IN MEMORIAM

Today we commemorate that fateful day in 2001 when America was attacked by terrorists and the whole world turned a corner and was never the same again. I was still in the Philippines when 9/11 happened but I followed every moment of that day on television watching in horror as both towers crashed to the ground. Twelve years later I found myself in New York City standing at the very spot where it all happened fighting my emotions while remembering the events of that day. The memorial is such a somber place and is deeply sacred not only to every American but also to every citizen of this world who lost a loved one, a friend and a countryman. I’ve been to New York multiple times and everytime I visit I always drop by the memorial to pay my respects. The photograph above was taken last year when I brought my parents, who were visiting from the Philippines, to New York for the first time. Next month I will be in New York City and just like my previous trips will revisit the memorial to pay my respects…although this time not just as an immigrant but as a proud citizen of this great and beautiful country.

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AMERICA’S DOWNTON ABBEY

The Biltmore Mansion near Asheville, North Carolina is the largest privately owned house in the United States. Built by George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895, the estate remains under the ownership of his descendents to this day. A trip to Asheville won’t be complete without a visit to this expansive estate so as soon as my travel plans were confirmed I immediately booked my ticket for a visit. I took a self-guided tour of the house with an audio guide, which was a good soure of information about the Vanderbilt family as well as that of the construction and life inside the mansion. My exploration of the house took me not only to the family rooms, bedrooms, dining hall and offices but also to the kitchen, pantries and servants quarters. The entire place reminded me very much of the British series Downtown Abbey, which was about a noble family and their help during the Gilded Age. America may not be a monarchy but the Vanderbilts were the closest to royalty this country could ever have. Photography is allowed inside and outside the house but the photos I’m featuring on this post were all taken outside.

MIKRI VENETIA (Little Venice)

In the Greek island of Mykonos, a row of houses line up the waterfront with their balconies extending out to sea. These houses used to be the homes of the rich inhabitants of the island before they were converted into the shops, bars and restaurants that they are today. This part of the island is also known as Mikri Venetia or Little Venice due to similarities with the Italian city like its proximity to water. This area is also regarded as the most romantic as well as the most photographed part of Mykonos…aside of course from the famous windmills scattered around the island. During my visit to Mykonos a few years ago, I strolled through this part of town on my way to see the windmills but failed to pay attention to the beauty of the place. Thankfully I took the time to explore this area on my way back and was able to take the photo above. I think it was also perfect timing that the sun was about to set and the sunlight was turning a richer shade of gold. It made my photo softer, dreamier and more romantic. Greece is one of the most beautiful countries I have visited and I hope to visit it again in the future. Maybe if fate allows I’ll stay a little longer on my next visit.

THE GOLDEN EMPIRE

New York City is truly the microcosm of the world as this diverse metropolis hosts almost every possible ethnicity and culture that our planet holds. At one point in history, this city was even referred to as the “Capital of the World” and the “Seat of the Empire”. Today NYC is more commonly known as the “City that Never Sleeps” or “The Big Apple”, although, one thing that remains true about this great big city is that it still is the center of world trade, culture and global politics. Even the line from the song New York, New York remains true to this day…”if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere”. As a photography enthusiast, I always wanted to singly capture the vibrance, energy and grandeur of this city despite the fact that every city corner already offers a unique photo opportunity. I eventually came up with this bright idea (hold your laughter) that to capture the very essence of NYC I should photograph the city from the top…so up I went to the viewing deck of the Rockefeller Center to take my ultimate NYC photograph. The sun was about to set when I reached the viewing deck and the first thing I noticed was how the entire city was bathed in golden sunlight. As I scanned the city before me I couldn’t help but notice the Empire State Building, once the tallest building in the world and the emblem of greatness for old New York, standing majestically right in the middle of the city while in the far distance was the Freedom Tower, the symbol of the new New York, with its glass walls reflecting the rich colors of the setting sun. There on top of the Rockefeller Center I found my ultimate photograph of New York City capturing the old and the new with the rest of the world living harmoniously below.

MISTY GREENS

The OMNI Grove Park Inn is one of the best hotels in Asheville, North Carolina and it boasts of breathtaking views of the city and the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. This historical resort hotel features an 18-hole mountain golf course designed by Donald Ross and during my stay my room had an amazing view of the golf course, the city and the mountains. One morning, I woke up to this thick blanket of fog rolling down from the mountains slowly enveloping the golf course with its whiteness. Also to my amazement, I noticed people going about with their early morning round of golf despite the poor visibility. While these early birds were busy playing I also got myself busy shooting the misty greens before me.

