1 Day in Venice. Thoughts. Photos.

This is part 3 (the last part) of my trip to Paris, Rome, and Venice.

Click here to read my post on Paris.
Click here to read my post on Rome.

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Sunday June 17
9.5 miles | 23,142 steps

Ah Venice. The city that looks so good on postcards and instagram. Indeed, all my photos in Venice turned out beautiful regardless of where I pointed my camera. What photos don’t capture is the sweltering heat, the uncomfortable lack of trash cans, the exorbitant price tags, and the swarms of people.

Now picture this.

It’s 88℉ (or 31℃). There is no wind blowing. No shade. Almost no public benches anywhere. Vendors charge 5 euros for a bottle of Coca-cola (a small bottle by American standards!) The bottle isn’t even cold. There are tiny bridges everywhere. Bridges with stairs. So many stairs up and down and up and down.

For lunch you wait in line outside for 30 minutes to buy a box of “pasta to go” from a popular shop. There are no tables or chairs. All around the city are signs that say “no eating or drinking here,” “no sitting on the steps,” and “no sitting on bridges.” Where are you going to eat your pasta?? Well, standing up in some alleyway. You get bumped the whole time by other tourists squeezing past you — because every single alleyway is packed with people. At least the pasta is good. Really good.

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the line outside this (really good) pasta shop

When you reach the Piazza San Marco (or St. Mark’s Square), you realize that Saint Mark’s Basilica is not open to visitors until 2:00 pm because it’s Sunday. Of course. So you wait around and take photos of nearby buildings and visit some gift shops. When you return at 2:00 pm, there is already a line of people stretching across the plaza. How did this happen? The line takes 30 minutes before you reach the entrance. The unlucky woman in front of you could not enter because her dress “revealed too much shoulder,” and she was pressured into buying a scarf. You enter the basilica and, yes it’s nice, but definitely not nicer than St. Peter’s Basilica…or the Notre-Dame. Everything inside the basilica is curtained off. You have to pay extra to see this part of the building. And then extra to see that part of the building. You leave in 5 minutes.

For the rest of the day, you wander around the city looking for souvenirs or stop for a drink. You want to ride in a gondola but it costs 60 euros per half hour. You look down at your wallet. Nevermind. The people in gondolas don’t look happy anyways. It’s too hot, and there is no shade on the water.

If you need to use the restroom, you need to find a restaurant/café or pay 1.5 euros at some sketchy public restroom. Did I already mention that there is nowhere to sit? The lack of benches is so strong that the majority of tourists are gathered in front of the train station to sit on the steps.

Anyways. This was a pretty pessimistic view of Venice. The city really is beautiful, don’t get me wrong. But it definitely has its uglier side. My main takeaways are: don’t visit Venice in the summer; wear good walking shoes; and bring lots of money 😅.

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5 Days in Rome. Thoughts. Photos.

This is part 2 of my trip to Paris, Rome, and Venice. (Spoiler: I loved Rome the best)

Click here to read part 1 on Paris.

Tuesday June 12
8.9 miles | 21,317 steps

Arrived in Rome around noon. We went to the Hotel Regio where we would stay for the rest of the trip. First, some comments about the hotel. Someone wrote a review saying the beds felt like sleeping on “Roman marble slabs.” I must say this is absolutely correct. During the night, I rolled over on my arm, and I think I still have a bruise. The control panel for the air conditioner was also broken, so we woke up in the middle of the night freezing. But their breakfast was pretty epic.

We ate lunch at Pinsere, a cute little pizza shop. The owners were super friendly (i.e. explaining to me in English what all the toppings on the pizzas were) and service was fast. Definitely would recommend going there.

We then took it easy and walked around the city to see some basilicas and the ruins outside of the Roman Forum complex. My favorite basilica was the Basilica S. Maria degli Angeli e Dei Martiri because it looks really run-down from the outside but quite beautiful on the inside. It was also built over a Roman bathhouse. And there are some interesting modernistic sculptures.

