PASSEIG DE GRACIA

Passeig de Gracia is the most expensive street in Barcelona and in Spain. This tree lined boulevard is home to the most luxurious retail brands, five-star hotels and Spain’s most iconic architectural landmarks. Anyone who visits Barcelona will at some point find themselves walking and shopping along this famous street. During my trip to Barcelona in 2016, I decided to book a hotel in this area as I wanted to be right in the heart of the action. American Express Platinum cardholders have access to Fine Hotels and Resorts with free room upgrades, breakfast, early check-in/late check-out and even hotel credits. The Majestic Hotel & Spa Barcelona had the best perks at that time so I booked a suite room with balcony, which provided me great views of the city. This 5-star hotel is right on Passeig de Gracia and is just a block away from Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Batlló and a few minutes walk to the Gothic Quarter, La Sagrada Familia and another famous Barcelona street…the La Rambla. Below are some of the photos I took while walking around this famous street. Barcelona is such a gorgeous city rich in history, culture, arts and architecture, however, my visit was brief (4 days) as I was only there to catch my cruise across the Atlantic back to America after traveling around Italy for a few weeks. I fell in love with Barcelona and I plan to visit again in the future and see the places I missed during my previous trip. I will definitely still stay in a hotel around this neighborhood due to its proximity to everything great in Barcelona.

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THE BRIDGE

I have visited New York City multiple times but I have never made it close to the Brooklyn Bridge. I have seen it from a distance at the observation decks of the Freedom Tower and the Rockefeller Center but never standing in close proximity. Two weeks ago I was again at the Big Apple for a theater weekend and decided to pay Chinatown a visit for some dimsum. Finally, I found myself in the vicinity of this architectural masterpiece but still not close enough to take a photograph. I thought I would again miss my chance to capture it, however, on my way back to the hotel the cab I was riding took the ramp beside the bridge to get into FDR Drive. I realized this was the closest to the bridge I will ever be so I immediatly pulled out my phone just as we were speeding through and started snapping photos. The photo above may not be the sharpest, understandably since it was taken inside a speeding cab, but I do love the angle, the cloud formations and the rays of the sun filtering through the cables of the bridge. I also thought that presenting the photograph in monotone created a timeless mood to this remarkable feat of engineering. Aaaaaah…Brooklyn Bridge! It’s good to have finally captured you.

DREAMY SEAS

My club membership at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Harbor Beach Resort includes a free two-night stay each year and two weeks ago I used said benefit and booked a room for the weekend for a staycation. My room was facing the ocean and I thought it was a good opportunity to work on my night photography and hopefully capture a few stars. Unfortunately, the weather was not at its best during my stay with the skies covered with clouds most of the day. Still I decided to give it a try hoping to capture something decent for my photography page. On my first night at the resort I positioned myself on the balcony and stared out into the darkness which was dotted by lights from cargo ships anchored far out at sea. I switched my lens to manual focus, adjusted my shutter speed to 15 seconds, pointed my camera into the darkness and started shooting. I was able to capture a few decent photos but the one above is my favorite as it captured a few stars and exuded a dreamy feel to it. The clouds eventually rolled in and rain started pouring forcing me to rush back inside my hotel room ending my photo session.

ANOTHER KEY WEST SUNSET

The other weekend I drove down to Key West, Florida after my work shifted to a 4-days-a-week schedule. I thought it was a good opportunity to enjoy my long weekend so I packed my bags, hopped into my car and off to the southernmost point of continental USA I went. When in Key West I always stay at the Pier House Resort and Spa due to it’s proximity to Duval Street where all the action is. Although, the main highlight when visiting Key West is watching the sun set on the Gulf of Mexico. These photos of the sunset were all taken at the Pier House Resort.

PLUIE À PARIS

The city of Paris is unquestionably one of the most romantic places in the world. Its tree lined boulevards and ornate facades, the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe as well as the River Seine and all of its bridges all add to the air of romanticism that constantly envelopes the city. Aside from these, one thing that also made me fall madly in love with Paris was when rain started falling on it. The city sparkles and gleam brightly when wet…so instead of escaping from the rain, I walked into it with my umbrella and camera embracing the sense of solitude that it provided me. The photographs in this post were taken on the days it rained while I was in Paris. The first two were taken at The Louvre, the third one was at my hotel’s neighborhood at Avenue Kléber while the last one was right outside of Musée D’Orsay. I also decided to present the photographs in black and white to create a timeless look in them. The title is simply a French translation of the words “Rain in Paris”, which I thought sounded more sexy in French.

