Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Indian Summer Days

Last weekend, my friend Jenni generously invited me along with some of her other friends to spend the weekend at a vacation house that her parents have rented up in Calistoga. The house was out of this world, an incredible 60 acre wine country estate with a pool, vineyards and apple trees. I brought my digital SLR (Nikon D90) with a 50mm lens and spent the weekend taking a lot of photos. It felt good and reinforced the conviction that photography is my one and true passion, as well as fueled the desire to shoot more.

All the photos below are straight from the camera, completely unedited. I changed the light temperature and color balance in the camera to obtain this green-yellowish color cast.

Saturday, October 13, 2012


So I made it to New York City. In the past two months here, I've acquired a new skill that I might need to add to my resume sometime soon: cat sitter. I've had two house/cat sitting gigs so far and I have two more to go. They're all for friends of mine, or friends of friends. I'm beginning to wonder how long I could bounce around from house to house, living out of my suitcase (which has multiplied to three), before I just completely lose it. I started this blog post months ago, and just haven't had a chance to wrap it up because I've been trying to pull my life together. It's gonna be a long one, so brace yourselves ... this post is a retrospective of our trip around the world, in the form of lists.
While traveling, I always kept a little notebook on me. It came in handy for writing down addresses, drawing calendars and jotting down notes to myself. I kept a few on-going lists that I added to throughout the trip. This blog post combines all of my lists and expands on them. Here is a list of my lists. Click to jump to section.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Oktoberfest,The California Way

On the last weekend of September I was invited at the very last minute to join a bunch of nutty Germans and some other fellow Europeans in celebrating Oktoberfest at a farm outside of Petaluma. I had no idea what to expect - but I ended up having a blast, meeting a lot of interesting people, laughing my heart out at kids being goofy and saying funny things, eating tons of delicious German food and drinking my favorite wine in the world: Grüner Veltliner.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Slow Food Picnic in Sonoma

Last Saturday I had the pleasure to be a guest at Slow Food's fresh food picnic, organized at the beautiful Ranchero Mark West farm tucked in the hills of Sonoma County. I would like to herewith extend my thanks to my two new awesome friends Jonathan Sutton and Tony Ferrari, chefs at Hillside Supper Club, a new slow food restaurant in Bernal Heights, San Francisco. I had a great time thanks to them and would like to share the moment and story with you all in this post.
 Above: some of the delicious food served at the event.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Home Sweet Home

Anne and Monica's trip "around the world" ended for me with 3 weeks in my home country, Romania. This visit was not part of the original itinerary, but since I had a lot of British Airways miles and were able to buy tickets on miles for a very small fee, I decided to extend my trip and go see my family and friends back home.

Going back to Romania is always an emotional whirlwind for me. Being constantly surrounded by people I love and who love me back, seeing my parents and grandparents, tear-filled goodbyes, the uncertainty of whether I'm going to see certain family members again... all of these lead to a very emotionally-intense experience. It's not about experiencing new things and seeking adrenaline; it's about going back to one's roots, traditions, customs, upbringing, societal norms and all the things that built me, yet feel so remote from who I am today.

With my strong-as-a-rock, sassy, stubborn, sharp-tongued adorable grandma in her backyard.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Romania: the City, the Country and THE FOOD

What do I remember about Romania? Meeting Monica's friends and family, the city (Bucharest), the beautiful countryside and THE FOOD. Monica already wrote an entire blog post on Romanian food, so I won't get into it too much, but let me just attest to the fact that Romanian food is off the chain!

Enjoying a huge, delicious meal in Bucharest.
Monica and I stayed in her brother's apartment for a couple nights, and then moved over to the comfy couches of her friend Ana's apartment. Below is the first meal I ate in Romania, a breakfast of champions.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Today's blog post is about the myriads of ways people see the world around them, and how one can relate to or understand others' points of view. We often assume that our own point of view is shared by others around us and we carry this thought fallacy from either personal or professional perspectives. We see friends unable to comprehend your dislike of PB&J sandwiches or donuts. (I mean, who doesn't like donuts? You must be a total weirdo!) We see marketers who assume that using the words "awesome" and "fabulous" repeatedly in their copy will make every potential new user get really excited with their product/website/whatever it is they're trying to sell.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Road Trip Across Rajasthan

Anne and I spent the second half of April 2012 in the north of India, more specifically a region called Rajasthan (which means "the land of the Rajas"). Being our first time in India, we experienced severe culture shock. In hindsight, had we started with the south of India and one of its big, modern cities (Calcutta, Bangalore or Mumbay), it may have been less shocking.

