06/14/12

Travel Photography for the Free at Heart

Shutterbugs need to fly (for some reason I always picture a ladybug). Sitting at home and taking pics of your cat can only entertain you so far and if you’re not hoping to become a professional photog then you really want pictures you will be happy to frame and throw on your wall (and let’s face it unless there’s some really amazing light your ‘Apple in Repose’ is not making it up there).

Equipment

I have three cameras – a manual 35mm Sony (I think), a Casio 500, and a Nikon CoolpixP90. The Nikon has an incredible zoom which is mostly why I bought it, however, the light meter is pretty awful. My Casio is pocket-sized and takes the best night photos. My Sony is somewhere in my closet, I haven’t tried to use 35mm since finishing my art courses in undergrad. I’d suggest finding a pocket-sized, high pixel/resolution, with at least a 10x zoom for traveling. Also I am quite fond of those play settings like “party time” and “dusk”. I wish you could rename them since half are actually perfect aperture/f-stop readings for scenarios the company didn’t think of. Also buy at least 1 extra battery and 3 memory cards. Instead of buying one 16MB SD card I buy multiples so I can leave them in the hostel while I’m out. This way if I decide to go whale-watching and the boat tips I don’t lose all of my photos (also theft blah blah blah).

Timing

Automatic cameras are nice while traveling because you can literally snap a photo while running passed a church. You probably won’t be alone and should you have 3 seconds to snap a picture of the Louvre while you run to a tour bus, make it count. There is a limit to how much people will wait for you if you’re not with photo-friends, I generally got around this by doing the run-point-shoot method, getting behind and then sprinting, or suggesting a meeting place. This is good because your friends will have varied interests and while you weren’t particularly interested in cutting your trip to the Taj Mahal short to take a few pictures of a local market those pictures might be awesome to the point of iconic.

Tourist Pics

That being said, there are a lot of “iconic” pictures floating around my friend’s photo albums so don’t skip the Taj Mahal just because “everyone takes pictures of that”. They all take pictures cause it’s awesome!

Theft

If it is dark, and you’re lost, and there are very few people around put away the camera. This happens at least once a trip and even though most of your anxiety is cause by your unfamiliarity with the area it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Before You Go

Break out your camera and head to the local church, park, or parade. This will help you find all the right settings for direct sunlight, candle-lit churches, running water, and flood-lit buildings. It used to be that you’d take 100 pictures and get home and found out you’d been at the wrong aperture the entire time, film ruined. Now, you know immediately and spend twenty mins. finding the right one.

Final Word

Accept that some pictures won’t come out and that some memories will not be remembered any better because of a picture.

05/14/12

One Night in London

You have two days in London and you want to make the most of it, what ever are you to do? Broken down over forty-eight hours these are my fav things to do, a mix of culture and experience.

Westminster Abbey has some of the worst tourist lines and is by far the coolest of all the main London attractions. The history, the weddings, the architecture everything about the Abbey screams visit me.

From here you’re a five min. walk to Big Ben. Take your obligatory tourist shots.

Hop onto the tube and ride out to Queensway. From here it’s a quick walk into Kensington Gardens where you can have high tea (only 20 pounds and the cheapest/best by far) at the Orangery. You feel like royalty overlooking the Palace.

Let your meal digest with a walk through the park to the marble arch which leads to Oxford Street, the most famous shopping street in London. Start at Primark and work your way through TopshopMonsoonUrban Outfitters, and many many more. Stop and get a Ben’s Cookie if you have room!

Gordon’s wine bar is right out of Embankment tube in a small and endearing alley way. The bar itself is an old school basement, very Sherlock Holmes. Then after some wine or champagne Opal, a nightclub, is right next to you!

Possibly grab a few hours of sleep.

If it’s a Saturday or Sunday go to Portobello Road. Yes, Camden is the market everyone went on about in the 90s but now it’s mostly junk (although with more time the horse market is worth seeing for atmosphere). Portobello Road has a number of antiques and jewelry stands and while not inexpensive you can pick up some interesting souvenirs here. My friend recently bought a camera from the early 1900s, I’ve gotten art deco rings and compasses, there’s also plenty of Banksy art and prints. If you’re visiting on a weekday, marketing is better at Covent Garden’s Apple Market. The market itself is hit or miss but if the pickings are slim it’s a quick walk to either the Tower of London or Seven Dials shopping area. If you settle on Covent Garden you can also find your way to SNOG, the best frozen yogurt I’ve ever had.

Everyone who visits me wants to go out to Abbey Road and take a few pics, which can be fun but is time-consuming and in the end it’s just a picture opportunity. You can take the tube out to St. John’s Wood and walk to it, there is heavy traffic there so be careful. I always recommend the better option – head over to the British Library, this is frequently overlooked and besides their illuminated manuscripts and other historical items they have the original song lyrics and notes to many a Beatles tune.

Now you’re only a twenty min. walk from the British Museum. Must-sees here include the Rosetta Stone, Crystal Skull, Portland Vase, Elgin Marbles, and a very nice Moai. Free entry.

More shopping can be had at Harrods. The food hall is fun to taste things in but don’t show up too hungry as a hot fudge sundae can run you 20 quid. A blanket maybe 100,000. Amazing to see, I will decorate my mansion just like this.

