Strangers and Shadows

I saw a woman struggling to take a selfie in front of this fountain for a good 5 minutes. As a frequent solo traveler I completely empathized with her plight. I asked her if she wanted me to take her picture and she sighed, “Yes please!” with relief. 

Even with a flash, the light emanating from the background made it impossible to capture her face. After a few failed attempts I got creative. I took my phone’s flashlight and held it up as a spotlight while snapping the photo with her phone in the opposite hand.  That did the trick. 

We laughed at the production of this whole exchange. I asked her to return the favor and she snapped this photo of me. No spotlight necessary, just a silhouette. 

When she handed me back my phone, she gave me a huge hug and exclaimed, “Thank you so much for my picture! I’ll always remember this.” I didn’t get her name, but this little exchange was such a nice way to end an already lovely evening. 

Whether I’m in New York or abroad, I find a ton of joy in asking strangers if they want me to take their picture. Sometimes it’s a mom or dad with their kids and I wind up capturing the first complete family shot of their entire vacation. Other times it’s a couple on their honeymoon. Most of the time it’s a lone traveler like myself, and in that brief moment, we’re not alone at all. 

Sunday in Greenwich, London

I’ve been going slomadic this year, which basically means I travel extensively, but try to do it at a slow pace where I can really experience a city like a local. This current round has me in London til mid-May.

Today I explored Greenwich, which is in east London and off the beaten path for most tourists. Getting there is a piece of cake. You take the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf, transfer to the DLR, and get out 3 or 4 stops later at Cutty Sark or Greenwich. Total travel time is 25 minutes max.

Our first stop was the market, which is about a 5 minute walk from the underground exit. Like most London markets, there’s a combination of vendors selling local crafts, vintage items, and food stalls. This market in particular is unique because it’s the only market in the city found within a World Heritage Site.

As tempting as all the goodies were at the stalls, we decided to eat at Nando’s (it’s probably my favorite franchise from the UK, only 2nd to Wagamama). This location has an upper deck that has a great panorama of the pier and Cutty Sark, a historic ship that used to transport tea between China and England.

It amazes me we don’t have Nando’s in the US! Peruvian chicken, varying spice levels of Peri-Peri sauce, yummy sides galore… who doesn’t love Nando’s?

After lunch we walked around the Old Royal Naval College. Architecture nerds will delight in the fact that it was designed by Christopher Wren who is best known for St. Paul’s Cathedral.

After meandering through the campus, we crossed the street to Greenwich Park, which houses the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory.

Make the trek up the hill for a beautiful panorama of Greenwich and London in the distance. ¬†If you’re a science lover, you’re sure to geek out at the observatory. It covers the history of British astronomy and features the only planetarium in the United Kingdom. Oh, and it marks the origin of Greenwich Mean Time.

All the tourists were standing in line waiting to take pictures in front of the Prime Meridian. Here’s a secret: you don’t need to pay an entrance fee to the museum or wait in line if you want a touristy photo op. ¬†There’s a small gate just past the end of the walking path to your right. Walk 10 feet and you’ll get a glimpse of the Prime Meridian stretching from the wall down to the foot path. Ta-dah!

Rather than take the train back to central London, we opted to take the ferry instead. Your Oyster / Tube card works with the ferry system so no need to purchase separate tickets. Before boarding, we made a quick stop past this light house that reminded me of Moulin Rouge.¬†It had a slide running around the perimeter and well, this happened…

There are a few different ferry options from the pier so be sure to take the boat headed to Westminster if you’re venturing back to central London. Pro tip: If you want the best seat, head towards the back and sit in the last row. There are no glass panels to obstruct your view and you’ll have up close and personal views of London’s most iconic sites.

Here are a couple of time lapses from the boat ride, the first from Greenwich to Tower Bridge, the second from Tower Bridge to Westminster Bridge.

Neat right? All together, our adventure lasted four hours and ended with one of London’s most iconic sites: Parliament. Before you exit the dock, you can take a pretty great shot of Big Ben without having to worry about selfie-stick-carrying mobs of tourists getting in your way.

Thanks to Raquel for recommending Greenwich and for being my local tour guide for the day! May we always be tourists in whatever cities we choose to live in. 

Saturday in Amsterdam

I’m spending a few weeks working out of Stack Overflow’s London office and decided to kick-off my Eurotrip with a little weekend excursion to Amsterdam for¬†keukenhof, the annual tulip festival. It’s been on my bucket list for a while so I’m excited to finally cross it off!

I first went to Amsterdam when I was 16 and then again as a sophomore in college on Spring break.¬†Here I am eleven years later and the city is just as enchanting as ever. I barely have photos from my first two trips (hard to believe I didn’t have a smart phone back then) so it was fun to photo walk all day and go snap happy on my iPhone and Sony.

Today was chilly and overcast, but the sun came out to play a few times. It’s¬†difficult to capture just how beautiful this city really is, but I’m hoping these shots are just a warm up set that I can build on in the coming days.

I’m renting an AirBnB in De Pijp, a cute neighborhood just outside the main historic center of the city. There’s an amazing coffee shop a couple of blocks away that is my new happy place. Not only is she the stuff Instagram dreams are made of, but she comes with freshly squeezed juices and an eclectic menu of pork buns, pho, bibimbap, and assorted baked goods. The really strong wi-fi and coconut milk lattes are the icing on the cake. If you ever find yourself in the ‘hood, check out Coffee and Coconuts.

Despite the weather, we still found ourselves walking aimlessly for hours. Between the parks, markets, shops, and galleries, you can really spend a whole Saturday just exploring.

(I really want to increase the frequency of my posts so hoping to work in more of these photo journaling type entries on a regular basis. It’s 100x easier for me to share visually than the written word. I take photos of everything!)