Anne in front of Humayun's tomb in Delhi.
To sum up the Rajasthan experience: extreme poverty, squalor, intense heat (~50C/120F), majestic forts and palaces from a glorious past, shacks and shanties from a not-so-glorious present, desert, overpopulation, incessant honking, dust, pollution, street vendors everywhere, skinny cows everywhere, mounds of garbage everywhere, flies everywhere, colorful saris, hundreds of eyes fixed upon us every waking minute. This blog post will focus on the beautiful relics of the past, the gems that attract thousands of tourists to Rajasthan every year. All photos included in this post have been selected carefully, so as to depict only the beauty, and not the squalor. I'll tackle that in a follow-up post.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Backpacking List

For a while now I've been really into backpack hiking. I could say it's my newly discovered love. There's something about being out there in the wilderness by yourself, away from civilization, cars, cell-phones, loud artificial sounds, hoards of people, that renews me and fills me up with happiness and energy. For those who like to run, they call it "the runner's high." I guess I have "the hiker's high," and you can probably speak about similar highs with any other outdoors activity. Whatever rocks your high boat!

I've long wanted to make an extensive list of all the items I need to bring with me when hiking, as there's always something I forget at home. The list below was borrowed from my friend David Pilz and slightly modified/expanded to suit my own packing needs. 

Some of the items on the list below are linking to my favorite camping items/brands, but that doesn't mean they are the best, or that I am endorsing a certain brand. They are just the items I've used and liked, and a good recommendation starting point for anyone building a "hiking kit" from scratch. 

The weight of your backpack with all the items inside it already should be less than 25% of your body weight, so, keep that in mind when purchasing new camping items, such as sleeping mat, tent or sleeping bag. Today, you can find extremely light and compact camping gear. Some of it can be expensive, but it's worth it, if you know you'll be hiking or camping a lot. I've had my ultralight sleeping bag, mat and tent for years now, have used them tons of times and never regret the investment.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Hiking The Lost Coast

This past weekend my friends Devin (aka "Young Man"), David (aka "Siesta Dave") and I went on a hike up north to an area known as The Lost Coast. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about this magical place: "The Lost Coast is an undeveloped section of the California North Coast in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. It was named the "Lost Coast" after the area experienced depopulation in the 1930s. In addition, the steepness and geo-technical challenges of the coastal mountains made this stretch of coastline too costly for highway or county road builders to establish routes through the area, leaving it the most undeveloped and remote portion of the California coast."

Photo by Devin Steenwyk. This is Wheeler black sand beach, where we camped the first night.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Weekend in LA: Gang Wars and Pool Parties

Ever since I came back from our trip, I promised myself to leave town every weekend. San Francisco is usually cold and foggy in summertime and since I'm unemployed, I'd like to maximize the funemployment as much as possible. I spend the entire week in front of a computer applying for jobs, so I don't feel too guilty for switching off adult responsibilities and switching on hedonism over the weekend.

So far, I've been out of town 4 weekends out of 5: once to watch an RV Demolition Derby near Clear Lake, another time to watch and photograph my dude friends riding dirt bikes outside Yosemite, once to camp by a river with 30 of my friends and, most recently, to get wavey poolside with LA's infamous Swim Team. Next weekend, we'll be doing a 2-day hike up the Lost Coast, so stay tuned for some breathtaking coastal California shots.

Zurich, the Dream...

It's now been almost two months since I was in Zurich. I'm excited to write about my experience before the memories fade away... Arriving in Zurich felt like a dream. The colors were intense, but muted. The silent landscape felt remote and fascinating.

I spent four days there with an old roommate and friend of mine from Boston (Mia), and her boyfriend (Nicolas). It was wonderful to visit them. They are probably the most loving people I know, and are excellent hosts. Upon arrival, I was handed a tasty Swiss beer.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

California River Rats

As we were driving back to San Francisco yesterday afternoon, weaving South on Highway 101 through golden hills crowned by intensely blue skies, my friend Jenny sitting next to me in the car kept exclaiming: "Gosh, it's so beautiful here!" She must've said it several times, enough to wake me up from my constant taking-for-granted of the majestic landscape that makes California such a visually stunning place. Jenny was visiting for the weekend from Cincinnati. You often need that outsider's point of view to remind you of how lucky you are.

Every summer for the past five years or so, my friends and I have been spending the 4th of July weekend camping by the Eel river in Mendocino county in northern California. We usually gather around 30 people and every year we set a theme, that we loosely adhere to. In the past, we had themes such as Indian Summer, when we built a tee pee and decorated the place with Native American paraphernalia. Another year we had a Hawaiian theme and we roasted a baby pig. One year we bought glow-in-the-dark sticks and we broke them open, splashing the paint all over our bodies and danced around covered in glowing paint.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Beach

Here's another post where I will rant about how perfect my life is. Despite various life vicissitudes, such as seeing loved ones getting old or sick, facing impeding death of close relatives, confronting one's own health issues, struggling to find love, purpose and mindfulness, despite all that - I look at the life I've lived so far and think of it as pretty fucking amazing. Wow, what an eclectic collection of adventures and experiences it has been!