Perfect night to see a show on the West End. Tickets can usually be purchased online or in the morning for sale tickets, standing can be around 5-10 pounds. Much cheaper than Broadway and the stars are brilliant!

04/28/12

London Fashion

I haven’t incorporated this many flowers into my wardrobe since the 90s, then it was giant sunflowers on a denim “Blossom” hat – now it’s a daisy in my hair or small red roses on my leggings. Yes the 90s are making a come-back (isn’t that a bit fast?) but the flower prints in England are everywhere and it’s addicting. Floral china, flower power back-packs, flora earrings, even most houses have a small garden. My favorite thing about the city (which I may have mentioned already) is its phantom lilacs. These apparitions hit you when you least expect it, walking past a smelly dumpster, and make you think of childhood summers making bouquets and playing Indiana Jones. It all makes me want to get carried away.

04/24/12

Around the European Union: Study Abroad Advice

I’ve been reading a lot of Around the World Blogs and I’m a little jealous of the ATW lifestyle. Reading about new adventures every week always gets me on online, trying to see where I can afford to go, and while an ATW might be out of my financial grasp, an ATEU (around the European Union) is not.

I also realize that I’ve titled this as a travel blog and have been neglecting that bit. To explain: I’m living in London while finishing my schooling, but am originally from New York. While here it is UNBELIEVABLE how cheap it is to leave the country for a weekend. So to gear up for my travelogue I thought I’d jot down some things I’ve learned getting this far and then y’all can break out the passports and join me!

Doing an ATEU is pretty easy if you’re studying abroad in a European country, this is how everyone I know has gotten their passport stamps. You can get financial aid, family and friends are more willing to help out, and at the end of it you get class credit / a degree making the financial burden even more worth it. When studying abroad the first time (one semester) I was told to budget $5,000 and nearly threw up. Of course that immediately turned into $2,500 pounds upon landing and while I didn’t spend it all I was glad I had it. I was lucky and found one of those magical unicorns of New York City – a paid summer internship – so if you want to study abroad start saving immediately (even if your 12 and run a lemonade stand, actually most of my money came from well-saved cat city money).

Plan where you want to go early. Not only do rates go up but you will be making a slew of new friends upon your arrival – this is true if your backpacking or studying abroad – and those friends will have their own travel plans. It’s great to be flexible but if all of your new friends have already seen Paris and it’s your “destiny”, or whatever romantic notions you’ve been nursing, make sure it stays in your plan. You will have to wade through a bit of travel-snobbiness (You haven’t been there?! You want to do something touristy?!). Not letting someone bully you into a weekend in middle-of-nowhere Slovenia instead of seeing Paris for the first time is difficult.

Not wanting to travel alone isn’t horrible! Even though so many so-called “experienced” travelers make it out to be. I still don’t like it. I get bored, also who is going to take my picture? There are International Student Houses, Travel Clubs, and tours for younger folks in every city just for people like us who like travel buddies. (I’ve always been a wee bit skeptical of these too but just went on one I LOVED it so that showed me.) (This is also so much safer, especially for women, a friend of a friend spent 3 weeks in a South American hospital with dysentery (where she was robbed of her passport), this would always suck, but ALONE?! If things get all Oregon Trail it’s nice to have a friend.

Pack things you want to throw away. I brought a few junky old sweaters, jeans that were on their last legs, and cheap tanks. For a semester, this fit into one massive suitcase and my business carry-on, and for a year it was two massives and a carry-on. You always wind up buying a few things – either gifts, textbooks, or clothing; maybe even a blanket that you buy because you’re cold and you love it so you take it home even though it dominates half your suitcase, cough *Becca* cough. Yes, you want cute outfits for your travels but I’ve never met anyone who had trouble dressing themselves once they got here. Odds are you’ll get so into the style of your host city you won’t even want to wear the new clothes you got for the trip. Bring the old stuff and donate it before you leave. (I’m in an apartment here and am thinking if I sold all the kitchen and home stuff I had to buy I could finance another trip that way).

Think business traveler when you think luggage. My parents got me a new suitcase before my semester abroad that has fold out backpack straps, wheels, and fits in an overhead (FYI: use Easyjet’s dimensions when buying as they’re one of the smallest and most frequently used for European student travelers). I can’t even tell you how many trips have met with crisis because people don’t have a carry-on size bag. Lots of crying and screaming, “how can I go to Milan without these shoes?”

Carry-on is always best, it saves you time and about $80 on the cheap airlines. The only thing my bag doesn’t have, which I’d suggest -hence the business idea – is a laptop case. Odds are you’ll be using this for any academic trips and at the very least on your way home, be prepared to remove your laptop at security. P.s. Laptops are HEAVY. I never realized how heavy until I was lugging it all over Europe.

Take photos! I know everyone is a photog these days but so many people never step out in front of the lens. Recently, a friend visited me and didn’t get a picture of herself in front of Big Ben! You don’t even need to look at the picture ever again but maybe one day you’ll want to and wouldn’t it be nice to have?

Coming up:

Hostels vs hotels, transportation, tour groups, money and more! Feel free to ask questions or request topics!