend together harmoniously. It was an overcast day when I took this picture and the cloud filtered the sun turning everything the light touches into gold. I also accidentally forgot to remove the filter on my camera for this photoshoot resulting in a rich golden shade to the composition. I initially ignored this photo as I thought it was too golden, however, I realized that gold would be the best color to feature the home city of one of the world’s oldest monarchy.

THE PANTHEON

 The Pantheon in Rome is an ancient structure constructed around 127 AD by Emperor Hadrian. It is one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Rome and was continuously used throughout its existence. The building is now a Catholic Church and houses the tombs of two Italian kings (Vittorio Emanuele II and Umberto I) and that of the great artist Raphael. The square in front of the Pantheon is called Piazza dela Rotunda and features a fountain surmounted by an Egyptian obelisk. This is the first place I visited in Rome just because it was right behind my hotel. The place is a major tourist attraction so it can get really crowded and one may have to line up to get inside the building. The square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes where you can drink and dine al fresco as well as have fun people watching.  I took this photo when I was still experimenting with the manual mode of my camera and two shots came out surprisingly good so I decided to combine them to come up with this. I’m going back to Rome later this year and this time I know my manual mode better…let’s all hope I come up with better shots this time.

HOUSE OF VIRGIN MARY

img_4911Since it’s the season of Lent for Christians, I decided to use this photograph I took back in 2014 during my trip to the ancient city of Ephesus in Turkey.  This is supposedly the former house of the Virgin Mary located near Selçuk, Turkey on a hill overlooking the ruins of Ephesus. The place was discovered in the 19th century based on descriptions in the documented visions of a Roman Catholic nun and visionary named Anne Catherine Emmerich. This place is also a famous pilgrimage shrine amongst Christians and Muslims, although, the Catholic church has never acknowledged nor denied the authenticity of the house…despite celebrating masses there (one was ongoing during my visit). Close to the house is a spring where believers can collect “holy” water and I filled up two plastic bottles for my mother and also bought her souvenir containers in the shape of the Virgin Mary. Photography is not allowed inside the house and the visit is a walk through that lasts about a minute or two.

PALAIS BOURBON

img_4300-1The Palais Bourbon is located in the beautiful city of Paris along the banks of the River Seine and is home of the French National Assembly. The palace was originally built for the daughter of Louis XIV and was designed by Italian architect Lorenzo Giardini. After spending a few good hours at the Musée D’Orsay, I decided to walk to the Invalides for more touristy sightseeing and found myself in a square facing this impressive piece of architecture. Fortunately, the square was devoid of human activity so I was able to position myself right in the center from across the building and captured this photo without a single soul to block the view.

LA ISLA BONITA

img_4362-1The island of Boracay in the Philippines is famous for its white sugary and powdery sand and has been awarded by multiple international travel magazines as one of the best beaches in the world. The movie Too Late The Hero starring Michael Caine and Henry Fonda was shot on this island in the 1970’s just as tourism was slowly coming in.  I visited this island 3 times and this photo was taken during my second visit around February of 2009 using a Samsung point and shoot camera, which I bought at Walmart for just $75. This photo was taken near my hotel at the rocky Diniwid Beach in the northwest part of the island where it’s mostly private resorts and is therefore less crowded and more peaceful. The main beach of the island is the White Beach, which can be accessed by a foot path from Diniwid, and is about 2.5 miles (4 kms) long and lined with hotels, restaurants and shops.

LONESOME COWBOY

This was an old photograph taken at the Grand Canyon back in 2010 and also one of my personal favorites. This guy was a tourist like me standing in solitude at the edge of the cliff while enjoying the grandness of Mother Nature before him. With his cowboy hat on, he reminded me of the Marlboro man minus the cattle and the horse so I decided to include him as an additional element to my composition. It was a beautiful and clear afternoon that you can see the Colorado River snaking between the canyons and the eagle on flight just below us. This photo was taken around 3 pm just as the sun was transitioning to its golden glow phase. The silence of the place was deafening only to be interrupted by the flight calls of the eagle every now and then. I am glad that I decided to add a human element to this photograph…..after all, we are all a part of that circle of life…and we are no more than special than the land or the water, the animals and the plants, and every other element that also call this planet home.

