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Every year I post 65 (expanded this year to 100) of my favorite photos from the year’s travels.  Ordinarily, this post comes around the New Year. This year, it and its black and white sibling will land in the middle of April.  The reason for this? Fantastic travels and an expanded focus on travel photography. At the close of 2016 I spent 9 incredible days exploring Tanzania and Zanzibar. Those photos are included in this year’s 100 shots and part of the reason that I just couldn’t quite cut things at 65.

This year’s post includes photos from the United States, Mexico, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Iceland, Denmark, China, Romania, Slovenia, and Italy.  It was a spectacular year of travel and one which was complemented by a significant upgrade to my equipment in May when I gave up on Canon, sold my Canon 6D and pivoted to the Sony A7RII. On top of changing camera styles, I also significantly upgraded from one tier of camera to another. I’ve spent the last year learning the new camera and focusing heavily on how to enhance my photography.  The photos in this post are taken on a combination of the two cameras.  The Sony also brings with it added video capabilities which have led to added exploration with creating video content which you can explore here.

This post is part of an annual tradition.  For previous years, check out 2012, 20132014 and 2015 and 2016.  Stay tuned for my 100 favorite black and white shots from 2017 which will be linked (HERE).

Questions about how I composed or took a specific photo? Feel free to ask in a comment. You’re also encouraged to check out my complete flickr albums here which include the many other shots from 2017 (and previous years) which didn’t make it in this post.

The Serengeti, Tanzania

The Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States

Kamniska Bistrica, Slovenia

Lake Natron, Tanzania

The Terracotta Warriors, Xi’an, China

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Kamnik Bistrica River, Slovenia

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Antelope Canyon, Arizona, United States

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, United States

The Great Wall, China

Antelope Canyon, Arizona, United States

Savica Falls, Slovenia

Hvolsvöllur, Iceland

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Kamniska Bistrica, Slovenia

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Canyon-X, Arizona, United States

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Lago di Fusine, Italy

The Serengeti, Tanzania

The Great Wall, China

Canyon-X, Arizona, United States

Nauthusagill Waterfalls, Iceland

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Canyon-X, Arizona, United States

The Serengeti, Tanzania

The Countryside, Romania

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland

Lake Natron, Tanzania

Canyon-X, Arizona, United States

Predjama Castle, Slovenia

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Rupea, Romania

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Canyon-X, Arizona, United States

Jökulsárlón Glacier Bay, Iceland

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Brasov, Romania

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Reynisfjara, Iceland

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Slap Kozjak Waterfall, Slovenia

The Harbor, Copenhagen, Denmark

Canyon-X, Arizona, United States

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Reynisdrangar, Iceland

The Horseshoe Bend, Arizona, United States

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Nyhavn, Copenhagen, Denmark

The Serengeti, Tanzania

Kamniska Bistrica, Slovenia

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Thirty-three has rushed up on me.  This past year has been a mad-dash full of wonderful achievements, interesting challenges, some wonderful travel, and significant personal growth all paired with a number of areas where I had hoped to make headway but haven’t. As long-time readers know, every year I write a birthday post that contains general reflections, musings, and observations drawn from the previous year. I find myself significantly more centered than I was at 30, but also standing on the cusp, or perhaps already well into a new period of transition.  This year is slightly different, as it comes on the tail end of the publication of my new book, Practical Curiosity: The Guide to Life, Love & Travel with is an extensive expansion of the topics and musings outlined in these annual posts.

For those who don’t have a copy of Practical Curiosity and are interested in picking one up. To celebrate my birthday I’ve temporarily run a special on Amazon for the ebook version. It’ll be $.99 for the next 24 hours (or Euro etc. if you go to your local Amazon.de/.co.uk/.fr etc version) and then increase by increments over the remainder of the week before returning to the normal $7.99 price on Thursday. If you’re in the US/want a US ebook the link is here.

