Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Greatest Photo I've Ever Taken (Kazbegi, Georgia)

Georgian roads are an awful lot like Nokia phones, they're sort of fun at first, but at the end of the day, they prove themselves to be poorly made, and neglected during their construction. But, very much unlike Nokia, Georgian roads lead to special places, and it's worth the struggle.

Perhaps no place is harder to get to than Gergeti Trinity Church. We took our reliable 1990's Toyota 4Runner out for a spin through Stepantsminda and towards Mount Kazbek. After 20 minutes of battling through dirt and skidding on ice and snow, we turned around, wishing we had worn diapers underneath our winter attire. We came back to our hotel, and the woman at the front desk called her friend, who came by 15 minutes later in a Mitsubishi something or other from the 80's that was ready to rock. With an eclectic mix of electonic music and Georgian tunes blaring, we made our way to the top, with the goal of seeing Gergeti Trinity Church - and, again, we wished we had worn diapers. I'm telling you, the driving conditions in Georgia are simply otherworldly. And the drivers...don't even get me started.

But why am I writing all this? Well, because at the top, I was able to snap a photo I'll cherish forever. The lighting was perfect, and the scenery was stunning. It tells a story of a little monastery built against all odds, in the face of mother nature, who takes the form of the towering mountain range in the distance. And yes, it was as cold as it looks.

And so, that's where this post comes in - it's a showcase for what I'm calling, "the greatest photo I've ever taken." 

It's of the Gergeti Trinity Church, a 14th century monastery high up in the mountains. I think Bri said it best when she said, "my goodness, whoever built this up here, must have really loved god."

Anyway, without further adieu...

Questions? Concerns? Want more? Check me out on Instagram and Twitter - @travelingmitch

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Closer Look at Istanbul's Best Cocktail Bar (Yabangee)

Since I've been in Istanbul, one of the most fruitful decisions I've made as far as my writing and all that is concerned has been to get in involved with Yabangee. Yabangee, for those who don't know, is an expat collective of creative folks who live in Istanbul and want to do more than just live here - they want to explore and examine it, with eyes wide open. There are a plethora of writers, photographers, and videographers. I became more heavily involved last year, and I've made some great friends as a result, and I'd like to think I've done a touch of good work along the way as well.

The work I've done for Yabangee has been quite varied - I've written about podcasts that would suit the long commute here, done concert reviews, examined must have apps for Istanbul (which is now part of their "Yabangee Classics"), as well as looked Turkey's display at EXPO 15 in Milan. And, needless to say, it's been a pleasure to work with them because there's plenty of really great material on that site to sift through.

Perhaps what has been the most fun project though, has been the Yabangee TV profile we did of Efendi, which I consider to be the best cocktail bar in the city. It's up on Yabangee's brand new YouTube channel, and I thought I'd do the honour of sharing it below. Helping to launch Yabangee TV, it's been a pleasure no matter how you look at it.

I have no idea how much longer I'll be in this city, but it's nice to know that while I've been here, I haven't been wasting time, holed up in the apartment, but rather exploring, engaging and diving into the culture.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The One, The Only - New York City

A lot of people have described Toronto as a sort of "Diet New York." I take offence to that because I feel like Toronto has its own vibe and so forth, but also because New York is incomparable. There is no other New York, there's just New York. It's an iconic city, there's really no other way to describe it. Bri and I went to visit some old pals there, Jon and Jaime, and they did their part to ensure that my previous statements carry some validity. I lived with Jon in Norway quite some time ago, so it was beautiful to reconnect, as it always is. I love the two of them, and I know Bri does as well. When hanging out together it's just as easy as a walk on the beach, it's just meant to be. 

I think of New York City as being one of those places that every person has to spend some time, as a sort of maturity process. I first visited this city many years ago with my family, and I was instantly enamoured. I remember the hustle and bustle of the city, and the streets packed with an endless stream of yellow cabs. It's funny how much has changed - now the hustle and bustle seems muted in a sense. That is undoubtedly because Istanbul is pure, unadulterated chaos, and I'm sort of addicted to it. New York City can try, but it can't compete with a city of twenty million people with rules that people make up on the fly. 

Let's get to the point, New York is New York and nothing else. It's a city that we as human beings can be proud of, and a city that we as human beings need to preserve. It is, in many senses, the epicentre of everything. Thus, I present you a little photo commemoration of my time there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Canoeing Through Algonquin Provincial Park

Being away most of the year in Istanbul, it's easy to forget all that Canada offers. Especially since I grew up in Ontario, I recognized that there was much I grew up with and didn't necessarily appreciate in the past. What I had seen before, years ago, failed to have the same impact that I felt this summer.

In this video, seven of us covered some serious ground in gorgeous Algonquin Provincial Park. It was raining throughout (hence the song I play in the background), but we seriously enjoyed it. Not to mention, we created some priceless inside jokes along the way, such as "praise tarp."

If you've got a moment, check it out!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Toronto's Newest Mural is a Game Changer

Watching the resurgence or rise of an area or neighbourhood can often be a slow, painstaking process, but there are certainly ways to jumpstart that growth. One way, as you can imagine, would be to have a prolific and famed artist paint an eight story mural on the side of a prominent building. The area around St.Clair and Yonge is pleasant and attractive, albeit a bit sterile, but perhaps this will be the catalyst for change, the sign that this area is looking to change its image...and fast.

You can't miss it, the artist Phlegm made sure of that. You may be thinking, initially, what kind of a name is Phlegm? Well notes that, "The name Phlegm came from one of the four bodily humours in ancient Greek medicine; blood, yellow, bile, black bile, and phlegm. Phlegm was believed to be responsible for an apathetic and unemotional temperament." As it relates to street art then, I suppose we can imagine that he's uninterested in the response, but more interested in the piece of art itself. Or, perhaps he's just being deeply ironic. You can check out the formation of his art and this piece in particular at @phlegm_art on Instagram, and decide for yourself.