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CITY OF BRIDGES

Aside from being referred to as the Steel City due to its formerly colossal steel industry, Pittsburgh is also nicknamed as the City of Bridges for the 446 that connects the city to its surrounding suburbs. As a tourist, these bridges made my life very convenient as it made the areas of interest across the river from downtown easily accessible. I took these photographs on my way to the Warhol Museum using my iPhone 7 Plus as the extra weight of a DSLR would just have made the walk unbearable. On some occasions, I prefer the iphone over my DSLR for photography as its Pano mode allows me to take wide-sweeping views just like the photos on this post. Thankfully, the bridge I had to cross to get to the museum was one of the prettier ones with a lemon yellow paint making it stand out against the concrete skyscrapers and rich blue sky.

PITTSBURGH: NIGHT AND DAY

Two weeks ago I went on a road trip driving through eight US states starting from South Florida to Savannah, Georgia followed by a few days in Asheville, North Carolina then through the Blue Ridge Parkway to Harrisonburg, Virginia then Uniontown, Pennsylvania before culminating in the City of Steel: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My ten-day trip took me to various terrains from the beaches of Florida, the valleys and mountains of the Carolinas and the rivers and forests of Pennsylvania. This was my first time in Pittsburgh and the city truly impressed me from the quality of the museums, variety of restaurants and the convenience of their public transportation allowing me to explore the city extensively. One of the highlights of my stay was dinner at the Altius Restaurant in Mount Washington where I got to enjoy a spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh at the point where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. I took two photographs of the city one before sunset prior to stepping inside the restaurant and another after dinner when bright lights illuminated the city. I was torn between the two photographs so I decided to play with both by using the Pixelmator App on my iPad Pro to create a night and day effect for my post above.

SOUTHERN CHARM

Savannah, Georgia was never on my bucket list…In fact, I’ve watched a number of movies filmed in this town and listened to friends rave about it and still the place never stirred any desire for me to visit. Yesterday, I started this road trip to Pittsburgh (another place missing on my bucket list) and Savannah became an inevitable stop for the night en route to Asheville, North Carolina. I booked a hotel right on the river district and was totally dismayed by what I saw. That section of the town was uninspiring and didn’t look the way I expected it. Anyway, I decided to give Savannah a chance so I started walking farther into their historic district and glad I decided to do so. Block after block of historic homes surrounding beautiful neighborhood squares astounded me. Thankfully I brought my camera with me so I immediately got busy taking shot after shot. The photo above is of the Forsyth Fountain and is my favorite of the dozens I took. I am also including other photos I took around town and hope you guys enjoy looking at them.

THE WINDMILLS OF MYKONOS

Aside from being known as Greece’s party island, Mykonos is also famous for its windmills which has become the iconic symbol of the island. When I visited Mykonos a few years ago, I hiked my way across town just so I can photograph these quintessential features of the island. The walk was a delightful experience passing through narrow alleys between whitewashed cubic stone homes with the wooden parts painted in playful colors. The windmills, which were once used to make flour out of wheat and barley are no longer operational today. Fortunately, the town has managed to preserve them by turning some into museums. Somebody told me that some of these windmills are actually private homes but I’m not sure if there’s some truth to it.

UNDER THE TUSCAN RAIN

When I took these photographs, I was standing outside the ancient walls of San Gimignano in the Tuscany region of Italy with my shoes wet from the rain and my bones rattling from the cold. Deep inside I was wishing the sky was clear and the sun was at it’s late afternoon glow and bathing the rolling hills in golden light. Unfortunately it wasn’t the case so I set aside my disappointment and pulled out my iPhone 7 Plus then took multiple shots of the scenery before me with fingers crossed for some decent captures. The clouds somehow created a gloomy effect to the scenery something most people won’t picture Tuscany to be. Still I kept the photos but opted not to post them on this page for a long time until today. I realized I have lately been posting a number of my photographs taken during unpleasant weathers so I decided to revisit these photos and managed to convince myself to finally feature them on this page. After all, it isn’t always sunshine and blue skies in Tuscany…sometimes, the clouds need to roll in for some dramatic and special effects.

SWAN LAKE

When I think of swans the words that come to mind are elegance, grace and beauty. Swans are such beautiful and mystical creatures that they are oftentimes written as strong characters in poetry and literature. In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy was concieved by the union of Queen Leda of Sparta and the god Zeus who disguised himself as a swan. Today I had the chance to photograph these beautiful creatures although it was quite a challenge as this one wasn’t very friendly. I have read stories of people getting attacked by swans so I kept my distance as I had no plans of becoming the next character in that story. Fortunately there was a bridge on the narrowest part of the lake so I was able to keep my distance while photographing this graceful creature. The photo above is my favorite as I managed to capture the water dropping off the swan’s beak after it dunked its head underwater. Below are two more photos that I like as well as the dark and murky water created a nice contrast to the white swan.

