Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?

New Orleans This Sunday, come rain or shine — just like Mardi Gras — I’m gonna laissez les bon temps rouler! Utrecht is getting its very own Klein New Orleans (Little New Orleans) for one day. Breedstraat is going to be turned into the French Quarter with food, music, and more that brings to mind the Big Easy. I can’t wait! I went to Tulane University in New Orleans (pictured above) and fell in love with the city. Sure, there’s a lot of corruption and crime, though that’s sadly nothing new. But there’s also so much passion and beauty and fun and a certain joy that’s maybe that little bit more intense because of the darkness that lurks, be it crime or Mother Nature. Certainly, when it comes to music and food, the city is exceptional. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little worried about how the food is going to be translated at the festival this Sunday. I’ve seen a jambalaya at a restaurant here in Utrecht that was nothing like any jambalaya I ever had in New Orleans. But hopefully I’ll be pleasantly surprised. New Orleans When I graduated, there was a crawfish boil for graduating seniors and their family. Crawfish, potatoes, corn on the cob. Suck the heads, squeeze the tails! I’m definitely looking forward to some crawfish this weekend! I wonder if they’ll have any Abita beer? Oh, and red beans and rice! And pralines! And beignets! Po’ boys! Gumbo! *sigh* Hmm. I just looked at the program and I’m not sure if they’re going to have any of that, except the gumbo. Oh dear. If they do this again next year, maybe I’ll sign up to make a big ol’ mess o’ red beans and rice, at least. New Orleans Well, I’m certainly looking forward to the music. If only they could have gotten Cowboy Mouth there. Seeing them live is like a religious experience. Though there is going to be a band there called the Neutral Ground Brass Band. The name alone makes me love them already. (Neutral Ground is the New Orleans word for a median, or that little strip of land in the middle of the street.) Reverend Shine Snake Oil Co. also sounds like it could be a good one. It also looks like they’re going to Second Line it over from Neude. Maybe I should decorate one of our umbrellas! In the meantime, I’m just going to look through some of my old photos from Tulane and reminisce. I can’t really share most of them without getting a lot of people to sign wavers. I am so glad we didn’t have camera phones back then. I do have a few photos I can share, starting with one of the classic streetcar; the house I lived in my last year, complete with porch (and yes I did stand down below and yell, “Stella!”); a postcard of some of the gorgeous wrought-iron balconies in the Quarter, and a silly picture of me after graduation. New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans New Orleans

Bicycles on Display

Fietsen
It’s almost impossible to take a photo at street level here in Utrecht without a bicycle in it. And on the rare occasion that there is no bicycle and you want one, you only have to wait a few seconds for one to go by. But for all the bicycles around, it’s not so common to see one proudly displayed in a window that isn’t part of a bicycle shop. This is just a residential street, with a great selection of bicycles on display, both inside and out. I must say that the window bicycle is certainly a change from the typical cats and plants I usually see in a front window.

Amsterdam with #NoFilter

No, this isn’t me with no filter complaining about Amsterdam getting all the attention. Utrecht’s starting to get enough attention, especially with the upcoming Tour de France. No, this is me highlighting a few of my photos of Amsterdam without any filter or fussing about with post editing.

I was recently contacted about participating in London City Airport’s #NoFilter project. As they point out, with the wealth of high-quality point-and-shoots, as well as the increasing capabilities of smartphones, travel photos are easier than ever. Yet so often, people use a variety of filters on their photos, rather than letting the image stand on its own. Sure, there are times when we all use a few filters to fix a quick snap that didn’t turn out quite so well. Yet with practice and some helpful tips, you’ll find that there’s no reason to add a filter to every photo. Let the true beauty of the image speak for itself.

Admittedly, I haven’t spent that much time in Amsterdam, especially just wandering around taking photos of things that catch my eye the way I do here in Utrecht. I tend to go to Amsterdam most frequently for concerts at Melkweg or Paradiso or to hit up one of the museums, including the Van Gogh Museum and of course, the Rijksmuseum. However, in looking through my photos, I realized that because I am there so often in the evening, I thought I’d highlight a couple of my night shots of some quintessential spots, and throw in a few night photography tips.
Amsterdam Bridge at NightYou can’t go to Amsterdam without getting at least one canal shot. Fortunately, low light doesn’t mean you’re out of opportunities. Many of the arches in the bridges are lit up in one form or another, and street lamps and building lights reflected in the water create some fantastic mirror-like shots.

