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As we wound through backroads lined by vineyards, rolling fields and a sea of poppies in peak bloom I captured a mixture of drone and vineyard footage. Instead of doing the usual, I’ve decided to compile that footage for this video as a soothing and relaxing piece with much slower pacing. Hopefully, you enjoy the sensation of flying through France’s incredibly poppy fields and enjoy the exploration of colors, textures and patterns.

Provence Poppies in Peak Bloom - Drone Footage - YouTube

The musical piece is an original recording by Maya Haven titled “Remember to Forget”.

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This is part two of my three part series done in collaboration with Nordic Travel Bloggers and the German Tourism authority’s #citybreakgermany campaign. Jump to part one. For this post, I teamed up with Bremen Tourism who suggested my itinerary and arranged/provided all lodging and accommodation.  The premise for the visit? Get an overview of what Bremen and the surrounding area has on offer over a three day weekend (arriving Saturday AM, departing Monday evening). Want to skip to part three? Click here.

When I was told that part of my suggested itinerary would include an artist village nestled a bit outside Bremen’s city limits, my curiosity was piqued. The personality of art-centered communities always vary widely and no two ever come across as identical. Would it be quirky and new-age centered? Young, hip and full of creative-garage-grunge? Hyper polished and sophisticated?

What greeted me as I disembarked at the last stop on the 370 Bus from Bremen’s Central Station to Worspwede was a bit of a mixture. The stop deposited me on the outskirts of the small town and provided a lovely view out across rich auburn leaves still clinging to terrestrial masts neatly cutting through rolling fields and farmland. My guide met me shortly thereafter and introduced me to the town’s rich history. It was, in many ways, a town that had drawn, nurtured and birthed some of the world’s great painters. But, in the tradition of many of the great creatives, the town’s painter heritage was only the tip of the iceberg. These same creatives and the kindred spirits they attracted were also blacksmiths, carpenters, innovators, etchers, sculptures, and architects.

The end result was a series of intimate stories about love, loss, creativity and the changing soul of Germany over the past 150 years. Though there’s a small central street, much of the town is spread out around a series of small gentle hills and connected by natural paths through the forest. Most of the museums are in converted estates or historic farmhouses, though others like the Große Kunstschau have their own beautiful structures.

We kicked off my visit with lunch at Worpswede’s intimate train station, recently re-painted in its original salmon and light green colors. The small station is every bit the small country train station you’d expect for a country-village. But, in place of the old ticket booth and waiting rooms the station has been converted into a lovely restaurant serving delightful (and delicious) local cuisine.

As we entered through the main door, we found ourselves in a room painted deep forest green with golden color lamps costing gentle yellow light across a bar and a well-oiled bar. Change our clothing and add a thick layer of smoke and you’d feel as though you walked into a thriving train station in an affluent small town in the heart of the 20s.

As we paused, my guide explained it was the former 3rd class waiting room. Then, we stepped into a small atrium lit by natural light with an unlit fireplace in the corner. It felt clean, and vibrant more 1910 than 1920, in no small part due to the large plants used to decorate the room and the lovely white simplicity of the furniture which, as with the rest of the structure, was designed and built by one of the village’s most iconic artists, Heinrich Vogeler.

The third and final room had an entirely different personality once again. This time, as we stepped into what was formerly the 1st class waiting room, we were greeted by the same vibrant brightly lit space but with an added air of elegance. As with the rest of the venue, the chairs, designs, and colors were all restored in line with Heinrich Vogeler’s original designs.  The room itself was perfectly cued up to host a retro scene from a movie.  I think it was ultimately something in the mixture of the types of plants, the colors of the paint on the walls, and its contrast with the white straight style of the chairs that made the sense of a bygone era palpable.

The meal my guide suggested was a season special that, as he explained, was locally called “Green Garbage” and required the first frost of the year.  It sounded too strange not to try. Especially since the odder the name or season the dish, the better it usually is. The dish was fantastic and reminded me a bit of diced collar greens with smoked sausage. My guide/host, Hartmut, helped me navigate which of the sausages I should peel and which were typically eaten skin-on. A lucky bit of guidance as I’d have otherwise bulldozed my way through eating everything as I went. The combination of the Knipp sausage, which is a blend of oat groats, mixed pork cuts, liver, broth, and spices was hearty, filling, and a flavor-filled match to the “green garbage”.

Wonderfully stuffed and after a glass of the every-present red-wine which is prolific within the region, we crossed our fingers, waiting for a light mist to subside and then stepped out for a brief walk to the village center.

Artistic History and Tranquil Beauty

We made our way along cozy country lanes lined by old farmhouses converted into comfortable modern homes, shops, museums and B&Bs we wound up to the hill which Worpswede encircles. As we scaled the small rise, Hartmut explained that the region had, for many years, been a source for high-quality peat which was harvested from the nearby fields, sold, and transported down the river for sale and trade.

The view from the top of the hill was obscured by autumn’s leaves and a lovely stand of trees. But, a quick walk to the side offered a view out over the region’s mostly flat farmland, hedgerows, and greenery. All set to the backdrop of vibrant rays of light. That light, as it turns out, is quite special and was one of the historic draws to Worpswede for painters. The mixture of the river, the farmland, the nearby sea, and other atmospheric conditions all create a wonderful soft rich light which is at its peak on a partly cloudy day when the humidity level is high.

It’s also what drew artists like Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn, Hans am Ende, Fritz Overbeck, Bernhard Hoetger, Carl Vinnen, Heinrich Vogeler as well as some of Germany’s most famous female painters including Paula Modersohn-Becker, Clara Rilke-Westhoff, Martha Vogeler and Ottilie Reylaender. You’ll find a bit more background and a more detailed list on the local museum webpage.

As is the case with so many of the world’s most creative minds, the stories behind each vary widely, periodically collide, and feature a mixture of great success, prank-filled mirth, and great sorrow.  The village cemetery features a variety of these stories ranging from artwork in the cathedral done in recompense after a misguided evening of tomfoolery to the haunting grave of Paula Modersohn-Becker.  Her grave stands as a haunting tribute by Bernhard Hoetger that seeks to catch her vibrant character while also depicting the suddenness of her death.  Despite being one of early expressionism’s pivotal artists, she died shortly after giving birth at the age of 31.