PARC GÜELL

Going through my old travel photos I found these pictures I took around Parc Güell in Barcelona, Spain. I thought I posted them ages ago but after reviewing previous blog posts I realized I have not. Parc Güell is a complex of gardens and architectural elements designed by famed architect Antoni Gaudi and was constructed from 1900 to 1914. It was officially opened as a park in 1926 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. This major Barcelona attraction was originally built as a housing development but unfortunately the project did not take off prompting the developer, Eusebi Güell, to convert it into a park. This sprawling complex is also an architect’s dreamland as it is filled with symbols inspired by politics, religion and mythology. As for photography enthusiasts, this complex requires a lot of stamina and patience….stamina for all the walking and climbing involved and patience for the throngs of tourists posing at every nook and corner of this complex. My biggest regret was not bringing my DSLR camera as I used my iPhone 7Plus to take all these photos because the idea of walking and climbing with a 3-lb camera hanging around my neck was just petrifying. I also focused my shots on the various angles, colors, curves, lines, materials and symbols around the park in order to minimize capturing the tourists scattered all over. Of all the photographs I took my favorite is the one above with the multicolored tiles and the city of Barcelona sprawled all the way towards the ocean. I only wished the weather was better that day as the gray clouds created a gloomy mood despite the colorful tiles and eccentric architecture. Barcelona is such a beautiful city with a rich history and culture so if this amazing city is in your future travel itinerary don’t forget to include Parc Güell in your must visit list.

BEHIND THE ABBEY

The Westminster Abbey is a magnificent piece of architecture housing more than a thousand years of British royalty history making it one of the most visited places in London. Unfortunately, photography is prohibited inside the cathedral so the closest to the interiors I could photograph was its courtyard. It would have been awesome to capture the interiors but the courtyard provided me with good enough lines, shapes and shadows. Most photographs we see online are usually the facade of this building but I decided to skip that angle and went for this. I know it does not scream Westminster Abbey but they always say not to capture the obvious so here’s one taken from behind the abbey.

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.

BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS

It was my first time to go on a long duration road trip (10 days) and everyone I know who knew where I was headed insisted that I drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and check out the Blue Ridge Mountains. I decided to include Asheville, North Carolina in my itinerary and booked myself at the historic and luxurious Grove Park Inn for 4 days although I will talk about that fabulous hotel in another post. In Asheville one can see the mountain range in the distance but to enjoy the amazing views, one will need to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway for a closer look. The Blue Ridge Parkway is known as one of the most scenic drives in the United States and with a speed limit of 35 mph, this allows you to take your time to indulge in nature’s magnificence. Thankfully, the drive is spotted with overlooks where one can stop to enjoy the view or in my case take photographs. You may also notice the bluish color of the mountains and according to my research the trees release isoprene into the atmosphere resulting to this distinctive bluish haze and thus the name…Blue Ridge Mountains.

WHALEBACK FALLS

The first thing our tour guide taught us was how to identify a poison ivy. Apparently, there was an abundance of them in the area we were visiting so imagine my horror when we trekked through a narrow trail surrounded by a dense and lush vegetation with every leaf and branch touching me. Suddenly everything around me looked like poison ivy as I went into a panic mode waiting for the itch and rashes to begin. Thankfully it was just a short trek so I had my sigh of relief when we stepped into the clearing by the waterfalls. Fortunately for us, it had been raining for days prior to our trip so all the rivers and falls in the area were in full force. True to our guide’s primer, the Whaleback Falls did not disappoint. It may not be as grand as the Looking Glass Falls but the layered rocks created multiple mini falls that were awesome subjects for photography. Again I used the long exposure technique to create the cotton effect on the water but not long enough to capture more details, which emphasized the movement and direction of the water over the rocks. This falls was named Whale Back due to the large rock in the middle of the pool that looked like a whale’s back. It was not visible the day I was there due to the high water levels. This was the last of the three waterfalls we visited during our hike around the Pisgah National Forest at the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. Thankfully no poison ivy touched me that day so I made it back to the hotel itch free. Check below other photos I took of the waterfalls.

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.

