A Traveler’s Confession – Camera Lust

A Traveler’s Confession – Camera Lust

I made a hard decision today – I am moving on from my beloved Nikon D40X.

The break up went a little like this – I’m sorry, it’s not me, it’s you. You’re getting old, you process things really slowly, your SD slot is broken and your LCD screen is cracked.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a great six years together. We’ve gone everywhere from Galicia to Chilean Patagonia.

Spider web
How else could I take such a cool photo of a spider web on Chiloe Island?

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral                      Or such a scary picture of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain?

My Nikon even made me money when I used to work as an event photographer in Chicago.

Tickled Pink Chicago                 My photography assistant/best buddy and I enjoying free cocktails on the job… whoops.

But I have a confession -

I want a new camera. Or to be honest, lots of new cameras.

I feel like a traitor for saying this. I feel like a vegetarian eating pulled pork. I love my Nikon D40X, I really do. But there are greener (and hopefully faster) pastures out there.

My dad gave me this Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 for my college graduation and I absolutely love it; There isn’t a better pocket-sized camera on the market. But I also really want to upgrade my dSLR.

I have my eye on the Canon EOS Rebel T2i. It has HD Video and 18 megapixels (which is a huge upgrade from the D40X’s 10). And I think it would match perfectly with the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM UD Wide Angle Zoom Lens. After seeing Alex in Wanderland’s Hawaii photos I was sold.

My newest fantasy is that post-France I will shack up on a Thai beach to learn how to scuba dive. To take beautiful underwater photos I would need a camera with underwater housing, right? So that’s where the Canon PowerShot SD1300IS and Canon Underwater Housing come in.

Chiloe Island This is my internal dialogue on the subject: How can I go to Thailand without a wide-angle lens? That’s like, a sin! 

And truthfully some of my biggest travel regrets involve cameras. I went to Ecuador in 2006, one of the most photogenic countries on the planet, equipped with a disposable. There I was, snapping photos of crumbling Inca ruins in the middle of the majestic, windswept Andes mountains, using a throwaway camera. It’s amazing how much you forget as the years pass, and photographs to me are the best way to relive precious memories.

But this tech-lust doesn’t stop at cameras. After 22 years as a loyal PC user, I’ve decided to move on to a Mac (again, such treason!). My computer is only two years old but is a complete piece of junk that overheats after three minutes of video-watching and weighs about 10 pounds. I’ve been thinking the 13-inch Macbook Pro would be perfect. And to accompany that I will need Adobe Illustrator, naturally.

So the grand total? A whopping $2,628. And most of that is used goods on Amazon! The grand total of camera gear alone is $1,286.

Here’s the roster:

Canon Eos Rebel T2i – $465 (used on Amazon)

Canon Wide Angle Zoom Lens -$579 (used on Amazon)

Canon Powershot SD1300IS – $59 (used on Amazon)

Canon Underwater Housing – $186

13-inch Macbook Pro – $950 (used on Amazon)

Adobe Illustrator – $389 (used on Amazon)

I would LOVE any camera recommendations that you all have. Please comment or email me with suggestions, it would be much appreciated!

Saturday Snapshot 2

Saturday Snapshot 2

In order to file my au pair visa, I had to drive five long hours to the French consulate of Chicago. Considering I lived in Chicago for the past four years, it was also an excuse to visit some very beloved friends and family. And to enjoy some much-needed bonding time with little brother.

I had a hard time narrowing things down — I need your votes! Will it be photo one, two, three or four?

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Photo One

Chicago View

This is the view from my little brother’s apartment, isn’t he lucky?

Photo Two

brother

This is my little brother. He’s a cutie.

Photo Three

Chicago Architecture

This is the lion in front of the Art Institute of Chicago, notice the four-star Chicago flag in the background. Also adjacent building.

 

Photo Four

Chicago Skyline

I found these funky skyscrapers on a walk back from Trader Joe’s. Weird, right?

Detroit Eastern Market: The Belly of Detroit

Detroit Eastern Market: The Belly of Detroit

I spent last Saturday strolling the famed Eastern Market in Detroit, and truth be told, it was my first time there. And it was awesome.

