Monday, February 4, 2013

Florida! Also known as The Land of Laura Ryan... :)

My last trip of 2012, a birthday trip,

2012 marked a milestone birthday, turning THIRTY!  I had originally thought about going to Quebec City to ring in my 30th.  After seeing that fares would be around $600 and that I only had 3 days off, I looked at other locales.  I thought about Toronto and perhaps Montreal again.  What can I say, I love going to Canada. :)

One of my co-workers/friends at the hotel, Laura, has always talked about Florida and how amazing (and warm) it is.  She is from Florida and suggested that I check it out. I started to do some research, and found that Sarasota and Siesta Key has some of the nicest beaches in all of Florida.  I also found that there was a beautiful Venetian/Mediterranean styled house called Cà d'Zan.  It is part of the Ringling Brothers Art Museum complex.  I looked up prices and I found tickets to Sarasota for only $240 roundtrip/no connections!   After seeing fares to Toronto jump up to $300, I decided that the decision was already made for me and I booked my ticket to Sarasota.  I also found great hotel deals on and got an amazing King Studio for $70 a night!  This is where I stayed:

I went to Florida from the 17th thru the 19th of December.  I got to the airport early and after a half-hour delay,  I was on my way!   Flying there took three hours and I had a couple of really cool views outside my airplane window: 

Rainbow Sun.  A good omen of things to come?

Cool balance of white and blue.

I thought it was kind of cool to see the "rainbow sun" outside my plane window, so I took a photo of it.  While I was flying, I also noticed how the clouds and the sky had this perfect balance.  After getting off the plane, I headed over to Avis to get my rental car and talked to this nice gentleman.  He noticed it was going to be my birthday the next day and for a really great deal, upgraded me to a black Mustang Convertible for cheap!  I thought that was an awesome way to start my birthday.  Thank you, Avis! :-)

I got back to my hotel later in the afternoon and dropped my stuff off and went to the beach!  I laid out for a couple of hours and it got pretty cloudy.  I decided to go back to my hotel and take it easy for the rest of the day.  I wasn't feeling too well, so I ordered some Chinese Hot and Sour soup and passed out.  The next day I woke up and felt considerably better.  I was up early and walked the beach of Siesta Key and got to see the sunrise.  Some shots from my walk on the beach:

Sunrise in Siesta Key!  I walked all the way to the area on the left.  It was an hour walk.

Breakfast! Hungry?

Colourful sea foam on the beach.

Untouched white sand on the beach close to Siesta Key Public Beach.

After my walk on the beach, I headed over to this great little coffee place called LeLu Coffee Lounge and had some Cuban Coffee and a Plantains Waffle.  Downtown Siesta Key has some cute little bars and restaurants.  I walked all the way back to my hotel and got ready to lay out on the beach!
I laid out for the rest of the day, reading Neil Gaiman's "American Gods".  If you haven't read it, it's quite good.  It blends old-world gods with Americana and a war between these old gods and new gods, like "technology" and "media".  I had some Bud Light Lime (according to Laura, the drink of Florida) and enjoyed the sun for the rest of the day.

Later that evening, I went to a great Peruvian restaurant called Javier's.   I had some Pisco Sour which was quite strong!  Great place and great traditional food.  The next day was going to be a busy one.   I checked out of my hotel and in my convertible I zoomed over to St. Petersburg to go and see the Salvador Dali Museum.  I definitely like the surrealism of his paintings and his work, but I was more excited to photograph the exterior and interior of the museum.  The structure is built out of concrete and glass.  The building is designed to be able to withstand a Category 3 Hurricane.  Here are some shots below:

I headed back over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (with amazing views of Tampa Bay) to Bradenton for my next stop, the South Florida Museum to see manatees!  I have always had a weird fascination with manatees and I decided that being in Florida I should go and see them.  Case in point: years ago when I worked at Starbucks in Seattle my coworkers bought me a giant stuffed manatee as a birthday present.   I ended up seeing 3 manatees swimming around in a tank.  One of them named "Snooty" is the oldest known manatee in captivity at 64 years old.  Here are a couple shots below: 

Feeding time for the manatees!

One of the more clear shots I got through the tank.

It was surreal to see how slow they were.  The maximum speed they go is 5 miles per hour!  After I spent an hour watching them swim slowly and eat lettuce, I went around and looked around the museum.  Discovered this amazing Florida photographer named Clyde Butcher that has photographed the Florida Everglades for over 50 years.  His purpose is to document the ever changing Florida landscape as more people move in and for people to protect and conserve the Everglades.  A snapshot I took on my iPhone that I thought was cool was this:  

Ghost Orchid or bearded demon?