Meanwhile happier history is on display in the nearby and recently renovated Worpswede Museum which is intimate but blends a number of gorgeous pieces with visiting exhibits. The visiting exhibit was Jürgen Strasser’s Beautiful New World which is an incredible series of urban photos that captured the patterns and textures of city life and resonated heavily with me as a photographer.  The museum’s primary room has a circular structure and light that perfectly highlights the colors and intensity of the pieces most commonly created by the region’s artists. It also features Sommerabend by Heinrich Vogeler which even those less familiar with German art are likely to recognize.

Sommerabend or the Summer Evening (in English), depicts a brief moment in time around 1905 when the local community was home to many of the region’s greatest artists, all living, socializing and working in relative harmony. Later sickness, politics, financial constraints, and the intensity of these individual’s personalities would rapidly alter the tranquility captured in the painting.  It also served as the perfect inroad for our next stop.

Despite a bit of rain, we popped out from the museum and took a quick walk through what would have been a lovely wooded park on a slightly drier day. The light was rapidly fading, but with its last hues we wound down along a lovely pond, wrapped up, passed just beside the staircase depicted in Sommerabend by Vogler, and then passed into the Heinrich Vogeler Museum which now sits inside the converted farmhouses which comprised his estate.

The Museum offers a fascinating insight into local history as well as the breadth of Vogler’s abilities. It highlights artwork from across his life, which shows the heavy influence of history.  His earlier works which include a wide range of beautiful Art Nouveau artwork, etching, and sketch work are on display alongside his incredible attention to detail and craftsmanship with displays dedicated to the furniture and cutlery he created.  It also ends with some of the darker works he crafted towards the end of his life as he became increasingly political and aligned himself heavily with communist imagery before relocating to the Soviet Union in the lead-up to World War II.

A Perfect Day Trip

I rarely use local guides, often preferring to move at my own pace and with a preference for shaping my own route to discovery. However, after the day spent in Worpswede, I’d highly suggest treating it less like a village to visit and more like an extended open-air museum spread out over a large area and which is brought to life by the detailed history and stories that go with it. My guide, Hartmut, is one of several that give local tours and I highly suggest not only considering Worpswede as a day-trip from Bremen, but also setting aside the time to let him or one of his peers share the local history with you.

There was also ample to see and do that I missed due to my tight time constraints and leisurely lunch. Particularly for those who are perhaps even more inclined to deep dive into the local painter’s history and the styles they painted in.

As far as returning to Bremen? The trip was as uneventful and easy as the trip out.  Hartmut dropped me at the bus stop and from there it was a 4 Euro / straight shot back to the final stop at Bremen Central Station, just in time for a pleasant dinner.

As noted at the start of this post, this visit was organized and hosted by Bremen Tourism as part of the #CitybreakGermany campaign in collaboration with #NordicTB who arranged and covered all aspects of my stay. As always, you can see the full album from my visit in color here, or black and white.

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When the folks at the German Tourism authority reached out and invited me to explore Bremen as their guest as part of the #citybreakgermany campaign I found my curiosity piqued.  This post and the two that follow are done in partnership with Bremen Tourism who suggested my itinerary and arranged/provided all lodging, accommodation and a suggested itinerary.  The premise for the visit? Get an overview of what Bremen has on offer over a three day weekend (arriving Saturday AM, departing Monday evening) without a frantic schedule or over-the-top luxury experience.

What I found was a charming city that was intimate, easy to explore, had distinct personalities and a clean polished experience and functionality that made getting around and exploring the town extremely pleasant.

The beautiful thing about Bremen was that it had many of the wonderful characteristics you might hope for in a German city – delicious food, wonderful history, quirky coffee shops and an assortment of beautiful graffiti.  But, without the broken dysfunction or dystopian rot that plagues some of its larger siblings.

Bremen was clean. It was tidy. It was well maintained and felt vibrant, alive, and like a city that is thriving. The tram system and proximity to the airport made connecting with my Hotel, the Maritim Hotel Bremen, one of the most painless connections I’ve had outside of Copenhagen.  The connection from Airport to City Center cost about 2 Euro and took 11 minutes.

The trams are new, offer great access to the city, and have screens that make identifying where you are and the next few stops straightforward and easy.  Even though these types of screens have become relatively commonplace on trains, trams, metros, and buses throughout Europe (and beyond), I still can’t help feeling a small level of anxiety when first arriving in a new city knowing I’ll need to navigate public transit. Even the regional Bus 670 which I took for more than 50 minutes to the end of its line in the nearby artist village of Worpswede had a screen that made finding my stop easy. Something that I find is often lacking as you get a bit more “local” in most cities.

Though the forecast predicted rain throughout my visit, Bremen proved itself to be every bit the near-coastal trade city that its history and membership as a Hanseatic Powerhouse teased at. Despite a few drops here and there, most were fleeting and brought to life the amber and gold hues of the late autumn leaves that were a bit past their peak despite it already being well into November.

The City

I always find the feel of a city to be an incredibly important part of the experience. There are some cities that I just naturally always enjoy and get a good feeling from – cities like Edinburgh and Copenhagen where things always feel cozy, welcoming and pleasant. There are others – cities like Berlin and London – which are so complex in scope and vast in the depth of experiences and vibes you are likely to experience that you never know just what you’ll get. Bremen struck me as a city unlikely to shock or surprise. It has that essence to it which conveys a pleasant place, with a breadth of experiences, and an ambiance you can always count on.  There’s nothing unpredictable or turbulent about it. That’s not to say it’s boring or drably homogeneous.  Quite the opposite.  Rather, that the city itself is approachable and has an amicable laid-back feel that is both inviting and decent.

