Climbing Florence’s Dome


Florence’s Cathedral (and dome) at night — from Wikipedia; I don’t have any photos this good!

Although I have now (unfortunately) returned from my forays in beautiful Italia, I still have plenty to post! We took a phenomenal weekend trip to Florence and enjoyed delicious food (far better than Venice, I must say), art at the Uffizi, and gorgeous views from the top of Florence’s famous duomo (“dome”). The climb was a little rough — 463 steps in the most claustrophobic staircase I’ve ever experienced — but the views were well worth it. Some proof:




Florence is a small city — at least compared to Rome — and is nestled in the heart of Tuscany. As a result, the food lives up to its reputation and the city is full of Italian charm. Today, it is a hotspot for high-end shopping as well as art buffs. Historically, Florence was a  vital center of art, and many of the city’s talent painters, sculptors, and architects were pivotal players in the Italian renaissance. (Florence was also constantly in rivalry with Venice, but more on that later.) This history is critical in understanding Florence’s duomo.


The Duomo as seen from the Uffizi Gallery.

So a little history, courtesy of my art history class (and because it’s actually an interesting story): Florence’s dome — a massive structure perched on top of the gorgeous church of Santa Maria del Fiore — was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, the winner of a design competition in 1418 (he’s also buried in the church’s crypts). Although the (octagonal) nave of the church was completed in 1380, a dome was never put in place until after the 1418 competition. Why? Because the architects had built a church so large that no engineer knew how to construct a dome so massive.

ingressoSide entrance to the church.

facadeFacade of Santa Maria del Fiore (“Saint Mary of the Flower”).

bell tower

The bell tower of the church — dwarfed by Brunelleschi’s dome, to put things in perspective.

Traditionally, engineers would use a beam from a large tree which spanned the width of the dome’s base. This beam was essential to construct because it gave workers a platform from which to suspend tools. Santa Maria del Fiore’s dome, however, was so wide that no tree could span its width. So construction was halted until 1418, when Brunelleschi surpassed all other architects (including his rival, Lorenzo Ghiberti, who had beat out Brunelleschi for a coveted contract to sculpt the doors of the church’s baptistry) with a genius structural plan: create a double dome. (*Okay, this is a simplification — there were many other architectural features that made Brunelleschi’s plan brilliant. But this is the core of it.) See a diagram below:


Brunelleschi’s dome was finally built, and today a smaller dome is seen from inside the church, while a larger dome faces the outside. This shelled structure allowed workers to climb between the shells of the dome to finish construction — which is how we can climb to the top of the dome today. He also developed a new scaffolding system for workers to build inside the dome, which solved the problem of tool suspension.


One of the flying buttresses which support the top of the dome.


The duomo was completed in 1436. At the time, it was the largest dome ever constructed and remains the largest brick dome in the world. It is both an architectural marvel and a testament to the ingenuity of Brunelleschi — and it’s also one of Florence’s greatest (literally) tourist attractions. Although not nearly as popular as the Uffizi gallery or the statue of David, the dome was the highlight of my weekend in Florence and well worth the historic climb.

view2Have you visited Florence or climbed Brunelleschi’s dome? I’d love to hear about your experience!


Rome in Black & White


A couple weekends ago, I visited Rome with a few friends. (I also have yet to find quasi acceptable internet anywhere in Italy, hence why this post is a bit late in coming.) The city is very much one of both the past and present, effortlessly interweaving the energy of megacities like New York and Cairo with the quaintness of Paris. It can be both vibrant — during the heat of the tourism season — and calm — 4am at the Trevi fountain — and every street has its own magic. Rome is bursting with young professionals, and it is easy to make new friends in hip, up and coming areas such as Trastevere. The food scene is also to die for — perhaps it has been the excessive amount of Venetian tourist meals I’ve eaten in the past three weeks, but almost every restaurant we visited served mouthwatering fresh caprese salads and otherwise delicious fare. (If you’re interested in some recommendations, let me know!) Although an expensive trip, Rome is a city I’m glad I didn’t miss. I will be back here someday, exploring every beautiful little thing this city — a crossroads of ancient and modern — has to offer.


The Colosseum


View from Castel Sant’Angelo — Dan Brown, anyone?




The Trevi Fountain

St. Peter’s Square
Interior of St. Peter’s Basilica
Interior of St. Peter’s
St. Peter’s Basilica
The Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum
The Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum staircase
Vatican Museum staircase
The Vatican Museum
Overlooking Piazza del Popolo
If you’re ever in Italy Europe, you should block off a few days to see Rome. There’s a reason it’s still one of the most famous cities in the world, and the atmosphere here is like no other. Don’t miss it!
Hope you enjoyed these photos! Soon I’ll be blogging about visiting Florence, food in Italy, and lots of other delicious/beautiful/awesome things — stay tuned!
{Images by me. Please do not use without permission.}

In Photographs: Cities of Morocco


Last summer, as I mentioned in this post, I had the opportunity to study Arabic intensively in Morocco. It was a fantastic experience, and I also had the good fortune of being able to travel and see some of Morocco’s amazing cities. Each has its own character, especially because of Morocco’s unique location at the tip of Africa — in the North, most locals speak Spanish as a second language because of the country’s proximity to Spain (literally — you can see Spain from Tangier), whereas in Rabat (the capital), French is much more common. Tourism is also a huge part of the Moroccan economy, and many of its more popular cities (Casablanca, Fes, Marrakesh, etc.) are centered around this industry, with markets tailored for a Western audience. This means that it’s a bit challenging to get the authentic Moroccan experience (if that’s what you’re seeking), but often if you can bargain effectively with shop owners in Arabic (read: know numbers in Darija) you’ll avoid most of the tourist pricing.