I hope you’ll enjoy these thoughts and take them for what they are –  an attempt to share the world as I see it and how I relate to it. You can view my 32nd birthday post here, 31st birthday post here, my more detailed 30th birthday post here, my musings on turning 29 here, or 28 here. As well as a long-forgotten blog post written on my 23rd birthday (yeah, I’ve been blogging that long) which you can view here.

**This post is more than 7,000 words. Feel free to skip to the sub-titles that most interest you.

Success

Like many highly motivated and driven people, I’m painfully bad about cataloging my success. I inevitably end up aggressively chasing the next challenge or adventure, a bit like a child chasing new toys, past “must have” toys left scattered about the room, largely forgotten after a few hours of enjoyment. If left to my own devices, I’ll inevitably chase, achieve (hopefully), relish for a day or two, and then pivot to some new adventure or focus. All of which is decent enough and a core part of how I’m hardwired and what drives me. It’s the fuel in the tank and is healthy.  The problem being when I fail to properly step back and focus on the adverse, the underachieved, or where I could have done more. I wrote on this in part in my imposter syndrome section last year, but have further expanded my understanding of how I’m hardwired and how I need to carefully navigate a strong balance – in no small part due to my photography. Hand in hand with this is learning to be a fair judge while calling bullshit where and when I need to.

Practical Curiosity

As I sat writing last year’s birthday post, the early concept for my book started to take shape. For years I’ve been encouraged by readers, friends, and family to write a book.  For years I’ve held back for a variety of different reasons.  Watching my Dad go through the process of reaching out to publishers and eventually self-publishing a number of books I was acutely aware of the headaches associated with the process and the bottlenecks.  I also know that I tend to cycle in 4-8 month periods of productivity for a project before interest wanes and I go from creator mode to maintainer mode. Further, I was torn on what to write. I toyed with the idea of funny adventures and reflections. I also briefly considered wandering down the ill-advised path toward a travel guide.

Ultimately, by around May and partially inspired by a number of podcast interviews with authors who reflected on their process I dove into an intensive two and a half months of writing. I set a goal of 20,000 which would convert to about 100 pages and started writing. I focused heavily on structuring the entire process in a way that eliminated bottlenecks, accelerated my ability to write the book, and reminded myself that 20,000 words is actually not a terribly huge volume of text to write. These blog posts in and of themselves often stretch into the 3 or 4,000-word range.

By writing a book divided into sections, modeled in part on these birthday posts and which borrowed heavily from a number of my favorite or most impactful blog posts, the book came together rapidly and bypassed areas that cause significant bog-down and normally draw authors’ process out.  These often include the complexities of needing to maintain chronology, character development, and identical voice throughout the duration of a traditional non-fiction.

By structuring Practical Curiosity as I did, each section was written in the voice or tone most fitting to that particular narrative. First person narratives sit section by section alongside 3rd person or more academic reflections or thought exercises. Roughly 35% of the final book, which blew past my 20,000-word goal and ended over 50,000 words is drawn from blog posts re-written, expanded, and elaborated upon. While several additional sections were added later, by mid-July my first proof copies went out to volunteers. The rest of the time between August and publication in October was spent editing, re-editing, and enlisting a professional formatter which made an incredible difference in the end quality, look and feel of the final product.

Taking it live was one of the more difficult things I’ve done recently and something I’m as proud of as I am the book itself.  On the one hand, I was proud and eager to share the final result. On the other, elements are deeply personal, and that imposter syndrome – that fear of putting something out there with the belief it was good and meaningful and persuasive at the risk of finding it was none of those things was terrifying. In launching it globally, via Amazon, in print and ebook form I was pushing it out to a wide audience outside of my immediate network.  I was also exposing it to people who, as with any piece of art or text or work, would dislike it and fail to have it speak to them. It took all my focus to not only launch it but then to invest effort and energy in promoting it. To be loud, to be proud, and to draw attention to the book vs. clicking publish and then hiding, looking on through spread fingers, and waiting to see if someone picked it up.

