Havana, Cuba

This place. It's a time warp, a bubble, a one-off. The cars, the sounds and smells, the food, the lifestyle. It's all out there, in your face. The homes and shops and cafeterias all open up to the street in a similar way and there's a constant blurred line between what's private and what's public. It feels strange and intimate. Forget phones and internet, connectivity is rare and it's better here without the distraction. I spent three short days watching it go by. If any of you are interested in visiting Cuba, I encourage you to go, and to do so without an agenda. It's a place worth getting lost in, and if you're an American something tells me sooner would be better than later.

There are so many stories and conversations embedded in these photos. Many more than I'm used to on such a short trip. This city has a way of sticking in your mind and lingering. Havana is decaying, but it's held up by the tough resourcefulness of its people. It feels romantic here, but in the way of an old love, one without glamour. Though perhaps that's where the real beauty comes from.

+

It's been a place that's worn itself deeper under my skin each time I visit. Paris. It's a city that shouts and whispers at you at the same time. It has this energy that isn't more, but just different than any other place I've been. It's always been a place I feel comfortable being a wanderer, a ponderer, my typically unsettled self. And I've always gotten the feeling that the people who have come here to stay understand this, encourage this, and oftentimes are doing the same. It always feels like good company.

Which is why I'm always looking for opportunities to go back. And when discussions began last year with Rachel about her first ever trip outside the United States, I knew Paris would be a great place to start. So I invited myself along for her trip and pretty soon flights were booked and ten days in March of 2017 were put aside, marked in the calendar, a chapter in Rachel's story and mine. We Airbnb'd a small attic apartment by the Canal St. Martin (right by Parmentier metro) for our stay, and its 80 square feet (and tiny elevator) were absolutely perfect (thanks, Marie!). Within reach are some of my favorite cafes and bakeries, and during our stay we found quite a few more gems to add to my growing list. 

After much scribbling on napkins, we eventually decided on Prague as our one departure from the city, and in hindsight I'm really happy about that. Prague is many things that are good for young travelers: cheap, friendly, lots of beer, absolutely gorgeous. We stayed at a hostel I've stayed at before and I was pleasantly surprised to find several familiar faces there. And just for reference, we paid the equivalent of $13/night for accommodations, which included a modest breakfast (and the use of some leftover spray paint to make our mark on the Lennon wall). Half liters of beer cost just over a dollar pretty much everywhere in Prague, and food is hearty and just as affordable as the alcohol.

I could write for a very long time about how incredible the meals were that we had, how I still always feel guilty about being able to trade €1.10 for the best baguette in the world, how wet cobblestones under my boots somehow always makes me smile, how completely timeless it feels to stand on the Charles Bridge in Prague at night and wonder at your surroundings, how truly humbling it is to stand in the Louvre and admire what hands can do to a block of marble, and how special it is to actually be able to share all these moments with someone else. But I won't ramble. Because there are photos to share, all from film and an old Nikon F2 with a 35mm lens.

Nuevo Año, Nuevo Tú

One of my first memories of living in Spain was seeing an elderly woman speaking to her dog on the street in Spanish and my actually thinking, "It doesn't understand Spanish, it's a dog."

And thus began a series of [sometimes embarrassing, always awakening] moments, interactions, and friendships that changed my perspective on my surroundings and better prepared me to approach whatever comes next.

So, as you begin your new year, if you're looking for a change (whether you're thinking about a new job, getting out of a relationship, finding yourself, or just somewhat dissatisfied with how things are going), perhaps taking some time in a drastically different environment could be as productive for you as it has been for me. So I'd encourage you to try that unplanned road trip or find that $50 round-trip flight (They're everywhere these days. Thanks Google Flights). And if you're up for a challenge, I promise that moving to a different country is accessible and affordable.

If you find yourself yearning for a change of pace this 2017 and decide you might be interested in something like teaching English in Spain, I'll be happy to help you get started. The website is here and the application process requires almost nothing apart from a little bit of your time and patience. Any questions will be happily answered.

Perhaps something to ponder whilst wandering through some photos from my time in Madrid.

