Saturday, November 11, 2017

Sedona - A Photography Tour

Sedona is probably the second most popular tourist destination in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon.  Over the years, as word spread about the beauty of the area, more and more tourists from all over the world come here.  When people say Sedona, it usually mean the whole area, including the Village of Oak Creek, the town of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon.

I've been here numerous times, since the late 70s'.  The place has changed a lot, especially the last 20 years when you see more and more commercial businesses opened up to cater to the tourists.  And that's what my recent visits have been mostly - to bring out-of-town guests here.  But this trip is different.  I am here to help run a photography workshop.  The timing is not coincidental.  It's late October and the season is changing; so are the colors of the leaves.  But before I dive into the photography tour itself, I want to digress and talk briefly about the history of Sedona.

Oak Creek, which gives Oak Creek Canyon its name, flows year-round.  This attracted early indigenous people to settle in the area.  In the late 1800s', white settlers came here to farm, growing apples and pears.  Theodore Carlton (or T.C. as he was popularly known) Schnebly built Schnebly Hill road to Flagstaff so that he can bring visitors down to the area to stay at his lodge.  He opened a post office and after several rejected names by the Postmaster General, he came up with Sedona, his wife's name.  So, in 1902, the place was called Sedona and it remains as Sedona today.  In the 1920s' Sedona became a favorite shooting location for Hollywood western movies.  After World War II tourism became popular here and slowly replaced farming as the primary industry.  Artists also found the red rocks and the spectacular vistas to their liking and soon they also flocked here.  Today there are over 40 art galleries in the area.  Sedona today is a bustling area, with many subdivisions, shops, restaurants, lodgings, and TOURISTS!  You can get more information here on Sedona.

For a more complete story and photographs of Sedona, see the November 2017 issue of Arizona Highways magazine.

We had a group of 13 participants signed up for this workshop.  Including the photographer, Nathaniel, and my co-Trip Leader, Jon, and myself, there were 16 of us.  We stayed at a local 3-star hotel in west Sedona.  Normally, you'd pay less than $100 to stay at such a hotel.  But, because it's Sedona and the tourist season, our room rate was $180 a night, an exorbitant amount.  We were here for 3 nights - two and a half days of photography.  We went to places that are a little off the beaten path.  Yet, we find many people there.  One way or another, the tourists find their way to these places to take iconic pictures of Sedona.  Our morning shoots start early, way before sunrise.  We left the hotel while it's still dark so that we can avoid the crowd and shoot during the "golden hour," about 30 minutes after sunrise and before sunset.  In between we had classroom presentations, instructions and critique sessions.  At night we sat down for dinner as a group at one of the many excellent restaurants that have sprouted in Sedona over the last 20-30 years.  It was 3 days of shared passion for photography, camaraderie among new friends, excellent dining, beautiful scenery, some hiking, and of course, the take-aways - beautiful photographs of Sedona.

Slide Rock

Stream flowing through Slide Rock

Tree changing color 

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock, from a different spot

Lone Tree, on the side of a cliff

West Fork Trail

Monday, October 23, 2017


diaspora |dīˈaspərə|

noun (often the Diaspora
the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel.• Jews living outside Israel.• the dispersion of any people from their original homeland: the diaspora of boat people from Asia.• the people so dispersed: the Ukrainian diaspora flocked back to Kiev.

The main diaspora began in the 8th–6th centuries bc, and even before the sack of Jerusalem in ad 70, the number of Jews dispersed by the diaspora was greater than that living in Israel. Thereafter Jews were dispersed even more widely throughout the Roman world and beyond.

The familiar becomes unfamiliar.  I've been home for 2 days but it feels strange.  I've been to so many places in about a month that being home feels like I am staying at another hotel or friend's residence.  It will take me another few days to readjust.  Yes, I do feel like a diaspora sometimes.

The flight home from London to Phoenix was uneventful except for a golf club.  Not just any golf club but an antique golf club.  Being a golfer, I've always wanted a set of antique golf clubs.  Where else can you find an antique golf club but Scotland, the home of golf.  I've told my relative Watt before that if he sees someone selling a set, to buy it for me.  A few years ago he told me that that would not be a problem.  He sees them around Edinburgh all the time.  But this time, he couldn't find any.  So he gave me his own antique putter. 

Antique Putter with hickory shaft

Putter head

Close-up of grip and shaft
The Delta agent at London Heathrow would not let me take it on the plane.  I have to check it in, he said.  But, they will hand-carry it.  So he taped the club with "Fragile" labels all over the bubble-wrap and we walk to a special baggage-handling part of the airport.  

