{Travel Tuesday} Cuba: Write and Remember

 

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I wish I had written about Cuba when I traveled to the island in 2018. I was only there for a day with my best friend on a cruise stop. It was the hottest day of the cruise, that I recall well. Sweat dripping into my eyes despite the smiles for the camera. But of all of our stops that gorgeous cruise trip, our one day in Cuba was my favorite. The problem is, as I flipped through old photos, I can’t remember everything that made the day so special.

Hence, why this is such an important post. What I do remember I will try to detail out here, and pray for another visit one day in the future that lasts longer than just a few hours.

Timeless is the first word that comes to mind, when thinking of walking the streets of Havana that hot morning. There was something quiet and timeless in the old cruiser cars, the signs that hung above shops on the streets, and the architecture run down by the salty air, but kept “nice” with a colorful coat of paint.

Rum, Cigars, and Coffee, oh my! The best part of learning about Cuba was a rum, cigar, and coffee tasting in an old bar where we got a mini dance and music lesson. The three biggest exports of the island, rum, cigars, and coffee (along with fish which we learned later on our tour that day), were cheap and good. We learned of the different grades of Cuban cigars– our guide told us to never buy the most expensive cigars offered because at the end of the day, whatever options are layed out, it’s still a cigar from Cuba. Romeo and Juliette is the brand we tried, not the most expensive, but still as pure as they come. I remember Tiffany, my best friend on the trip too, being able to light her cigar with ease, smoking like she’d done it 1,000 times. I on the other hand struggled with the simple task.  As we learned, the correct way to light a Cuban cigar is with a little strip of cedar, that allows the cigar to burn, without contaminating the flavor. My strip of cedar was burning too fast before I ever really got the cigar lit, and burnt my fingers instead. I did get a small a taste of flavor for a couple of moments, enough to feel like a true tourist.

As for coffee and rum, the rum was CHEAP and a handle of the same rum in the USA would have been $20-30 depending on tax! In Cuba, I chose not to take the opportunity to get a bottle for just $5. Taught me a little bit of the price markup and taxes that make some imported goods so expensive. And the coffee tasted sweet, not bitter. Fresh Cuban coffee, having not sat on a shelf for weeks or months before brewing, probably allowed for the flavors of the bean to stand out. I thoroughly enjoyed that bit of the flavors that day.

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Life in Cuba, our guide had lived her whole life where everything from cooking oil to meat was rationed by family size. She said her family (parents and a sibling) only got 7 oz of oil per month, which is not quite a cup. Imagine spilling that on your floor one day by accident, or using too much in the pan than necessary… It’s hard to think you can’t just go to the cupboard for more, but have to wait till the following month to get what you need.

As the country is growing to attract more tourists, they have programs that allow people to go to Hotel and Restaurant service school. A way to have a guaranteed career in the Travel and Tourist Biz if they don’t want to continue their education after high school. Handfuls of 20 year-old (ish) men and women walked in their uniforms, and when I asked the guide about if school was still in session, though it was the middle of July, she informed me that training to work in a restaurant or hotel is the thing to do after high school. That and like her, becoming a tour guide.

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And finally, I thought it was fascinating that Hemmingway spent so much time in Cuba fishing, writing, and living. We stopped in the hotel he used to stay and live at when he was on the island, and even saw him shaking the hand in an old photo with Fidel Castro. It was in Cuba that he wrote The Old Man and the Sea, the work that turned him into a household name.

I suppose I remember quite a bit considering our cruise ship was docked for a total of 7 hours, before moving on to Cozumel, MX. The beauty of writing is it forces you, me, to remember with words in a way much different than passively flipping through photos, and I am so grateful to have all of the memories of that day.

{Travel Tuesday} Nice: Beautiful French Riviera

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The French Riviera though!!! The closest I’ve see to the gorgeous city of Nice in the USA is Santa Barbara, CA. You’ll just fall in love with walks along the beach, sunsets below the city, or in the hills above it, coastal views that wrap around harbors and marinas, up, down, in the city, or along the water, the beauty of the French Riviera, and today’s Travel Tuesday post in Nice will have your mouth watering.

I only spent three days there, but as a single female, traveling by myself that winter break in 2018, I felt comfortable walking and exploring both with the sun up and down. The city was pretty easy to navigate with a cell phone, but honestly the best was when I didn’t use a map and walked taking photos everywhere I went. If you have a camera you’ll hardly want to put it down, the quaint buildings, European architecture, and beach made for some of the prettiest photos. And if nothing else, I spend my time popping in and out of the cute shops after getting my fill of hills that line the coast and beach runs.

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The hills were easy to climb and DEFINITELY worth the trek up. Stairs led the way, and at one point on the beach I looked up at the hills and saw an amazing waterfall with people milling about. Once finding my way, I realized the waterfall was man made, but only added to the unique appeal of city + coast + mountains.