Some of the best friendships tend to have circuitous journeys. Such is the case with my relationship with Georg. For those that may not know the story, Craigslist brought us together a few years back when we both ended up in Boulder and randomly found the listing for the same apartment (He moved from Germany to write his thesis in aerospace engineering at CU. I moved from Texas because, why not?). After discussing the idea of us getting married to exchange German and American citizenships, he found Lenee. Pretty much immediately these discussions stopped and – seeing the way he looked at her – I knew I'd have to fend for myself to find european citizenship.

Long story short, they kept dating after Georg finished his thesis and moved back to Germany and I knew it was only a matter of time before it became official. Luckily I was in the process of relocating to Spain and got to visit Georg a couple times in Germany before he told me they were engaged and he would soon head back overseas to live with Lenee in Virginia. While sitting outside in Stuttgart last December, beer in hand, he told me the wedding date and last week I reconnected in Colorado with him and Lenee, as well as family and friends to celebrate the occasion.

I left the camera out of reach so as to just enjoy the weekend, but inevitably, eventually a few photos were made.

I'm in Texas for a few weeks then I'll be off to Colorado for a while. While it's great to have access to a car again, every time I start driving around the city, I can't help thinking back to the cool, cave-like, painstakingly beautiful metro system in Stockholm that I was using just over a week ago. This is just the blue line at T-Centralen (the metro stop neighboring the city's main station) – there are stops with this attention to detail all over the city.

Paris, once again. A city of liveliness and romance. Of quiet smiles and canal-side music. Of baguette nibbling, people watching, aimless wandering, café hopping. (Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to hear me talk about Paris over the past couple years knows I can go on forever.) My travel habits have changed a lot because of this city. I used to spend a lot of time scrambling to see all the "important" places while traveling, all the while missing the actual feel of wherever I am. Paris slowed me down and showed me the importance of soaking in the little details. It's amazing how much you can miss when you're so focused on seeing everything.

Like always, here are just a few things that caught my attention over the course of a couple leisurely days in the city of light.

I'm planning some travels for the summer and as often happens during this process, I found myself sifting through travel photos that went unshared from the past several months. I don't know why, but this one stopped me for a moment. It's just a snapshot that I took in March out the window of a train in the Southern Carpathian mountains (best guess, it's somewhere near Busteni, Romania) but it triggered something. Perhaps it's because I'm going to be spending some time in Colorado over the summer and I started thinking about the mountains and how much I crave them while living in Madrid. Perhaps it's because even a world away from the Rocky Mountains I can still feel the connection, being up in the clouds, carving the rails of the undulating mountain train tracks, trying to stick my head out the window to get a better breath of the sharp, icy air. It's always surprising, fulfilling, and inspiring to find the similarities and connections that stir you to the core – not just with places, but with people, sounds, smells, tastes, things – in the corners of the world where you don't expect familiarity. But then it comes, as a gut feeling, and instantly you feel at home.

Berlin through a $10 camera

I decided to pack light for a trip to Germany last weekend and leave the heavy digital camera at home in favor of a trusty little Nikon film camera that I picked up at a pawn shop a few years back. I paid $10 for it and it weighs about as much as a couple decks of cards. After buying a few rolls of cheap film, I set off to explore a city I've been wanting to get to for years along with an old friend, Freddie. So here's a few snapshots from the journey.

A convoluted, though cheap flight plan (Madrid>Zurich>Berlin(via train)>Hamburg>Frankfurt>Madrid) allowed me a day to walk the streets of Hamburg and get a feel for a city that I've never really considered before. It's edgy and small, but packed with gardens and waterways and a beautiful lakeside city center. These last few snapshots are from the old industrial district in Hamburg.

I took some time yesterday to purposely get a little bit lost in the city. The thing about Madrid that I didn't expect before coming here is its remarkably small size. The city center is very walkable which makes it difficult to get lost once you're familiar with the basics. That said, it was a fun experiment to climb some previously unexplored backroads and dive deeper into the winding maze of roads that composes this place.