LOOKING GLASS FALLS

Two days ago I joined a hiking tour of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina and imagine my joy when the guide mentioned he was taking us to three waterfalls that day. Before I could finish rejoicing disappointment landed on my lap upon realizing I didn’t bring my tripod. I always prefer to photograph a waterfall using a long exposure technique to create that cotton effect but without a tripod the photos are most likely to come out blurry. Anyway, resourcefulness is one of my few good traits add to that the right camera settings so I was able to capture these photos much to my desired results. The reason why I love the cotton candy effect is that it enhances the power of the falling water aside from it drawing the viewers immediate attention to the waterfall. By the way, the haze in the photos are mists created by the force of the falling water into the pool while the light curtains are actually sunlight filtering through the forest trees. The tour also took me to other breathtaking parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains where I took dozens of photographs which will be featured next on this page including those of the two other waterfalls. Meantime, please enjoy these photos I took of the Looking Glass Falls.

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 CHICAGO HARBOR LIGHTHOUSE

A few years ago I found myself in Chicago, Illinois to attend a reunion with some of my former classmates from Physical Therapy school. It was my first time to the Windy City so I was keen on visiting and photographing every prominent landmark around the city. Fortunately, my former classmates organized tours that took us to almost every tourist spot in Chicago. One of them was a cruise on Lake Michigan, which took us far out into the lake to adore the magnificent Chicago skyline. During the sail away the cruise narrator pointed out this lighhouse at the end of the breakwaters, which was originally built to mark the mouth of the Chicago River until it was moved to it’s current location after the breakwaters were extended. I took multiple photos of the lighthouse but unfortunately immediately forgot about it after the trip. Four days ago I was going through my old travel photos and found this of the lighthouse. I also noticed how pretty this specific photo looked with the cirrostratus clouds in the background. What’s most interesting is that I discovered this photo exactly 6 years after it was taken in May 21, 2012…some would say it’s just pure coincidence but it could also mean fate just reminding me that my friends and I are up for another reunion.

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.

THE AWAKENING OF HESPERIDES

If sunsets in Greece are always this beautiful, I am not surprised why Greeks wrote the most inspired, prolific and passionate pieces of literature ever written. Their curiosity and thirst for knowledge also resulted to contributions to science, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, law, art, mythology and theater to name a few. Greece is such a beautiful country with a rich heritage and a culture that dates thousands of years back. It is amazing that a country so small has contributed so much to humanity. Imagine my excitement when I visited Greece for the first time a few years ago. My trip took me to the capital city of Athens and the islands of Santorini and Mykonos…three of the most visited places in that country. The photo above was taken on a boat outside of Mykonos as we were sailing towards the sunset. The colors of the sky was made magnificent by the perfect combination of the golden lights from the setting sun and the thin clouds filtering it. This post pays tribute to Hesperides, the four nymphs of the evening in Greek mythology, who are also the daughters of Atlas and symbols of the golden light of the sunset.

MENDENHALL GLACIER

It was a rainy and foggy summer morning when our cruise ship docked in Juneau, Alaska and my first thoughts were my first trip to America’s last frontier was ruined. I was signed up for a photography tour to explore a rain forest, hike to a glacier and then sail out to sea to watch some whales but the rainy weather almost made me reconsider. Thankfully, I decided last minute to join the tour and eventually realized how breathtaking Alaska was even during bad weather. As we hiked through the forest we passed by rivers with hundreds of salmon swimming upstream, which according to our guide were at the last stages of their lives. Our guide and photo instructor also pointed out landmarks on where the glacier was at various periods in the past 100 years. The highlight of our trek was coming face to face with Mendenhall Glacier, a magnificent body of ice that has been slowly receding through time. The glacier has receded 2.5 miles since the 1500’s with 1.75 miles of that occuring during the last 100 years. The entire scenery was magnificent with the mist covering a huge part of the glacier helping create a dramatic effect to my photograph. I initially considered adjusting the brightness but realized the photo could lose a lot of details in the mist and clouds so I decided to keep the gloomy mood…which I hope is not an indication on the future of this majestic natural wonder.

ISLAND SPEED

Don’t you wish you were on that boat speeding across the brilliant sapphire water and heading to a remote tropical island with your special someone? That sure is possible if you were in the Caribbean and have lots of dough but for humble commoners like a majority of us, a cruise ship is a cheaper alternative to enjoy the high seas and to explore these exotic islands. I have been cruising regularly for the past 5 years and I enjoy visiting multiple places minus the inconvenience of dragging around my luggages. The only thing I like to drag around is my camera, which then allows me to capture so many interesting places. The photograph above was taken from my stateroom balcony a few hours after we docked in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Unfortunately, the island and the boats didn’t really provide much for my composition until the speedboat came slicing across the water. I like how the speeding boat added a sense of excitement and adventure to my composition. It makes me want to book and hop on another cruise.