Like many cities with a Hanseatic past, it has the underlying sense of wealth and affluence that makes it clear the city has been a center for art, commerce and trade during influential periods throughout its history. Though there have been periods where the economic lifeblood of the city has been anemic, ebbing and flowing with the tides, the city shows few scars or signs of economic tribulations.  It boasts broad clean boulevards, wonderful art galleries, and a vibrant shopping scene that makes it clear that Bremen is far from struggling.

As we wandered the city, exploring the various districts, boulevards and winding historic streets I was immediately impressed by the number of boutique galleries, custom confectioneries, and indie coffee shops mixed between more recognizable outlets. I think my absolute favorite was a quirky little shop at Schnoor 31-36 which exclusively sold folded paper templates.  The complexity of the paper artwork they had available was incredible from old dirigibles to birds and grand buildings. The price was also super reasonable leading me to make a rare exception to my standard no-souvenir rule with the purchase of a 3D falcon model.

My guide for the walking tour also brought to my attention minor details I’d have otherwise missed. These included the backstory behind a rather odd public fountain at the heart of the Schnoor district. Situated squarely in-front of what was a former sailor’s brothel, the small fountain depicts a rather unsightly but no-less charming set of bathers. Whether the bath was a regular occurrence and merely served the local neighborhood, or was more strategically placed to wash some of the sea grit off the sailors before a stop at the brothel was left up in the air.

She also wound me down some of Schnoor’s smaller streets – those easily overlooked as being a dead-end alleyway or someone’s backyard – before charting a course from Schnoor, down along the river, and then up, through the old military fortifications and moat to Ostertor.  Where the city center had been polished and affluent, Schnoor had been intimate and charming, Ostertor and Östliche Vorstadt which came after had character, a hint of grit, a bit of polish and a lovely mixture of culture and vibrant life.

Östliche Vorstadt was also where I found most of my favorite graffiti, particularly as I wandered off the main street and struck along the beautifully colored residential neighborhoods that line Ostertorsteinweg (the street).

It’s also where I encountered a gorgeous cat with vivid green eyes and a slightly pudgy face that left you feeling simultaneously drawn in and judged. I couldn’t help but feel he was also the spirit animal/guardian for the district as he relaxed on a doorstop next to a small crop of bamboo, surveying passing traffic with that engaged-apathy that only a cat can muster.

Situated just off of Bremen’s central Market Square are two of Bremen’s main cathedrals.

The first is the oldest cathedral in the city, the Unser Lieben Frauen. The church itself wasn’t particularly compelling compared to its contemporaries. However, the stained glass windows by Alfred Manessier which were installed after the originals were destroyed are absolutely gorgeous. Simple in their color and their depiction, they come together to form a wonderful piece of artwork that uses nuance to communicate to visitors. They’re also a potential candidate making the church a candidate for a UNESCO designation, which, after having seen them, wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Meanwhile, the far larger and more impressive St. Petri Dom Bremen which sits just around the corner has one of the most unusual designs I’ve seen in quite some time.

It feels as though it is inspired by the classical Roman square churches you find in the oldest parts of Rome. But, the size and majestic sculpture work leave little doubt that it’s a far newer creation. But, what really stood out for me was the detailed stonework and sculptures that decorate the front stairs along the entrance to the cathedral.

Minor pieces that are easily overlooked, the patterns, detailed work, and artists were some of my favorite items to photograph, particularly as the details were enhanced as rain soaked into the stone darkening it and emphasizing the craftsmanship.

Last but not least is the city’s famous monument to the Brother’s Grimm and their fairytale about four traveling bards that set out on the road to Bremen before encountering a series of unfortunate circumstances that led them astray.

The musicians, which are depicted as a mule, a dog, a cat and a chicken can be seen throughout the city, including a lovely bronze that sits beside the city hall. As with any good bronze, there’s a tradition about touching it and making a wish. I won’t spoil the details, but, as my guide warned, make sure you firmly hold both the mule’s left and right legs when making your wish. A single leg just won’t do!

The History

I’ll avoid diving too deeply into the history of the Hanseatic League, but I suggest familiarizing yourself with it if you haven’t read about it previously.  It’s one of those fascinating collaborative initiatives that united coastal trading partners in a way that drove incredible wealth, power, and played a pivotal role in shaping the Baltic Sea, North Sea and surrounding regions.

As a dominant city in the league, Bremen was able to garner significant wealth, influence and culture which is still on display in some areas of the city today.   If you dive into historic paintings and maps of Bremen and the surrounding area, you also see how significantly humanity has modified the landscape over the last 1,000 years. Though you’d never guess it today, the river has been re-worked, molded, dredged, and re-directed from a wide shallow meander to the tidally influenced traditional-looking river you see today.

Unfortunately for maritime trade and Bremen’s status within the League, the city’s fortunes were similarly impacted by the river. The city’s lifeblood – a brackish tidal area that stretched inland from the North Sea to Bremen – led to a prime hunting ground for opportunistic pirates, which fueled a profitable naval security and escort service until disaster struck. Still pre-dating the period where dredging was a viable option, rains and other natural phenomena – potentially even erosion from the commercial traffic – led the river to silt in, leaving it impassible.

The result was to eventually launch a major undertaking which led to the establishment of Bremerhaven around 50km away, perched at the mouth of the Weser River. To this day, Bremerhaven still operates as Bremen’s primary port and aspires to be one of the major maritime hubs in Northern Europe pitting it against nearby Hamburg, another of the flagship cities in the old Hanseatic League.  It’s also why the unusual designation as the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen, which is actually a German state, includes not only the town of Bremen proper, but Bremerhaven as well.

It’s as a result of this close relationship and mutually shared membership in the Hanseatic League that both Bremen and Hamburg share many of their flagship industries. Of which Coffee stands out as one of the most well known and widely appreciated. It’s also one of the reasons that Bremen was one of the great immigrant ports, including extensive records. People trying to re-trace their family origins often find their way to Bremen as it was, in many ways, a bit like Germany’s version of America’s Ellis Island.