One of the things that continues to give me gratitude and hope is this: every place I go – whether here in Spain or anywhere else – the people I stumble into along the way are almost always good, genuine, and kind.

It's sometimes easy to forget that the way strangers turn into friends is a smile and a "hi."

Fresh (City) Air

Paris to Prague to Budapest to Bucharest.

I knew from the start it would be a whirlwind trying to cram these cities into just under two weeks of travel time, a prospect that left me buzzing. After an exhausting few months at work, it was time for a break – time to open my eyes to something different for a few days.

My journey started in Paris, where I had an appointment to visit a graduate school program. After a few visits to the city over the past year I've started to be taught the less-touristed parts, unblemished by towers of postcards for sale or Eiffel Tower keychains. It's here that I found the charm that I was always after but didn't first find. The boulangeries where bread is bread but it's so much more than bread. The patisseries where biting into a pastry causes an instant involuntary reaction of a closed-eyed smile. The impeccably-clad locals striding confidently alongside the centuries-old avenues. Gratefully, it's fairly inexpensive to reach Paris from Madrid, a voyage that I'll never turn down.

Tragically, these same Parisian streets I began to love last year are the same ones that fell victim to the terrible attacks last November. French flags hung from balconies and somber notes in the windows of the restaurants/bars/venues that were hit offer reminders that the wounds are still fresh.

Next, Prague.

Prague is an exhaustingly beautiful city. The architecture covers hillsides and seems to go on forever, through the landscape and backwards through time. It's a sensory experience just to walk the streets. In the densely crowded areas where there are tourist attractions, it's difficult to get around given the number of people alternating between map-consulting and selfie-taking, but off the more beaten path it's very charming. One of the most sought out destinations in the city is the astronomical clock, which performs an automated "show" every day where different parts of it move (though I found it more interesting to watch the huge crowd that formed to watch the clock).

Also, Prague has one of the more interesting Jewish quarters I've seen. As gut-wrenching as it is, apparently it's so well preserved because during WWII, Hitler wanted to keep the area intact as a "museum of an extinct race." The Jewish cemetery is small and with the space constraints they were forced to layer the graves. Something like 100,000 bodies are thought to be in the small space. The synagogues are also some of the most ornate ones I've seen.

Two more interesting things about Prague: Absinthe is apparently a big deal here (that particular green-fairy kind that in larger quantities makes you hallucinate) despite its questionable taste. And you can go crazy and graffiti the Lennon wall as much as you want. I enjoyed the latter more than the former.

Budapest.

I set the bar way too low for Budapest. After a fairly quick night train from Prague, I arrived early in the morning to the main station in the capitol city of Hungary. It took all of five minutes walking toward the city center to realize that this was going to be a great city. Much of the residential architecture in the city center looks to me like a subtle mix between eastern and western European – a quick glance upwards in many places reveals at least one or two broken panes of glass or unoccupied floors. But don't mistake it for being a dangerous place. From start to finish, every single interaction I had with locals was polite and warm. In fact, one of the first people I saw was a homeless man whose kind face and mannerisms instantly reminded me of another homeless man named Buster I met a few years ago (someone who I recently and sadly found out passed away earlier this year). He smiled and nodded approvingly when I asked if I could shoot some photos and his face lit up when he saw the photos on the back of my camera. 

One of the best parts of traveling toward the eastern parts of the continent was the affordability. Three course meals at luxurious restaurants for the equivalent of less than $10, breakfast for pennies, beer for a dollar. Especially when I was traveling with a pretty tight budget already, it was a nice surprise after spending some time in Paris. And don't think because the prices are low that the venues are dull. Budapest has some of the most atmospheric bars and restaurants I've visited. They're known for their ruin bars (they mostly fill the Jewish neighborhood in central Budapest that was left to decay after WWII) which are essentially old apartments or homes that have been converted into bars and clubs, keeping intact their decrepit, underground, ruined feel. It's hard to describe accurately, but they're unique and fun (Szimpla Kert's interior pictured below). Plus, Budapest has an incredible selection of bathhouses when you need some time to relax. I spent some time at the incredible, ornate Szechenyi Bath, though I didn't bring my camera.

