Chicago

On my first visit to the windy city, Chicago quickly became one of my all-time favorites. It probably helped that we had gorgeous weather and that the Labor Day Weekend activities made the city seem especially lively. But there is also something about Chicago that captured me right away; I just can't quite put my finger on it.
Chicago is full of surprises for first time visitors. We had bought a travel guide and done some preparation so that we had a rough idea of what we wanted to see and photograph. And yet, we still didn't expect all that we encountered.

I knew that Chicago sits on the shores of Lake Michigan; what I didn't know is that it has such beautiful beaches. I expected some kind of public transportation system; but I didn't expect one of the oldest elevated transit systems. I was looking forward to exploring Chicago's downtown area; I didn't think it would be so spectacular and diverse. I could go on and on with this list, but the bottom line is that Chicago is a city that has much to offer and will surely surpass your expectations.

One of the highlights of our visit was John Hancock Center. It's one of the tallest buildings in the city and as such offers an observation deck, the Hancock Observatory. What sets it apart from the Sears Tower Skydeck is that it offers a beautiful and often photographed view over Chicago's Gold Coast. You also get a nice view over the downtown area and Navy Pier. When we visited, they offered an audio tour with David Schwimmer as the narrator. I would definitely recommend it; it is very well done, you learn a lot, and Schwimmer shares some nice anecdotes as well.

 

The two parks that you shouldn't miss are Millennium Park and Grant Park. Grant Park's highlight is without a doubt Buckingham Fountain. It is quite impressive in size and at night you can enjoy a great light and music show. Millennium Park often seems like the heart of the city with so much going on all at the same time. Don't miss the Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain, which are not only fun to experience but also true pieces of art.

You should also ride the "L", Chicago's elevated train. It is perfect for exploring the city and you can reach many landmarks, such as the Chicago Theatre. It also crosses over the Chicago River and offers a great view of all the different bridges. You can get a day pass or multi-day pass, which not only works on the train, but also on buses.

Finally, don't miss Chicago at night. One thing I enjoyed the most was simply strolling along Michigan Avenue with all the buildings illuminated. It is especially beautiful around the Chicago River. 

Oh Canada

I had visited Canada once before. Back then, when I wasn't yet taking pictures because I couldn't effort the equipment and didn't have the time. Now, I cannot even imagine leaving the house without my camera.

The Province of Ontario

Ontario is not only home to the country's government in Ottawa and to Canada's largest city, Toronto, but also to Niagara Falls.

Toronto Downtown, Canada

Among its many attractions, Toronto offers CN Tower. If you're not afraid of heights, you should definitely go up and enjoy the view over the city. Other attractions include a number of great museums and a great skyline perfect for night photography.

Ottawa's biggest attraction is without a doubt Parliament Hill. You can tour the Parliament Buildings and enjoy the Lightshow at night. Rideau Canal should also not be missed, especially seen from MacKenzie King Bridge with the Parliament and Chateau Laurier overlooking the waterway.

Finally, who hasn't heard of Niagara Falls. We were a bit out of luck weatherwise, but it was still an impressive experience. If you have a choice, you should definitely view the falls from the Canadian side as you can walk up close to the Canadian Falls and get a nice panoramic view of all the falls together.

The Province of Quebec

Lightning over Montreal

A trip to the province of Quebec is like a trip back in time and a vacation in Europe as French is the predominant language spoken here.

Montreal is beautiful. I love Old Montreal (or Vieux Montreal) and the port area. It is perfect if you just want to walk around and offers a variety of cafes and benches for breaks. Along the way you can explore Basilique Notre-Dame-de-Montreal and Place d'Armes, Marche Bonsecours, and Hotel de Ville. Make sure to stroll along Promenade des Artistes and stop for lunch at one of the restaurants on Place Jacques Cartier.

You should also not miss Oratoire St-Joseph and Parc Mont-Royal. The former is a beautiful church while the latter is not only a great park, but also offers the best view of downtown Montreal. It is especially popular in the evening hours.

Quebec City was a beautiful surprise for me. Sure, I had seen pictures of Chateau Frontenac and La Citadelle but I did not expect the atmosphere and charm that greeted us. Quebec City truly must be experienced.

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City

Its landmark, Chateau Frontenac, offers great photo opportunities during the day and at night. The historic city center or Basse-Ville (Lower Town) is as charming as it gets with winding staircases, small cafes, and delicious treats. And La Citadelle (the fortifications) offers a variety of attractions, including the Changing of the Guard.

If you have time and transportation, make sure to stop by Sainte -Anne-de-Beaupre, Parc de la Chute Montmorency (Montmorency Falls), and Ile d'Orleans, all located just outside Quebec City.

California Highway 1

If you love driving and the ocean, then you should give Highway 1 in California a try. It offers some of the most scenic views along the coast.
Wild Coast, Highway 1

Most visitors drive along the part of Highway 1 that stretches between San Francisco and Los Angeles. And for good reasons. Here you will find Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel, beautiful coastal towns, each with their own charm and sights. Just south of Carmel is the 17-Mile Drive with the now world-famous Lone Cypress.

Further south greets you nature at its best; great beaches, wild coves, and animal sanctuaries. A favorite among tourists and locals alike is Point Lobos State Reserve.

Along the way there are many state parks, which offer great coastal trails, waterfalls, and spots to observe seals and other animals.