Where you see Bremen’s rich history most visibly on display is in the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Town Hall.  The town hall is home to one of the most detailed, complex, and artistically stunning sets of woodworked room’s I’ve seen anywhere in Europe. From the benches to the seats where the city’s leadership once sat, to the carved walls of the meeting room, the main assembly hall is the crown jewel in Bremen’s crown and worth a trip in-and-of itself.

The town hall also boasts a number of other fascinating artifacts including a series of man-sized wooden warships which hang in the main assembly room and represent Bremen’s maritime might and showcase some of the pirate-hunting vessels which previously called the Weser river home.  These, as with the other woodworked pieces are not only highly unusual but of brilliant artistry.

Last, but not least, the town hall also boasts a bizarre chandelier made from the jaw bones of a massive blue whale. The piece was, I’m sure, an incredibly expensive and sought-after creation that was no doubt high-fashion when it was built.  Now, it stands out as highly unusual. But, what makes it even more interesting is the story behind it. The jawbones belonged to a massive blue whale that swam up the Weser river, before eventually beaching itself near the city, where it perished. For many of you, the thought of a blue-whale near European waters is likely a bit of a surprise.  I know for my part at least I initially assumed it had been purchased or gifted from somewhere much further abroad. But, as it turns out before whaling decimated their numbers, blue whales did, in fact, periodically find their way into the region’s waters.

Considering A Trip?

Bremen is far from a sprawling behemoth of a town. But, it’s also not the small sleepy town some would try and make it out to be.  It’s a vibrant mid-sized city with a well-respected university, great student culture, highly ethnically diverse population and a rich history with a wide variety of attractions ideal for an extended weekend of exploring. From Beck’s Brewery to their thriving Aerospace industry which has supported projects like the European Space Agency’s ISS modules and rich cultural history – Bremen has a bit of everything.

Stay tuned for Part II and III in this series where I cover my visit to the nearby town of Worpswede with its thriving artistic community and Part III where I delve into my dining experiences during my time in Bremen.

As noted at the start of this post, this visit was organized and hosted by Bremen Tourism as part of the #CitybreakGermany campaign in collaboration with #NordicTB who arranged and covered all aspects of my stay.  My guide for the walking tour of the city was Rima Scheffler, who was vibrant, knowledgeable and brought the city to life. You can book or reach out to her via e-mail here, if interested.

As always, you can see the full album from my visit in color here, or black and white.

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Before I was born my parents launched a program which paired archaeologists with high school kids eager to learn through a hands-on exploration of history. Though they had retired from the field by the time I came along, many of our close family friends, including my godmother, were archaeologists or historically inclined. That exposure ignited my imagination and passion for history from an early age.  There’s also something profoundly exciting about the mystery and unknown that goes with the prospect of realizing that there are entire civilizations that we know almost nothing about lying buried just beneath the soil.

There are few archeological digs as captivating to the imagination as the Terracotta Army.  There’s something about the sheer size and scope of the 8,000+ strong fired clay army that is mesmerizing.  Beyond that, the knowledge that each is distinct and has a wonderfully human feel pairs with the age – 2,000+ years ago – to stand as an incredible tribute to the power, creativity, skill and talent present at the time.  Far too often I think we tend to view modern history and civilization as “starting” around year 0 on our calendars.  It’s only natural given that 0 is the point of origin in so many other areas of our lives.

But, monuments like the Terracotta Army outside Xi’an in China stand as a powerful reminder of how robust humanity was at the time. To the advanced art forms we had mastered, the incredible scale and complexity of our societies, and to the vastness of Chinese history that as a Westerner we often gloss over or neglect.

The city of Xi’an ended up being far more charming than we expected and make no mistake, it is most definitely a city. With more than 8 million residents and an MSA in the area of 14 million, the city alone dwarfs all of Denmark and my home state of Arizona … combined.  But, despite the massive population, the historic center is walkable, tidy, clean, easy to navigate, and never felt oppressive.  In truth, in many ways we found Xi’an to be far more approachable and charming than Beijing.

Food was good, cheap, and the options were extensive.  Our hostel was lovely and the overnight sleeper train to/from Beijing was not only easy to navigate but such a pleasant experience we chose to skip the hassle of the airport and return to Beijing by train.

After reading several guides with advice on how to reach the Terracotta Army which requires a tour bus or local bus and a hour+ ride, we decided to embrace the adventure and to risk the local bus.

After reading about the need to find the right Number 5/306 bus, not one of the overpriced “fake” tourist buses which try and usher you onboard, we backtracked to the central train station and relatively quickly found ourselves sitting comfortably on the bus. Eventually, a ticket collector made her way down the aisle, we paid our 7 Chinese Yuan ($1 USD), and we were off.

Despite being some of the only Westerners on the bus, navigating to and finding the Terracotta Army museum was straightforward. Something made that much easier and low-stress by having a local sim card and GPS.

I can’t speak to how the bus ride and admission to the museum is in peak season – but for us in March there was zero wait and the entire process was wonderfully convenient and pleasant.

Once inside the Museum navigating the exhibits was a straightforward experience.

We started in reverse of the suggested route, entering Building 4 first, then heading to 3, 2, and then ending with the grand finale in the primary vault. A route which had been suggested by a friend.

I vastly preferred this, as we started with the smaller detailed vaults and exhibits and worked our way up to the primary vault as the grand finale. In this way, I feel like we appreciated each of the vaults equally vs. having the final three overpowered by the main chamber.

To my surprise, I was allowed to keep my tripod with me, and was undisturbed as I used it to capture shots of the soldiers that would have otherwise been impossible due to the relatively dim light and overcast weather.

I was also thrilled to have my 70-300 lens with me, as it let me capture some of the detail work on the various statues which is part of what makes the exhibit so powerful and inspiring.

Our visit to Xi’an was almost exclusively to see the Terracotta Army.

Given it required an overnight train each way, and then an additional bus ride, it required more of a significant investment in time and percentage of trip cost than I’ve made to see most other individual attractions.

But, it was completely worth it partly because we also enjoyed Xi’an so much, .