Budapest deserves much more than the two and a half days I gave it. I'll definitely be back to revisit.

Bucharest.

After a delayed (and 17-hour) night train to the Romanian capitol, I had less than 24 hours to explore the city before my flight back to Madrid. My best feel for the city is that it's one trying very hard to reach past its history of communism, corruption, and poverty. The palace, now used as the parliament building (final photo) is the heaviest building in the world and one of the largest, and was constructed by the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu. He was never able to use it though – after creating crippling food shortages by exporting much of the country's agricultural products the Romanian people rose up against communism in 1989 and executed him (and his wife) Christmas day of the same year. Now, despite the incredibly cheap cost of living in Romania for an outsider, I saw a large number of homeless people begging for food and money as I made my way around the city. It's a place that to me felt off balance, a strange mix of new and old, rich and poor, ornate and decaying.

Both exhausted and with a full heart, back to Madrid.

Daniel. Musician/artist. I followed the music at El Rastro this morning and found him playing on a street corner. I first heard these instruments in Boulder – it's good to hear the familiar sounds in Spain.

Madrid has many special spots beyond the touristy areas. One is La Tabacalera. Built in 1790 as a tobacco factory, it's now an arts center with street art covering nearly all the wall space in the huge building. I finally got to take a look today where I made this shot of my friend and fellow Madrid resident, Ryan.

Weekends are about sharing. This one has been a particularly good reminder. Whether it's conversation of joys or struggles, a night out, an afternoon winding through the halls of a museum, a call on the phone, or something as simple as a beer or a cigarette – share. An important lesson for me to keep in mind.

Grandfather's Leica

My grandfather bought this Leica camera in 1955. He was on a familiarization trip to Munich while he was based in Iceland with the Navy. It’s the camera that captured the grainy photos of my mom growing up – the photos that filled boxes I eagerly flipped through when I was a child. I’ve seen a photo of my grandfather in the 60s standing outside in the sun – lanky, tall, and handsome, wearing a shirt that looked a little too big and pants high on his waist – wearing this camera around his neck in its leather carrier. He took incredible care of it until he gave it to me a couple years ago.

I don't shoot often with Leica cameras, and even less often with their modern models. But there's something special about shooting and handling and just interacting with these machines that sets them apart from the Nikons and the Canons out there. I've heard it compared to the difference between using a Mac and a PC. Something about the aesthetics/functionality/simplicity of my MacBook has always kept me spending more money on sleek silver computers like the one from which I'm typing this. This Leica is no exception: it's beautifully constructed and feels hefty in the hand compared to my daily digital camera. While it's an absolute workout to shoot with compared to what I normally use (no light meter, no autofocus, two different viewfinders (one for focus, one for composition), no film advance lever), it makes me slow down and think rather than floating through the thoughtless, inconsequential, maybe-I'll-get-lucky-and-get-the-photo, rapid-fire shooting I sometimes get into when shooting digital. So in a sense, this camera's biggest flaw is also its biggest asset. It's like a mentor telling me to slow down, breathe, dig deep, find something worth saying. And even better, for over 50 years it belonged to someone who actually is a mentor to me.

This is one of the few possessions I have now that I'll have when I'm old. This one is special.

Two fun facts: 1) The red tag (filled out on the reverse in German, from the shopkeeper in Munich) is in fact the tag that was hanging on the camera when purchased in 1955. 2) This camera is precisely the same height and width as an iPhone 6 (and roughly 4 iPhones thick with the lens in its collapsed position). Now you know.

Texas Tornadoes

It's hard to believe such destruction can be so random and so powerful. A series of tornadoes touched down around the Dallas area on December 26th. I spent some time in Rowlett today and saw just a portion of the damage. Even so, I passed hundreds of houses that were either catastrophically damaged or simply ripped down to the foundation. As terrible as it is, after a while I just stopped photographing because the damage was so widespread that broken houses started to all look the same. Here are a few from my walk.