TAJ 51

img_4847The Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites was my home away from home while I was in London on vacation for a week.  This was once the home of the Lords and Ladies of the Royal Court and just a few minutes walk to the Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the London Eye. This 5 star heritage hotel boasts of providing its guests with one of the most spacious and luxurious accomodations as well as the finest personal service in London.  The hotel also features a Michelin-star Indian restaurant named Quilon, which I thought the food was just okay although the service was quite impressive.  The photo above was taken in the central courtyard of the complex where one can sit and enjoy the Edwardian Victorian architecture of the hotel complex, which I think has the most colorful walls I have ever seen. I included below some photos of my residence suite taken using my iPhone. My one bedroom residence suite featured a living room, dining area, kitchen, washer and dryer and a colossal bedroom suite with a view of the 175-year-old Westminster Chapel. Overall, I would say this hotel was one of the best I have ever stayed at and the service was truly at its finest. The highlight of my stay was seeing the Dalai Lama, who was also staying at the hotel, at the hotel lobby.

ROMAN TWILIGHT

 

This photo was taken after spending an entire afternoon on a guided tour of the Roman Forum culminating at the Colosseum.  Unfortunately for me, the Colosseum was at that time undergoing major cleaning with more than half of the structure covered with scaffoldings making it impossible to capture this famous landmark in all its glory.  I took multiple photos inside and outside of the building, however, the cloudy skies made my photos look dull and flat. It was my last day in Rome so there was no chance for me to come back for a second attempt. I decided to wait around hoping for changes in lighting during the sunset anticipating for better and richer colors. Just as the sun touched the horizon, the sky turned into this explosion of pink, yellow and purple colors like some delicious Roman cocktail. I told myself perhaps someone in Vatican heard my prayers. I immediately positioned myself beside the Colosseum in the section where scaffoldings were absent and focused my camera on the structure and the colorful sky. I used a Canon Rebel XSi with an EF 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens to take this photo zooming into the facade of the Colosseum to exclude the throngs of tourists from my composition. I guess my patience paid off as my photoshoot turned out better than I expected. By the way, I recently became familiar with a small camera from a company called Light, the camera has an interactive touch screen built in allowing you to edit your shot seconds after it was taken.

LAZY DAYS

Lazy Days is actually the name of a seaside restaurant on the island of Islamorada, in the Florida Keys, where I took this photo after stopping by for lunch on my way to Key West. The restaurant’s balcony offers panoramic views of the beach and the ocean just like a scene from South Pacific. The Florida Keys is a chain of islands in the southern tip of Florida sandwiched by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  These islands are literally pieces of paradise on earth where South Floridians like me oftentimes go on retreat during the weekends to enjoy the island vibe and scenery.  If this was the view in front of you, you will probably wish every day was a lazy day.

DISTRICT OF FATIH

The Fatih district of Istanbul, Turkey is located on the European side of the city and is right on the historic Constantinople proper where most of my sightseeing was spent during my visit. This district is home to historic landmarks like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Çemberlitaş Column (Column of Constantine), Grand Bazaar and the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, which is one of the best mosques built using the Ottoman Baroque style prominently defining the Istanbul skyline with its dome and minarets as seen in my photo above. I took this photo just as the sun was setting with its rich golden light bathing the city with an aura of mysticism and enchantment. I decided not to include the more commonly known landmarks in order to create a sense of mystery. The city of Istanbul surprisingly gives you a different kind of high…it’s no wonder people who once visited it wants to come back again and again.

LA GARITA DE SAN CRISTÓBAL

The walls of the Fort of San Cristobal in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico have “garitas” (guerites/sentry boxes) at various points around the complex.  They once provided a vantage point to the guardsmen watching and guarding the sea shore while at the same time protecting them. Today, the fort is a museum preserved to remind visitors of the once immense powers of the Spanish monarchy.  In this photo, the redness of the bricks were further enhanced by the golden light of the setting sun emphasizing its rich contrast to the deep blue waters of the Caribbean Sea as well as that of the light blue sky.

SUNNY MIAMI

The photo above was taken from the top deck of the Celebrity Reflection cruise ship before we sailed out of Miami for the Caribbean. This multicultural and dynamic city is known to the world for its sun, sea and surf lifestyle…although, there is more to Miami than that.  This megacity is also recognized as the cruising capital of the world and as the gateway to the US for South America and the Caribbean islands. It wouldn’t come as a surprise that the city has so much Latin and Caribbean vibe.