The response has been fantastic. The book spent more than a day in the top 100 list of new non-fiction ebooks on Amazon and as a sub-category bestseller for nearly a week.  More than 500 people have purchased a copy of the book with gradual but organic growth that shows people are recommending it and that individuals outside my extended network are picking up the book and recommending it. All of which is, for me, incredible given I don’t have a publisher, have not heavily promoted it, am not doing tours, and don’t have a massive advertising campaign driving it. Multiple people have reached out directly to tell me a variation of, “This book came right at an important time for me, it really helped me with issues I was tackling and has had a deeply meaningful impact.” which in and of itself has been an incredible feeling and embodies the essence of why I wrote the book and what I hoped to accomplish with it.

If you enjoy these blog posts and haven’t do consider picking up a copy as it’s essentially a 210-page in-depth version of many of the topics that go hand in hand with this post.  To those of you who have picked up a copy, recommended it to friends, left a review, or offered me feedback – THANK YOU. Truly. It has been incredible and the support I’ve received throughout the project has been inspiring and deeply motivating.

Podcasts / YouTube / Flickr

While my photography is my primary focus, I’ve also been enjoying dabbling with and experimenting with new creative outlets with additional youtube content, learning more about the editing process, and leveraging the new camera’s ability to capture incredible 4k footage to create a new style of video for youtube. This has been enhanced by discovering and learning how to edit in Black Magic Design’s incredible (and free) video editor Davinci Resolve 14.

My Denmark 101 videos continue to be a significant draw and have led to several instances out and about Copenhagen where people have recognized me and stopped me to comment on the videos. The channel itself also surpassed 1.7 million lifetime views recently which, quite frankly, is staggering. In a given month my videos are averaging more than 25,000 views and 45,000+ minutes watched.

Meanwhile, my experiment which edits, re-purposes, and at times re-records the audio from my Denmark 101 videos and publishes them as a podcast has also continued to grow and develop legs of its own. Earlier this month the podcast passed the 20,000 listen mark on Lybsn which excludes iOS devices where the bulk of my listens are likely taking place (tracked in iTunes but without comprehensive stats).

Flickr also continues to be a wonderful outlet for sharing my photography and has, on average, resulted in roughly 75,000 image views per month over the last year which puts total lifetime views at just over 4.7 million views. This is something that also leaves me a bit bewildered and flabbergasted.

Each of these outlets is a casual hobby and sandbox where I’m experimenting, playing, and somewhat organically sharing with minimal promotion. The results and feedback are a wonderful secondary benefit from deciding to push myself to put my content out there and share it with the world in whatever state it may be. And to be fair, I also get told it’s absolute shit, or to go fuck myself on a semi-regular basis as well.  But that’s also healthy in its own right and has been a pivotal component in driving me to constantly put more out, to generate new content, and that there is value in what I’m creating.

You often get a lot of people overly focused on chasing the likes or views themselves which similarly has a tendency to generate negative behaviors or vulnerability.  The key, I’ve found, it to reverse how you look at it. I’m inspired to create because I want to share it, but the reception to that share isn’t the primary benefit. The primary benefit is that it inspires me to practice my craft, to sit down and edit/create/generate, and to refine the quality of what I put out there. That leads me to experiment, to explore, and to invest time and energy in the process which motivates travel, meeting new people, keeping my mind curious/sharp and also facilitates me going out, consuming other creator’s content and inspires me to give them positive/direct feedback when their content inspires or resonates.  Of course, that process does come with some nuance and challenges, especially when perfectionistic tendencies kick in.

Chasing Nonsense

From day to day I pivot from being fantastically pleased with the improvements in my photography, to deeply critical and frustrated with its failings. Like any creative outlet or craft, it’s a natural part of the process. Dancing from spikes with perceived mastery, that then meet with new levels of insight or awareness and translate to a crushing collapse in confidence and sense of sophomoric embarrassment.