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Eastern Market Street Art

Street art outside of the market. I’m thinking it’s a vegetable cow?

Detroit Eastern Market vendor

Full disclosure: What appears to be a candid purchase of baby eggplants is actually a highly staged photo-shoot of my friend’s mom buying produce. I’m cool like that. 

While I would never call myself a Detroiter (Eminem ruthlessly bashed my high school in 8 Mile, oh the shame), I do feel a lot of pride for the city and for how far it’s come.

The market was just how I like markets: bustling, proletariat and filled to the rafters with gorgeous produce at low prices. There wasn’t a hint of pretension anywhere, just small businesses and farmers selling their wares.

Now please take a look at these beautiful vegetables rife in autumnal splendor…

Beets and carrots

Concord grapes

Peppers

The service wasn’t bad either. See the helpful overall-clad gentleman below who let me take his picture.

Great Lakes Coffee

By the end of it I walked away with Great Lakes coffee, wax beans, a gigantic stalk of brussels sprouts and a greater understanding of what Detroit’s up to these days. I’ll be back to the Detroit Eastern Market soon.

Have you ever visited Detroit Eastern Market? What did you think?

Street Art from Around the World

Street Art from Around the World

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I love street art and like to snap pictures of it wherever I go. Here is some of the best I’ve seen all over the world; from European cities like Barcelona, Paris and Brussels to South American cities like Santiago and Valparaiso. There is also some art from less visited places like Portugal, Uruguay and Mallorca and even my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

Here is my favorite street art from around the world.

Hint – scroll over the photos to see which city they are from.

Barcelona Street Art

Street Art Brussels

Street Art Brussels

Brussels Street Art

Street Art Santiago

Street Art Santiago

Street Art Paris

Street Art Mallorca

Street Art Valparaiso

Street Art Valparaiso

Valparaiso Street Art Tree

Street Art Brussels

Street Art Valparaiso

Street Art Valparaiso

Street Art Colonia, Uruguay

Street Art Girona, Spain

Street Art Porto, Portugal

Street Art Detroit

Street Art Santiago

Street Art Santiago

 

Where have you seen the coolest street art?

One Beer-filled Night in Brussels

One Beer-filled Night in Brussels

Brussels – the beautiful and beer-centric capital of Belgium. Admittedly I ended up there because the Ryanair flights to Greece were a lot cheaper out of Brussels than Paris, but I’m glad to have finally made it.

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After schlepping my huge backpack to the hostel I immediately met an American guy named Andrew who was napping in a nearby bunk bed. Like all good solo travelers we insta-bonded and wandered the city together all afternoon.

Old Town Brussels

Brussels Old Town

The most heavily touristed area in Brussels is the striking Grand-Place. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and was once the meeting place of Flemish guilds. My nerdy history buff side had a field day imagining I was a Flemish textile merchant in the 15th century (yeah…). It was so easy to imagine, I mean look! Moving on…

Belgian waffle

Walking around Brussels you will smell lots of  and lots of fresh-off-the-griddle gaufres, also known as Belgian waffles. Mine came topped with a generous serving of whipped cream and was almost worth taking the trip back to Brussels for.

After walking around for 45 minutes countless miles, we rested our weary feet at a café  to try another famed Belgian specialty – beer. We asked the waitress to give us her favorite beer and she brought out the following masterpiece -

Belgian beer

While I would like to blame my preference of fruity, babyish beers on being female, I may just be a lame beer drinker who should probably stick to Pinot Grigio. In Belgium, however, the light, wheat-flavored beers were right up my no hops allowed alley. I think I happily sampled upwards of five different beers in one night.

Side-note – after living in Paris for a few months the cheap prices in Belgium made my heart sing. The beer prices were totally reasonable as well.

Manneken Pis

See the urinating statue above? I have no idea why this is a landmark. When I tried to remember its name I typed into Google, “little peeing man.” Because that’s all it is; A little peeing man surrounded by hordes of Nikon-toting tourists from all over the world.

