Tag Archives: architecture

A Cruise Tour on the Mosel River: Cochem to Beilstein

Boat touring the Mosel River near Beilstein, Germany

Along with the Rhine, the Danube and the Rhone, the Mosel sees a ton of cruise traffic. The sheer volume of boats slipping in and out of the docks along Cochem’s waterfront surprised me. Along with the simple cross-the-river ferries operated by the local municipalities, there were day-trip cruises as well as multi-day mega-liners — long pearly-white craft that were crammed with hotel rooms and sapped of personality. They’re stiffness made them resemble floating logs. They looked about as much fun. Continue reading

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Bernkastel-Keus: The Prettiest Place on the Mosel River

Bernkastel Doctor, Bernkastel-Keus, Germany

Wandering the streets of Bernkastel-Keus, its hard not to feel like you are on a treasure hunt. For one, there’s the countless storefront window displays, many of them showing off wine bottles of nearby producers, their labels bedecked with Gothic script and a stodginess that paradoxically counters the happy and saccharine flavors of the Riesling inside. There’s also the half-timbered buildings, many of them leaning as though they’re about to fold over like a house of cards. And then, there are those glimpses — usually over a roofline or between two buildings — of the Bernkasteler Doctor, one of the most prized vineyards in all of Europe, stretching up the hill side like a dwarf emerald forest.

Cyclists, Bernkastel Doctor vineyard, Bernkastel-Keus, Germany

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The Semi-Complete Shooters Guide to: Lucerne

The Chapel Bridge, Jesuit Church and a moored boat, Lucerne, Switzerland.

Lucerne is said to be one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. I still have a lot of Europe to cover, but its hard to imagine a cleaner, more idyllic, more photogenic city than Lucerne. The place seems designed for postcards, coffeetable books and small 1-inch-by-1-inch decorative chocolate wrappers.

To get my best shots in Lucerne, I made my way to these places:

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Mesa Verde National Park – Cedar Tree House and Long House

(Click on images for a larger view)

Mesa Verde National Park has long been on my list. Located near the Four Corners and home to an extensive network of abandoned dwellings from the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, it is a magical place I should know well. After all, it is in Colorado and its an UNESCO World Heritage site (so is Macchu Piccu, the Roman Coliseum, and the Pyramids of Egypt).

But time and distance had conspired in my head to keep me from going. Why? It is 8 hours by car from Denver … so is Billings, Montana.

I last visited when I was two years old. Naturally, that shouldn’t count as “having been there.” However, one of the earliest memories of my life is from when we went into the kiva at Cedar Tree House (below). I think it stands out to me because we descended a ladder into a hole in the ground. That’s got to mess with your head when your that young.

So we arrived at Mesa Verde after another long afternoon in the car. Varenna had slept for much of the uneventful journey, but by the time we weaved through the emerald gambel-oak forest that covers the mesa just inside the park entrance, she was kicking and screaming. Emotionally, I kept feeling like we were being selfish for going on this trip, but the wonderful thing about six-month-olds is how short their memory is. One stop, one good break to roll around on a blanket, and everything is right with the world again.

After checking into the underwhelming Far View Lodge (run by ARAMARK, a hospitality company that only works where it has no competition: like stadiums, national parks, college campuses, etc., explaining why the standards for food and bedding are so low), we gently buckled Varenna back up and drove 20 minutes south to see the only dwelling we could reach before sundown — Cedar Tree House (left in second photos above), considered the best preserved dwelling, and home to the reconstructed kiva that you can climb down into.

By the time we reached it, however, it was closed for the day, gated off across the grotto, with a phalanx of 50 to 60 vultures watching vigil over it from the trees above. It appeared that a forest fire had at one point reached the top of the dwelling and been beaten back. The sky burst into lavendar and pink, and an eerie silence permeated the whole scene. No wonder the Ute Indians didn’t like this mesa after it was abandoned. There was definitely a haunted vibe. The only sign of life came from a family of turkeys on the rocks above the dwelling who humorously chased the vultures.