This is a photograph that Clyde Butcher took of a ghost orchid, but I thought it looked a little bearded demon.  Quite surreal and beautiful to me.  After the museum it was time to go to one more place before heading back to New York:  Ringling Museum of Art. 

The Ringling Museum of Art is a giant complex with several museum's, the notable Ca d'Zan house, and a garden with several different kinds of roses.  Here is the website to check out more info: 

The museum is right next to the airport, so it's a great way to end your stay in the Sarasota area before you head back.  I was most excited to see Ca d'Zan and see the Venetian inspired architecture.  The museum is right next to the airport, so it's a great way to end your stay in the Sarasota area before you head back.  I was most excited to see Ca d'Zan and see the Venetian inspired architecture.  Check out this amazing mansion!:

Ca d'Zan!
Beautiful detail at the top of the building. 
On the ceiling.

The old parlour and bar area.

The magnificent main area and ceiling of the mansion. 

A beautiful yellow rose.
On the balcony overlooking the bay..

It was awe inspiring to walk in and see this magnificent place!  The detail and time that was put in to this place makes me appreciate older buildings and the craftsmanship that was put into it.  I walked to the Ringling Brothers Art museum and photographed the building, and then it was time to go home. :)

The Ringling Brothers Art Museum.

I loved my time in Florida and know that I will be back to check out other areas of the state.  I would like to go to the Keys or even Miami.  

One of my last shots, this guy was posing for the camera! :-)


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Toronto!... and Mississauga!

Another trip into our friendly neighbor of the North! :-)

With another job offer that I knew was coming, I decided to get away for one last hurrah (for a little while at least) this week and decided to head up to Toronto!  I have always wanted to check out Toronto so I can see Canada's biggest city and see the buildings/nightlife/how the city compares to Montreal.  Montreal used to be Canada's major city, but ever since the 1980's Toronto has become the powerhouse of Canada.  A while ago, I saw the movie "Between Strangers" and it was filmed in Toronto.  I liked the movie and the cityscape of Toronto.  Ever since, I have always wanted to go and check it out and now that I am on the east coast.... :)

On a budget, I looked online and found a good deal through Greyhound, which was surprising as MegaBus is cheaper.  A tip for budget travelers: Sign up for Greyhound's Road Reward Program BEFORE you book a ticket and you can get a 10% promo to add to the ticket you want to book!  I ended up getting a round-trip ticket for about $78 total, which is a steal!  The bus ride is 10 hours, so there is that to think about.  If you can sleep on a bus, then an overnight trip is pretty easy to manage, as you leave NYC in the evening and arrive in Toronto in the AM.   For acommadations, I looked at Airbnb which I have used twice before.  If you haven't used them before, check it out here:


I love AirBnb, as you can meet people this way and can get a room or even an entire apartment for cheap!  I found a great place for $68, a house with my own room in the east side of Toronto close to the streetcars to get into downtown (more on the place later).  A grand total of $146 and I had transportation and a room in Toronto!  I was ready to go. 

I headed out Tuesday night and was on the bus heading towards Canada.  I slept on and off, it was pretty cold on the bus and I couldn't get comfortable.  I also was excited to be going somewhere, which is always why I never get good sleep the night before I go somewhere.  :-)  I remember getting to Buffalo in the early dawn and knew we were getting close.  We eventually headed towards the border and customs did not take too long.  We encountered some bad morning traffic,  but once i saw the CN Tower I knew I had reached Toronto. :)

Downtown Toronto!

I got off the bus, got some coffee and talked to a friendly barista about getting a day pass for transportation (which was $10.50 CAD), not a bad deal if you plan to be going around the city all day.  Now the funny thing with Toronto's day passes are they look like Lotto tickets!  They basically scratch off the month, the day, and you are good to go!  I figured out where I was and hopped on the streetcar to where I would be staying. 

Lottery Ticket or Bus Pass?

I made it to the house and was able to get in and there was an Australian gentleman named Scotty staying there.  After dropping my stuff off, I decided to head out to get coffee, and then figure out how to get to Mississauga, Ontario (where they have these amazing futuristic buildings called Absolute World!).  The house I am staying it is the property of a fellow named Ricky (who told me the best coffee shop in all of Toronto is called "Merchants Of Green Coffee") and he sent me an extensive email of places to check out while I was in Toronto.  Another great thing about airbnb is that the host(s) are generally super friendly and will give you great tips on what to do and where to go in the city you are staying in. 

