I have a lot of travel photos I love, but I think the best ones to share for this installment of the Indie Travel Challenge are the ones that remind me we travel at a moment in time.
Russian War Memorial – Vienna, Austria
I was in Vienna on a Sunday, when many popular attractions are closed, so I spent most of my afternoon just walking around town. A friend wanted to go to the Belvedere Gardens, but we got lost along the way. When we were tired of walking, we stumbled across the city’s Russian war memorial and sat there for the next half hour or so. This was a beautiful square we never would have thought to seek out, and it’s my reminder that getting lost isn’t a bad thing.
Eastern Europe in general is a great place to travel through today, because as it continues sloughing off the shackles of communism, its cities change rapidly. You don’t see that anywhere as clearly as you do in Berlin. I’m sure a lot of tourists get quite irritated when their pictures are marred by scaffolding and construction cranes. From the top of Berliner Dom, I literally could not find a slice of skyline without a construction crane, but this is still one of my favorite photos. All that construction is true rebuilding; it’s the growth of a city that was stunted for the better part of the 20th century. And that combination of ancient tradition on Museum Island and rapid modernization nearby is the very reason Berlin is such a fascinating place to be.
There’s another skyline that will perhaps always be my most beloved travel photo. I first went to Italy on that oft-demonized monster of travel, a group tour. Truthfully, I’ve still very much enjoyed organized group travel, but group tours can often be recipes for being in the best places at the worst times because you’re keeping too tight a schedule. Consider this the exception to the rule, then. Our sightseeing bus rolled up to the Piazzale Michelangelo right in that golden hour before sunset. I’d always heard that this was the best time of day to take photos, but I wasn’t very serious about my photography at the time – not to the point that I’d plan my day around it anyway – so this was the moment that sealed the deal for me.
Tower Ravens – London, England
I still think the fact that this photo from the Tower of London didn’t win my university’s study abroad photo contest is a great injustice. But it continues to serve as my reminder that a good photographer and a good traveler share one very important quality: patience. You can’t make animals turn their heads the way you want them to. But if you wait long enough, you might just get lucky.
Mala Strana – Prague, Czech Republic
This may not be the best photo in terms of color and composition, but I still love it. I think I’ve been very fortunate to get to travel through Europe at critical moments in history. I’ve been to the Vatican when there was no pope – in fact, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go inside the Sistine Chapel because they were about to close it for conclave to elect Pope Francis. And I’ve been in several Eastern European countries when Russian troops were poised to invade the Ukraine, and everyone sensed greater troubles on the horizon. In the U.S., news reports were pretty removed from the situation, but in Prague, tensions were high. Here was a city that had just escaped communism and they weren’t ready to go back. Here were people who remembered Soviet rule and saw the Ukraine as the first domino that would knock them back into their old lives. The threat was real to them. And so my travels through Prague weren’t just about the Astronomical Clock and the Old Jewish Quarter. They were about the city in that moment and the banner I stumbled across walking through the Mala Strana.
I have a lot of postcard-perfect photos from my travels, and I’m sure I’ll add more to the mix once I start my RTW trip. But I hope I get just as many photos of unexpected discoveries and moments in time.