I’d suggest that if possible, rather than just taking the train to see the Terracotta Army, that you spend some time to enjoy and explore the city with its historic mosque, food market, the outer wall, drum tower, other architectural features, and the culture.

It’s also worth noting for those who perhaps have not done extensive research, that the Terracotta Army is a decent distance outside of Xi’an, which is also more than 1,000km from Beijing.

View my full albums in Color or Black and White over on flickr for a more detailed look at Xi’an and the surrounding attractions.

All photos were shot on a Canon 6D dslr with a variety of lenses.

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If you’ve noticed that things have been a bit quiet around here of late, I’m thrilled to share with you the reason why.  Needless to say, I’m incredibly excited and cannot wait to get your feedback on the end result!

Earlier this year I decided to embrace a new experiment and to explore the potential of expanding my writing in book form. Now, 50,000+ words and 210 pages later Practical Curiosity is live and will launch this Monday, November 6th globally in print and ebook form.

Key elements of the book are an extension of content here on VirtualWayfarer. But, instead of creating yet another travel guide, or a composite of my travel advice and travel stories I decided to take a step back and to focus on something quite different. As the title suggests, about 1/4th of the book is still travel-focused and has a compilation of some of the most pivotal realizations and advice that I’ve distilled from my travels.  It’s also much more than that and a look at how travel is just one rich piece of the puzzle which informs and shapes other aspects of who we are and the lives we live.

Travel is a fundamental part of who I am. It has expanded and shaped my interests, my sense of self, and exposed me to a life full of incredibly rich experiences and realizations. But, beyond even travel is something deeper. That is my burning sense of curiosity. For my book, and as the title suggests, that’s what I chose to focus on – the core tool and world-view driver that guides me through life and which shapes my perspective.  Through that lens, I then aspire to share what equates to a large cross-section of my worldview, observations, and revelations which have been pivotal for me and those around me.

Practical Curiosity is, in essence, an opportunity to gain relatively extensive access to another person’s frame of reference, worldview, mentors, extensive research, and pivotal realizations.  To explore them, digest them, and then see how they may change, shape, re-enforce and enrich your own musings. I aspire to tackle and highlight the normal nature of many things highly curiosity and driven people struggle with in silence – things like imposter syndrome, or the sense of indecision that goes with being a generalist. I simultaneously provide a framework for understanding the people in your lives – from friends or romantic partners to grandchildren or colleagues who you’ve always struggled to relate to and understand.

Practical Curiosity also contains several thought exercises which I’ve found are instrumental to shaping and enriching the way I engage with the world and which are pivotal tools for being more centered as an individual, exploring my place in the universe, and for nurturing my inner curiosity.  I also draw on more than a decade working in the commercial world, where I’ve had the opportunity to advance a professional career across leading companies in transformative industries in the United States and Europe.

For this book I’ve set out to create a resource that is, at its heart, a “self-help” book, but for people with an aversion or lack of trust in traditional or overly topically focused self-help books. Where many books in the genre tend to miss the forest for the trees, my goal is to deliver observations and food for thought that inspire you, realizations that put your mind at ease and quiet some of your inner struggles, while also opening up a smorgasbord of reflective tidbits that will have you re-evaluating and exploring aspects of your career, personal, relational and travel endeavors.

The Book

Like Dim Sum for the curious mind

Practical Curiosity delivers a collection of easily consumable insights into what it means to be a well rounded, curious and passionate individual. From carefully crafted professional advice to altering how you engage with your peers, Practical Curiosity is passionate, and unlike any other inspirational book you’ve read.

Alex Berger combines a series of grounded thought exercises with comical and insightful life advice drawn from first-hand experiences and tailored directly to explaining many of the key challenges that arise in the lives of driven individuals.

This is the perfect read for polymaths with a thirst for knowledge or if you’ve been attracted by the ideal of being a renaissance man or woman and often struggle with the complexities that result from being a highly driven generalist.

In Practical Curiosity, you will gain new ways of exploring and relating to key parts of a life well lived. At the same time, you will gain tools and strategies for explaining topics you’ve long struggled to communicate with friends, loved ones, and colleagues.

How to Order

The book is available in both Print and eBook versions through your Amazon portal of preference. So, if you’re reading this from Europe, the UK or Asia, make sure to navigate to your Amazon.?? page of choice and to search for “Practical Curiosity” which allows you to order locally.

One Request!

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Have you read Practical Curiosity?  Would you like to contribute a testimonial? I would love to have it!

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When preparing for this trip, I reached out to Auto Europe and asked if they were interested in sponsoring our rental. They said yes, and provided the rental car for the duration of our trip. This post includes references to Auto Europe tied to that partnership.

For my second visit to Iceland, I opted for something quite different than the first visit.  Where a year previous I had headed to Iceland by myself for a solo-road trip that took me up to the Western Fjords, this trip would be similar in length but a shared road trip with four friends. In place of the nearly empty West Fjords, we’d strike South and East towards Iceland’s famed black sand beaches. The goal? To reach Vik and then shoot up to the Diamond Beach for a quick peek. Our initial plans included trying to run all the way up to Hofn, but with a full car and mixed interests, we decided for a more conservative timeline which was ultimately wiser.

We landed midday on Wednesday, picked up our rental car from ProCar, which had been provided in partnership with the folks at Auto Europe, and struck out immediately in the direction of Seljalandsfoss. As dusk approached we reached the recently opened Midgard Adventure Base Camp (a lovely brand new hostel concept), dropped our gear and then made the quick drive to Seljalandsfoss just in time for a dramatic sunset.  The hostel itself offered lovely rooms in a convenient location and more importantly included a sauna and hot tub on the roof with a panoramic view of the Icelandic countryside and nearby mountains.

The following day we wound our way back to Seljalandsfoss, which unlike the evening before was overrun with vehicles. Disinterested in the crowds we explored the surrounding area and found a series of alternate waterfalls which were intimate, lovely and stunningly beautiful – all within a 10-minute drive. Waterfalls in our rearview mirror, we wound down towards Dyrholaey and the nearby cliffs with panoramic views, an incredible coastal window, amazing views and numerous puffin nests. From there it was on to Vik and the surrounding area where we checked into an extremely bizarre bed and breakfast before deciding to roll the dice and make the 2-hour drive out to the Glacier Bay.