July 3rd 2011 - Travis's birthday camping trip, Groveland, California

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Pissing Around in London

The European part of our trip was not in our original itinerary. London was added simply because it was a free "layover" from Delhi to Los Angeles. I decided I'd stay a week since I had a couple friends in London and I'd never been there before. Monica visited London for a couple days and then went to Romania for three weeks to visit her family and friends. I decided to go to Romania for my last week, and in between visit other friends in Switzerland.

Peeking through the trees at the London Bridge.
Prices in Europe were a real shock, especially coming from inexpensive India and Nepal. Luckily, I didn't have to pay for lodging in this European part of the trip, which was a big help. Jess and Kaf were wonderful hostesses, and live in a great neighborhood called Peckham, on the outskirts of London.

It was exciting to hear Brit rock playing in cafés and stores. So much good music has come from England over the years--I've definitely been obsessed with British bands and wondered what London is like for a long time. Dream come true.

Monica and I fit a lot into her two-day visit. First we went to see the "Changing of the Guard" at Buckingham Palace. It was very traditional--like the rest of London.

Then we checked out the gift store. Monica bought some luscious soaps for her mom and I bought a guardsman's hat (in the kids' section), which I wore around town all day. It's a good conversation starter.

We did a lot of walking--over to Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden, Piccadilly Circus, Soho, Trafalgar Square and so on.

I loved London. I thought it was a very liveable city and, for a moment, even seriously considered moving there over New York. Maybe one day I'll call London my home, but for now I'm just so happy to be back in the US that I can't think about living abroad.

One major drawback to London (as well as Zurich and Bucharest, and probably most parts of Europe) is that everyone smokes fags. It's a real bummer going into a restaurant, bar or club and suffering to find air to breathe, waking up the next day and finding your clothes and hair stinking of cigarette smoke. It brought me back to the late 1990s, early 2000s, before smoking was banned in most parts of the US. Get with the times, Europe!

Smoking in the bathroom.
Monica and I went to the British Museum.

My favorite thing in the museum was the "gut parka" pictured below. Read the description; it's pretty interesting.

Monica recognized someone she knew: Emperor Trajan.

We later saw a hilarious statue of him in Bucharest.

What the hell?
Walking over the London bridge in the rain, we saw many of the old, traditional double-decker buses passing by. This was a very London moment.

It's such a beautiful city, very pedestrian- and bike-friendly. We walked along the Thames River and enjoyed the views.

A modern building along the water.
Later that night, we went to see Kaf's boyfriend's band, Story Books, play. They were great! Check out their new music video, Peregrine.

Monica took this photo. Kaf's boyfriend, Kris, is the singer.
The next day Monica left to go to Romania, and I remained for a few more days. It was kind of sad after she left, but I went out, did a lot of walking and met a ton of people on the streets. Everyone was so friendly.

I made it to the Tate Modern, but I wasn't very impressed. This might have had something to do with the fact that I didn't pay extra for any of the rotating exhibits.

In the Damien Hirst room pictured above, there was a skull covered with diamonds. What's funny is that I saw something quite similar in the British Museum the day before, except it was from Mexico in the 15th-16th century.

I spent a day with my friends Jessica and Katherine, the girls I was staying with.

Loading up the film.
They're in a band called the Smoke Fairies, and were working on putting together elaborate box sets for their new album, Blood Speaks. One facet of the box set is a unique photograph of each of the girls, so our day out in London was a perfect opportunity to snap some of those shots.

Here's a video of one of their songs from Blood Speaks, called Awake. You can stream the entire album here, at the bottom of the page.

We went to the Tower of London. It was great because Jess and Kaf had never been there before (it's a tourist destination).

I ate a Piccadilly Whip from an ice cream truck. It was like nothing I'd ever had before. It was much creamier than a normal soft-serve ice cream you'd get in the states. It's basically an ice cream version of thick whipped cream, if you can imagine that. Then they stick a chocolate wafer in it.

We joined in on a free tour led by an enthusiastic Yeoman Warder.

The Tower of London is basically a castle, founded in 1066, in the middle of London.

I looked up and saw some monkeys. I expected them to be real from our experiences in Bali, Thailand and India, but they were fake!

There were a couple rooms devoted to arms and armour. The most interesting part to me was the armour below. I'd never seen anything like that before.

Got to protect your assets!
Legend says that six ravens guard the Tower. If they leave the fortress, the kingdom and Tower will fall. There are seven ravens at the Tower today (one extra, just in case) who respond only to the "Ravenmaster."

I found one.
It was such a gorgeous day--we really lucked out with the weather.

Loading more film into the lomo cameras.
Trying on ancient "hard hats."
That's one tiny dog! This man needs protection.
We grabbed a drink and a bite to eat at The Minories, a cool pub in the area.