Something I did appreciate? The gigantic and colorful street art murals around every corner. It was cool to see such modern displays of creativity mixed in with UNESCO-protected 500-year old buildings.

Brussels Street Art

Brussels

Brussels fries

Naturally we finished off the night with a plate full of mayonnaise and ketchup-covered fries.

Jacques Brel

And if you are still reading this post I’d like to let you know that there is a Jacques Brel museum in Brussels. Though I didn’t go in because I heard it was extremely lame, I think all of my 12 readers should take this time to better acquaint themselves with the brilliant Belgian singer, Jacques Brel. He’s basically the male version of Edith Piaf and his songs will make you want to want to weep for your lost love. See this heart-breaking clip.

 Have you ever visited Brussels?

Saturday Snapshot 1

Saturday Snapshot 1

Please meet the first post of my Saturday Snapshot series! I wanted to post a photo each week of the coolest or most inspiring thing I had seen all week. As I am currently living in Michigan my life is not that interesting, but bear with me - I just got news from France that the ministry of labor approved my au pair papers! I should be in Paris in less than three weeks.

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Here is an embarrassing confession; I grew up in the Detroit area and I have never been to the beloved farmers market, known as the Eastern Market. Today was my first trip and I loved it! The Michigan fall produce was beautiful, from the wax beans to the baby eggplants, and the vendors were fun to chat with.  Eastern Market Detroit Street Art

This is a photo of the street art vegetable cow I found at the market. I loved picking her apart - the cucumber mouth, bok choy legs and cherry tomato eyes. There will be a post about the market soon!

How to Meet the Parents in a Foreign Country

How to Meet the Parents in a Foreign Country

Meeting my ex-boyfriend’s family was mildly terrifying. Not only was I more than 5,000 miles away from home in Santiago, Chile, I was also being interrogated by a room full of curious and wide-eyed Chileans. Needless to say, it was uncomfortable.

Here are some tips on how to meet the parents in a foreign country. May you fare better than I did.

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1.Recognize that it probably will not go smoothly.

Speaking a foreign language in an uncomfortable situation generally doesn’t work out. Personally, the level of my Spanish was about the same as a three-year old child hiding behind its mother. I blushed and stammered my way through all 15 verb tenses while meeting Ruben’s brothers, dad, step-mother and six step-siblings.

I’m sure you’ll be able to jive with the family over time, but at the beginning just go easy on yourself.

2. Take it in stride.

One night at dinner I was chatting with my ex’s step-mother. “So what did you do today while Ruben was at work?” she asked.

“Oh, I just tanned by the pool.”

She gave me a look of dismay. “Really? Are you sure you didn’t tan in a closet?”

Um… ouch. I didn’t really know what to say to that.

I also didn’t know what to say when she asked, “Have you been learning any Spanish? Your parents  are really wasting their money.”

Ouch again. Your best bet is to take everything the evil stepmother says in stride. You’re always at liberty to bitch about her on Skype to your friends.

3. Make cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies, to be exact.

Photo credit: Smitten Kitchen

One Sunday I whipped out my Tollhouse recipe and made a tray of chocolate cookies for the entire family. As I set them down on the table, my then boyfriend earnestly explained,  “I know they look ugly but try them! They taste good!”

“Ugly? What do you mean ugly?” I demanded.

“Well you know… they’re not like the same size and everything…” He explained sheepishly.

Despite that crazy insult (seriously WTF? Homemade cookies?) everyone adored them and I won lots of brownie points. Or chocolate chip cookie points, if you will.

4. Use the local lingo.

Trust me, everyone will find it hilarious and endearing to hear their slang come out of your gringo mouth (I mean this in the best possible way).

One time when I was with Ruben’s family waiting as the hospital, a baby was loudly crying. Finally I whined, “Puuuucha, la guagua.” which is roughly, “Damn… the baby”. Everyone died of laughter (laughing with me, obviously). Over time it became a party trick. “Listen to her say pucha la guagua!”

5. Try everything.

Be a good guest. This could mean everything from pretending to be interested in the Sunday soccer match to raving about the homemade empanadas. If everyone is singing to Juanes in the car, sing with them. You’ll learn a lot more about the country and have more fun with the family.