The next day, we traveled to Wetherill Mesa, which practically comprises half the park but only sees 20% of the park’s visitors. There we took a hiking tour to Long House with a nasally, patronizing guide who — despite her smarter-than-you tone — provided an impressive amount of information on the Ancestral Puebloan Indians, their way of life, and their subsequent disappearance from the mesa. Long House was especially fascinating because of the seep spring at the back of the dwelling, which filled cups chipped into the stone drip-by-drip (above right). How they were able to keep the entire population of the dwelling hydrated off this meager faucet is mystifying, amazing and admirable.

There was also an amazing structure hanging above the dwelling (below), apparently reserved for food storage.

Taking photos on a guided tour can be a little awkward (“uh-huh, uh-huh <click> … I’m listening <click>”) but its the only way to gain access to the dwellings, and for good reason. They would certainly get trashed (accidentally by the klutzy and intentionally by the greedy) if they weren’t heavily policed and patrolled. Even backing up to frame a shot, I had to be careful not to bump into an ancient brick wall.

Maybe if you gave tours to people like me, you’d take on a patronizing tone over time.

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Telluride, Colorado – Part 1

The New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado(Click on images for a larger version).

There is something to be said for living in a fantasy world. Check that: there is something to be said for visiting a fantasy world … for a few days.

Telluride defies description — at least one without hyperbole. Such as “the prettiest town in the United States.” (OK, there. I said it.) But for all of its majestic grandeur and quaint homeliness, it is a not a place that one would call “down-to-earth,” “approachable,” or “realistic.” We toured an open house — a 2500-square-foot Victorian two blocks off main — that was going for $3.2 million. I witnessed a morning rush hour on quiet little Lizard Head Pass that consisted of commuters driving in from Rico (28 miles south), and maybe even Dolores (67 miles south) — all flocking to this enchanting little town to work in the wine bars, day spas and five-star hotels. How this community functions is a bit of a mystery, but it does function. It functions magnificently. I want to go back. I’d put it on top of my U.S. destination list all over again.

Hotel room in the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride, Colorado

And incredibly, in late August, it wasn’t too steep. We stayed at the New Sheridan Hotel on Main Street (that’s Varenna in our room, above) for less than $175. In the middle of winter, that would go for about $335. We ate a superb dinner, one of the best meals of the year, at 221 South Oak Restaurant for the same price as pretty much any nice sit-down restaurant in Denver. Hey: we were on vacation. Why not? And when you consider the crappy room we paid more for in Mesa Verde (not to mention the regrettable $13 “Navajo taco” Aramark doled out there), Telluride seemed like — gasp! — a great value.

Main Street in Telluride, Colorado

Still, this thought about people actually living there would not leave my head. Maybe it was because the night before, while eating dinner in an empty dining room at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, I told Hailey I could retire to Ridgway. It is gorgeous there as well, but it also felt cozy, livable, and … realistic. Telluride? It just didn’t add up how you could get to a point in your life where that was attainable.

Full moon over Telluride, Colorado

But ask me now what the highlight of our late-summer trip was, and I wouldn’t hesitate. It was this place. I’m a sucker for massive mountains, waterfalls spouting off in every direction, lush greenery everywhere you go. I like my scenery without subtly, and if I can have a medium-rare elk chop with asparagus and lingonberries for dinner beneath that landscape? Sold.

Panorama of Telluride, Colorado under a full moon(Hello, I’m a great big panorama … click on me for larger version)

Night one concluded with an amazing scene on Main Street. A full moon rising over the San Juan’s at the end of the valley. It was one of those stirring scenes you can’t turn away from. They happen all the time in Colorado, but this one was especially gripping. I stood out in the middle of the street with my camera on a tripod, firing off exposures trying to get it just right. Trying to put in perspective the magnificent beauty of these mountains … until a drunk stumbled out of the New Sheridan and asked me for a good burger.

Like I said … it’s nice visiting a fantasy world for a few days.