Stopped in a lomo store to ask a couple questions.

The Gherkin
On Brick Lane, the sun was shining strong.

Took a peak in the Rough Trade store, and grabbed a copy of Snipe. Kaf has an column where she interviews locals in the community. It took me a while before I figured out that "lollipop lady" translates to "crossing guard" in American English.

I think I spotted a very tiny Banksy...

I walked through the insanely trendy and out-of-my-budget Borough Market.

So San Francisco.
Then I continued walking and walking and walking...

I don't know exactly where this was taken ... just another beautiful London scene.
I met up with my friend Nicole from SF, who lives in London now. She took me to the Dalston area to check out the nightlife. Nicole is a fashion designer. Check out her blog, Fashion Forestry.

Over the weekend, I went to the Flower Market on Columbia Road. It was so packed full of people ... lots of life and plants and flowers.

I had a chat with a nice guy on the street who introduced me to two of his four young kids. His name is John Birchall and he's a hair stylist. Check out his website here.

I went into some local shops and found a sweet map store: The Future Mapping Company. All of the maps are designed by a local guy and include interesting geographical information. I splurged and bought the map pictured below, which includes information about fault lines. This map will always remind me of my world trip.

Details include plate tectonic boundaries and direction of movement, capital and major cities, rivers, roads, airports, peaks, time zones and North/South Pole projections.
Soon after I bought the map, I went back out into the crowds and got pick pocketed. I was being careless and had my wallet on the top of my tote bag, which doesn't zip. I think I let my guard down since I was back in an English-speaking place. I went back to the map store to see if I'd left my wallet in there, though I pretty much knew I didn't. The owner was really nice and let me use his cell phone to cancel my credit and debit cards, and even offered me some cash.

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the police station filing a report, just in case the wallet was ever found. I told the officer I'd been all over the world and this was the first time I'd been pick pocketed. He was very nice and apologetic on London's behalf, but told me this happens all the time. He checked the CCTV recordings to see if it was caught on video, but it was way too crowded to see anything.

Jess and Kaf told me they've had other friends visit from the States who've been pick pocketed in London. I don't really hear about it happening in the US so much, but I guess it's pretty common in big European cities.

Street musicians near the Flower Market.
I read good things about Ben's Cookies, so I checked it out on a quiet afternoon. It was scrumptious!

I went to Liberty Department Store on Regent Street. I loved the design and layout of the store. A must-see if you get to London.

I felt like I was back in Southeast Asia in this room of (over-priced) rugs.
Walking down famous Carnaby Street.
I thought this was an interesting idea.
I highly recommend the Wellcome Collection. It was my favorite museum in London, and it was 100% free! It's basically a collection of Sir Henry Wellcome's personal collection, which explores the connections between medicine, life and art in the past, present and future. He was a quirky guy.

Back in Peckham, I got a jerk chicken plate from a tasty Caribbean restaurant around the corner from Jess and Kaf's apartment.

I agree. Five out of five stars.
There are a lot of Caribbean restaurants in the neighborhood, because there are a lot of Caribbean immigrants in the area. In front of me in line were two guys from the Cayman Islands. I knew the restaurant must be legit.

I also went to the famous Camden area. I ended up befriending a couple Indian guys working at a store in the area. One of them took me around and introduced me to all of his friends, who also worked at shops in Camden.

Amazing holographic art in Camden.
Cyberdog "Earth Station."
Taken from the Cyberdog website:
Chi Chi The Space Chihuahua invented the brand when he crash landed on Earth at the end of the 20th century and noticed the available clothing was too boring - the people of Earth surely deserved something more exciting!

The result was a mash up of techno funky colours and cutting edge future shock which inspired a generation of clubbers and space cadets alike! Cyberdog has since morphed into a brand with a more accessible urban underground vibe, which can only be expected from a company with its roots now firmly established in London’s Coolest hot spot, Camden Town.
After Camden, I walked to Primrose Hill, then over to Regents Canal, all along the water until I got to Little Venice, and then on to Abbey Road. London is actually a very walkable city if the weather's not too crummy.

Gorgeous walking area.

Abbey Road Studios! I wonder who was inside...
Outside the studio.
Dream come true: walking across Abbey Road.
I went to Pollock's Toy Museum (just okay).

There are so many coins in British currency, I was utterly confused.

I actually just exchanged my leftover pounds and Euros into USD today.
I hit up Yumchaa Tea Shop, which was recommended by a friend.

Could be San Francisco.
I also took a stroll through Notting Hill. I met a cool guy named Graeme who took me to his friend's pub called the Mau Mau Bar. If you're in the area, I recommend going there, especially if you're into live music.

I had a wonderful time in London, and am so glad to have friends like Jess and Kaf. If you two are reading this, you are always welcome to crash at my place, wherever I may be. Buy their music here!

Quiet night at home, drinking tea and eating desserts.