From there it was on to Vik and the surrounding area where we checked into an extremely bizarre bed and breakfast before deciding to roll the dice and make the 2-hour drive out to the Glacier Bay.  We knew the drive was a bit of a gamble. Not only was it a four hour round trip journey, but the weather offered little promise of breaking for a beautiful sunset. Still, with our tight itinerary and limited timeframe, we figured the benefits outweighed the risks. The road trip to Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon and the Diamond Beach was incredible. It winds across massive black plains where only the most minimal scrub grass grows. It sneaks through sprawling mossy lava fields and slips along the lip of stunning glaciers.  By the time we reached Jokulsarlon and pulled up to the black sand beach, dusk tinged by a fine mist was rapidly settling over the landscape.

While the beach lacked the drama of a vibrant sunset, we had it largely to ourselves as we wound our way through the blocks of ice washed ashore. To keep us company two seals tracked our progress along the beach, keeping an attentive and playful eye on us. Even in, and perhaps in part because of, the light mist and late evening light, the black sand, white sea foam, and rich blues of the ice were mesmerizing. We walked the beach until the light gave out on us, then began the long journey through the rain back to Vik, all wishing we had more time to spend exploring the area.

The following morning kicked off with a brief drive from Vik to Halsanefshellir Cave, Reynisfjara Beach and additional time spent with dozens of puffins.  As luck had it, the puffins were fishing and extremely active which led us to extend our visit to the beach and coastal area by several hours as we sat and took in the Icelandic landscape, blooming flowers, and puffins wish fish-filled beaks. From there it was on to Solheimajokull Glacier for a quick walk to the base of the glacier and a few moments to pause and wish we were joining the steady flow of people taking ice expeditions out onto the glacier. But, with time limited we cut our way back north west to explore the Golden Circle.  From Gullfoss Waterfall to Strokkur and then on to Thingvellir National Park and Rift Valley at sunset, it was a race, but well worth it.

Despite my concerns that we’d be so overwhelmed by tourists that it’d diminish the majesty of the stops, most were still well worth a visit and every bit as awe inspiring as pictured. We did skip a number of more “major” falls along the way due to the packed parking lots, but with so many stunning falls nearby we more than satiated our urge to explore the region’s great falls.  While the Southeastern coastline was without question far busier than the Western Fjords, it also boasted incredibly dramatic beaches, stunning waterfalls and captivating landscapes forged by glaciers.

We spent our semi-final evening in Reykjavik before jumping back out to continue exploring Thingvellir National Park in proper daylight. From there it was back to downtown Reykjavik to return the rental car at 4PM, into town to explore and enjoy dinner, some drinks and a bit of live music, before attempting an all-nighter and heading to the airport at 2AM for our 6AM flight back to Denmark.  In celebration of the spectacular nature we enjoyed during our visit, I’ve created the following video, enjoy!

Iceland in Black and White - YouTube

One final quick tip. Situated a bit before the junction where the 43 connects to the 41 just outside the Airport, you’ll find an Orkan gas station, a Bonus super market, and a few shops.  Situated behind the gas station is a semi-permanent fish and chips trailer.   Despite the surprising location, the fish was some of the freshest we had, the stand had a steady stream of locals, prices were good and the meal was absolutely fantastic.  To the point that I’d happily flag this as a must-stop for all my future visits to Iceland.

Photos from the trip will follow in an upcoming post. All footage was shot on a Sony A7RII using a mixture of lenses, but predominantly a Sony 24-70 F4. The video was edited in Davinci Resolve 14 by Black Magic.

This trip was made possible in part due to a collaboration with the folks at Auto Europe who provided our rental. I’ve previously used Auto Europe as my go-to booking site of choice for car rentals, including my previous self-funded trips in Slovenia and Romania. For Iceland, Auto Europe arranged our rental which was a 5 person, automatic, Opel Mokka 4×4 in excellent condition. The rental was easy without mickey-mouse or any headaches. Clearance isn’t amazing for a 4×4, but it was ideal for relatively well-maintained roads we spent most of our time on, particularly along the coastline near Vik. It also managed to seat the five of us plus luggage, which in and of itself was a feat. The folks at Auto Europe have also prepped entertaining funky facts which are well worth a quick look (in Danish) about motoring in Europe which you can view here.

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The final leg of my wonder-infused 9 day safari through Tarangire, Lake Natron, the Serengeti and Ngornogoro Crater started with a long drive across the Serengeti’s empty plains.  From tree-less flatlands, the ground gently began to slope upwards as we made our way towards the remnants of an imposing volcanic cone. Before long scrub-brush gave way to vegetation as the road wound past Masaai villages and the ground rapidly greened. Our ascent was rapid, threading for the tip of the crater rim which sits more than 2,000 meters above the open plains of the Serengeti. Once we crested the top, we paused at an overlook, with a view down the 600m to the floor of the old caldera, and then continued on to our campground, which sat perched along the edge of crater looking out over it like a silent clustering of squat sentinels. As the team raised the tent, I recorded a quick vlog and explored a bit. Then, sat down and prepared to eat a much-needed dinner.

Unfortunately, the ascent was so rapid that after several days without hydrating properly, and due to taking allergy medication – I found myself sitting at the picnic table light headed, on the cusp of passing out. While my guide and cook kept a close eye on me to see if my condition worsened, I hydrated heavily and ate as much of the carb-heavy dinner they had cooked up as I could while focusing my breathing and taking long-deep breaths. Within 30 minutes or so the light headedness passed without injury or complication and I started to adjust. From there it was a matter of continuing to hydrate, walking within the confines of the camp (after dark it was guarded by an armed guard as all of our campgrounds were open camps open to animals of all types and sizes).