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Ridgway, Ouray, Red Mountain Pass and Dallas Divide

Despite our unfortunate auto mishap outside Delta, we were able to recover our vacation in quick fashion, and it was a good thing, too. It had been since 2002 that Hailey and I had traveled to this pocket of the state, and without a doubt in my mind, it is the finest corner of Colorado. Look at a map, and draw an imaginary circle from Ridgway to Red Mountain Pass to Lizard Head Pass. That’s the spot. It is simply sublime, and unfortunately, we don’t swing through these parts too often.

Our evening in Ridgway was spent mostly at the Chipeta Sun Lodge, a fantastic adobe inn where Varenna got back into her rhythm. She took a bath, ate some pears, and rolled around on a blanket for a few hours … exactly what she needed.

The next morning, we walked around the downtown, a sleepy but interesting place which continues to milk the fact that True Grit was filmed here in 1968 (turns out the Coen Brothers and Matt Damon have remade the film and it will be released around Christmas … ummm, awesome). It was brisk and soggy, and any opportunity to photograph my favorite mountain in the state — Mount Sneffles, seriously, what its called — was foiled. But we were soon on the road back to Montrose to retrieve our repaired car, and soon after, we reached Ouray, one of Colorado’s most phenomenal towns.

Situated in a box canyon, Ouray is the best place to get an introduction to the San Juan Mountains. You get a taste here, and then you can dive in for the more amazing scenery in pretty much any direction. Chocolate- and burgundy-colored cliffs rise to the west and east, and U.S. Highway 550 switchbacks up a steep slope to its south. Two waterfalls pour into the town; one visible, the other nestled in a box canyon just on the outskirts. We found an incredible little taco stand on Main St. and ate lunch al fresco with the locals. After wandering the downtown for half an hour, we hopped back in the car and opted to press on further south. This trip was increasingly about filling in the blank spots on our map, and for Hailey, Red Mountain Pass was a drive she’d yet to experience.

Just beyond Ouray, the highway twists and turns up a seemingly convoluted course until its two lanes are clinging to a cliff side. This drive is hell in a snowstorm, and I hope I never have to experience it. In fact, there is a memorial here to three snowplow drivers — Robert F. Miller, Terry Kishbaugh and Eddie Imel — who died from avalanches while servicing the road. Even in summer, its sketchy, but the stunning vistas and overflowing waterfalls make it absolutely worth it.

Above the most dangerous stretch, the highway weaves passed a creek stained with ore (below). Just beyond is Red Mountain (pictured above), a massive lump of a mountain with a magnificent red stain on its bare face. Yes, this place was heavily mined, and I would have preferred to see it before it was touched by industry, but nonetheless, it is still a majestic and wild place despite the occasional mine heap.

Already we were pushing the limits of Varenna’s patience in the car seat, and we still had to double back to Ridgway and wrap all the way around to Telluride for the night. Beyond Ouray we passed emerald ranch land speckled with hay bales, and soon after Varenna fell asleep, we climbed up Dallas Divide, my favorite stretch of scenery in the state.

The conditions weren’t quite what I was hoping for. Spreading out for miles is Ralph Lauren’s ranch, an incredible piece of rolling property covered in aspens and gamble oak that lead up to pine forest and eventually the broken summits of the Sneffels Range. It’s these mountains that are often used as the hallmark of Colorado. They’re massive, rugged, daunting and yet pleasantly green and purple in color — a nice dichotomy that pretty much sums up the Rockies. But on this day they were draped in clouds. I would have to get that ideal shot of the Sneffels Range another day.

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I Love Colorado

(Click on images for a larger version).

In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a lot of new imagery of my home state of Colorado. Last Saturday to this past Friday, Hailey, Varenna and I did a swing through Southwest Colorado — our little girl’s first true vacation. We saw some of the few places we have not experienced yet (Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado National Monument) plus some old favorites (Telluride, Ridgway, Ouray, Pagosa Springs).

Southwest Colorado is God’s country. I don’t say that lightly or because its late at night and I am out of words. It is simply a staggering place. The landscape is a beautiful dichotomy: overwhelming and intimate at the same time. When you are not picking your jaw up off the ground because of the vaulted peaks, plummeting waterfalls and sheer canyons, your finding yourself in a cozy valley or by a fresh gurgling river, thinking about retirement because the place is so livable.