My favorite part of the whole trip was probably sitting outside Trajan’s Forum as the sun was setting and drinking an iced cappuccino with lots (and lots) of sugar. Very American I know.

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Trajan’s Forum

Wednesday June 13
10.2 miles | 24,047 steps

More walking around. More basilicas. Accidentally wore shorts this day because it was quite hot but forgot that some basilicas won’t let you enter without “appropriate attire.” Whoops. Visited the Pantheon, where the only thing I remember is a recording repeating the phrase “Silence!” in different languages. Visited the Triton fountain, the Piazza Navona, and Piazza del Poplo. Visited the Spanish Steps, or rather, casually walked down some crowded stairs and then realized it was crowded because the stairs were a tourist destination. It’s really easy to stumble onto cool places/historical landmarks in Rome. And that’s awesome.

We ended the day going to the Trevi fountain. I heard you are supposed to throw a coin into the fountain from your right hand over your left shoulder. It started raining so my sister panicked and just chunked a coin into the fountain, never mind the tradition.

Thursday June 14
7.8 miles | 18,431 steps

Don’t pay $56 to “skip the line” into the Vatican Museum. There is a street corner where someone sells these tickets for outrageous prices and someone on the other side of the intersection selling the same thing for $26. I honestly just waited in line for about 30 minutes and paid $17 at the door.

The inside of the Vatican museum was packed, both with visitors and artifacts. There is literally a hallway lined with shelves full of ancient Roman statue pieces. Like heads and torsos of historical figures. The museum has too many objects fighting for display space (a good problem to have I suppose). The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was pretty cool but The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo was much smaller than I expected. Kind of underwhelming.

We also went inside St. Peter’s Basilica. Some famous stuff, like Michelangelo’s Pietà and a canopy by Bernini. And obviously a lot of history. But you have to experience it for yourself.

Friday June 15
13.7 miles | 33,837 steps

I read online that Palatine Hill is the best place to buy tickets that give you access to both the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill/Roman Forum complex because the lines are shorter. Well the lines were definitely shorter because it was such a struggle to find the entrance for some reason 😅. We went the wrong way and hiked up the hill only to find a church at the top. And it was a dead end. Other tourists kept asking me for directions to the entrance, so I guess I finally blended in with the locals???

Anyways, the Roman Forum was epic. But, again, I am definitely biased because I am a huge Roman history fan. I was literally running around the forum fangirling over the Arch of Titus, spewing random facts about Roman emperors, and caressing the ground while chanting, “this is the ground Julius Caesar has walked on!!!” As a bonus, walking amongst the ruins made me feel like I was inside a video game (recent games I played being Breath of the Wild and Shadow of the Colossus).

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Roman Forum, as seen from Palatine Hill

The Colosseum was also pretty cool but not as cool as I wanted it to be (?) I’ve always been fascinated by gladiators, and Gladiator (2000) has always been my favorite movie, but actually standing inside the Colosseum just felt vaguely unsatisfying. It’s hard to imagine all the people and animals who lost their lives in a place that is now falling apart and covered in tourists taking selfies.

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The Colosseum

Finally, thanks to Roman Holiday, we stopped by the Mouth of Truth to take the obligatory photo of our hands inside the mouth. Unlike Audrey Hepburn, I had to wait 40 minutes in line.

Saturday June 16
12 miles | 28,326 steps

For our last day in Rome, we strolled around the city visiting well-known gelato and tiramisu places such as Pompi and Gelateria Fassi, which has been open since 1880! We also chilled along the banks of the Tiber river and saw the statues along the Ponte Sant’Angelo. Overall, a good conclusion to our Rome journey.

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View of the Vatican from along the Tiber

 

4 days in Paris. Thoughts. Photos.

So I went on a family vacation to Paris and Rome (with a day in Venice). Each city was new to me, but I had some really (really) high expectations. Doesn’t everyone have high expectations about the City of Light and the Eternal City?