It was on a family trip to London years ago that my dad (formerly a professional photographer) shared a few night-time photography tips with me that have stuck in my head. When you’re working in low light, your camera aperture will need to stay open for longer to get enough light in to create something other than a solid black picture. However, with that long exposure time, any movement of the camera is going to give you a blurry image. If you don’t have a tripod (and who wants to lug one around on their travels), you need to use your body as a tripod to create as still a base as possible.

Even the steadiest of hands are bound to wobble a bit, especially with a lightweight smartphone. Regardless of the type of phone you have, try to find a solid surface, be it wall, street lamp, or bridge railing that you can steady yourself against. Use both hands to hold the camera and try to plant your upper arms and elbows tight against your body, creating your own tripod, in a sense. And for the piece de resistance, take a deep breath and hold it, right before you’re ready to take the photo. The extra breath will further solidify your upper body, making you less likely to wobble when you press the button.

While in Damplein on one visit during the winter holidays, I enjoyed taking in the hustle and bustle during rush hour in the evening, set amid the festive Christmas trees and the historic buildings, including one of the royal residences. But even amid all of the people passing by, there were areas of the square that weren’t as heavily populated. By looking around — and moving around — you can find yourself with a shot that belies the madness surrounding you.Pointy BitsIn this shot, the architecture was what first caught my eye (that’s one of the royal residences on the left), but then I noticed the patterns in the ground and the shadow of the lamp post. I also liked the blue of the banners pairing with the blue of the evening sky, and the gold of the building pairing with the gold of the lamp light. To get the shot, I leaned up against one of those lamp posts to create my steady base.

With the longer exposure, you can get fairly clear images of anything standing still, but any movement will blur. With the mass of people passing back and forth, that blur can add a sense of motion to an otherwise static image of a building, including the Bijenkorf, a grande dame of department stores. In other words, don’t be afraid to embrace a bit of blur.
KerstboomThe thing is, as I’ve gone through my Amsterdam photos to find some to feature, and as I’ve thought about tips for getting good shots, I’ve found plenty of things I want to fix in all of these photos. However, I’ve also had more practice taking evening shots since then and have learned from some of my mistakes.

Give yourself extra time to get good evening shots. You’ll have to think more about your light sources and finding a way to give yourself a steady base. Even if you don’t have a lamp post or building to steady yourself against, borrow a travelling companion’s shoulder, if nothing else. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better your shots turn out.

But even if you do just grab a few quick snaps on the go — and you’ll find plenty to catch your eye in Amsterdam — embrace the blur and the not-so-perfectly framed shots and remember that not every photo has to be gallery perfect. All of those less-than-stellar shots should still serve as valuable personal memories of a trip to a truly fun city.

In my case, I know these photos aren’t going to win me the #NoFilter competition, but I’m sure judge Duncan Rhodes from The Urban Travel Blog will have plenty of spectacular photos from which to choose. Do check out #NoFilter on Twitter and the other sites linked to see some of my fellow travel bloggers photos and tips.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Motion

scooter and bikesI was looking through past May photos to find one for my new header when I saw this shot and remembered that the Weekly Photo Challenge theme this week is motion. I like the blur of the scooter, like something from a Futurist painting. But I also love the background of all those bicycles, which suggest potential motion. There had obviously been a lot of motion going on to get all of those bicycles there.

Junk in the Trunk

bicycle basket
Wednesday, I showed you a bakfiets, useful for carting around kids, groceries, pets, household goods, etc. The ability to transport more than just yourself from place to place is an important part of making cycling an everyday mode of transport, rather than just a sport. Of course, if a regular bakfiets is a bit too big for your needs, you can always go with something a bit more streamlined. Plenty of space for groceries and small pets in that plastic bucket on the bike above.

However, if you’re regularly transporting large items, you might need something with a bit more storage space. Fortunately, there’s a bike for that. Who needs a truck when you’ve got the bakfiets XL!
bike transport
I’ve seen these used for a variety of purposes. Cornering might be a bit more difficult, but you can certainly fit plenty of stuff in there!