6.  Know what’s up.

Brush up on your working knowledge of the country. Know information such as the name of the current president or prime minister and how many times to kiss on the cheek (for example, twice in Spain or France, and once in Chile and Argentina).

Also, have your boyfriend or girlfriend teach you the general etiquette. For example, it’s extremely rude in Chile to yawn with your mouth open or to leave a party without kissing everyone goodbye. For the sake of appearing charming, try to avoiding committing a major faux pas.

7. Be diplomatic.

 Try not to make off-handed comments about how your country is superior- it just won’t make you any friends.

“Well in the U.S. our pools are heated…”

“Back home we have ice…”

Nobody wants to hear you complain about the lack of box springs.

8. Speak some English.

Most foreigners love the chance to practice their English. While generally I would advise pushing to speak whichever language you are trying to learn, in this case, habla ingles.

Have you ever had to meet the parents in a different language? If so, how did it go?

The Ultimate French Bread Guide

The Ultimate French Bread Guide

In France, bread is a daily staple. Everyday mothers send the kids to the local boulangerie to pick up a baguette. (Sometimes one for breakfast, one for snack/dinner!)

But let’s start this French bread guide off with a pop quiz.

Which baguette is better? (more…)

Baguette

If you guessed the one on the right, you were correct. If you guessed the other one, it’s okay, we still love you.

How do you know if it’s good bread or not?

Good bread is never uniform. See how the bread on the left is perfectly tapered, and has no awkward lumps? That’s a bad sign.

Now flip the bread over. Does the bread have little dots on the bottom? Bad sign. That means it was mass-produced in an industrial oven.

Start eating the bread. Can you gut the bread easily and pull out the white fluff, leaving only the crust? Bad sign. Good bread should be densely packed.

If it’s good bread, it will smell yeasty and soul-warming. If it’s bad bread, there won’t be much aroma and the bread will get stuck to the top of your mouth like Wonderbread.

How much does a baguette cost?

Buying bread twice a day helped me learn the bizarre French numeral system. In my old neighborhood we paid “quatre-vingt quince”, which means 4 times 20 plus 15, also known as the craziest way to say 95 cents ever created.

An inexpensive baguette is about 80 or 90 cents, and a pricey one is 1.30 plus.

How long does a baguette last?

Fresh bread lasts through the day, but that’s about it. We usually bought one baguette for breakfast, one for the kids’ after-school snack and one to accompany dinner. French bread is required by law to avoid preservatives, and as a result most breads go stale in under 24 hours. Neighboring bakeries coordinate their days off so that the neighborhood will never be without bread.

How do you order bread?

There are basically two ways to order your baguette:

“Je voudrais un baguette…”

a. Cuite (well-done)

b. Pas trop cuite (not as cooked)

It seems these days that softer, “pas trop cuite ” baguettes are more in style, and that mostly the older generation orders the bread “cuite”.

What is the quignon?

The quignon is the end piece of the baguette. It’s practically a tradition to tear off the quignon right after leaving the bakery, when the fresh from the oven baguette smells so heavenly and feels so warm against your body that you can’t resist taking a bite (are we still talking about bread?)

Other breads at the bakery

Pain au levain

There’s a lot more to the boulangerie than baguettes (or so I’ve been told).

Boule – A round-loaf of bread that can be made with any flour.

Brioche – A rich, yellow bread that is always eaten for breakfast (we usually toast and butter it). The addition of butter and eggs account for its yellow color and crumbly texture, it’s a lot like hallah.

Pain au levain - a bread similar to sourdough.

Pain de mie - a rectangular-shaped that is a little sweet, and is usually for toasting or making sandwiches (Croque monsieur being the most notable).

Baguette de tradition – a more traditional baguette that is crunchier and lasts longer due to the added levain, a natural sourdough starter.

Pain aux céréalesa small, earthy piece of bread made with whole wheat flour and lots of seeds.

What do you like to order at the bakeries in France? Croissaints, sweets, breads?