STARRY STARRY NIGHT

One of these days I’d like to gather enough courage to drive somewhere far from the city and photograph the Milky Way in the darkness. In my case, the Florida Everglades would be the best place to escape the city lights. I am currently on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean Sea and last night I attempted to capture some heavenly bodies from my stateroom balcony. My tripod was unavailable so I rested my camera on the balcony ledge and held it firmly to keep it from moving. Unfortunately, the ship was rocking so I wasn’t able to keep my lens open for longer than 15 seconds otherwise the stars would have looked like tiny lines instead of dots. I included the bridge of the cruise ship as my foreground subject and the sky as background to emphasize that the photo was taken out at sea. In the distance you can see the glow of the city lights of Cozumel, Mexico adding an interesting touch to my composition. I also opted not to adjust the brightness in order to prevent the photo from looking too grainy. Below are my attempts to photograph the Milky Way from the aft of the ship. It’s a little grainy but I think good enough for a first attempt.

CASA MILÀ

A trip to Barcelona, Spain isn’t complete without visiting Casa Mila, which was the last residential building designed by the legendary architect, Antoni Gaudí. This modernist architectural wonder was built between 1906 and 1912 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. The building is also known as La Pedrera, which means “The Stone Quarry” due to its unique rough-hewn appearance. Fortunately, this famous landmark is just a block away from The Majestic Hotel where I was staying making the visit very convenient. The building’s design is very unconventional due to it’s undulating facade and spectacular rooftop covered with skylights, chimneys and staircases that look like sculptures using materials such as glass, broken marble and lime. The photos above and below were taken at the roof terrace of the building featuring the unique sculpture-like structures that are truly out of this world. I decided to zoom into the structures to emphasize the curves, angles, shapes and surfaces in order to make it look less familiar. Just so you know, people still live in this building to this day.

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SUPER BLUE MOON

Earlier today, the whole world looked up to the heavens to witness a celestial phenomenon that only happens once in a blue moon…a Super Blue Blood Moon Eclipse. It is called a Blue Moon when the full moon happens twice in a calendar month, a Super Moon when the full moon is closest to Earth on its orbit and a Blood Moon when its color turns blood red after it crosses into the shadow of the Earth. What made today most exciting was a rare lunar trifecta wherein the Super Moon and Blue Moon combined with an eclipse. Since I live in the east coast of the United States I witnessed the phenomenon just as the moon was about to sink into the horizon. A lot of those who didn’t live in buildings missed the event and only saw the Super Blue Moon when it was high up in the sky. Luckily, I live in a building and my balcony faces west so I got to witness the event and even took photos of the early stages of the eclipse. Unfortunately, my part of the United States didn’t get to see the full eclipse as the moon sank into the horizon before it fully occured. I woke up really early this morning to set up my camera and took photos of the moon while it was still up in the sky. Above is one of the photos I took while waiting for the eclipse to occur and below is the photo I took while the Super Blue Moon was turning red at the early stages of the eclipse.

CITY Of BLUES

One of my favorite times to take a photograph is around twilight…that point where the last rays of the sun fade away and everything around turns a deeper shade of blue. For the photo above, I scheduled my climb to the top of the Rockefeller Center in New York City so I’d arrive at the viewing deck a few minutes before sunset. Luckily, I found a spot where I could extend the lens of my camera out of the glass partitions. I held on for dear life to my spot as other tourists were pushing their way to the front for a chance to take an unobstructed shot of Manhattan. I got pushed and shoved with my face flat on the glass but held on till I got the photos I wanted. I guess my patience paid off as I was able to capture multiple photos of the sunset with one of them featured on this page a few posts ago. This one I decided to save for this time of the year due to the chilly atmosphere the photo exudes. One would think this photo was taken on a cold snowless day in winter…however, this photo was actually taken on the last few weeks of summer just before autumn said hello. I personally like this photo as it captured three of New York’s most famous landmarks: the Empire State Building, the Freedom Tower and the Statue of Liberty in the far distance.

SILHOUETTES AND SUNSETS

My balcony faces west so I get a front seat panorama of spectacular sunsets almost every day.  I’ve been taking photographs of the sunset from my balcony but the lack of an interesting subject in the foreground produced less interesting compositions. One day I noticed my little buddha on the balcony floor and decided to be creative with my photography. Instead of using the sunset as my subject, I focused my camera on the buddha and used the blazing sky as my background.  The photo above was taken a few weeks ago and was my first attempt in capturing the buddha as a silhouette. Today the sunset had the sky blazing again so I dropped on my belly with my iPhone and captured the photos below.

SANTA MARIA DI LORETO

  The Santa Maria di Loreto is a 16th century church in the heart of Rome just across the street from the grand Monument of Vittorio Emmanuel II.  Construction of this church began in 1507 and was completed after 75 years.  Further to the back is another church, the Santissimo Nome di Maria al Foro Traiano, which was built in the 18th century and creates the impression of twin churches.  The pillar on the right is the famous Trajan’s Column erected to commemorate emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars.  I took this photo on my way back to the hotel after a guided tour of the Forum and the Colosseum. I personally consider Rome as the most beautiful city I have ever visited. The city’s impressive architecture with its rich earthy tones transports you to a different time of brave adventures, bloody conquests and passionate romances.

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