When I arrived in Phoenix, the club was not there.  The baggage handling agent checked the system and found that it's still in Minneapolis.  Apparently, I was supposed to take it in Minneapolis and walk it through customs, but I did not.  Nevertheless, the club arrived the next day undamaged.  What a relief!  I plan to display it proudly somewhere in the living room.

Although this was a relatively short trip, I did stop in many places, which also means I took many small trips within this trip.  To summarize, here are the cities I stopped in:

Munich and Dachau
Veliky Novgorod
St. Petersburg

Total number of flights:  8, and all different types of transportation.

What's next?  I have a photography trip in a couple of days in Sedona, Arizona.  I will try to share photographs of the area, for those who have never been there.  It's one of the most beautiful places in Arizona.  

During Thanksgiving I will be visiting my children in NYC.  Unless something interesting happens or I did, I will probably not write any post about the trip.

Thanks for reading my blog.  Please write any comments, feedback or your thoughts.  I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, October 20, 2017

London, finally!

I started my trip on September 26, and tomorrow, my last day, is October 21st.  I've been traveling for almost a month.  It's hard to believe, I am finally at my last stop - London.  It is one of the greatest cities in the world, so it needs no introduction.  It's late in the evening and I am leaving in the morning.  So, instead of writing a long narrative about London, I am just going to post some pictures that I took while going for a long walk this afternoon and early evening.

I am staying at a Hilton near the Tower Bridge.  The Tower Bridge is the icon of London.  It's a beautiful and busy area.  I walked from Tower Bridge, alongside the river, to the Shakespeare Globe Theater, the Tate Modern Museum, across the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul Cathedral.  Then I head towards to Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Chinatown and finally Leicester Square.  These are places that I've been to several times before so it's just a nice way to refresh my memory.  Even at this time of the year, there are a lot of tourists from all over the world. the way, I did stop at a pub between Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square to have some fish & chips and a pint of draft beer.  You can't say you've been to England without eating some local fish & chips.

The iconic Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge Museum

Story about the song "London Bridge is Falling Down"

London Bridge

What happened to the old London Bridge?

Shakespeare Globe Theater

Millennium Bridge, with St. Paul Cathedral on the right

Tate Modern Museum

St. Paul Cathedral

Covent Garden, with musicians playing

Trafalgar Square, with Nelson's Column, commemorating defeat of Napoleon

Piccadilly Circus, much smaller than most people think

Chinatown, on Gerard Street

London Bridge at Night
The Marquis, where I stopped to have fish & chips and beer


I am nearing the end of my trip.  Cambridge, then fly home from London.

I debated on whether I want to stop in Cambridge because I was getting squeezed on time.   Either spend 1 night in Cambridge, then 1 night in London, or just spend 2 nights in London.  Since I've been to London many times, I am not that excited about going there.  However, I have never been to Cambridge and I've heard so much about it.  It's also on the way from York to London.  So, Cambridge won.

I took a train from York to Cambridge; rather 2 trains because I have to change trains halfway at Peterborough.  I got up early and took about 10 minutes to walk to the York station.  My B&B hosts were nice enough to make me a takeaway breakfast brown bag.  I drank the coffee on the way.  At the station I was trying to find a trash can to throw away my paper cup but I couldn't find any.  Even Starbucks did not have a trash-can easily seen.  I carried my backpack with me but absent-mindedly left my big suitcase in a corner while looking for the trash can.  When I came back, my suitcase was gone!  I asked a couple of station employees and they told me that I am not supposed to leave my bags unattended.  It then dawned on me that the UK has been hit hard by terrorists the last few years and they are extremely alert about such things.  Perhaps it's also the reason why there were no trash cans because someone could easily leave a bomb in there.

At the Cambridge train station, I took a bus to the city center.  I asked the driver if he knew where the Doubletree Inn is.  He did not.  I gave him the name of the street.  He has never heard of it.  So I got off at the next stop and started asking around.  Fortunately, someone knew and said it's only about a 10 minute walk.  Well....that is if you know the way and not pulling a 40-lb suitcase.  Remember that Cambridge is an old, old city.  The sidewalks are narrow, uneven and sometimes just cobblestones.  My suitcase definitely took some punishment.  Instead of 10 minutes, it took me about 30 minutes because I took a wrong turn and had to backtrack.  The hotel is beautifully located besides the Cam river with a park on the other side.

York Train Station
The town of Cambridge is almost synonymous with the University of Cambridge.  Without the university, the town probably would not exist at all.  The University was formed in 1209, after several scholars left Oxford after a dispute with the townspeople, and then came to settle in Cambridge.  They formed University of Cambridge, which today is one of the preeminent universities in the world.  The university actually consists of 31 autonomous colleges, just like Oxford with its 35 colleges.  Universities of Oxford and Cambridge are often referred to as Oxbridge.