Probably the most visited place along this stretch of Highway 1 is Hearst Castle, the "residence" of newspaper magnate William R. Hurst. If you want to visit the castle, be prepared for long lines. It always pays off to get tickets in advance, so that you can go on the tour you are most interested in, at a time that is convenient for you.

Other highlights along the route include Elephant Seal Point, Morro Bay, and Pismo Beach.

If you're interested in more and got some time, you should also see the part of Highway 1 that is north of San Francisco. It has its own charm; and while it may not be as well known as the southern part, it still got plenty to offer; including Point Reyes National Seashore.

New York City

As you may or may not have already noticed, I completely redid the New York Gallery. For one thing, it was time to change it up a little but; but more importantly, we had just visited the city again and I had a few new pictures that I could add.

Last time we were running around on the streets like headless chickens being so amazed and overwhelmed by it all. We still managed to see a lot, but more by accident than on purpose. This time, we knew exactly what we wanted to see, where we wanted to go, and what we wanted to do again. We also had more time (though you will never have enough time for a city like New York) and the weather was simply perfect.

Manhattan at Night

We spent almost a whole day in Central Park, something we had missed out on last time. We visited South Street Seaport, Trinity Church, and the Flat Iron Building, and we watched the sun set over Manhattan from the Top of the Rock. While we had enjoyed our visit to the observation deck on the Empire State Building last time, it was simply better to actually see it along with the rest of Manhattan.

We also revisited “old” favorites, such as Times Square, Grand Central Station (or Terminal), and we enjoyed another ride on the Staten Island Ferry.

When we visited NY last time, we actually “forgot” Brooklyn Bridge. Well, that’s not completely true, since we did take pictures from afar. But would you believe that we didn’t even consider walking across the bridge? Well, it’s true but luckily we were able to make up for it this time and we enjoyed a wonderful evening stroll complete with sunset and Manhattan night skyline.

Mexico

The Mexican Caribbean - what a great vacation destination. For a lot of tourists the main attraction is their all-inclusive resort in Cancun. And if it is not Cancun, then it is an all-inclusive resort somewhere along the coastline. For me, the highlights were the ancient Mayan cities that we visited. Each in their own right as fascinating as the others.

Chichen Itza Mexico

Chichen Itza is probably the best known out of the four and the best preserved or restored. It surely is a very impressive sight, especially the Castle or Pyramid of Kukulcan and the Temple of the Warriors. But it is also the "best" marketed of all the cities and, thus usually overrun by tourists.

Tulum is is probably the next most popular destination for tourists. It is much smaller than Chichen Itza and the other cities, but its unique attraction is that it is located right on the beach with a beautiful cove as part of the layout. This makes for a very special atmosphere and not so hot conditions during the dry season.

Finally, Coba and Ek Balam are probably not that well known yet - but they are quickly getting more and more popular each year. What I appreciate about about these two sights is that they are more hidden, in the midst of "jungle", often even intertwined with nature. It gives you a sense of adventure and exploration, albeit a limited one. Coba also has the highest structure of all four - Nohoch Mul Pyramid with a height of over 137 feet (42 meters).

Bottom line - whether you stay at an all-inclusive resort or a simple motel, you should not miss a visit to these incredible ancient cities.

Idaho

Boise Depot

 

To be honest, I didn't expect much from our visit to Boise. We had heard about the Liberty Parade and the Fireworks and decided to stop by on 4th of July.

We ended up extending our stay twice. Not only did we enjoy the atmosphere of Boise, but we also found that Boise's vicinity and sights a bit farther away were worth a visit.

We visited the Old Idaho Penitentiary, which turned out to be an impressive experience despite (or maybe because of) the hot conditions. And we stopped at the Boise Depot and took in the panoramic view of downtown Boise. The only thing we did not get to do was visit the Idaho State Capitol which, unfortunately, is currently closed for construction. So we only admired it from afar.

While driving across the state we stopped to check out the grain elevators. And we visited the Craters of the Moon National Monument. It was quite a bizarre experience.  

So if you are ever in the area, stop by and visit Boise.

Hawaii

Everyone should visit at least one of the islands in their lifetime as nothing really compares to beautiful Hawaii. Each island is unique in its own right and all are breathtakingly beautiful.

The Big Island

This was our first time on the Big Island or Hawai'i Island and all we expected was an active volcano. And we were not disappointed. We actually hiked on the lavabeds for about two hours each way to witness hot lava enter the sea. What a spectacle!

But the volcano was not the only highlight during our visit.  The island also offers an interesting peek into Hawai'i's history: Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. What a sight. There I also saw the Hawai'ian Green Sea Turtle for the first time up close and personal.

There is so much more to explore on this island: you can hike through majestic valleys and discover beautiful waterfalls, relax on the beach, and visit some of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen. So what are you waiting for?

 

Big Island, Hawaii

 Torch-Lighting Ceremony, Maui

Maui

What can I say. Whenever I visit Maui, I don't want to leave. It is just too beautiful there. We've been to Maui several times now, and everytime it seems more amazing to me.

One of the highlights, Maui's coast. Wild and rugged on one side, serene paradise on the other.

There are several things you should not miss out on while visiting Maui:

Drive along the Road to Hana and see the seemingly endless number of waterfalls, each more amazing than the last.

Watch the sunrise from the top of Haleakala.

And visit Black Rock on Ka'anapali Beach and enjoy the torch-lighting ceremony put on each evening. It can be the start to a very romantic evening.