San Marino is the world’s smallest republic, the world’s oldest republic, and one of the smallest countries in the world period. Completely surrounded by Italy, I was curious as to how San Marino still exists as all other city states in Italy were merged into Italy in the 19th century. Basically two random things happened which allowed San Marino to remain a country. The first happened during the Napoleonic invasions in the late 18th century. Antonio Onofri was a friend of Napoleon and out of respect for him, he offered to protect the independence of the republic. Later in the 19th century, San Marino served as a refuge for people who supported Italian unification. Giuseppe Garibaldi left San Marino alone in acknowledgement of their support during their struggle. If those two things hadn’t happened, San Marino would be a part of Italy today and wouldn’t be an independent country.
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One of the worst experiences I had traveling was visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza. I had one person jump into my car (as it was moving) to try and sell me a camel ride. I had one guy at the security check (where the metal detectors weren’t plugged in) try to take something out of my camera bad. While I was there it as a constant barrage of people trying to sell me, or scam me, cheap crap and camel rides. As bad as my experience was, I can’t recommend avoiding the pyramids. It is after all, the pyramids. It is the one thing which links together disparates of human history. Here the Pharaoh Rameses II stood, as did Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Augustus, and Napoleon. If you do visit the Pyramids, I recommend hiring a guide BEFORE you show up. This person who is a local and can speak Egyptian Arabic can take care of all the touts and your experience will be much better.
One of my favorite buildings in the world is the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. The reasons why it is such a great building are several fold. First, it is really old. It was build between 532-537 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. This is a full 600 years before construction was started on Notre Dame in Paris, and 800 years before it was opened. There really isn’t anything of this size and age anywhere in the world. The other amazing fact is that even though it is much older than most European Cathedrals, it was built is a mere 5 years! Most Cathedrals took centuries to complete and some aren’t finished today. That they could have completed such a construction project so quickly, centuries before the construction techniques which were used for cathedral construction is amazing. It was also the largest building in the world for almost 1,000. It wasn’t until the completion of the cathedral in Seville, Spain that the Hagia Sophia was dethroned from the title. Finally, the word Byzantine is a word that we use to describe the empire which existed out of what was then Constantinople. In reality, it was just the eastern half of the Roman Empire. The Byzantines called themselves Romans, not Byzantines. This was actually the largest building constructed by the Roman Empire! After the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the building was converted to a mosque, where it then become the largest mosque in the world for several centuries!
I had many people ask me yesterday why South Georgia was one of my favorite places on Earth. This is one reason. Incredible amount of wildlife. I've posted several photos like this before on Instagram to show just how many penguins are on South Georgia. Another reason is the landscapes, as you can see from yesterday's photo. Finally, the island has history. Even though there is no permanent human settlement on the island, it had a big part to play in the Ernest Shackleton expedition, and it is the place where was buried.
Cooper Bay on South Georgia Island. Hands down one of the greatest places I've ever visited.
Ice calving on the Columbia glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
I ended my Flanders trip in Antwerp. I hadn’t been to Antwerp before so I didn’t know what to expect. My goals during my short time there was to photograph the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the city. The first one I visited was a house designed by the architect Le Corbusier. The wold heritage sites consists of buildings all over the world, including a residential home in Antwerp. Unfortunately, it was a rather underwhelming visit as the house isn’t open to the public, so I was only able to see it from the outside. I’m going to make it a point to visit other Le Corbusier buildings in France and Japan in the future. The other site I visited was the Plantin-Moretus House-Workshops-Museum Complex. It was a home/workshop used by 9 generations of the Plantin/Moretus family, who owned one of the largest printing companies in Europe in the 15th and 16th century. The building is unique because one family owned and resided it in for 300 years, and as such most of the original paintings and equipment is still there. The building is home to about 20 original paintings by Rubens, and it is also home to the 2 oldest printing presses in the world. From the Plantin-Moretus house I went to the Antwerp Cathedral, which has a massive tower and is part of the Belfries of Belgium and France world heritage site. Like the cathedral in Bruges, it was attacked during the French Revolution, but it escaped destruction. Only some altars and other works were destroyed. Most of the artwork and altar pieces were saved. Finally I left Antwerp via the gorgeous train station, which is one of the most magnificent ones in Europe.