ORANGE BEAUTY

I found myself standing in front of an orange flamingo with a dilemna on how to photograph such a lofty animal. I didn’t want to photograph the entire bird from head to foot and look like the poor bird’s yearbook photo so I tried squeezing my creative juices to capture the beautiful bird in a different way. My first few shots failed to give justice to the majestic animal before me until the flamingo started twisting its neck to pluck on its feathers at times burying it’s head out of my view. I immediately focused my lens to the flamingo’s body capturing more details from the symmetrical and asymmetrical patterns of the feathers, the elegant curves of the neck to the fading colors from rich orange to ivory white. These close-ups allowed me to capture the flamingo’s private moment without intruding into it’s personal space.

PASTEL PARADISE

I was on a cruise to the Western Caribbean last week and our first port of call was the southernmost point of continental USA…Key West, Florida. I’ve been to this island multiple times and for me the best part about visiting Key West is the scenic drive through multiple keys (islands) and seeing the beautiful blue waters on both sides of the highway. Since I only had a few hours to enjoy Key West before we set sail to our next destination, I decided to limit my walk around town to a few of my favorite stores. Unfortunately, my favorite soap store, Fantasea, along Duval Street closed business a few months ago. I also planned to eat lunch in Blue Heaven but the wait time for a table was more than an hour so I ended up eating somewhere else. The only itinerary that I actually got to experience was the Key West Butterfly Museum where I was able to take a lot of photos that were featured on this page a few posts ago. I decided to return to the ship earlier than planned and found myself on my stateroom balcony staring out at this resort island across from the ship. I also noticed a pinkish haze in the atmosphere, which contrasted well to the blue waters of the sea, reminding me of the pastel colored soaps I used to buy at Fantasea. Key West is magical when seen on land but I was amazed how magical this island looks as well from the air.

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.

BORDERLINE

I was going through my old photographs when I came across this one I took during my very first cruise back in 2013. We just sailed out of Miami and the sun had just set creating a majestic glow in the horizon. Up in the sky was this expansive cloud creating a border above the horizon while sandwiching the fiery sky in the middle. As I focused my gaze out to sea, I got captivated by the poetic silhouette of a cruise ship created by the glowing sky. Thankfully I brought my DSLR with me so I was able to photograph the magnificent view before me. I can also still remember the slow rocking of the ship and the smell of the salty ocean breeze as we sailed steadily towards our destination. It was a totally new experience for me and I’m glad I did it because after that trip I became a cruise fanatic having been on 9 cruises since and looking forward to my 10th in the next few days. I have cruised the Caribbean a number of times, the Mediterranean, Alaska and across the Atlantic Ocean and I’m looking forward to more cruises in the future. My goal is to keep cruising until I can eventually claim to have cruised around the world.

HEAVEN ON EARTH

While planning my vacation to Barcelona, Spain, a friend recommended that I take a day trip to Montserrat, which is a mountain range about an hour drive from Barcelona. On top of the mountain is a Benedictine Abbey and a basilica (Santa Maria de Montserrat), which was founded in the 10th century and continue to operate to this day with less than a hundred monks. The place has become a major tourist attraction as well as a pilgimage site for young Barcelonians who hike overnight to watch the sunrise from the heights of Montserrat. On the day of my visit, it started raining in Barcelona and our tour guide warned us that it may get foggy in the mountains so visibility may not be good. I was feeling disappointed during the drive as I was looking forward to photographing the rock formations around the monastery and throughout the range. When we arrived at the abbey there was fog all over the place, however, I was still able to partially see the rock formations and realized that the fog made the whole place look like we were in heaven…it was a breathtakingly beautiful sight. As the day went by, the fog started lifting exposing more gorgeous rock formations driving me wild with my iPhone’s camera. My biggest regret that day was leaving behind my DSLR in the hotel and using my iPhone instead. Photos would have been more gorgeous had I used my DSLR. Anyway, here are a few photos I took during my trip to Montserrat, which in literal translation means “saw mountain” as it looks like a handsaw from a distance.