One of my goals last year was to spend money to submit my photos to more contests and competitions and to promote it and push it out there. I also upgraded to a new camera which proceeded to take a swim in the only camera-related accident I’ve ever had two weeks later. Luckily it survived mostly intact and I’ve been happily shooting on it since. I’ve also been binging on a number of fantastic landscape photography vlogs the likes of which include Thomas Heaton, Adam Gibbs, Nigel DansonMads Peter Iversen, and Sean Tucker.

For years I (and I think many aspiring photographers) have struggled with many of the too-perfect shots you see out there and a deep frustration with my inability to capture natural shots that matched. In recent years I’ve learned enough about the process and flow to be able to quickly identify when some sort of heavy edit has been done or something isn’t natural. What I’ve realized, in part through the great illustrations and insights into how they shoot and edit, and in part via my own experience, is that a lot of my frustration has stemmed from comparing apples and potatoes. While the vloggers above are all honest, clearly document their creative process, and don’t seek to mislead a significant percentage of the photos featured in magazines, around the web,  in highly prestigious photo competitions and even by National Geographic are heavily modified images.  Typically shared by dishonest photographers passing them off as something they’re not, and presented to judging panels that seem to lack advanced technical awareness of the process (old film people? Not actually photographers themselves? I don’t know).

The end result is that a lot of the photos passed off as single shot photos with basic edits to enrich the accuracy of the photo to better match the real scene, are actually something totally different. This often includes replacing the sky with a photo taken elsewhere/at an entirely different time, or even at roughly the same time but as a separate photo.  It includes photoshopping in moons similarly taken elsewhere, or taking three different photos simultaneously with varying focus points and then manually combining the three into one photo for a single final photo that’s crisp from front to back.  This usually goes hand in hand with heavy edits removing cars, people, leaves, buildings, trees, you name it.

The output is often incredible photos and it’s a great niche within the photography segment. The problem is that when these are misrepresented, it results in two issues I find deeply frustrating. First, it trains the audience to assume that these heavily edited or manufactured composite shots are “real” photos capturing a moment in time and drawn from the camera. Second, for aspiring photographers looking for insights into how to create better photos, it creates an unreal photo aesthetic and presents shots that are unlikely, incredibly rare and meaningful or impossible to achieve as mundane, typical, or attainable and the status quo.

What’s my takeaway here? While I still struggle with frustrating stemming from being unable to achieve the drama, crispness, and compelling nature of many of the shots I see, I’m now much better about stepping back, looking critically, and ensuring that when I look at setting examples to aspire towards or draw inspiration from, that I’m comparing apples to apples. I’ve also been passionately diving into expanding my technical understanding of the capture and editing side of the process and absolutely love using photography as an active muse to get me out to incredible destinations, fully soaking in the moment. Similarly, the extensive process of editing thousands of photos per year gives me a creative outlet and meditative downtime after work that blends the soothing association with the places I visited/photographed with simultaneously highly technical, but also semi-repetitive act of editing.

This has also extended to the earlier goal of submitting to photo competitions. I find myself a bit torn. On the one hand, aspiring towards the caliber of photos ultimately selected and the exposure that goes with highly prestigious awards is a lofty goal and a great benchmark. It’s also an excellent way to engage in a wider community and a strong inspiration to really step my photos up and see if I can progress to a point where I can put the fruits of my hobby up against the output of some of the world’s best professional photographers.

At the same time, I find myself a bit disenfranchised. In part because the mindset that drives the selection and inclusion process for many of the top awards is the same concept over execution focus that drives modern and conceptual art. Photos that get selected are just as often dreadful throwaways with a sub-par execution and cliche narrative as they are incredible pieces of art that have technical precision blended with a dynamic and compelling story. Many are also outright plagiarisms, egregious misrepresentations in line with the above, or stacked decks and the photography industry seems either ill-equipped or unmotivated to address the issue. The latest incarnation of the photographic community is gradually maturing and standardizing in response to the prolific rise of advanced editing software and digital cameras. It will be interesting to see how this continues to mature, and what quality enhancements eventually kick in. In the interim, I’ve re-focused most of my efforts and the related funds on funding exciting trips, gear, and the art itself.