However, many of us make do with a normal bike and a regular basket up front and/or saddle bags on the back. It’s surprising just how much you can get on a regular omafiets. And for the slightly bulkier or more awkward items like brooms and storage containers? Well, just hang on to them like these women are doing.
bike transport

The Importance of Bike Lanes

Urban Utrecht
Last night, while scrolling through Twitter, I came across a post with a picture of a bike lane in New Orleans. It was a post celebrating Bike to Work Day. Great, right?

Noooooooooooooo!

As I looked more closely at the photo, I realized that the very wide bike lane was in fact meant for both bicycles and buses. Yes, buses. And it turns out the lane can also be used by cars turning right at an intersection or driveway. It seems it’s the first combo bus-and-bike lane, but that implies that there might be more in the future. I hope not.

In looking at other photos of New Orleans bike lanes, there are a few lanes that are strictly bicycle lanes, but they do stop and start and it looks like they often are right next to street parking or have no separation from regular car lanes, presenting its own issues. For proper safety, they should be more consistent and they should never combine with buses! That seems like the worst combination. Ever! Big buses and little bicycles are an accident waiting to happen.

As you’ll see in my picture above, all of the lanes in the part of Utrecht near the theater and shopping mall are strictly segregated. One of the times in life when segregation is a good thing. Bicycles have their own wide lanes on each side of the road, with plenty of space separating them from the bus/vehicle lanes.

It’s not like that on every street here, or even exactly the same on that same street as it continues. In some areas where the street narrows, there isn’t the same gap between road and cycle lane, but there is still clear/raised definition between the two areas.
Street Life
On other streets, such as Voorstraat, there’s a segregated bicycle lane in one direction, though in the other direction, bicycles share the space with cars and deal with parked cars. Not ideal, but cars generally make way for bicycles.
Voorstraat
Of course, car traffic is also discouraged in much of the city center here in Utrecht. Many roads are one way or generally limited primarily to buses. But that’s not the case everywhere, and even just outside the city center, where car traffic is heavier, you still have separate bicycle lanes to keep cyclists safe and encourage them to keep cycling along major roads.

It’s great to see bicycle lanes showing up more frequently in New Orleans, as it would be a great city to cycle in. It’s a doable size in terms of distances and terrain, especially if there were consistent lanes to speed up the trips. I do hope the city continues to add more bicycle lanes, but I hope they rethink combining them with buses and other vehicles. They really should look to other countries where cycling is more integrated to better understand how to make it safe for everyone involved.

As always, if you’re interested in learning more about Dutch cycling, check out Mark’s blog, Bicycle Dutch. He’s got plenty of details, history, and information about how it all came about and how it can and does continue to improve.

Earth Day|Bike Life

Fine-art Fiets
As today is Earth Day, what better time to celebrate the oh-so-useful bakfiets. Obviously, it’s environmentally friendly, requiring only pedal power. No fossil fuels required for daily running. More importantly, for anyone who complains about cycling not being convenient when you have to do lots of shopping, carting around kids, etc., here’s a handy solution. (Although, anyone who does complain hasn’t seen just how many people and shopping bags the average Dutch person can fit on a regular bicycle.) One day I saw a family of five and a dog on one bakfiets. It can be done.

The bakfiets is used for everything from the daily school run to moving home. Seriously! With a bit of rope and some extra hands, the bakfiets is surprisingly useful when moving just about anything, judging from some of the things I’ve seen carted around town on one, including potted trees and mattresses.

And as the one pictured here shows, you can add your own personal touch to the paint job, making it easier to find and perhaps less likely to be stolen. Plus, it just looks so much cooler than a minivan.

Two-Wheel Transport

Two-wheel Transport
I couldn’t resist the juxtaposition of the scooter and the motorcycle when I came across them near Lepelenburg Park. Both may be motorized, but they have very different associations. One putters along, while the other zooms. (Though anyone who has had a scooter zoom past them on a bike lane is likely to dispute the puttering bit. There are frequent demands to have scooters banned from bicycle lanes.)

Of the two, the scooter is the more common sight, at least in this part of town. You’ll see rows of them near restaurants that specialize in delivery, and you’ll see both young and old riding them around town.

But of course, it’s the non-motorized two-wheel transport that you’ll find most frequently, in large numbers, and never far away.
Two-wheel Transport