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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SCARY HEAVENS

When people think of Miami, Florida the first thing that comes to mind is sunshine…and lots of it. Unfortunately during my cruise last month, Miami was covered with dark clouds and rain was pouring like crazy all over the place. The sail away was probably disappointing for a lot of out-of-towners who were all looking forward to a breathtaking sunset as we sail out to sea. I stood by my stateroom balcony ready with my camera but didn’t know where to point its lens. As we sailed farther out to sea I suddenly noticed these really ominous and black clouds with streaks of sunshine filtering through them. It looked both scary and beautiful and I thought it might come out nicely in a photograph. I started working on my framing and captured more of the clouds to emphasize its ominosity and to create a looming effect. I very much liked how the photographs turned out with the one above being my personal favorite as it effectively exudes a sense of dread in a beautiful way.

MONOCHROMATIC PARIS

Paris is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world and to capture in a photograph the very essence of this city is quite a challenge. I have an extensive collection of photographs from my last trip to the City of Lights but I’ve been struggling how to present them in a cohesive manner. I did notice a lot of street scene photos in my collection so I decided to group together a few of my favorites and present them all in black and white. The monochromatic effect creates a timeless and romantic feel to the photographs as if they were all taken in a different era. From the magazine kiosks and roadside cafes to the charming neighborhood shops and magnificent tree lined boulevards, it is definitely very difficult not to fall in love with this city.

THE VIEW

This is probably every billionaire’s dream view for an apartment in New York City, although unfortunately for them this view is already taken by the viewing deck of the 30 Rockefeller Center or more famously known as the Top of the Rock. The viewing deck provides visitors with stunning views of Manhattan covering every angle of the city and every major New York City landmark from the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building and the Freedom Tower to the Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. The deck is always packed with tourists so this photo I took is a very rare moment as if I had the entire floor to myself. I also consider myself very fortunate to have been situated perfectly at the right spot as it allowed me to capture the Empire State Building right through the middle window. New York City is my ultimate favorite city and I try to visit it at least every year and whenever I’m in the Big Apple, the Top of the Rock is always part of the itinerary for my photography. I decided to process this photo in black and white in order to create a timeless and romantic mood to the photo. Happy Valentines Day, everyone!

VENICE…CITY OF CANALS

When I visited Venice, Italy I prayed so hard for my trip not to end that I would wake up really early in the morning and stay up late at night just to stretch each day. The city was just magical…from the architecture, to the rich history and culture and of course the canals, which are uniquely Venice, making this city one of the most visited in the world. During my stay, I went to watch a Vivaldi concert at a theater right beside St. Mark’s Square, hopped on a gondola that cruised around the city and took long walks along narrow alleyways and across bridges connecting the multitude of islands that make up this remarkable city. I also joined a tour of the St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace and visited the former home of American socialite Peggy Guggenheim, which is now a museum showcasing her extensive art collection. Harry’s Bar, which was right beside my hotel, was also visited to try their signature Bellini and to check out the favorite hangout of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Charlie Chaplin and Alfred Hitchcock to name a few. The icing on the cake to my vacation was my suite at the luxurious Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia where my room had a view of the lagoon and my bathroom a view of the St. Mark’s bell tower. The hotel lived up to it’s five star reputation providing me with the famous Baglioni luxury and first class service. The photo above was taken in the front of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum while below are photos taken at Harry’s Bar, Peggy Guggenheim Museum and the Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia.

Harry’s Bar

Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Dining Room at Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia

Baglioni Hotel Luna, Venezia

View from my hotel suite

Living area of my hotel suite

The luxurious bed in my hotel suite

TEMPLE OF KUKULKÁN

I just got back from a cruise to Cozumel, Mexico and during this trip I visited Chichén Itzá, an archeological site in the Yucatan State of Mexico, which was once one of the largest and most powerful cities of the Maya civilization. This ancient city is now one of the most visited sites in Mexico and is famous for its 79-foot pyramid called the Temple of Kukulkán. Kukulkán is the name of a Maya deity, which is a feathered serpent whose head is carved at the base of the pyramid in the bottom right of my photo. During this trip, I also learned that a smaller pyramid is actually standing right inside this very pyramid because the Mayas just like other Mesoamerican cultures tend to superimpose larger structures over their older ones. While I was there, the place was packed with tourists that I immediately settled on the thought that my photos will have to include the throngs of tourists scattered all over the complex. I even stopped worrying about people blocking my view or walking in front of me while taking photos. Imagine my surprise when one of my photos turned out with barely a single soul on it…except for one holding an umbrella at the left side of the photo. I know having people in a photo adds perspective to the composition but a beautiful architectural wonder such as the Temple of Kukulkán deserves to be featured on its own. By the way, the Spanish colonizers renamed the temple to El Castillo (the castle) because of its size and intricate design. Chichén Itzá is now a UNESCO Heritage Site and was recently voted as one of the New7Wonders of the World.

