Florence in the Early Evening (Florence, Italy)

We were climbing down from watching the sunset over Florence when out of one of the windows I spotted this view. I loved the contrasting blue sky to the east with the warmer colors to the west where the sun had just dipped below the horizon. Add in the square below that was just starting to bustle with early evening activity and dinner goers, the historic cathedral and hills in the backdrop and it made for a picturesque scene. Of the places we’ve visited in Italy this is definitely one of the areas I’d love to go back to – the wines and delicious food mixed with the history of the city make it one of my favorite places we’ve ever visited.

Florence in the Early Evening (Florence, Italy)

Florence in the Early Evening (Florence, Italy)

Paris’ Watchful Eye (Notre Dame Cathedral)

I’ve always had a fondness for this gargoyle – every time I’m on the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral I seek him out – I don’t know if it is the crazy eyes or what but compared with the others he seems just a bit ‘out there’. I cropped in tight on him this time – I wanted to make sure I focused on the eye because although it was sculpted centuries ago it is still in pristine condition and completely expressive in his thoughts.

The craziness hits me this week because we pick up a new puppy on Wednesday. As much as I’m looking forward to it I feel I’ve got a couple of endless/sleepless/eternal nights in front of me until we get the little guy accustomed to his new surroundings. Hopefully our seven year old cat is able to integrate the new companion into her day-to-day activities. She still has a lot of energy so I’m hoping they become playmates – fingers crossed that by introducing them slowly we can make them learn to at the very least tolerate one another.

Paris’ Watchful Eye (Notre Dame Cathedral)

Paris' Watchful Eyes (Notre Dame Cathedral)

Notre Dame on the Seine (Paris, France)

We are heading back from Cape Coral today to the frigid temperatures of Chicago. I’ll be back in Florida next week for work and then off to California the following week for the same reason so at least I’ll get a bit of a reprieve from the single digit temperatures that seem to be lingering now that winter has finally reared his ugly head. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sneak off to a few other warm weather destinations in February to break up the monotony a bit.

Notre Dame on the Seine (Paris, France)

Notre Dame on the Seine (Paris, France)

We walked along the Seine River one night after drinking far too much wine at dinner. I didn’t have my tripod so I had to balance the camera on the bridge wall as we crossed. The lights were bright and the church was less so as it was under construction on the backside of it. In photoshop I brought the colors down quite a bit with a black and white filter with around 25% transparency.

Notre Dame Interior (Paris, France)

Notre Dame Cathedral - The Arched Roof (Paris, France)

Getting any sort of ‘clean’ shot within Notre Dame is next to impossible as it is dimly lit and often swimming with tourists. I found the best time to arrive (as with most destinations) is first thing in the morning when it first opens. As a result, I found myself in the church at 7 AM twice during our stay in Paris. I did take some pictures, but mainly I enjoyed the silence that you don’t get where there are hundreds of people around. It still is an active church and so at this time in the morning there were many locals who dropped by before work to pray so I didn’t want to be utterly disrespectful with the click, click, click of my shutter. The shot below was taken by setting the camera on the floor with the lens pointed straight up. In post processing I worked to straighten it a bit since it is hard to judge that while being unable to see what the camera is looking at (since the LCD and eyecup are sitting flush with the ground).

Mob at the Spanish Steps (Rome, Italy)

The memories that come from looking through photos is really the primary reason why I love this hobby so much. When I look at this shot of the Spanish Steps below I can remember so vividly the sounds and smells that were around me as I crouched down and framed the shot. Without going through the photos last night its highly likely I would have forgotten all about this moment – it had just started raining (you can see some rain drops on the lens and umbrellas on the steps as tourists started to scatter) – my wife and I took the rain as a good time to go grab some dinner while we let the rain pass through. By the time dinner was over the rain was gone so I grabbed a beer and we went and stood on the steps – being harassed by vendors trying to sell us flowers, trinkets, beer or anything else they could possibly peddle.

Mob at the Spanish Steps (Rome, Italy)

Mob at the Spanish Steps (Rome, Italy)

Through photography the city lives up to its name in my mind as is truly eternal. The memories we made are as vivid today as they were two and a half years ago. We are so blessed to travel like we do – and I am getting the urge again…thank God the Smoky Mountains are only a few weeks away.

Arteries of Paris (Paris, France)

If you look at Paris, France on a map the one thing that will immediately stick out is how the city seems to be perfectly planned around a central point (Arc De Triomphe). The long, wide boulevards spread out in all directions allowing access to the various points around the town. Of all the cities we’ve visited this makes it extremely easy to find your way around – which is one of the reasons I enjoy my time there so much. Less time with my head in a map, means more time for exploring the sights.

Arteries of Paris (Paris, France)

Beacon of Paris (Paris, France)

This shot was taken just after sunset at the top of the Arc De Triomphe. They don’t let you set tripods up on the top which makes getting super long exposures nearly impossible. To get this shot (which if you look closely does have a smidge of blur to it) I wrapped a GorillaPod around a piece of the barrier preventing you from climbing on the structure and pulled the barrier hard towards me – people were shaking the fence a bit so by holding it tight against me I was able to keep it reasonably sharp while the exposure was taken. It isn’t how I pictured it in my head but all in all it worked out pretty well.