Yesterday I spent the day in Bruges. I had been to Bruges previously, but this time it was a totally different experience. One of the biggest perks of what I do is that I get to talk to local experts when I visit places. I had a local guide who took me around Bruges and showed me things which I totally missed during my previous trips. For starters, the hotel I was staying at, The Grand Hotel Casselbergh, was where Charles II of England lived while he was in exile during the English Revolution and the rule of Oliver Cromwell. The hotel across the street, the Crown Plaza, was the location of the cathedral of Bruges which was destroyed in a fit of revolutionary zeal during the French Revolution. The foundation of the cathedral and the church which was there before the cathedral are in the basement of the hotel. The city was one of the wealthiest in the region, but its fortunes turned after the 15th Century and it eventually became the poorest city in Flanders. Oddly enough, it economic downturn was responsible for preserving much of the old city. Today it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Belgium, for good reason. Shout out to De Vlaamsche Pot restaurant where at ate dinner. They serve all the dishes in small dutch oven type pots on the table. Worth checking out if you are there if you are looking for something local. Today I was in Antwerp and I’m off to Utrecht in 2 hours. More on Antwerp tomorrow…. The image is of the Bruges Belfry at night.
A rainy night in Brussels. I’m only in Brussels one day, which is a shame because there is so much to see and do here, and I was last here in 2009. My day focused on architecture. In particular, I visited two world heritage sites. The first was the residences of Victor Horta, who was an Art Nuveau architect. I had sort of visited the site back in 2009, but I really wanted to get a better experience, so I had a guide today and I also finally visited the Horta museum. I also “visited” the Stoclet House, which is a new world heritage site. I put visit in quotes because no one is actually allowed to visit. It is a private residence. When I say no one, I mean no one. As far as I can tell, one group has been allowed to properly visit the home in the last 10 years. It is chock full of early 20th Century art, as well as being a work of art itself. You can only see the house from the street, and even then the main facade is pointing away from the street. As world heritage sites go, it was the most frustrating visit I’ve ever had. The day was cold and raining, with ice freezing on the sidewalks. I had a fantastic dinner this evening at Le Selecto in Brussels center city. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time. I took this photo as I walked back to my hotel from the restaurant.
Today I arrived in the Flemish City of Ghent. It is my first time in Ghent, and I’ve found it to be a very interesting city. It was a city which was once a very rich merchant city in the middle ages, but was later replaced by other powerful political and economic hubs. It reminded of the cities in Northern Germany which were part of the Hanseatic League. Cities like Stralsund, Wismar, and Lubeck. If you look closely you can see the former wealth in the buildings and cathedral. In addition to the city center of Ghent itself, I had two goals here: photograph the town belfry and one of the beguinages in the city. Both are part of serial world heritage sites spread all over the region. The Beguinages were small walled communities for women which were originally created during the crusades, when many of the men left, but continued through the 19th century. They were not like a convent, but were for women who were not married. Here they could own houses and work and not have to stay with their families. Today the properties are rented out for general occupancy. Tomorrow I’m off to Brussels!
I've arrived in the Netherlands! Yesterday I visited my first world heritage site of 2017: Van Nellefabrik. Today I revisited a site I first photographed in 2009: Kinderdijk. It is a collection of 18th century windmill water pumps. It is how the Dutch used to reclaim land from the sea before electrical power. These windmills have become the symbol of the Netherlands. They are a short waterbus ride from the center of Rotterdam.
I'm off on my first trip of 2017 today! I fly to Amsterdam today and I'll spend the next week exploring the Netherlands and Flanders before I speak at a conference on the 11th. This photo is from my last trip to Belgium when I was in Brugge. Have you been there?
Polar bears playing in the snow in Churchill, Manitoba.
Happy 2017!!!!! Photo was taken during the Sydney Harbor New Year's fireworks display. One of the best fireworks in the world.
Sunset on the island of Funafuti in the nation of Tuvalu. Just a reminder as 2016 is ending that now is the time to get you annual travel insurance policy. Travel insurance is relatively cheap and can save you from $100,000's in evacuation fees. I personally use @allianztravelus who has offices in over 30 countries around the world to help you out.
One of the highlights of my year was visiting Denali National Park in Alaska.
A woman standing in front of Trafalgar Falls on the Caribbean island of Dominica. This shot happened completely by accident. The woman was about 100m away from me, stood up, and posed perfectly in front of the waterfall. I have no idea who she is.
View from the top of the "Long wall" or "wall of death" in the Namib Desert in Namibia.