Well I had a good time and took some decent photos. It definitely looks like I had a great time in the photos, just like how I only ever saw my friends’ smiling faces in their vacation photos or those of strangers on instagram.  But nice vacation photos don’t reveal the blisters on your feet from walking miles and miles on cobblestone. The heat exhaustion. The struggle finding a public restroom. The constant fear of being the tourist who gets robbed in the streets.

This post will be my honest reflections on my time in Paris. Another post on Rome will follow.

Click here to read my post on Rome.

Friday June 8
8.5 miles | 20,975 steps

It was so foggy when we arrived I was thoroughly impressed the pilot could land the plane at all. I could barely see 20 feet in front of me. Definitely could not see the Eiffel Tower anywhere, a monument which, for some naïve reason, I thought would greet me the minute I arrived in Paris.

I was off the plane at 8 am. Stuck in customs and baggage claim until 11 am.

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Texas RenFest 2017

📍Texas Renaissance Festival
📷 Canon EOS 60D

If you like jousting, good music, fireworks, handcrafted jewelry, beautiful costumes, FOOD, and just having a great time in general, then RenFest is the place to be. This is my second year attending, and RenFest does not disappoint. The admission tickets are a bit pricey but totally worth it considering all the shows and activities. Highly recommend.

January | Original Piano Composition

ABOUT THE ALBUM: Each month I plan on composing and recording a new piano piece that reflects the events/mood/weather experienced throughout the month. The entire process will take place from the start of the month, and hopefully I can upload the piece sometime before the last week. This project is experimental in nature, so I will try out different recording/mastering techniques as well as compositional. Some of the pieces will be more melodic in nature and others will be purely “mood” pieces. I hope you enjoy!

JANUARY THEMES: new beginnings, resolutions, cold mornings, hot chocolate, and tears

Sea Lions | San Diego

📍La Jolla Beach, San Diego
📷 Canon EOS 60D | EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM

Rumors say you can see sea lions up close at La Jolla Beach.

I am pleased to report that this is indeed true.

When I arrived at La Jolla early in the morning, the sea lions were sunbathing on rocks along the beach, and they weren’t camera-shy at all. You could easily get within arm’s reach and pose with them. Despite the signs warning against harassing the sea lions, many tourists could not resist touching the adorable creatures.

Here are some photos I took without tourists photobombing in the background:

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Oh! The Drama!

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The Professional Model

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Little Mermaid Reenactment

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BONUS: On the other side of the beach, I found a herd of seals! The waves kept washing them into the cove, and they would resolutely wiggle back onto the shore.

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Life Goals

All in all, it was an amazing day at the beach.

 

Thanksgiving 2016

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Here’s my first attempt at drawing comics! I used pen on paper and then scanned the image as black and white.

Every year, Black Friday sales begin earlier and earlier. This year in particular, many stores were advertising openings at 5pm or 6pm Thursday evening. What happened to Thanksgiving?

Photoshopped Dreams

Does post-processing enhance or detract from the photography experience?

Since childhood, I have suffered from a debilitating illness known as “wanderlust.” My symptoms include excessive daydreaming about places I have yet to visit, estimating travel expenses to literally everywhere in the world, and spending hours on the internet ogling photos of beautiful destinations.

Majestic ice-capped mountains. Glistening turquoise waters. Lavender fields at sunset. The places —  the photos — looked so perfect. I wanted to see it all. More than that, I wanted to join the ranks of those talented photographers who could perfectly capture those breathtaking scenes and inspire others to see the world.