Pembroke College

Chapel at Pembroke College.  Every college has its own chapel

Corpus Christi College

Flyers announcing all types of activities, with St. John's College in the background
I signed up for a walking tour of the city a few weeks ago.  So, after checking into the hotel, I quickly rushed to the Visitors' Information Center, where the tour started.  Our guide, Roslyn, took us to different colleges and explained some of the history, pointed out some of the well-known buildings and weaved the names of some of the well-known alumni, professors into her stories.  Some of the well-known alumni include Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, and today, still working at the university, Stephen Hawking.  Ninety-seven Nobel laureates and 15 British Prime Ministers have been affiliated with the university.

I spent most of my afternoon in Cambridge in the city center.  One thing you can't miss in Cambridge is something very popular here called punting.  This has nothing to do with the punting in American football.  Punting is a way of moving a boat along the river using a long pole, pushing the bottom of the river.  Instead of rowing a boat as you would normally do, punting uses the long pole to move it forward or backwards.  If you are not careful (or skillful), the pole will stick to the bottom while the boat move forward, and you fall into the river.  Most of the boats I saw have a professional "punter."  What I didn't hear is one of them singing "'O Sole Mio," like the gondoliers do in Venice.  This seems to be a popular activity on the River Cam as I saw many people on those boats.  It's a nice relaxing way to go up and down the river.

A cow (actually several cows) in the park?  Why not?

This is called punting, near the hotel

Trinity College

Cam River

Punting a boat

Bicycles are a popular way to get around the city
It was a quick half-day trip to Cambridge.  It is not as big as Oxford, nor as medieval-looking.  Oxford has some industries, whereas Cambridge does not.  In the morning I will take a National Express Coach to London.  I could've taken the train but the coach fare was only £8.50.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Old York, not New York

This is a story about York, England, not new York.  You can't find two more different cities.  York, England was first settled by the Romans about 2,000 years ago, around AD 71.  It has gone through several settlements by different invaders:  Romans, Vikings, etc.  York today is a historically modern city.

I have heard about York from reading many different articles and people who have visited the city.  They all agreed on one thing - it's a beautiful city.  From Edinburgh I took a two and a half-hour train directly to York train station.  I made reservations a few weeks ago with a Bed & Breakfast (B&B) called No. 21 York.  I paid £80 (about US$105) a night, planning to stay 2 nights.  I looked at several other B&Bs' in the city.  They are all similarly priced or even slightly higher.  It says a lot about the popularity of York.  I could've paid less but I didn't want to stay at a dump or some place where I don't feel safe.

Simon from No. 21 York gave me directions on how to take a shortcut from the train station to his B&B.  His directions were perfect.  It took me only about 10 minutes, across car parks (parking lot) and bridges.  It was quite a scenic walk as well.  Taking a taxi may have taken a little longer, with the tourist traffic and cost about £8.  After checking in, I immediately started to get some lunch and then explore the city.  It's not a very big city.  A few streets in the city center are blocked off for pedestrians only.

The most famous landmark in York is the Minster.  "Mynster" was an old Anglo-Saxon term for a missionary church.  Building of the Minster started in 1291 and it took 250 years before it was finally completed.  Considering it was built before the days of mechanization, it is a very impressive building.  It is the second largest Gothic cathedral of Northern Europe.

Front View of York Minister

B&W View of front of York Minster

The Nave of the Minster
It is interesting walking through the pedestrian streets in the city.  Almost all the businesses cater to tourists:  restaurants, souvenir shops, cafes, etc.  Many of the buildings and streets have been around for hundreds of years.

Street musician on one of the pedestrian streets

Farmers' Market

An Art store
 The Yorkshire Museum has many exhibits on artifacts left from the Roman and Viking days.  I paid £9 for admission.  It is a relatively small museum so I was able to walk through it in less than an hour.  Next to the museum is the remnants of St. Mary's Abbey.  Only part of a wall is left.  Apparently, the roof was taken off for other uses and the inside started to deteriorate.  Slowly, over time, it started to lose most of its structure.

Yorkshire Museum

Remains of St. Mary's Abbey

River Ouse

Shambles Street, one of the oldest streets

Bridge across River Ouse, on the way to the B&B

Cornish Pasties

Clifford Tower
York was a wall city, like many old cities.  A big section of the wall still remains and you can walk on it.  I followed a Guided Walk of the city and park of the walk was on the wall itself.  The purpose of the wall is like other wall cities, to defend against invaders.  Some of the other wall cities that I've been to are:  Dubrovnik, Croatia; Xian, China; and Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

Part of the wall that you can walk on

Looking into the backyard of the Dean's residence

Bar came from barrier.  This is one of the gates.
No. 21 York, the B&B where I stayed