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Nice was a TAD expensive. I did the Air BnB thing which included breakfast, and I only bought food once a day outside of the morning toast and coffee provided, so I kept my costs down. That and I traveled after the holidays (a few days after New Years) and I think that helped me get around the tourist prices of traveling to the area. However, I treated myself to one “nice” meal (haha get it?) and though my host who recommended the restaurant said it would be okay for one person, I remember paying about 60 euros for just the food. Yikes! And the shops weren’t that far off as far as expense either… though I admit I spent most of my time in the touristy areas of Nice. Perhaps deeper into the city it would be cheaper? To me buying things wasn’t the point of my visit. My photos were enough of a souvenir and even now after going through them for months, I have too many to choose from to get printed and framed!

In all I recommend Nice 100%. Go here before Paris, please.

Because Photography

 

One of my goals while earning my master’s degree this year in Spain was to in my free time travel and pull out my camera. In the last eight months of moving to Europe, I’ve definitely been able to accomplish both of those things! I live in Madrid and though there are certainly some pretty spots that feature architecture and history such as Plaza Mayor, to get out of Madrid for cities like Sevilla is refreshing.

I HIGHLY recommend the springtime Feria festival held two weeks after Semana Santa each year. The bright colors, smells of seafood and churros con chocolate, horse drawn carriages, and women dressed in flouncy flamenco dresses encapsulate Andalusian vibes. Between walking the festival, el Rio Guadalquivir, and the city to my favorite spot- Plaza de España, Queen Amadala’s castle in Star Wars, it was a HOTTT 90° weather weekend, but worth it for the photos and study abroad memories years before.

Sevilla memories of drinking Tinto de Verano (Spain’s drink of choice leaving Sangria to tourists), studying by the water, and all the parties we used to show up at midnight not leaving till 4am make for some of the most fun memories of college. And last weekend was a blessing to return to this underrated, incredibly beautiful city.

Besides the travel, putting my mind to improve photography, and getting the chance to really see what a wide lens can do with the city scenics. It is way different than my close up, tight, detail photos I usually aim to capture. Trying new techniques and lenses makes me realize that as soon as I get “good” at one thing in the world of video or photo, there are 1,000 other new things to learn and try with the camera.

At the end of the day, to walk away with 30+ photos that I’m proud of from one city, means that my goals in photography this year are coming true and I’m excited to see what other photos I will get in the next two months as I finish out my schooling.

 

Hidden Shoes and Why I Love Production

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A 1600 Dutch flower painting inspired shoe campaign features ballet shoes covered in rose petals with roses tossed all around, as if a dancer finished her finale dance with success. Using Photoshop to get the painted look, the photo was shot on a Sony FS700 with a 70-300mm lens.

This conceptual shoe campaign was an assignment for my masters program at IE University in Madrid and I won an award out of 20 other students (21 in my class including myself) for the photos. Really happy with how my photography is improving. Especially considering  the makeshift studio set up that I came up with to pull off the look (last two pics my roommate snapped when he saw what I was up to).

Taking a black bed sheet, I hung it from my little wardrobe with containers and boxes to hold it in place. Setting up the shoes and flowers on a beat up chest in front I was able to pull in close enough with the lens and eliminate most of the chest. One light was all I needed for the warm light look. Using Photoshop and Lightroom I was able to almost get rid of the grey bench. Played with the color some in Lightroom I finally exported a cooler looking image and three warm images which in Photoshop I gave a painted look.

The final images, pulled out of thin air considering my set up, reminded me why I love photography and video production. You don’t see the behind the scenes, the work put in, the post production process, the ideation, and the execution of photography, film, movies, shows. My little, makeshift studio was perfect for reminding me of the beauty of a final product that proves you don’t need “the best” to pull off something great. With technique and talent, anything can look good in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottomless Wallet

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PC: Juliandra Durkin

It’s two forty-five AM here in Madrid and though my eyes are burning a little in front of my laptop, and I have too much to do tomorrow to be tired, I have to admit I did not want to stop with my latest project and decided to post right away…. Even though I probably should wait because I need to submit this work in a month for my class portfolio.

“Bottomless Wallet” is a photo story of the consumerist culture we live in; inspired by the incessant shopping I’ve observed in Madrid. A two part photo series, I was able to capture part one today in the city with Bhavna who made modeling and styling the over the top consumerist appeal look easy.

These are just a few of the photos of part one, Bhavna taking in her phone and Starbucks, not a care in the world for anyone else. She did an amazing job and I am super excited for the direction of this project!

Even to the small things like a Christmas themed Starbucks cups, which is a reminder that we are in a ‘season of giving,’ we as a society have a tendency to ignore and look past people around us.

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PC: Juliandra Durkin

This season, give a little extra to people in need around you, buy someone else a coffee, put down your phones, look past (or better yet learn from) political differences for a second, don’t obsess about your hair or clothes so much, and find joy in the people around you more than the “stuff”– clothes, cars, football games, likes on social media, or whatever else you find yourself consumed with… More to come for Bottomless Wallet, and thank you again to Bhavna who I got to work with today!

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PC: Juliandra Durkin

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PC: Juliandra Durkin.

PS. I have got to learn how to watermark.

PPS. I don’t think that really matters as I’ll be uploading to Unsplash and all of those photos are free anyway!