BEYOND THE MIST

As we traverse this journey we call life, let us all remember that nothing is definite and as always surprises awaits us in every turn. Just like this new year we are about to ring in, all we can hope for are wonderful things to come our way although road bumps are quite inevitable. These bumps are there to remind us to slow down but never to stop driving. The photo above, which was taken during my cruise in Alaska a few months ago, seems to remind me of what it’s like looking forward to the new year. It’s misty all around making everything less visible and uncertain, however, as we move closer to where we are headed the view becomes clearer allowing us to appreciate what lies ahead. We were headed to Glacier Bay that day and I thought I will never see anything due to the thick mist. To my amazement, a few hours into the cruise the mist lifted and we glided into Glacier Bay with an unobstructed view of the most magnificent sceneries one could ever imagine. Life is full of surprises so don’t fret too much because beautiful experiences await us beyond the mists of life. Happy New Year everyone!!!

PITCHFORK FALLS

I always wondered how cotton candy effect on moving water is captured so thanks to Google I learned how to program my camera settings correctly. It is highly recommended to use a tripod when attempting this style of photography but in this case, I broke the rule and captured this handheld. I was on a rush to capture the Pitchfork Falls in Skagway, Alaska as I was on a tour plus it was starting to rain so I had to rush back to the bus before me and my camera got soaked. One technique I read somewhere is to exhale while capturing a photo to further limit the shake. I have a few more photos taken using this technique and will post them soon.

RAYS OF LIGHT

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and we were sailing out of Vancouver, Canada towards Ketchikan, Alaska for a week of cruising in “America’s Last Frontier” when suddenly the skies transformed from bright blue to gloomy gray. We were aware of the weather forecast expecting rain throughout the cruise but didn’t expect the change to happen two hours after we left the port. So I headed for the Crow’s Nest of Holland America’s Noordam ship where I thought I would find the best remedy to a gloomy weather…alcohol! As I quietly enjoyed my White Russian while staring out at sea, I noticed the rays of light filtering through the clouds reminding me of those curtain lights they use in the theater.  It suddenly dawned on me that nature’s spectacle was occuring before me so I pulled out my ever reliable iPhone 7Plus and took multiple shots. Had it been a regular sunny day, the scene would have been a plain and simple view of the sky, islands and sea but thanks to bad weather, I captured a hauntingly beautiful photo of the ominous clouds filtering the sunlight and casting dark shadows on the water. On that day I learned how bad weather surprisingly turned out to be the best thing to happen with my photography.

EAGLE POINT

This photograph will be the last feature of my Grand Canyon photo series unless I find something in my photo bank worth featuring later. The Eagle Point in the west rim of the Grand Canyon is aptly named after a natural rock formation that looks like an eagle.  This majestic geological wonder is one of the highlights when visiting the west rim of the Grand Canyon. If you focus your attention to the top of the left wing on the photo, you will notice a line of red rocks that looks like a sleeping dog. The natives call it the “Sleeping Dog” rock formation for obvious reasons. When visiting the west rim of the Grand Canyon for photography, I think it is best to see it in the late afternoon when the sunlight is at its most golden further enhancing the redness of these natural wonders.

GONDOLAS AND THE GRAND CANAL

The Grand Canal in Venice is rarely this deserted so when I noticed the absence of motorized boats with only two gondolas on the water, I immediately grabbed my phone and snapped this photo. This majestic waterway, seen here from the Rialto bridge, is usually busy with motorboats sailing in all directions while transporting locals and tourists to different sections of the city. On the other hand, majority of the gondolas sail along the narrower canals for tourists to explore the unwalkable sections of Venice. The gondola and the canal are both emblematic of Venice so I am very pleased to highlight them both in this photograph.

PARIS IN PINK

The elegant and sophisticated city of Paris was my home for a week in the summer of 2015. It was my first trip to the French capital and I made sure to visit every major Parisian landmark during my stay.  On my first few hours in the city, I visited the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower as both monuments were just a few blocks away from my hotel along Avenue Kléber. The Arc de Triomphe was quite majestic in the middle of this roundabout providing a gateway to the world famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées. This monument, which is a museum with access to the rooftop, was built in honor of those who fought during the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. When I took this photo, I forgot to remove a filter on my lens thus looking a little pink-orange…and so did every other photo I took that day. 😬😜

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.

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