With Scotty in tow, we headed to Merchant Of Green Coffee and Ricky was not kidding.  The drip coffee was outstanding!!  I had the Ethopia Sidamo which was exquisite and juicy, with floral undertones.  Yes I am a coffee freak, but I lived in Seattle for eight years, what do you expect? :) 

Here is their website: 

We figured out how to get to Mississauga at the coffee shop and headed to downtown Toronto to catch the bus (or train?).  After some confusion and purchasing another all-day bus pass to goto suburban Toronto, we were on our way!  

Scotty is a pretty cool dude, we talked about ourselves and what we do, etc.  He actually did a roadtrip across country, but for 3 months!  He worked in radio and decided for a change, so he took off traveling and has been all over the place.  He has been blogging about it and also has an awesome drink website that has TONS of drink recipes!  Check out both his sites here:

Destination Unknown - Scotty's Travel Blog

Website for great drink recipes!

We made it to Mississauga and I instantly got excited when I saw Absolute World!  I really love architecture and love to photograph architecture.  With Absolute World, they wanted to build a landmark tower/complex to define Mississauga as an emerging major city and to step out of it's suburban shadow.  I think they are doing it, as you can see in my pics I took below: 

Crazy Texture!

Absolute World


Street view with the towers in the background.

I love it when cities don't build a generic, boxy condo and actually build something beautiful and striking for a skyline.  It's especially unusual for a suburb to build something like this, so hats off to Mississauga for making me commute by bus to their city to photograph this building.  :-)

After walking around for a little while and then getting back to the bus terminal, we made it back to Toronto and walked around for a little while downtown.  We decided to head over to the CN Tower and go up to the observation deck to get some great views of the city.  One WEIRD thing that we had to do was go through this security gate where they blew air on different parts of your body before you could go up.  It was rather strange. 

Downtown Toronto Skyline

Me on a glass floor with 1200 feet below me! Yikes!

After the CN Tower, Scotty and I walked around the waterfront a little bit and then headed back to Ricky's place to relax and get some beer.  We went to this one beer place and it was the strangest thing!  There was NO beer anywhere!  You had to pick off this wall what type of beer you wanted and tell the front clerk.  Then it came out to you on a conveyor belt on the other side of the room!  I guess with this method you could never steal beer! haha

Beer, beer on the wall, which of you is the best of all?     

After resting, we went out for some poutine at Smoke's Poutinerie.  It was actually pretty good, but the best poutine I have ever had was at MA-Am-M Bolduc in Montreal.  Needless to say, it was great food for pre-going out.  We hit up some bars on Church and Wellesley and had a pretty good time.  By 1am, I was pretty tired so we headed back to Ricky's place and called it a night.  

The next day, we walked around Leslieville, east of downtown Toronto and it was a really cute area.  Lots of little shops and a cute indie coffee shop called Mercury Coffee.  Very good drip there.  Scotty got a haircut and I decided to get a tattoo!  I went to a place downtown called Black Line Studio and a lovely lady named Sarah.  If you EVER are in Toronto and want to get some ink done, go see her.  She is amazing.  Very nice to talk to and good line work.  I got a syllabic Inukitiut phrase that means "full of life".  Very fitting for me in this point of my life right now. :)

Leslieville, a great neighborhood where Ricky's house is located. 

My latest tattoo, this is number 13!

Sadly, I had to wrap up my visit to Toronto and head back to NYC, as I had a job interview the next morning.  On our way to customs, I did see the Niagara Falls illuminated at night.  I tried to take a picture, but it was so dark that a minutes long exposure was not possible, but it was great to see.  

The place I stayed at was amazing!  The house was very personable and the backyard is amazing to have your morning breakfast or to relax and hang.  Ricky happens to be an artist and you can see his work in the following pictures and links: 

The Male Physique

Is that Katy Perry or Wonder Woman (is there a difference?) :-)

One of the bedrooms

The warm and fully stocked kitchen

Ricky Kruger Art Facebook Page

Ricky Kruger's Main Page

 Ricky's place on AirBnB

If you like comic books, great art, and the female/male physique you will want to check out his work!  If I had the money I would love to buy one, but someday I may be able to.  :-)

Overall, Toronto is a great city, and I need to go back to do more!  I can't quite compare it to Montreal because I feel like I need more time in Toronto to make an honest comparison.  I LOVE Montreal and it is one of my favorite Canadian cities so far, but perhaps my second visit to Toronto will change my mind. :-)

With this blog entry I wanted to promote my new friends.  As I travel I want to start not only sharing my own experience with people, but also to turn on people to new artists, new websites, new things to discover and explore.  If I can help them out with what they do and spread the good word, it's a win win for everybody!  :-)