Career Development

For several reasons, I rarely mention my “day job” here on the blog. However, as it has played a pivotal role in a lot of my growth over the last year, I’ll dive into a few more specifics. The company I work for is one of the leading digital advertising technology companies in the world. We’re going up against the likes of Google, Facebook, Adobe, Amazon and other ad tech behemoths and not only holding our own but excelling. Over the three years I’ve been there I’ve been on board for a period of fantastic growth and expansion. The company has added more than six new countries, an entire wing to its product suite, and more than 300 new employees across a far more global footprint. It has also gone through a significant maturation process as it pivots from startup to an established global brand. During my days in M&A I had the opportunity to watch and discuss these types of transitions from the outside, but the chance to be immersed in it has been fascinating and deeply educational.

After joining the organization as the junior member of the Product Marketing team, I was promoted a year and a half ago to Global Marketing Manager, and then this previous year stepped into the role of Head of Global Product Marketing for the organization. While focused on Product Marketing, due to the relatively small nature of our team and extensive global responsibility I have spent the past year and a half wearing an extensive mixture of hats. From having the chance to sit in on and help engage with key strategic and brand conversations, to shaping keynotes with our c-level executives, to heavy engagement in the PR process and our global growth efforts. The promotion to Head of Global Product Marketing reflects the first time I’ll have direct reports and serve as a dedicated manager. A key area of my skillset that I’m eager to embrace and flesh out, but also one which I had previously dragged my feet on a bit.

One of the essential areas I prioritize in life is my own variation on work-life balance. That means that while I’m still probably a workaholic, I blend that work overload with a mixture of career and personal projects. To that end, it means having the mental bandwidth and energy to love what I’m doing at work, but also to come home and to have space and creative juice left to invest in personal projects and my own internal personal development. To that end, I’ve held back from actively chasing a leadership or management role. Not because I’ve found the thought unattractive or excessively intimidating, but because I have a firm appreciation and respect for the significant shift that comes with it in the mental load and sense of responsibilities tied to the role. Particularly for a highly contextually aware and empathic personality profile like mine.

As part of an extensive three-day leadership development program, I had the opportunity to take the Gallup Clifton Strength tests. Ordinarily. I’m a bit wary of and have had mixed experiences with these types of tests.  In this context, however, the results were interesting and illuminative. My top five in order of dominance were Individualization, Input, Responsibility, Restorative, and Ideation.

  1. Individualization gets expressed as, “You instinctively observe each person’s style, each person’s motivation, how each thinks, and how each
    builds relationships.”
  2. Input as, “You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information—words, facts, books, and quotations … you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity.”,
  3. Responsibility as, “Your Responsibility theme forces you to take psychological ownership for anything you commit to, and whether large or small, you feel emotionally bound to follow it through to completion. Your good name depends on it. If for some reason you cannot deliver, you automatically start to look for ways to make it up to the other..
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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. This is part three of a three-part series covering my visit.

Bremen, Did You Say Haggis?

Nestled in a corner, just off Bremen’s market square and a stone toss away from the city’s famous monument to the Brothers Grimm’s story about traveling musicians is a small doorway that leads down a steep stairwell. As we made our way inside, then down the stairs into what seemed as though it was destined to be a cramped basement, we were met by the exact opposite.  A bit like that moment of transition when the adventurers passed through the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia, the door, and stairway into Bremer Ratskeller under-promises and over delivers. What greeted us was a long chamber with high vaulted ceilings in one of Northern Germany’s most unique and historic dining venues.

As my eyes rapidly adjusted to the light they immediately took in the delicately carved deep burgundy hue of the stair’s aged wood beneath our feet, mirrored by the ornate crests and patterns decorating massive mine-casks which lined the left side of the chamber. The white vaulted roof brought light to the doom and led my eyes from the vibrantly colored artwork on the front of the wine casks to a series of ancient wooden cabins seamlessly built to line the right side of the hall.

