Vancouver: Forbes Travel Guide Contest

What I Know

I have been a finalist in a handful of photography contests on my favorite of all social media platforms, Instagram. Back in May, I was a finalist for the @Bellagio #UltimateVegas Contest. I came in last place out of the 5 finalists. Most recently, in September of 2015 I flew from Miami to NYC to compete in a live "shoot-out" for Adorama's Next Top Fashion Photographer Contest. Despite having tried my best, everything that could go wrong did. I lost that too.

This time, with my wife's support and encouragement, I entered with the @ForbesTravelGuide #FTGVancouver Photo Contest. She believed wholeheartedly that I would win. She was right.

Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up on your dreams. Always, do what you are passionate about, even if you only get to do it rarely. 

What I Learned

A Five Star Hotel experience is perfectly incomparable to anything else. One simply cannot even begin to fathom the level of care, service and quality that constitutes the luxury experience. As a result of winning the contest, Forbes Travel Guide sent my wife and I to stay at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel and Spa right on the beautiful Vancouver waterfront. My favorite aspects of the hotel were not the things, but the people.

Not even the world class spa could compete with the genuine care of Tony, The Gold Level Concierge who patrols the Lounge up on the 20th floor. The breathtaking views of the harbor and surrounding mountains were not even as impactful as Liz, the Front Office Director, who so naturally performed her magic and made us feel completely worry-free.

My favorite part of the hotel experience was the time I shared with visionary Executive Chef Nathan Brown, who admits to only having lost his cool 5 times in his entire career. Having spent so many years in the hospitality industry, I have earned my opinion on "Big Shot" chefs (I am really practicing self-control here by not running down a list of the asshole chefs I have met and worked with through the years). Chef Nathan is level-headed, fair and the perfect embodiment of what it means to be "hospitable". He really made our experience 5-Star in a number of ways. In addition to sending us a custom plate of chocolates to our room, Nathan catered to our awkward dietary restrictions so we always felt safe. He even visited us at our table when we came in to ORU, the main restaurant of the hotel, for breakfast. When we initially met Chef Nathan, he knew our dietary needs by simply reading our name tags. Now that’s what it takes to be great!

I am constantly in awe of how life becomes so wonderfully serendipitous when I do what I am supposed to do; when I follow my heart and work very diligently at what I love. This life is a swirling dance in which “Magic” and “Logic” are romantically intertwined, each taking turns leading the other across the dance floor, through life.

The story continues... Each image below reveals a moment in time; a story unto itself. Mobile viewers can access the captions by clicking the (.) in the lower right corner. Links to articles that feature The Light Record on Forbes Travel Guide are below.


What I Saw

My World Trade Center: Then and Now

I was abruptly jolted from a drunken sleep by the sound of a woman screaming.  Quickly awareness befriended me when I jumped up off of the floor, and propelled me into survival mode; my hangover barely having had a chance to set in.   Running down the stairs, I yelled back "MOM?!?!" and I entered the bedroom.  "Mom, what's wrong?"  As I finished my question, she was already pointing at a small TV that was tucked into the corner of the room.  The image shocked me. 

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Paris - City of Lights

What I Know

Paris always represented a very romantic ideal for me.  When I received an invitation to teach yoga there, I jumped at the opportunity.

What I learned (in a rather non sequitur format)

French culture is very unique and distinctly different from American culture.  It takes years to assimilate into a real friendship with a native French person.  We view this as "cold" and "unwelcoming" but the fact is, the culture is simply different.

The City of Lights was planned out as well as any city in the world.  Each Parisian neighborhood, called arrondissements, conveniently stretch out from the center of the city in a spiral from 1 to 20, much like a flower uncoils from the bud.  The 20 arrondissements are very neatly circumnavigated by le Boulevard Peripherique which, when you cross it, you know that you've left the main city.

The English language apparently contains more similarities to French than it does to German, despite its Germanic roots.  This likely as to do with the historic Colonialist rivalry that the English and French have had since the beginning of Western Civilization.  At any given time, one or the other has colonized nearly half of the world and their boundaries and territories have traded hands many times over.  Thus, words from French often found their way into English colloquialisms throughout the years.  Just think of how many words we use directly from French!

I arrived in Paris with nothing more than 3 outfits and my camera gear.  I quickly discovered the best way to explore was to get a monthly Navigo mois, or metro pass.  Paris has one of the best subway systems that I have ever explored.  Every place that one would ever want to visit is accessible via le metro.  "Ou se trouve le metro?"

I photographed Paris for over 3 months.  

The essentials.

1.     Photo gear: camera, lenses, tripod, filters, etc.

2.     Navigo mois or Navigo semaine - metro card, weekly or monthly depending upon the length of your stay (formerly carte orange)

3.     A handful of basic French phrases will go a long way.  The French are especially appreciative of efforts to speak their language.  Often, but not always, if your failing miserably, they will change into English.  Parisians are much more likely to eventually address you in English if you initiate the interaction en francais.  If you want to meet the friendliest of Parisians, approach people of color.  Arabs and Blacks, while still French, embody more of their traditional African and Middle Eastern customs when it comes to strangers and hospitality.  Black Parisians, in particular, tend to speak at least 3 languages and some speak many more.  The nations that the French colonized in Africa have developed into remarkably linguistic cultures whose inhabitants grew up learning, French, Arabic, English, Spanish and multiple local dialects.  I befriended one gentleman in particular from Senegal who spoke 9 languages.  His English was as good any one I ran into in France.