Mesa Verde, Square Tower House, cliff dwelling, Colorado, Ancestral Puebloan, Anasazi

On this trip we visited Mesa Verde National Park for the first time since we were kids (Hailey was 7 when she visited with her family, I was 2). Until now, the context of Colorado’s indigenous people was little more than knowledge to me. As an editor and as a writer, I knew quite a bit about their civilization and its rise and subsequent migration away from the mesa. But knowing and understanding are two different things sometimes. You have to go there to truly visualize and appreciate the systems that connected the dwellings and people of the mesa.

Here is a Google Map of the entire trip’s itinerary:

I’ll have more — plenty more — to come in the next few weeks. Lots more Colorado travel coming up (fall color in Steamboat and Snowmass) and then the year’s big trip around Thanksgiving: Kauai.

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Steamboat Springs: That Old Barn (Part 2)

On Saturday afternoon, while Varenna napped at the condo with her mom, I decided to take 60 minutes and photograph my favorite barn in the Yampa River Valley. It’s been a recurring fixture on this blog for a while, mostly in fall splendor. But since this was wildflower season, I thought I’d check out and see if it had a nice bouquet of wildflowers in front of it.

It didn’t, but the green grass and evening sunlight was pretty.

You’d have to believe that sooner or later, this barn — and the iconic one that graces every promotional campaign for Steamboat Springs — will collapse in the night. They’re too old and frail. Of course, they say the same thing about Delicate Arch. For now, this run-down structure is what makes Steamboat, Steamboat.

About 36 hours later, I had a magical hour in the fog photographing this barn. Those images to come in another post later this week …

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10 Must-See Churches in Italy

(Click on photos for a larger view)

Tanager Photography is temporarily grounded (i.e. the baby is due in less than three weeks), so I figure a retrospective is in order — how about the most spectacular churches in Italy?

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am in the comments box, or suggest ones I missed. Keep in mind a few things: these are from a non-Catholic, non-historically significant, photographer’s standpoint. My criteria was a simple scale of how blown away I was by each church. Also, I intentionally left St. Peter’s Basilica off the list because technically it is in the Vatican.

1. Duomo di Siena

In one of the few cities in Italy where the main piazza is crowned by a town hall instead of a cathedral, the Duomo of Siena still manages to stand out as Italy’s most majestic church. Composed of alternating stripes of black and white marble and situated at the crown of the city’s hill, Il Duomo is a riot of medieval art, storytelling mosaics and hallowed spaces. Of particular note: Pisano’s ridiculously elaborate pulpit (above right), Bernini’s ecstatic St. Jerome holding the cross like a cradled fiddle (top left), a floor mosaic depicting the Slaughter of the Innocents, and a painted dome that creates an optical illusion of the three-dimensional heavens (above right). This church is a mind blower.

2. Pantheon, Rome

My first stab at this list didn’t even include the Pantheon. Why? It’s not very churchy. In fact, it’s hard to figure out. From nearby Piazza della Minerva, it looks like nothing more than a massive, ancient turret. From the front, it’s portico of Corinthian columns looks more reminiscent of the Acropolis than any vestige of Christendom. And in fact, therein lies the rub. Built originally by Romans during the tenure of Hadrian in 124 AD, it was a tribute to the multiple deities of the day. Not until 609 AD was it converted into a Christian church, and fortunately, since then they’ve pretty much left this austere and daunting, perfectly symmetrical building as it was. At first blush, the Pantheon inspires a humanistic awe at how crafty the Romans were. But after an hour of watching the sun shaft that passes through the oculus move about the room, you can’t help but get the feeling that its God peeking in.

