Tag Archives: travel photography

the long way home.

“Paying attention, I learned again, is the foundation of great travel writing – and as a bonus, it deeply and resonantly enriches your everyday life as well.”
–Don George, Gadling

It had been a week to remember. A brisk drop in temperatures preceded Britain’s earliest snowfall in nearly two decades, since November of 1993. But a surprisingly mild weekend set about erasing all sign of the record-setting snow and Sunday’s cloudless blue sky filled my lungs with crisp chill air. It was the perfect sort of day to bridge autumn and winter, I thought as I set out for Tolworth, a little area just south of Surbiton. My editor for Kingston’s student magazine had wanted me to go report on a sports alumni event taking place that afternoon, a series of matches playfully pairing current and ex-students against each other.

Me being me, lacking the standard allotment of common sense and all, didn’t think to check with my editor first to see if the snow, the same snow that incapacitated nearly every other aspect of British life this week, might not have had a similar effect on the sports event. Indeed, as I rushed off the bus and down Tolworth Broadway towards the sports grounds, I was greeted by nothing but lonely, snow-streaked fields.

I kicked the fence bearing a cheery blue sign: ALL SPORT CANCELLED. My typical self would have been, to put it lightly, annoyed, perturbed, even angry, perhaps? But for some reason, as I headed back to the bus stop, I was fine. With my afternoon suddenly as clear as the sky above me, I felt something close to happiness and made a deal with myself: if I walked the hour back to Kingston, I could use the money I would have spent on bus fare on a coffee from the library cafe (yes, I am on that kind of budget right now…).

Once I started walking, I couldn’t have been more pleased with my decision, iPod popped in and set to a dance/house playlist to put a little pep in my step. Gratefully I’d brought my camera along, as I was just in time for the rich sunlight that comes with the Golden Hours (which sadly start in mid-afternoon this time of year). Ordinary rows of shop buildings were gloriously illuminated, shadows dancing blithely on their walls, and I started to shift into travel-writer-mode, i.e. giving attention to the details so easy to overlook: the items in an antique shop’s storefront window, the diversity of restaurants and food markets to choose from, and a road sign for Kingston Town. How cool, I thought, to live in an official “historic market town.”

But what I loved most is what I will always remember of England in the winter: church spires and barren branches. Sunlit and standing tall, the steeples were everywhere, appearing above houses and shops and framed often by spidery branches stripped of their leaves.

There’s something to be said for taking the long way home.

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a city within a city.

Conurbation: noun–an extended urban area, typically consisting of several towns merging with the suburbs of a central city.”

I learned a new word yesterday: conurbation. It’s one of those words that sounds tricky, but when broken down to its roots actually makes a lot of sense: the Latin words con, “together,” and urbs, “city,” combined with a neutral suffix, –ation. It was Scotsman Patrick Geddes who first coined the term in his 1915 book, Cities in Evolution. Although primarily a biologist, Geddes is known also for his work in urban planning. He discussed the way new technologies–such as electric power and motorized transport–were essentially making it possible for big cities to be assembled rather like a jigsaw puzzle, hooking up with their surrounding suburbs and growing together.

Think of New York City, otherwise known as the Tri-State Region. Thirty counties stretching across New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania to form a metropolitan area of almost twenty-two million people. Yikes. That’s the total population of Australia. Or Romania. Or the Côte d’Ivoire…choose your favorite point of comparison.

I was in the St. Paul’s area of London yesterday following an interview I had near the South Bank. As I walked down Newgate Street, passing by the London Stock Exchange and the offices of major banks and investment firms, I wasn’t sure what there were more of–black suits or black cabs ferrying the suits around. Gratefully, I was still wearing the suit I’d worn to my interview. I tried to imagine myself blending into the “we-mean-business” crowd in my usual attire as of late–dress, boots and leather bomber jacket.

As I approached my destination–the Central Criminal Courts of Old Bailey–I was distracted by the bollards along the sidewalk, short iron posts whose tops had been painted red and white. Near the bottom of each post, a coat of arms was placed above the words, “City of London.” When I got home later, I started sleuthing, curious about the choice of color on the bollards. Wikipedia didn’t disappoint: red and white are the colors of the City of London…an entity I soon learned is not to be confused with the city of London.

Long before London was conurbated (or is that an inappropriate conjugation of conurbation?) it was just the City of London. Nowadays, the little space this historic area occupies within Greater London is often referred to as “the City,” or on maps, simply as “City.” But the City’s own boundaries have hardly changed since the Middle Ages and indeed its city status has remained intact since the dawn of the earth, practically.

Don’t let its size deceive you–it may measure in at just over one square mile (giving it yet another nickname of the Square Mile), but in 2008, the City alone accounted for 4% of the country’s GDP–$87 billion dollars. That’s one productive mile–talk about getting your money’s worth. And as London’s financial center–which explains the army of suited-up citizens–it rivals New York for the title of financial capital of the world, with over 500 banks having an office within its bounds.

Although the numbers are impressive, what I was more interested in were the peculiarities surrounding the City’s governance. It’s run by the City of London Corporation and even has its own Lord Mayor, giving proof to its “unique political status, a legacy of its uninterrupted legacy as a corporate city since the Anglo-Saxon period” (thanks, Wikipedia). Even 108 livery associations which began in medieval times as guilds and trade associations still exist today, although their function is largely ceremonial. “Ceremonial” is a word that surfaces often in descriptions of the City–with all manner of roles and positions no longer particularly relevant, and yet kept in place nonetheless. It’s like no one wants to break the magic.

So who knew such a microcosm existed? A world all of its own with connections and traditions stretching back into the centuries? As I walked the City’s streets, from the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral down Watling towards Mansion House, I wondered if London will ever cease to amaze me, if there will ever be an end to what there is to learn and find…

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looking up in london.

“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” — Samuel Johnson

Well, it happened again. Just like my walk through Surbiton last Monday, I took too many pictures while exploring central London yesterday. I was “on assignment”–by which I mean I’ve got an idea for an article I want to write on London’s top five free traditions–and was forced to fight my way through the crowds to Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, etc. When I went to write a post this morning on my walk yesterday, I found myself with well over twenty photos I wanted to include. Yeah…not exactly practical.

So I thought, following the positive reception of last Monday’s video, why not make another audio slideshow? It’s good practice for me on working in iMovie and it’s actually a lot of fun putting the whole thing together–picking out the photos, writing up the script, and somehow making it all work. So here it is, the good, the bad, and the entertaining when it comes to [not] blending in with London’s tourist scene…

 

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life is how you look at it.

“The simple act of taking lots of pictures helped me see the city, its details, shapes and patterns. The more I looked for beauty in San Paolo, the more I found it.” – Rob Verger

I was on my favorite travel writing website the other day, World Hum, when I came across an audio slideshow put together by freelance writer Rob Verger. It’s called “Beauty Amid Ugliness” and features both insightful narration and stunning shots Rob took while in San Paolo, Brazil’s largest city. It wasn’t the first of this kind of audio slideshow I’ve seen on World Hum and as always, it struck me. Both for the mission behind it – the idea of looking for the small beauties is something I try to always keep my eye out for in other cities – and for the presentation of the idea. I loved how the spoken word augmented the shots and scenes of the slideshow.

And so this morning, when I went out on what I thought was an average walk to the post office, I kept figuratively bumping into these small joys that Rob extols in his slideshow. I didn’t have my camera with me, but I knew I had to go back out with it later. I thought a standard blog post would do, but after viewing the video on World Hum, I decided to give it a go myself…

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