What not to miss when you go to Paris, apart from the obvious but first:

...and foremost, if you want to beat the crowds, do a little research.  Find out when a site opens to the public and be the first one there.  You can nibble a baguette while you wait at the gate for it to open.  

1.     Les Catacombes - Deep beneath the city lay the remnants of the many bodies that perished during the time of the plague.  It later became the secret headquarters of the resistance during the French Revolution.  A very ominous yet essential visit to make while in Paris.  Bring your tripods to stabilize your camera  as there is very little light down there.  I also brought a flashlight and literally painted in light while making long exposures (see images below).

2.     Sainte Chapelle - Located on the Ile de la Cite in the center of Paris, The Glass Chapel is a monumental Gothic reliquary.  It was constructed for Louis IX in the 13th Century and once housed his personal collection of relics including the Crown of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross.  The Ile de la Cite is an island in the middle of the Seine; it is also where the famous Notre Dame cathedral is located so you can visit both consecutively.

3.     Montmartre - Reserve an entire day to explore Montmartre in the 18th.  Montmartre is to Paris what San Blas is to Cusco; what the Village is to Manhattan; Kensington Market to Toronto; Haight Ashbury to San get the point (though, I should note that I am also quite fond of Place Saint-Michel and the surrounding area as well).  It was here that I lived, in the 18th arrondissement, in a shared apartment with the only other vegetarian in the entire country.  My flat was a ten-minute walk away from this magical little village that was once the creative locale of some of the greatest artist of 20th Century.  After taking a tour of Le Sacre Coeur, wander South-West through the Place du Tertre towards the Esapace Dali to see one of the largest collections of the Surrealist's sculptures and engravings.  Take a walk down the spiral staircase that descends far below the mount, all the way down to the Metro (even if you have to take the Funiculaire back up afterwards (the Funiculaire is a motorized tram-car that transports people up and down the steep hill).  It is one of the coolest collaborative graffiti walls in the city and it has evolved into many different things over the years.  

Final note:  Stop at a patisserie and have my favorite French pastry called opera, and yes, you will want to sing after it.  Have one for me...please?

           The story continues. Each image below reveals a moment in time, a story unto itself.  Mobile viewers can access the captions by clicking the (.) in the lower right corner.

What I Saw

Denali National Park: North America's Majestic Mountain

What I Know

Denali is the correct name for the largest mountain in North America, not Mount McKinley, which is the bureaucratic Colonial name given to it in the 19th Century.  It is also the last American frontier.

What I learned

Denali = The Great One (Athabaskan)

The more I travel, the more I learn that the longer you can remain in a state of perpetual visitation at any one place, the more you will come to know about it.  In other words, work hard, save up and take longer vacations (or find a way to work while you're there).  

I photographed Denali for over 3 months.  

The summer in Denali National Park goes through three major and uniquely distinct phases: early summer, mid-summer and late summer (I'm completely making this up in order to create a forum to share about my time in Alaska).

1.     Early Summer (The Thaw) - The thick heavy winter starts to melt away, slowly as the endless night begins to transition into eternal sunshine.  Grizzlies, black bears, porcupines, and skunks emerge from the earth after months of hibernation and fruitless foraging.  Nature loving tourists from all over the globe slowly begin to trickle in as the temperature gets warmer.  Locals plant their gardens at this time.  You couldn't even imagine how large and the speed in which things grow in Alaska.  'The Thaw' takes place from May to about the first week of June.  

2.     Mid Summer (The Thrive) - The bright purple fire weed are blooming in such excess that you can actually see it from the sky.  Large land mammals openly roam the National Park pursuing their most basic and primal needs.  Hotels and lodges are filled to capacity with travelers that are fighting off mosquitoes like something out of a Hitchcock film. The sun circles the sky, never descending below the horizon, like a lost drunkard trying to find his home.  'The Thrive' is from mid June until mid August.

3.     Late Summer (The Preparation) - Wild blueberries are going off everywhere like fireworks while the Northern Lights dance on a nightly basis.  Animals prepare for a long, deep, cold winter and most humans also prepare to escape South (this is a fitting time to give credit to those true Alaska folks who actually stay up there through the winter; you're a special type of people - I am not one of you).  'The Preparation' time begins near the end of August and the snow begins to fall around mid September.  Get out while you can...

What not to miss when you go to Denali:

1.     Take a flight with KAT Air (Kantishna Air Taxi).  They have great pilots and they will show you views that you will never forget.  All of my flying while in Alaska was with them.  They also have exclusive commercial access to the air strip right in the heart of the Park.  Tell them L sent you.   TIP: When photographing from the sky, I recommend using only a UV filter, as opposed to a polarizing filter.  A polarizing filter will make your shadows too dark.

2.     Spend at least 3 nights in Kantishna, right in the heart of Denali National Park and avoid those big, expensive lodges.  Sojourn at a smaller more intimate lodge, like Skyline Lodge.

3.     Take the park bus, if only one time.  You are likely to see more active wildlife on that bus trip than you ever will by any other means. 

           The story continues. Each image below reveals a moment in time, a story unto itself.

What I Saw