The views of the crater, the sunset, the moon, and a stunning rainbow from the rim of the crater still give me chills.  It wasn’t until the crack of dawn the following morning that the true wonder of the park started to kick in fully. Eager to be one of the first ones into the park, I think we ended up being the 2nd or 3rd car admitted in the morning. This meant we spent the majority of our morning in the park almost completely alone with the animals all long before the other vehicles from nearby lodges or cities started to trickle in.

The descent into the crater could not have been more dramatic.  Most of the twilight drive to the rim-gate was through mist and fog. As we paused at the gate that manages the single road down into the park, I snapped a few photos – looking out into the fog and only just catching a hint of the sun through gold-colored mist. Then, what looked like a second sun – but which I later discovered was a still lake at the base of the crater. It was only as we descended along the wall of the crater that the fog gave way, offering a staggeringly beautiful sunrise view of the cloud ringed walls and sun-kissed caldera floor.

Ngorongoro Crater sits at the heart of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The crater is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a massive volcanic caldera. It is widely recorded as the largest inactive, unflooded volcanic caldera though there is a small rain and spring-fed lake in one corner. The Caldera sits relatively close geographically to Ol Doinyo Lengai, the Mountain of God, which is still active.  Home to its own micro-eco system animals migrate into the protected grasslands of the caldera, while others enjoy its captivating ecosystem year round.

Ngorongoro is one of the southern most parts of the Serengeti eco-system. In my previous posts covering the Serengeti I shared with you all of my big-cat photos and animal and landscape photos. All images were shot over the course of a morning spent in the Crater on a Canon 6D and most used a $200 lens (full details here).

The Sun, Reflected

The Descent

Cloud Kissed Rim

Morning Light

Zebra on Patrol

Tender Moments

King of the Crater

Grey Crowned Cranes

The Circle of Life

Listening

A Sense of Scale

Migrating Flamginos

Company Scouting The Crater

A crater Jackal on Patrol

Green Hues

Zebra Reflections

The Martial Eagle in Flight

The Water’s Edge

Searching for Lions

Caught in the Act

Mother and Child

Cranes

Failed Procreation

The Acacia

Liftoff

Lazy Moments

Wilderbeest

Covering Ground

A Crater Lion

The Martial Eagle on Patrol

Company

Post-Breakfast Nap

The Lion & The Vulture

Gray Crowned Crane

Warthog

Ostrich

The Master of the Crater

Nap Time

Morning Light

This concludes my series of color photos taken during my spectacular 9 day safari through Tanzania. I’m already eager to return, charting out new areas of the park to explore, contemplating how to best catch the great migration at an earlier stage, and curious what other wonders are hidden behind Tanzania’s expansive borders. Thanks for going on Safari with me!

Have questions about how I captured or edited these photos? You can see aperture, lens, speed and ISO if you click into the image over on flickr. Want to know more? Feel free to ask in a comment below.

Don’t forget: To learn more about my advice for picking a good Safari company read the post here. To learn about the $200, 70-300mm lens I shot most of these photos on see the post here. All shots were captured on a Canon 6D. To see my full albums, including black and white edits and other big cat photos from my visit jump over to flickr.

Want to purchase a print of one of these shots? Let me know or browse existing prints in my store.

If you are considering a safari, I’d highly suggest considering Tanzania and the Serengeti/Ngorongoro Crater park in particular. I’d also suggest the team at Fed Tours and Safaris who I partnered with for this trip.  They’re a Tanzanian owned and operated company run by two brothers and they provided me with an absolutely spectacular safari experience. As part of our collaboration, I received a discounted rate in exchange for sharing my unfiltered/fully independent experience with them. If you are considering Tanzania,  I do encourage you to research Fed Safaris and mention you’ve read about them here on VirtualWayfarer. They’ll make sure to take extra good care of you.

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When I booked my initial trip to Tanzania and lined up my 9 day safari through Tarangire, Lake Natron, the Serengeti and Ngornogoro Crater I justified splurging a bit, the length of the trip, and the cost, by telling myself it was the trip of a decade. The mental math was clear – I’d have an incredible 9 days of safari, but would return having sated my need for a follow up for the foreseeable future. As it turns out, I could not have been more wrong.  As I write this post, I’m already dreaming of returning for a follow-up trip. Every new photo I edit from the trip leaves me dreaming of the incredible days I spent in nature, among some of the world’s most beautiful, powerful and deadly animals.

In my previous post covering the Serengeti I shared with you all of my big-cat photos. Normally, I’d incorporate those into one single photo post. But, the sheer number of cat sightings I had made that impossible. Far too often, the rest of the Serengeti’s animals and natural beauty gets overshadowed by the alpha predators. So, I’ve decided to do this follow up post which excludes all big cat shots and only focuses on the rest of the experience. All images were shot on a Canon 6D and most used a $200 lens (full details here).

The Great Migration

The Joys of Youth

Lake Natron: Sunrise Before Ol Doinyo Lengai

The Open Plains

Lake Natron: Ol Doinyo Lengai

The Great Migration

Lake Natron: Sunrise

Thirst

Solitude

The Gentle Giant

The Bull

Zebra on the Move

Endless Plains

Tender Touch

Wildebeest

The Elephant’s Wisdom

Bat Eared Foxes

Mwanza Flat-Headed Rock Agama

Curiosly Browsing

The Plains of the Serengeti

Afternoon Light

Sunset

Lake Natron: Ngare Sero Falls

Dwarf Mongoose

Lake Natron: The Maasai

Lazy Lunch

Sunscreen

The Great Migration

The Maasai People

Big Steps

Lake Natron: Beautiful Moments

The Happy Hippo

Lake Natron: Maasai Mule Herder

Vultures

Lazy Wild Dogs

Mr. Giraffe

Flamingos Showing Off

Elephant Family

Lake Natron: The Maasai

Zebra

Wildebeest Migrating

Lake Natron: Ol Doinyo Lengai

Lake Natron: Storks in Flight

Dwarf Mongeese

Catching a Ride

Lake Natron: Storks at Sunrise

The Great Migration

Lake Natron: Sunrise

Looking Backwards

Thanks for going on Safari with me!  Don’t miss my other blog posts from 9 incredible days spent exploring Tanzania’s spectacular national parks and countryside.