Over the years, I have taken millions of photos. When I got my hands on my first DSLR camera, I thought my next photo would definitely go on the cover of National Geographic. It didn’t happen. Clearly a picture of my backyard taken using the camera’s automatic mode wasn’t going to cut it. I gradually learned how to adjust aperture, exposure, ISO, and shutter speed to get the exact lighting I envisioned. Eventually, I could shoot in manual mode and manually focus without a second thought. However, no matter where I went with my camera — Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, the Caribbean — I just couldn’t quite get the results I dreamed of. My sunsets were not vivid enough. My trees did not have enough sunlight streaming through. My clouds were not fluffy enough. And when they were, the sky just wasn’t blue enough.

And then one day, Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop changed my life. Sure, I had heard of photo editing and filters before. But part of me was holding on to the belief that I didn’t need post-processing to “fix” my pictures. I just needed to keep trying, keep practicing, and keep traveling until I found my perfect shot. However, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to see what the software was all about. I started by a watching a tutorial video of someone creating a sunset. Wait. Creating a sunset? Yes. He made a sunset where no sunset existed before. It started as a gloomy photo of waves crashing against a cliffside with a lighthouse in the distance. Fifteen minutes later, it was a masterpiece. The sky glowed with pinks and oranges as the last rays of the (previously nonexistent) sun sank behind the cliff. Even the water sparkled in the sunset.

I was extremely impressed, but at the same time, I felt like I had suddenly lost something. The magic was gone. A portrait of a happy child running through a golden hayfield on a sunny day could be five or more photos meticulously stitched together. Were all the photos I looked up to merely photoshopped dreams? Was the reason that my photos never looked like the ones on postcards simply because those scenes never existed?

The photos below are examples of what a little bit of editing can do.

Forest Original

Original Image

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Edited Image – “Light Through the Trees”

My original photo lacks vibrance and depth. Popular forest images often feature sunlight filtering through trees. To create the edited image, I inserted a “sun” and adjusted the transparency and placement until it blended into the original picture. Then I tweaked the exposure, temperature, saturation, etc. of the image until it looked like the sunlight belonged among the trees.

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Original Image

Shine brighter

Edited Image – “Rays of Light”

For this photo of Galveston, the only tool I used was a graduated filter with a dehazing option to bring out the blue sky.

If I can drastically change my photos with just a few steps, it is no surprise that photographers skilled at post-processing can create stunning photos out of what would have initially been mediocre shots. I am not saying that all great photos are edited. It is possible to actually photograph a rainbow over Half Dome with an eagle flying overhead, and I have enormous respect for those photographers who can pull it off. However, the vast majority of my photos do not look spectacular. Sometimes my camera isn’t ready when a deer runs by, or a tourist obstructs the view. Sometimes I set my camera down to simply enjoy the view.

Initially, I was disillusioned by post-processing, but with more experience, I am starting to appreciate what it adds to the photography world. The man who created a sunset behind a cliff? Just because his original photo did not have a sunset does not mean that he didn’t see one when he was there. When photographers take long-exposure shots (think silky waters), very dim lighting is necessary, otherwise the whole photo turns out white. Thus, it is common to wait until the sun has already gone down before taking a photo and then adding the sunset back. Similarly, when I took my forest picture, the morning light filtered through the treetops as I hiked, and a light breeze blew through the leaves. I felt rejuvenated and at peace. My original photo does not convey any of this. My edited photo is much closer to my actual experience in the forest. It captures my mood at the time, the essence of my forest experience.

Sure, if you look at an HD photo of a national park and try to recreate the scene with just your camera phone in jpg format, then you will be disappointed. But it does not mean that your experience there won’t be amazing. Ultimately, a photograph is only two-dimensional. Your experiences are much more than that. Photo-editing, when done right, is not meant to mislead people. It’s a tool to help you express the sights, sounds, and feelings you lived through in a format you can hang on your wall. In a way, a post-processed photo might be a better reflection of reality.

Thus, I am going to keep looking at great photos and continue planning for my next adventure. I may not see a herd of reindeer underneath the northern lights in Norway, but I have faith that I will not be disappointed with what I do find. It’s going to take a lot more than post-processing software to cure me of wanderlust.