Sunday, April 15, 2012

Night view of the Menin Gate: Ieper, Belgium (Ypres)

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

When my plane landed in Brussels I was dazed from lack of sleep. I'd had only a few hours sleep in the last couple of days, having worked late into the night on Thursday and then pulled an all-nighter on Friday to get everything written and filed before my 6 a.m. departure Saturday morning.

Most people would have buckled up their seat belts and slept during the flight, but I have some kind of airplane insomnia. I find it almost impossible to sleep on a plane. Besides, we flew over so much unsettled weather (tornadoes across the Midwest) the flight was too bumpy to rest easy. Much of the time the flight attendants were sent by the pilot back to their own seats and the seat belt light was seldom off.

At any rate, my plane landed and my train from Brussels arrived in Ypres exactly on time. After lunch and a long nap, I set out to explore.

As I walked up and down the narrow streets near the marketplace, I thought about what drives us to go and see and explore. About what compels us to endure crowded, bumpy flights, the grating security annoyances and the harsh physical effects of long-distance travel. But when I turned a corner and caught sight of the Menin Gate I realized again that the answer, as is so often the case, was right in front of me.

We go because there are places and people and experiences that tell the flawed and all-too-human story of our loves and losses, our hard-won battles and bone-crushing defeats. Because there is nothing as powerful as standing in a place you've only read about before.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Planting Seed for the Next Trip

(Photo by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

Most of the people I know are determined to use all their foreign currency so they won't be stuck with any at the end of the vacation. Not me. I always bring home a few Euro as "seed" for the next trip. I figure as long as they're in the drawer with my passport I'll itch to get back on a plane.

So, before getting on this morning's red-eye flight to make my Chicago connection for Brussels, I scooped up the 20 Euro or so leftover from Christmas in Germany. And when I get home I'll replace them with fresh seed money for the next big adventure.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hipsta Hawaii

These days I travel with three cameras: my Canon EOS Rebel, my Canon G12 and my iPhone. I return from each trip with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of photos but more and more frequently my favorites are the filtered, evocative, Hipstamatic photos taken with my iPhone.

While exploring the island of Kaua'i recently, I noticed the Hipstamatic snapshots I was taking resembled the textured, saturated, images of vintage Hawaiian postcards. So, for every serious shot I took with my cameras, I took another with my phone. Now I have a photographic chronicle of everything I saw and experienced, but with the retro Hipstamatic vibe.

It was announced--just before the news that they were being swallowed by Facebook--that Hipstamatic shots can now be shared via Instagram. That combines two of my favorite ways to share the candid photos I take on the road, edited with my choice of filters, film and effects.

I'm flying out this weekend for almost three weeks in Europe and plan to "Hipsta" my way through Belgium, Estonia and Lithuania. I may even leave the big heavy cameras at home.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kaua'i: The Hawaii of My Imagination

(Photos by Cheryl-Anne Millsap)

As much as 80 percent of the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i is accessible only by air. As part of a recent tour I spent an hour aboard a helicopter flying over the the parts of the island I hadn't seen by catamaran or been able to reach by car. It was the most beautiful landscape.

We landed at the foot of the waterfall featured in the movie Jurassic Park and spent a few minutes photographing the falls, our cameras misted by the spray.

Then we got lucky. The mist and clouds cleared from the Wai’ale’ale Crater and we dipped down into the deep and mysterious place that still bears the scars of the island's violent birth.

At some point I noticed most of us had put down our cameras, preferring instead to simply gaze out the windows. This was Hawaii the way I'd imagined it. Lush, green and breathtakingly beautiful.

You can read my Home Planet column about the experience here. Watch a video of the flight here.