Anyway, I wanted to share some of the photographs from my trip, so I’ve organized them by city here. Missing are Tangier and Marrakesh, because I usually didn’t have my DSLR on me to keep it safe (that camera is my baby, no kidding).


Rabat is the capital of Morocco and where all of Morocco’s government buildings (including its brand-new parliament) are based. Because French is one of the official languages used in government, most of the upper class in Rabat speak French fluently (convenient for me, because my French is far better than my Arabic). Above is an inscription on a souk wall in Rabat (which I’ve posted before, if it looks familiar). The quote translates, roughly: “but in the remembrance of God does the heart find rest.” (Correct me if I’m wrong…)


There are cats everywhere in Morocco, especially Rabat. Most of them are strays, but this one belonged to a neighbor in the city. I’m really not a cat person, but this guy’s adorable!


This was taken on the drive from Casablanca to Rabat. Satellites are very popular in Morocco, and television is a big part of the culture (although its not as bad as it is here in the US).


The rest of these images are from Dar Al Hadith Al Hassinia Institute, which is a graduate-level Islamic school in Rabat (with a rigorous application process, if I remember correctly). It is pristine and absolutely stunning, inside and out. The architecture is gorgeous — lots of intricately carved wood, colorful tiling, and stained glass. We were able to go on a tour of the school and sit down for a conversation with the director, who served us traditional Moroccan tea.








Fes (not Fez, which is an incorrect transliteration of the Arabic spelling) was hands-down my favorite city in Morocco. It’s a really popular tourist destination, and it’s claim to fame is that it’s the leather capital of the country. If you bargain effectively enough in the souk, you can purchase a leather jacket for 300-400 dirhams (about 40 USD). You’ll probably get ripped off while you’re here, but Fes definitely has one of the coolest souks in Morocco — not just for shopping. There’s also a lot of history in the city, and it’s home to University al-Karaouine, founded by Fatima al-Fahiri in 859. Many still refer to it as the oldest university in the world.




The above two photos are from an amazing riad (ree-ahd) we stayed at during our visit to Fes. (A riad is a traditional Moroccan house style — common in Fes and Marrakesh — with an open interior courtyard. This one had rooms looking over into the courtyard as well as a huge rooftop with a full view of the old city.) Stay at Riad Ahlam (“Riad of Dreams,” literally) if you’re ever in Fes; it’s definitely one of the best bookings you’ll ever make.


Above: the old city of Fes at night.



Meknes is close by Fes, in northern Morocco. We were only there for the afternoon, but again, it’s a tourist city. It’s also home to Bab Mansour, which was at one point the biggest door in Africa (although it’s really not that impressive in person, in my opinion). It’s a cool stop, but definitely not on the top of my list of favorite Moroccan cities. Above and below are images from a huge historic grain store that runs under the city. The lighting come from holes in the ceiling.



Above: Bab Mansour, supposedly the former biggest door in Africa.





The above four photographs are from the mausoleum of Moulay Ismail (one of Morocco’s greatest sultans) in Meknes. The interior was beautiful, although we weren’t allowed to see the tomb itself.



Walili/Volubilis is the site of a well-preserved Roman city between Fes and Rabat. Although it is only partially excavated, the city is still huge (although it’s difficult to tell from the above photo) and visitors are free to walk around through the ruins (which feature some amazing architecture, views, and mosaics) without restriction — which is one of the coolest parts about visiting Volubilis, in my opinion. You would never get away with something like that in America. The city, built in the 3rd century BC (!!!), is also a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site as of 1997. It’s another popular tourist stop, but it’s a stunning historical experience, especially if you’re like me and “old” for you is 200 years back in US history.


The view from the edge of the agricultural city is spectacular and overlooks a massive rolling plain.





Chefchaouen is nestled in the Rif Mountains of Morocco and is known for its traditionally blue houses — in fact, most of the city is painted entirely in shades of blue. (It’s also the hashish/cannabis capital of Morocco, but that’s another story.) We stayed at Dar Echchaouen, which I definitely recommend — it’s situated slightly above the main city, so the views are really spectacular, and they had the best showers during my time in Morocco (small detail, but important).


The mountains around Chefchaouen are also great for hiking. We spent a day hiking nearby, which was exhausting, but we got to cliff dive with some really awesome Moroccans in the mountain’s waterfalls.




Bottom line: Chefchaouen is a really charming city (sans the drugs) and a photographer’s paradise.

We ended up at a few more cities during my time in Morocco, and I wish I had taken more pictures. Maybe next time I’ll be a little more adventurous with where I take my camera….anyway, hope you enjoyed this post and thanks for reading!