3. Basilica de San Francesco d’Assisi, Assisi

No word better describes Assisi than tranquil. Granted, I was there in early April, in the midst of constant rains and the renewal of spring. Summer may be a different story. Regardless of when you roll through this town, the Basilica de San Francesco d’Assisi is impossible to miss. Towering over the Umbrian valley, the cathedral that honors the town’s native son St. Francis — the patron saint of Italy, animals and the environment — is a massive complex, and somewhat contrary to the intimacy of the town. It is, in essence, a double-decker church. The Upper Basilica — which was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1997 but restored — is lavishly colorful, with richly detailed frescos by Giotto depicting the saint’s life. Underneath, the Lower Basilica is more somber, cold and bucolic, especially during a service, when chanting and hymns echo off its low-arched ceiling.

4. Basilica di San Marco, Venice

I have mixed feelings on Venice, particularly St. Mark’s Square. On the one hand are the hawkers of trinkets, the tourists feeding pigeons, the 6-Euro cappuccinos, the menus in 8 different languages. On the other hand, is the stout, gray onion-domed cathedral crowned with gold-winged angels and Byzantine mosaics. She’s like an old lady with too much jewelry, but you can’t help but love her anyway. Like Sophia Lauren, now that I mention it. The basilica is, in a word, ridiculous: from the length of the line to get in, to the amount of opulence the Venetians put into it to demonstrate their wealth. The ceilings, walls and arches of the interior are layered with gold tiles and mosaics depicting saints and the prophets, and its easy to fall under the spell of the cathedral’s radiance. Much of the church is filled with treasures the Venetians raided from elsewhere, including it’s namesake’s relics. Historically, its fascinating, but on a WWJD level … well, you decide.

5. Santa Maria d’Idris, Matera

Poles apart from the Pantheon, the Church of St. Francis and Basilica di San Marco, is Santa Maria d’Idris. Located in a small cave atop a rocky mount overlooking the grottos and canyon of Matera (upper right corner, above left photo), it is a strange, mystical, spooky place. This ancient city in Basilicata (it dates back to Paleolithic times — put that in your pipe and smoke it, Rome) has clusters of cave churches throughout the city limits, but this one is most memorable, in part because of its rocky mount location (it’s entrance takes in a beautiful 270-degree panorama of the city), and its labyrinth of meditation chambers, which are decorated with boldly colorful frescos in various states of decay. Looking like it was carved by hand out of the rock, Santa Maria d’Idris is imperfect and intimate, two traits missing in so many places of worship.

6. Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo), Florence

Intimacy was clearly never the intent of Florence’s massive duomo. No, this church was meant to send a message to other city-states, like Siena. Looming over the city center and seemingly peering into every alley, passageway and window in the city proper, it is one of those rare churches that’s actually a skyscraper. It’s interior includes an unforgettable and grotesque ceiling fresco by Vasari and Zuccaro, but is largely forgettable in comparison to the cathedral’s exterior circus of pink, green and white marble. A row of grim-faced saints on the facade point at patrons of the piazza, a once stern and effective reminder of morality no doubt, that has slowly been lost on the tourist licking their gelato at the Baptistery’s gate. But the truly moving element of this iconic cathedral is Brunelleschi’s dome. By the time it was conceived in the early 1400s, the formula for Roman concrete (the kind which made the Pantheon possible) was forgotten. So he just decided to make it of bricks instead — 4 million of them … without a crane.

7. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice

Venice has a staggering amount of amazing churches, but after the Basilica di San Marco, the Frari Church is head and shoulders the standout. Not because of its exterior (which is actually quite drab) but because of the art it holds inside. Most famous may be Titian’s altarpiece, The Assumption, a fantastic portrayal of Mary’s Assumption to Heaven, surrounded by swirling angels and clouds. The church also houses Donatello’s John the Baptist, works by Bellini, several tombs (including Titian’s) and elaborate wood and gold choir stalls by Marco Cozzi.

8.  Santa Maria Assunta, Positano

OK. I’ll be honest. I barely peeked inside this church. I know, I know. How could it make the must-see list if all I’m basing it on is the exterior? Some roving journalist I am! But there’s something romantically delightful about this church. From my experience, no other church in Italy fits more perfectly into the landscape than this one. It appears to anchor Positano to the ground, as if its presence keeps this wildly gorgeous town from floating away. Secondly, it’s beautiful mosaic dome has grass and plants growing out of its clefts, a small detail that shows that all things — manmade or otherwise — are reclaimed by nature. And finally, spend a Sunday in Positano and you’ll see the locals flocking to church, a pleasant reminder that this is a living, breathing community after all — not just a tourist playground.