As my host guided me down the stairs, I was delighted to discover that we’d be taking lunch in one of the small cabins, or “Priölken”.  Bremer Ratskeller sits in the basement and wine cellar below the Bremer City Hall, an incredible building with UNESCO World Heritage status.  The Priölken consist of a comfortable oval booth inside a cozy square room lit as much as by candle as artificial light. With high ceilings, the walls above the seat are old painted mural/fresco in earthy tones that must be hundreds of years old. Similarly, the front of the cabin is made of aged, delicately carved wood, with a door and lovely panes of old glass. Each Priölken is a small time capsule that transports you back to their initial point of furnishing at the start of the 1600s. They are also the ideal backdrop for more private discussions and were historically used for negotiations between merchants and shipowners.

The restaurant also boasts a 600-year history which is on display in every aspect of one’s visit. Though due to the timing of my visit, I wasn’t able to preview it, the restaurant also has one of the widest collections of wine in Germany, best collections of historic cask wines and boasts Germany’s oldest wine: The famous Rose Wine from 1653.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore more of the cellar-portion of the restaurant or to see where many of the wines were stored. Luckily, I did have the chance to sample a delicious local meal with a generous portion that left me struggling to clean my plate.

Once settled into the booth and upon the suggestion of my host from the Bremen Tourism board, I perused the menu. To my surprise, given the caliber of the venue and its unique offering, the actual price of the daily lunch menu was only 14 Euro, less than the price of a Hamburg in most sit down restaurants in Copenhagen. But, as I was in Bremen and eager to try local dishes I opted for his suggestion: the Nr. 52, Original Bremer Knipp.  It was described as “Crispy fried Haggis style oat grout’s dish of pork with fried potatoes with bacon and onions, strips from gherkin and apple campote”.  As someone who genuinely enjoys Haggis, I was not only surprised to see any reference or comparison of a local dish to Haggis outside Scotland, but also extremely curious to sample the end result.

As I waited for my Knipp to arrive, we started with a delightful broth soup which fell victim to none of the standard pitfalls which are all too common with such soups. The taste was rich and robust while tasting fresh and light. It was the type of soup that reminds you just what a delightful addition a good bowl of soup can be to a meal and how delightful a proper steaming bowl of soup is on a crisp and rainy winter day.

Soup downed, my Bremer Knipp arrived. It was served in a vintage looking skillet that served as a lovely compliment to the rich intensity of the dish. The sprawling Knipp patty (or pancake?) sat on a bed of delicious potatoes, onions, bacon and other flavorful delights. A bit of gherkin (pickled relish) sat on top ready to be blended with sweet applesauce and forkful after forkful of the knipp. The knipp itself delivers on its promise of having haggis like traits, though it is, itself, of a different composition and flavor.  Rich, salty, robust in flavor, and made of a wide range of secondary pork cuts it provides a wonderful set of flavors all on its own, but then pairs brilliantly with the variety of secondary flavors on hand – from the added smoky bite of bacon, to the sweet cool flavor of apple, or the rich sweetness of onions.  I ate and ate and ate, but ultimately found myself so stuffed I was forced to admit defeat at the risk of making myself ill.

The combination of meal and experience was easily one of my favorite meals across all of my trips to Northern Germany and in and of itself made the visit to Bremen worth-while. Food digesting, my host gave me a brief tour of the open areas of the restaurant. This included pausing in two additional rooms, one of which has a beautiful aged mural that was clearly hundreds of years old and of the four musicians (depicted by animals) playing a game of cards.  Though subject matter differs widely, I can’t help but feel that Cassius Marcellus Coolidge’s A Friend in Need which depicts dogs playing poker, was at least partially inspired by the mural.

We then made our way down towards the Becchus-Keller, another layer down and situated out beneath the Market Square. There, muraled walls and vaulted ceilings were filled out with gorgeous tables, a central stage, and large wine casks with a beautifully carved grape-leaf clothed boy (or wine god?). As it turned out, they host a series of live theatric and musical performance dinners every year in the cellar as part of the Dinner in Concert series featuring Ocean’s 3. While we had other commitments that evening, I’d love to return for the show.  The backdrop looks and feels like something out of Phantom of the Opera, and I can only imagine the acoustics are spectacular.