Have questions about how I captured or edited these photos? You can see aperture, lens, speed and ISO if you click into the image over on flickr. Want to know more? Feel free to ask in a comment below.

Don’t forget: To learn more about my advice for picking a good Safari company read the post here. To learn about the $200, 70-300mm lens I shot most of these photos on see the post here. All shots were captured on a Canon 6D. To see my full albums, including black and white edits and other big cat photos from my visit jump over to flickr.

Want to purchase a print of one of these shots? Let me know or browse existing prints in my store.

If you are considering a safari, I’d highly suggest considering Tanzania and the Serengeti/Ngorongoro Crater park in particular. I’d also suggest the team at Fed Tours and Safaris who I partnered with for this trip.  They’re a Tanzanian owned and operated company run by two brothers and they provided me with an absolutely spectacular safari experience. As part of our collaboration, I received a discounted rate in exchange for sharing my unfiltered/fully independent experience with them. If you are considering Tanzania,  I do encourage you to research Fed Safaris and mention you’ve read about them here on VirtualWayfarer. They’ll make sure to take extra good care of you.

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I’ve discovered a new favorite destination in Europe and it was a total surprise.

I didn’t expect it. In fact, I didn’t know what to expect.

But, I fell in love with Slovenia even after it declared war on my brand new camera (news on that in a future post). While when it comes to stories and images of Slovenia you hear mostly about Lake Bled and little else, the entire country is one giant spectacular delight. Some of our favorite discoveries were in areas you never hear about and were places we only stumbled on because we randomly drove down a side road to a waterfall flagged on the map, or due to recommendations from a local photographer whose brain I picked while buying a replacement UV filter.

Europe's Hidden Secret: Slovenia - YouTube

Footage was taken over a week-long road trip exploring Slovenia. Locations included:
Ljubljana
Kamniška Bistrica / Kamnik Area
Soca River Valley
Predjama Castle
Lake Bled
Lake Bohinj

The roads in Slovenia were amazing. The drivers were respectful. The countryside is pristine.  Stay tuned and keep an eye out on Flickr as well for photos from the visit.

The music in the video is an original piece, La Solitude, by Maya Haven Traesborg.

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The four days I spent in the Serengeti were full of incredible experiences. One of the things you always dream about is the opportunity to spend time with big cats. From shy cheetahs to lazy lions or the ever elusive Leopard, there’s something captivating about the alpha predators of Africa. At the outset of my safari I hoped I’d spot, perhaps, one or two large male lions and a leopard or two. A cheetah or two if I was lucky and a pride of females with cubs. Little did I know what the Serengeti had in store for me.

My time spent in Tarangire at the start of the 9 day safari had already set a high bar. After all, catching lionesses and their cubs beneath a rainbow was one of the most magical things I’ve witnessed in my travels. Yet, lo and behold, the Serengeti had far, far more than that in store. By the end of my four days in the Serengeti I had given up on counting lion and leopard sightings. At times, the big cats got so close to the vehicle that, had they been tempted, they could have easily jumped inside. At one point a young Cheetah Cub put his front paws up on the bumper and chewed on the cattle guard a bit. In another, a large male leopard used us as a sun and wind block and settled down immediately next to the vehicle.

The highlight though? Spending a good 20+ minutes with a tree full of lions – a sight that I have dreamed about for years but never imagined I’d get lucky enough to catch….let alone with a tree soo overflowing with lions that they quite literally ran out of room forcing the youngest of the litter to retreat to the ground for a nap.

I attribute the sheer number of big cats and the special experiences I had in part to my incredible guide from Fed Tours and Safaris. He understood the animals, where they’d be, and when they were inclined to be active. He also didn’t shy away from driving the extra distance to get off the most heavily trafficked roads, which meant most of the time spent with the cats was done in relative tranquility.  Camping in the heart of the Serengeti National Park and starting at sunrise also made a big difference as the best big cat viewing came when they were most active – around sunrise and sunset, in the day’s coolest hours. By the time many of the other vehicles finished breakfast, gathered themselves, and headed out to explore or arrived from the lodges out/around the camp – the cats were already napping.

To learn more about my advice for picking a good Safari company read the post here. To learn about the $200, 70-300mm lens I shot most of these photos on see the post here. All shots were captured on a Canon 6D. To see my full albums, including black and white edits and other big cat photos from my visit jump over to flickr. Wan’t to purchase a print of one of these shots? Let me know or browse existing prints in my store.

Sunset Over the Serengeti

Mother and Child

Obnoxious Love

A Well Balanced Lunch

The World’s Laziest King

Looking Skyward

Nap Time

Leopard Perfect Safari

The Secretive Serval

Temptation

Lust

Nap Time

Into the Wind

Childish Energy

Three Queens

The Playful King

King of the Mountain

The Gaze

Big Eyes

The Touch

The Chase (Leopard / Hyena)

Overloaded

Family Photo

A Lover’s Nibble

Perfect Form

UP!

A Lion’s Tears

Grounded

Defying Gravity

The Hungry Comedian

Childish Curiosity

Windblown Love

Teeth

Company

Dinner Time

Relaxing

The Crouch

Looking Outward

Blending In

Relaxing at Sunset

Hunting

Summer Sun

The Predator

Poised

Laughter

Investigation

Leopard and Kill

The Full Tree-House

The Hunter’s Perch

The Fat Cub

Low Bridge

Gazing Outward

Perfect Hair

On Patrol

The Climb

Leopard at Sunset

Lust in the Moment

Siblings

Looking Backwards

Thanks for going on Safari with me!  Don’t miss my other blog posts from 9 incredible days spent exploring Tanzania’s spectacular national parks and countryside.

Have questions about how I captured or edited these photos? You can see aperture, lens, speed and ISO if you click into the image over on flickr. Want to know more? Feel free to ask in a comment..

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