{All images by me. Please contact me for permission before use.}

2012: One Year, Ten Photos

In keeping with the WordPress Daily Post‘s weekly photo challenge, I present to you my 2012 in photos. Originally I wanted to do one for every month but, you see, my life is not exciting enough for that to make an interesting blog post. And since I tend to take photos in bursts at various unpredictable points around the year, it would also be unrealistic. But anyway, here the top ten highlights of my photographic wanderings this year:


Sheep | Okay, so I technically took this picture on December 31, 2011. Close enough, right? And practically one of the first shots of the new year. This sheep belongs to one of our family friends — they have a beautiful home tucked away in the woods, and lots of animals. I really tried to capture this little guy’s facial expression here.



Abu Dhabi | If you’ve been following this blog for a decent length of time, you’ll have seen these images — from my January trip to Abu Dhabi — already. (And if you want more, you can view all my photos here and here.) The first is a sunset above the desert, and the second is a image from the exterior of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. The columns are decorated with gold leaf and precious stones from around the world, and border the entire structure. It is truly breathtaking, and the beauty — of both and mosque and the desert — is just overwhelming.


Washington, DC | A capture from the White House lawn during the annual White House Garden Tour — it’s a fun experience for the public, although the gardens themselves are not too exciting. The view is spectacular, though, and you can see clear through the Jefferson Memorial if you zoom in enough. It was a bit overcast; sorry about the exposure.




Morocco | These are just a few of many shots from my trip to Morocco this past summer, where I studied Arabic. It was a fantastic experience and by the end of it I barely felt like a tourist. (It’s especially rewarding when you can bargain in Arabic and avoid tourist pricing in the souks.) The first image is from the city of Meknes, the second is a beautiful riad in Fes, and the third is of Arabic writing on a souk wall — I thought the colors here were especially beautiful. Anyway, I’m planning on doing a big photo and culture post of my trip in the near future, so this is just a small sneak peek!


Plant | Just a random shot of a plant in our dining room. Not sure why I took this in the first place, but I think it’s really simple and refreshing.


Christmas Desserts | Just a sampling of all the baking I did for our Christmas dessert party. Clockwise, from upper right: lemon cherry tea cookies, candied orange peels, baklava, and a chocolate orange tart with toasted almonds. All very delicious — the baklava and chocolate tart were especially popular. Hopefully I’ll have some recipes up soon!


The Puppy | Here’s your daily dose of cute. And proof that I have the cutest golden retriever in the world. He’s actually getting a bit old, but he still thinks he’s a puppy. Or a person — we haven’t really figured that one out.

These images, I think, adequately wrap up much of my 2012 in photography — of course there are many images I didn’t include, but I hope these photos paint a more varied picture. Here’s to a happy 2013 and a another year of photos.

Holiday Gift Guide | for the Photographer


I’ve decided to publish a short series of specifically-focused gift guides for the holiday season, sourcing more unique (but still easy) gifts as opposed to the fall-back gift card. The gifts in this one are tailored for the photographer — or simply photo enthusiast — on your list (or for yourself). I’ve also tried to include a range of prices, so there are plenty of options! Shopping for a photographer can be expensive, but if you’re creative you can find fun gifts for much less.

  1. Grafea England: Leather Camera Bag | This leather camera bag is the really deal, made from high quality leather with a sturdy design. It’s a chic alternative to all the black nylon camera bags out there, and I love the vintage look. $260.
  2. Ballerina Project Prints | The Ballerina Project is a fantastic ever-growing photography collection (check out the Facebook page for more images), and they are also offering limited edition prints online. 11×14 prints are $80 and 16×20 prints are $230. All prints are hand numbered and signed.
  3. National Geographic: The Photographs | This iconic collection of images, curated by Leah Bendavid-Val, features 310 color photographs from the National Geographic archives. Currently on sale for $10.
  4. Photojojo: Reusable Underwater Camera | For a super low price, this camera is a cute gift for anyone remotely interested in photography. An easy-t0-use film camera, this gift would also be perfect for kids. $15.
  5. Photojojo: Wood Camera iPhone Case | This detailed walnut case comes in sizes for the iPhone 4/4S as well as the iPhone 5. The vintage look finishes off the case. $42.
  6. Printstagram: Instagram Stickers | Printstagram offers a ton of adorable options for all your Instagram gems, including mini photo squares and tiny photo books. These stickers come in batches of 252 for only $10.
  7. Lytro Lightfield Camera | If you’ve never heard of the new Lytro camera, you should check it out — the technology, which allows you to focus images after taking the picture, is stunning. The camera comes in several colors for $399.
  8. Flickr Pro | This is perfect for your friend who uses Flickr for photography but is constantly restricted by space limits. Need to get this for myself, as well… A yearly membership is $24.95.
  9. 2013 Photographer’s Market | This guide to selling your photography is a great starter for any friend who does photography as a side job or is looking to become a professional in the business. The book details conventional and unconventional ways to make money from your shots. $35.

Hope you enjoyed this gift guide, whether you’re a photographer yourself or looking to inspire a shutterbug on your list this holiday season. More to come!