While the Knipp fed my body, the most interesting tidbit of mind food that I took away from my visit to the Ratskeller involved an explanation of the various animals depicted on each of the massive, ornately worked wine casks that dominate the sides of the hall. My host explained that each animal was significant and carefully chosen to reflect the personality of the wine. A monkey vessel housed a playful, vibrant, fun and slightly crazy wine. Dragons were reserved for strong and powerful wines with a bit of fire to them. The third, those that depict lions, house Reisling “the queen of grapes” and are viewed as the most valuable and delicious. Meanwhile the fourth and final depict dolphins which house young, elegant and playful wines.  Though not as widely used today, some vineyards still adhere to the old imagery. Which, now, means I have a fun treasure hunt ahead of me as I look for opportunities to test my newfound knowledge.

You can peruse the menu and browse events at the Ratskeller here.

The Windmill on the Old Fortification

Perched atop the historic earthen fortifications that cut zig-zag through central Bremen, you’ll find one of the city’s last remaining windmills.  The mill, which still has functioning blades and cuts an imposing silhouette against the sky, sits overlooking the fortified moat and now serves as home to Mühle am Wall and its cozy restaurant.  There’s something magical about windmills. Perhaps it is their prolific use in fairytales and fantasy.  Perhaps it’s just the sheer innovation, mechanical brilliance, and role in enabling significant human advancement and catapulting our industrial capabilities forward.  Regardless, it saddens me that so many have fallen into disrepair, or been disassembled. All this only serves to make Bremen’s towering windmill that much more dramatic and exciting.

With a recently renovated and surprisingly spacious interior, the Mühle am Wall and Kaffee Mühle provided a wonderful venue to sample another take on local food.  Our table, raised in a corner of the main chamber, provided a lovely view out through the narrow windows that ring the base of the mill. To my back, a gorgeous staircase climbed to the second floor, where additional seating was offered, while a modern bar wound an S shape in the attached ancillary building attached to the base of the tower.  There’s a wrap-around patio that would deliver brilliant views in the summer, and a nearby patch of soil which in summer months is used to grow flowers and crops, further contributing to the beautiful views and historic feel.

Lunch was the embodiment of one of my favorite aspects of a visit to Germany: Hearty basics but done with flair and an abundance of flavor.   Appropriately cooked pork, paired with a thick gravy that complimented the meat while serving as the ideal dipping sauce for the boiled potatoes.  All served with a side of cabbage. The dish hints at the shared heritage with Jutland and Denmark, and mirrors some of the most traditional dishes in Denmark, but with a distinctly German twist in flavor pallet and how the meat is prepared. I find most red cabbage dishes are usually quite good, but that the true test falls in how the gravy is prepared and if the boiled potatoes boast much in the way of flavor. Kaffee Mühle passed both tests with flying colors. The gravy with rich, thick, full of flavor, and made its presence known in a wonderfully smooth fashion, while the potatoes blended salt and other fresh secondary flavors with perfectly boiled potatoes that navigated the risk of being overly starchy, or excessively boiled and made it clear that the water has been subtly seasoned.

Dessert was a beautifully plated dish with a thick, sweet, redcurrant Rote Grütze which Danes will recognize as very similar to Rødgrød med fløde. Thick, wonderfully sweet and without the tartness or excessive acidity which often ruins such dishes, the Rote Grütze was served with vanilla ice cream and a mildly sweet whipped cream. Though I had to navigate the dish carefully and limit how much vanilla ice cream or whipped cream I could enjoy with the dish due to my lactose limitations, I still thoroughly enjoyed a somewhat heavier portion than I should have.

If the season is right, don’t miss your chance to try Rote Grütze.