One more thing.  On my last day of the Toronto trip, a quote entered my head and it has remained there ever since.  "I live to travel because I travel to live."  What this means to me is that seeing new cities, meeting new people, trying new things, and exploring every nook and crany of a place makes me grow as a human being and connect with the world more.  New ideas come to me, new ways of thinking hit my mind, and my soul feels richer and more alive than ever.  I will never stop traveling as to me it's like learning.  If you stop learning, then you basically stop growing.  That's how travel is to me.  I encourage you to go visit somewhere and explore, explore, explore!  You can travel on a budget and the impact it will have on your psyche is invaluable.  You only have one life to live, so live it up I say!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Portland, Maine and environs

Wanderlust sets in again! :-)

I've been working at a bagel cafe for the last 6 weeks and decided that with the 2 days off in a row that I have I should go do something.  I decided to go up to Maine to photograph and check out at least one of the coastal towns east of Portland.  I woke up at 5:30 AM and headed out on the road!

Six years ago, I went on a ten day vacation to the east coast and went to Boston, NYC, and Maine.  My trip to Maine was only for the day.  I decided to Greyhound it up there from Boston as it was pretty cheap and I wanted to see a different state.  I had made a friend on MySpace that was from Maine and he showed me around for the day.  I got to see some lighthouses and Portland.  It was a grey, misty day and it was just beautiful to me.  I actually love fog and grey days when I take pictures because it adds dimension to the photos and adds a sense of mystery.  You will see in the pictures I post what I mean.

Here are some shots that I took that were on 35mm film {I didn't quite make the jump to digital yet..}

Maine left a lasting impression on me, even though it was just for that day.  The cobblestone streets, old brick buildings, and rugged rocky coast really struck a chord with me.  I really appreciate older architecture as there was more detail and craftsmanship involved.  Now they build lifeless condo buildings with no personality.  I knew I wanted to come back someday. 

Fast forward to 2012.  Portland is about a 6 hour drive from Brooklyn and with some good music in tow I was on my way! It was good weather and good traffic.  I got in to Portland by 12pm and was driving around looking for parking.  I finally found a cheap parking garage and decided to park there for a few hours. 

I walked around the cobblestone streets and enjoyed the view of the old brick buildings. I walked along the waterfront and got some great shots of the older buildings where the processed seafood/the shipyards. After walking around, I found a great place that had lobster rolls and watched people picking out the lobster they wanted to eat! People were in line holding their live lobsters and someone came by with a tray to take their lobster, so they could cook it for lunch!

After a satisfying lunch, I walked downtown and on Congress St. Congress St is kind of like the main drag of Portland. The Maine College of Art is here along with quite a few eclectic shops and restaurants. I found a great record store called "Strange Maine". They had cassettes, records, CD's, even some old school Nintendo NES video games! :). They also had some used books. Above this shop was another gem called "Moody Lords Records". They had a great selection of vinyl and some vintage clothes. I had some great coffee at Coffee by Design and photographed some more unique buildings for the remainder of the afternoon.

I headed to my hotel for the night and had a great lobster dinner at the Muddy Rudder. Before the sun had set, I drove over to Two Lights State Park to photograph the lighthouse there. I got a few decent shots, but the fog was rolling in, so no moonlight lighthouse shots for me! Another time. :)

The next morning I woke up early, so I could drive on the coast for a little bit and head east to the town of Bath.  On my way to Bath (and later through research) I found out that I actually drove through the area where Murder She Wrote was supposed to take place!  They filmed the show in California, but I was still pretty excited to be going through the area.  East of Portland is rural and beautiful.  With all the trees and country roads I can only imagine how beautiful it will be in the fall.  I made it to Bath and walked around the town square for a little bit.  It is a small, quaint place and I really enjoyed the City Hall building.

Unfortunately I had to head back, and was on my way back to Portland so I could photograph a couple of places that had lighthouses and to get a skyline photo of Portland.  I drove to the Portland Head Light and it was pretty foggy still (which was surprising, as I thought by 1pm the fog would have lifted).  I went over to South Portland to a park called Bug Light Park and got my Portland skyline photos and a squat little lighthouse called Portland Breakwater Light.  I then went back to Portland Head Light and the fog had lifted!  I stayed around there for a little bit and headed back to Brooklyn.

Driving back kinda sucked.  There was BAD traffic in Massachusetts outside of Worcester (where I sat in traffic not moving for over half an hour) and when I got to Connecticut, the speed limit on the Interstate was 55, then it was 45!  Everyone around me was going at least 70, so needless to say I kept up with traffic. :-)

I got back to Brooklyn with my plastic lobster bib (I saved from the Muddy Rudder) and some great photographs.  I really enjoyed the quick jaunt and love Maine.  I definitely will be going back in the fall to get some great photos of the leaves.  Tune in next week, when I blog about my trip up to Toronto!