Miami also happens to be my first home in the United States and my old neighborhood is in that cluster of buildings on the middle left of the photo. It’s pretty awesome waking up in the morning and stepping out into the balcony then seeing the beautiful waters and the sun rising from the horizon. It was like a dream…but I’m truly glad to have lived that dream.

This photo was taken using my iPhone 6 in panoramic mode.

ST. THOMAS SKYRIDE

The composition of this photo is very similar to those postcards they sell at souvenir shops that I personally think it looks kinda cheesy.😁  However, I didn’t take a lot of photos while at St. Thomas so you will have to bear with this one.  The St. Thomas Skyride is a $20 ride up a mountain on these scary looking cable cars and at the summit is a restaurant and bar as well as a few souvenir shops offering an amazing view of the island. I took this photo just as the cable cars were approaching interestingly adding a focus to my composition. Unfortunately, I was not able to explore the island as it was so hot and humid that I decided to go back to the ship immediately after I stepped out of the ride.

CARIBBEAN SUNRISE

Midway through my cruise, I decided to wake up early one morning to witness and photograph the sun rising somewhere in the Caribbean Sea.  The ship was passing by a group of islands when suddenly a flock of sea birds started flying in front of the ship as if guiding it towards its destination. I moved to the front of the ship for a more unobstructed view and I was astounded by the sight of the golden sun rising from the horizon. I was all alone at the top of the ship and I felt very privileged to have been there for that moment.

EL MORRO

 The Castillo San Felipe del Morro, commonly known as “El Morro”, is a fort in the city of San Juan, Puerto Rico built in the 1500s to protect Spain’s access to the wealth of the New World. It is a masterpiece of military engineering designed to overwhelm and exhaust the enemy.  I took this photo from the top deck of the cruise ship as we were sailing into the Bay of San Juan to dock for the day. It was truly breathtaking to see this massive fortress from our viewpoint at the ship. It must have been definitely overwhelming for the enemy ships during the crazy old days.

SURFIN’ SEA BIRD

  
It’s day three of the cruise and we are still in the middle of the ocean, although, the captain promised we will be docking in San Juan, Puerto Rico in three hours.  I woke up this morning noticing dozens of sea birds flying alongside the cruise ship but did not see any island from my balcony. I immediately grabbed my camera and started taking photos of the birds in front of me  when I noticed this lone sea bird (I did some research and found out this is a Masked Booby and not a seagull) flying so low right alongside the ship. I decided to focus my camera on it and tried to capture a shot like it was surfin’ the waves created by the ship. I realized this bird must be hunting for its next meal and it is pretty awesome to see the determination in its eyes…almost hawklike…very fierce!

SAIL AWAY

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In a few hours I will be boarding a ship that will take me to a few exotic islands in the warm waters of the Eastern Caribbean. I never anticipated that I will enjoy cruising as I was always scared of being in the middle of the ocean and that I easily get seasick. The first time I tried it was on a two-night cruise to the Bahamas. I got so excited that I finished a bottle of wine even before the ship has sailed. By the time the ship was rocking ten miles away from the shore, I was vomiting big time. I spent the first night of my cruise laying flat in bed. I took this photo during my second attempt to cruise on my way to Cozumel, Mexico. This time I learned my lessons and was ready with the motion sickness pills and no drinking at sail away. Today is my fifth time to go on a cruise in 3 years and I am looking forward to it. I also look forward to capturing a good number of photos to share with you all.

E P C O T 

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The EPCOT Center (Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow) is one of the four theme parts making up the Walt Disney World complex in Orlando, Florida. I was told that this was originally built by Disney with the intention of having people live here and serve as a model of a planned community with approximately twenty thousand residents. Today, the park celebrates human achievement in technological innovation and international culture. The sphere at the middle right of the photo is the centerpiece of the park and is called Spaceship Earth. It is my favorite attraction as it transports you through the history of man from the Stone Age to the computer era. My second favorite part of the park is the World Showcase featuring 11 pavilions themed to represent a specific country. My special favorites are the Mexico, China and Japan pavilions.

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