Phlegm, an artist originally from the UK, was lured to Toronto by the STEPS Initative, which is an organization that aims to use art to establish more vibrant and connected communities. As far as I understand, this is the first big name international artists that they've worked with, but I'm sure it won't be that last.

What makes this particular piece so striking is the way in which it appears from afar to be one body or organism, but when you get closer you realize that it's made up a variety of different neighbourhoods and Toronto landmarks. I was an English major, so I'll go ahead and analyze this and suggest that Phlegm and STEPS are implying that, while Toronto may appear to be a collection of separate entities, it's actually a functioning whole - an organism that relies on all parts of itself to thrive. If you look closely you can see the CN Tower, Old City Hall, the Flatiron Building, the ROM, the Canada Life Building and many more Toronto landmarks.

This is a piece of art made for Toronto that changes Toronto. It makes the St.Clair and Yonge area relevant again, at least to the average youthful art enthusiast. While I was there shooting some photos I saw at least a dozen people stop to take notice, and that's not always the case with new art in Toronto. It's a game changer because it's a sign that we're a city that can be a canvas for international artists, while at the same time, allowing that canvas to reflect the heart of our own city.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Roaming Around Matka Canyon (Skopje, Macedonia)

Skopje isn't a city that will necessarily steal your heart, unless you're a big fan of Vegas and all things kitschy. It's full of wonderful people, and ample good food and beverage, but it's clear that the government is spending all its money to redesign the city as a giant grandiose homage to Alexander the Great and other famed historical Macedonian figures (and not all that tastefully.) It's important to commemorate your history, but not at the expense of your future. Almost everyone I spoke to, and we had the pleasure of being showed around by some great people, did not approve of the recent changes. We met up with a wonderful fellow named Vlad while we were there (thanks to our friends Andrei and Iva), and he was our tour guide and pal throughout our time there. I also got the feeling that he was none too impressed with all this money being spent on redecorating while the economy essentially fell apart and unemployment soared. I mean the new buildings and statues weren't terrible, but there was classical music playing out of the fountain below, and it was all a bit bizarre.

Luckily, you won't have to hear me rant about a city that I'm clearly unsure how I feel about. The place I'll be mentioning today, Matka Canyon, is a place I'm quite sure of how I feel about. It's not more than about a half an hour drive outside of the city, but Matka Canyon offers some serene beauty. This isn't lost on the Macedonian people as it's simply packed with people out there, but that makes perfect sense. Istanbul, I can tell you from personal experience, could use a natural sanctuary like this more than anything. Though, there is some pretty decent hiking not that far away, I shouldn't complain too much! I suppose it's just my frame of reference - I've spent large swaths of time in Istanbul, Seoul, and Toronto and these are cities where you can barely drive across a neighbourhood in 30 minutes. I'm quite sure that this enabled me to appreciate Matka even more, and Bri felt much the same.

When we arrived, there was an international kayaking competition in the works. Not a bad start to be sure.

The area originally served as a religious escape of sorts as the hillsides are peppered with old monasteries, cathedrals, and churches. Many of these sights of worship have been well restored throughout the years and look to be in good shape, despite being built as far back as the 14th century. More recently, Matka Canyon appears to have been developed to accommodate the demand of the Macedonian people to come and enjoy the natural setting. There are well built hiking trails, a man-made lake (Lake Matka, which is the oldest man-made lake in the country), and restaurants along the paths that serve delicious cuisine. The area, some 5000 hectares large, is the perfect place to spend a half or full day out of Skopje.

Being in Toronto at the moment, yet thinking more deeply about my experiences in Macedonia, it reminds me of the responsibility I feel that governments (both locally and nationally) have to look out for the welfare and happiness of their citizens - that is, after all, what they're elected to do. In Toronto, there's an abundance of parks and space for leisure, and in Macedonia they've clearly made some effort to look out for their people in creating and providing a space such as this. In Istanbul, there's really no emphasis on space for the people, as much as there is emphasis on land being sold to corporations and investors. It all just gets me thinking, how important nature and leisure is, as cities tend to get more "urbanized" by the day. Based on our experiences, I can only imagine that Matka will be enjoyed for millennia to come.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Just a Photo (Istanbul, Turkey)

This won't be a long post because, occasionally, you can say all that you need to say without the establishment of a hardened, lengthy manifesto (though, I've certainly done that before when reflecting on life in Istanbul). If my blog is a suppository of my ideas, and I in turn decide the format, then I suppose anything goes. And so I'll follow the waves of morning caffeine softly encouraging me and put a little something together, regardless of this posts yet determined arrangement.

What I want to convey is this - as an expat resident of Istanbul, I feel as if I'm almost always swimming upstream against a current of warnings, worries, and bad news. That's not to suggest that it's not somewhat substantiated (it is), but, as far as the media is concerned, it is indeed the only side of the story. I find deep joy, intrigue, and comfort living in this city, and so when there are moments when I find myself in the eye of a proverbial media hurricane, I turn to my catalogue of photos to find solace in what I think of as the other side of the story. 

I take refuge in what I know to be true about the city because of the tangible evidence that I've personally collected.

Just last week, when another bombing occured in Istanbul, and I watched the front pages of the world's news sources light up (with the usual incorrigible ignorance), I turned to my photos again, and I found one that summed up so much for me. It was a photo I took surrounded by friends on a rooftop, and encapsulates why, for the foreseeable future, my feet are staying firmly planted here. It reminded me of what can happen here, the soft subtle moments that form my memories of the city that never make it to the BBC.

For me, it's amazing how much a picture can convey...