Duomo – Florence, Italy

Walking out into the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, Italy is an amazing scene. The tourists naturally attracted to the main church in the city flock around it. The locals, knowing what a zoo it will be, avoid the area at all costs but entertainers, hustlers and street vendors swarm to make their wages for the day. However, at sunrise, the square is quiet and peaceful – likely as it was before travel became so easy and affordable. Old men and women – probably lifelong Florentine residents – read the daily news, feed the pigeons and gather around cafes drinking espressos before moving on to start their day.

Duomo – Florence, Italy

Duomo (Florence, Italy)

I love sitting on the benches taking in the mornings. It is peaceful and about as a ‘real’ an experience in “old” Florence you can experience.

An afternoon in Dusseldorf (Dusseldorf, Germany)

In 2013, my wife and I took a trip through Italy stopping at a five cities over a two week period. We flew into Venice and then open-jawed it out of Rome with a connection through Dusseldorf, Germany both ways. When you are flying on miles your options for direct flights are really limited (especially if you are being frugal with your miles like we try to be and fly during “supersaver” periods where it is only 40,000 for roundtrip to anywhere in Europe). On the flight to Venice our layover was pretty short – about two hours – but on the way back it was an overnighter so we decided to get a hotel in downtown Dusseldorf (rather than staying at the airport) and had the opportunity to enjoy the old city center.

We walked through the center and ate at the most traditional German restaurant in town (the name escapes me) and the waitstaff did not speak any English which made the ordering challenging (since the menus were also all in German). We aren’t complaining – it was Germany of course – but just stating a fact that we weren’t in the more touristy Munich or Berlin areas where they seem to cater more to non-German speaking populations. We enjoyed walking around and spent some time walking on the riverwalk. My wife took this picture of the sheep hanging out in the grass on the opposite side – this isn’t something you see all the time (ever?) in large US cities – Dusseldorf I think is the third largest city in Germany and one of their industrial hubs (hence why American Airlines flies alot of international flights through there) so we found it quite unique to just see a bunch of sheep enjoying the weather just like we were.

An Afternoon in Dusseldorf (Dusseldorf, Germany)

An Afternoon in Dusseldorf (Dusseldorf, Germany)

Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre, Italy)

The unofficial headquarters of the five cites (Cinque Terre) on the Northwestern Italian Coast is Riomaggiore. Our bed and breakfast was located on the opposite side (in Monterosso al Mare) so we never had the pleasure of exploring Riomaggiore except from afar while taking a boat ride to give us better views of the five coastal cities.

Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre, Italy)

Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre, Italy)

Is it summer yet? It’s only 40 something here in Chicago today so I don’t think Mother Nature got the memo. As a result, I stayed home most of the weekend (even sold my Cubs tickets yesterday since I didn’t feel like sitting out in the cold temps for four hours) with hopes of catching up on work and the blog. Unfortunately, my router/modem had other ideas and is being a major pain in my ass – my upload speeds which used to hover around 4 mbs range but all of a sudden within the past ten days its been less than 1 mbs which means anytime I try to upload anything website times out. I’m losing patience quickly!! Anyone better with techie stuff and know what I’m supposed to do here?

The image above I had to shrink the quality pretty drastically just to get it to load properly which is mighty annoying!!!

Walkway at the Louvre (Paris, France)

No matter how you approach the Louvre in Paris, France it is beautiful. The entire historical structure and fact that it was the royal palace at one point really makes alot of sense given the opulence of it all. Adding to the atmosphere on this night was a violin player sitting off to the right who was playing various tunes and entertaining the many people who walked by.

You might think that we had this place all to ourselves but we didn’t – people were walking by all the time stopping to listen to music so in order to get this shot I actually had to stand here for about ten minutes and take about ten different pictures. I processed them all the exact same way in Lightroom and then imported them all as layers in Photoshop – working diligently through I masked out all of the people in the main walkway – there are a few lingerers down near the base of the pyramid but they are small. I could have brushed them out but unless you zoom in 300% you don’t see them so figured it wasn’t worth my time.

Walkway at the Louvre (Paris, France)

Walkway at the Louvre (Paris, France)

The pyramid structure is just the main entrance but do you notice how it is slightly off center? That was the first thing I noticed when I went and stood in this location to take the shot. I kept trying to move the tripod to get into a position where the pyramid was lined up right in the middle of the entryway. However, if I moved a few feet to the left to line up the pyramid in the middle the walkway would have been slightly off.

With all the perfection that this place is designed with – how did it happen? I googled it but couldn’t find the answer – but it was just one of those things that bothered me as I stood there.

The Louvre Pyramid (Paris, France)

A large glass and metal pyramid, surrounded by three smaller pyramids, lies in the main courtyard of the most famous museum in the world, the Louvre in Paris, France. The large pyramid was built in the late 1980s and serves as the main entrance (you know that by the thongs of tourists standing in line outside of it).

The Louvre Pyramid (Paris, France)

The Louvre Pyramid (Paris, France)

The pyramid created a myriad of controversy when it was designed and unveiled. The futuristic design clearly looks out of place with the historical Louvre Museum around it. However, the old entrance couldn’t handle the uptick in traffic so something had to be done to handle the daily volume of visitors.

I took this picture a few different times in attempt to line up the symmetry perfectly and capture the reflection of the pyramid in the fountain pointing straight back at me. It was a challenge to get it just right since I was hoping to not have to crop anything out of the frame in post processing. Ultimately, I succeeded in getting everything perfectly center and just had to lighten it up a bit in post processing.