My meal at Kaffee Mühle served as the perfect transition to one of my other favorite foodie stops during my visit to Bremen. Kaffee Mühle translates to the coffee mill.  As mentioned in my previous posts exploring Bremen’s history, the city has long been home to a robust coffee trade. The mill which now serves as home to the restaurant historically served as a coffee grinder. Next on my list? The Münchhausen Coffee Roastery.

Freshly Brewed

An early morning knock on the door found me welcomed into the historic Münchhausen Coffee Roastery, by the current owner and daughter of the roastery’s founder. The cramped entry area has a couple waiting chairs, walls overflowing with memorabilia, coffee tins, vintage photos, tea, and a glass counter that feels a bit like the entry to an old general store or turn of the century apothecary.  To the right, two islands of desks serve as home to the business end of the business, while to the left a hallway leads back into the business-end of the roastery.

The charming cozy feel of the roastery makes it clear that you’ve entered one of Bremen’s iconic local family owned businesses. Founded in 1935, the roastery is the oldest family-owned roaster left in Bremen. As my host took me through the premises, she outlined how drastically the local industry has changed from. With more than 250 roasters producing in the 1930s, the current number active in Bremen has dropped to close to 10.  At the start, most sold directly from their shop – not unlike how you’d go to your local bakery.  Now, Münchhausen sells some of their coffee directly from the roastery, but most goes through outlets or direct mail order.

To understand the region’s major economic powers is to dive into their coffee history. Just as coffee was long a major economic driver for nearby Hamburg, and has served to reinvigorate the city’s economy as coffee’s popularity has once again exploded, so too has Bremen’s history been steeped in the rise and fall of coffee. Now, with premium coffee blends and more complex tastes for coffee percolating into the mainstream, Bremen’s coffee heritage is booming.

The city, which claims to have been home to the first coffee shop in a German-speaking country (opened in 1673), is eager to showcase its prowess in the handling, grinding, and roasting of coffee beans. At Münchhausen, my host took me back through a packing room to the “new” roaster.  A beautiful drum machine which was running under the careful eye of one of the local expert roasters.  The roaster dates back to 1958 and uses an air roasting process to deliver more than 30 different raw coffees.

The slower roasting process, which requires the master roaster monitor color by eye against sample roasts, provides a layer of control that helps Münchhausen lock in added aroma and achieve exactly the level of intense taste they want for each individual batch. The longer the roast, the better the aroma, and more intense the taste.  The smell itself was intoxicating, rich, and left me eager to try a sample.

But, before we did, it was into the storage room where a wide range of print adorned coffee sacks were resting alongside similarly marked wooden barrels, each with a small label denoting the location – Myanmar, Indonesia, Australia, etc. – sitting atop the beans for easy reference.

The biggest takeaway from my visit? An interesting insight I’d never heard broached previously.  The team at Münchhausen roasts roughly 32 tons of coffee a year which isn’t anything to bat an eye at.  But, apparently, the big industrial roasters in Bremen can roast up to 14 and a half tons per hour. The difference is staggering but, also makes sense when you consider the meteoric rise of coffee.  What’s not being advertised, however, is the difference these rapid-industrial roasts make in the coffee you end up consuming.  The bulk and more accelerated methods used for these high-volume coffee roasters locks in significantly more acidity than a slow roast. That acidity impacts taste, but more importantly, results in coffee far more likely to serve up heartburn.

I had always assumed that the level of acidity had more to do with the way in which the coffee was brewed or the type of coffee beans themselves. But, given the roasting process is effectively curing the beans it makes a lot of sense that a slow roast would do to coffee, what aging does for a delightful single malt.  It also makes sense it’s not a factoid regularly advertised by most coffee houses and brands who, by necessity, opt for cheaper, high-volume roasting options.

Sure enough, the coffee I sampled at the end perfectly prepared me for the rest of my day navigating Bremen’s autumn weather.  Guided tours are available with advanced notice alongside additional information on their homepage.

Hungry for a Bit of History and Culture?

For those interested in further reading about my city break in Bremen, make sure to read part one and part two.

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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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, accommodation and a suggested itinerary.  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).

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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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, booked by 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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