9. Chiesa dei Gesu, Rome

The mother church of the Jesuit Order is located a few blocks from the Coliseum, the Pantheon and the Forum. Talk about a long shadow. But that’s Rome. For us, the church was a quick stop en route to Santa Maria Sopra Minerva and the Pantheon at the insistence of my cousin, Nick, who lives in Ciampino and has been a Roman resident for years. The church is a neck craner, with the highlight being a spectacular ceiling fresco by Giovanni Battista Gaulli called Triumph of the Name of Jesus (above right). It’s the only ceiling I’ve ever wanted to stare at for an hour.

10. Duomo di Amalfi

The Cathedral of Saint Andrew in Amalfi exudes a rare elegance among large churches. Its 62 stairs spill like a waterfall from the zebra-striped and gold facade. It’s campanille is composed of multiple cylinders, a style I haven’t seen elsewhere. Considering that the church is in the middle of the spectacular Amalfi Coast, it’s an amazing convergence to see from the piazza below. Inside, Baroque and Romanesque elements combine beautifully, but the real story lies in the crypt. Here, supposedly, lie the bones of St. Andrew. How they ended up here is just one of those historical footnotes of Europe’s history. Like with other saints, his relics were transported, stolen and stashed all across the continent. St. Andrew mostly ended up here, where his bones were safely stored after the sacking of Constantinople in 1208.

Of course, there are a few honorable mentions:

And the one that got away: The Cathedral of Milan. A train strike kept us from spending any time in Milan, so we missed what is considered by many to be one of the most spectacular Gothic churches on earth. Perhaps another time.

Alright, if you’ve been: what did I miss?

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A Very Tempting Idea, But …

Hailey and I are in the midst of calculating whether we can afford an international getaway of some kind this year. I’ve kept my job (things look promising in that regard) and her business is doing well, but nonetheless, it still feels different this year with the economy so crummy and who-knows-what around the corner.

We think we’ve settled on a plan, and we’re just waiting word from a potential gig for her before we book, but in the midst of this I saw a Facebook ad that literally screamed opportunity to me: On Location Workshop – Photography Class in Varenna, Italy.

First off, Varenna is a very special spot for me and Hailey. We stopped there in May 2005 to recover from jetlag after my first trans-Atlantic flight and we were immediately seduced. It’s a compact little work of art that’s nestled on a bump in the shoreline on Lake Como. Flowers drip from the buildings, Italians laze on the shore doing nothing, and the Lake Como ferries ease into the dock every 15 minutes with the bored conductor beautifully droning the boat’s destinations on a loud speaker: “Bel-LA-GI-o, Men-AH-gi-O.” Even boredom is musical in Italy.

Most significantly to me, I believe that Varenna is the place where Photography snuck up and did a bodyslam on Writing as my top passion. They had been wrestling since high school, and I’d become an editor by trade, but downloading images onto the laptop at night began to take on more meaning than my faltering, rambling journal entries. I can only imagine what results I’d get shooting Varenna now, four years later and a whole hell of a lot better at photography (plus, with a better camera and better lenses).


What’s more, running simultaneously to the class I’m interested in is one taught by a photographer I greatly admire — Vincent Laforet. Laforet has sick talent. If I haven’t sent you to his portfolio site or blog just yet, please check it out. His images of Katrina and Pakistan are heartbreaking, eye-opening and they’re not easy to shake. Same goes for his work on the Paniolo Cowboys, but in a very different, less visceral way.

Anyhow, I currently don’t have interest in learning video, which is the course he’s teaching, but I’d love to meet him. Problem is, the course is a few thousand bucks when all is said and done, and I just don’t think it’ll happen. Nonetheless, it’s amazing when things like this converge and they get you thinking….

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