The Red Scare?

Why are you going to Russia, they asked?  Don’t you know you’re going to be followed, captured, or worse?  Also, don’t take pictures of buildings or you will be arrested.  You’ll have to pay off the police.  Your phones will be hacked.  Do you know anyone there?  Why go? What’s there?  Well… that’s what I wanted to find out!

First stop, St. Petersburg.  The architecture was a beautiful mix of old eastern Europe and Soviet grandeur.


Second stop, Moscow.  A lesson in Soviet History and present day Russia.  Below is the tomb of Vladimir Lenin.  The text is the Russian cyrillic characters.  Those were fun to learn and read.


The Russian people I met were very nice.  Also curious that a young American was actually visiting Russia for something other than business.  Moscow has a similar feel to New York City.  The food was familiar and fantastic.  People complain about how cold it is.  There are Starbucks, McDonalds, and even a Krispy Kreme!  In short, it didn’t seem that different than American life.  At least day-to-day.  However, their leaders are not as tolerant.  Our countries are at odds in Syria.  The U.S. intel community is certain Russia hacked into American politics.  And we happen to be the two nations in control of virtually all the nuclear warheads in the world.  Things could be better.

Coincidentally, when I returned to the U.S., I read a National Geographic Article about why the young generation was pro-Putin.  I would say the generalized American perception of Putin is that he is evil, oppressive, and the Russian people want him out of power.  However, the NatGeo article describes how he is generally liked in Russia.  A brief history of Russia since is Soviet days: the 90s were terrible, Putin assumed power in 2000, and since then people have more money, unemployment is down, and some of Russia’s “prestige” has been restored.  Whether or not that was solely Putin’s doing is debatable.

What am I getting at?  It seemed far from the “bad” place that everyone described to me before going.  I never felt in danger.  No one followed me (that I know of).  I took hundreds of pictures of many things with no consequence.  No bribes.  No phones hacked (that I know of).

Why go?

To see it for yourself!

A Trip to Germany is a Lesson in History

I’m no historian, but the following is what I surmised about the rise of the Nazi party in Germany from spending time at the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich and the Documentation Center a.k.a. Nazi Rally Grounds in Nuremberg.

Hitler Propoganda

Hitler Propaganda

Pre-WWII, the German people were generally depressed for starting and losing World War I.  Hitler struck a nationalist nerve in the people and rallied them to make the German Vaterland, Fatherland, great again.  Hitler’s rise to power was not quick.  He joined the Nazi party in 1919.  He was convicted of treason in 1923 and went to jail for a failed Coup to forcefully seize power in Munich.  In jail he wrote Mein Kampf and after he got out he gained popularity by being anti-Treaty of Versailles/Jew/Communist.  He didn’t like sharing power, so he killed members of the Nazi party to solidify his control over the party and the SA, Sturmabteilung, the brown shirted goons with red Nazi armbands that went around harassing people that the Nazis didn’t like.  During a country-wide parliamentary election, the Nazi party won the majority in government and Hitler was named Chancellor of the Weimar Republic (what Germany was called at the time).  Paul von Hindenburg was the President and Hitler was the Chancellor.  Through pressure by powerful people, a general weakness by the President, and a hope by Paul von Hindenburg to placate Hitler’s crazy ideas, the presidency was dissolved and Hitler was named Supreme Chancellor with full control of government in 1933.  Enter the Third Reich.  The rest is history.

Rally Grounds

Nuremberg Rally Grounds

It was amazing to me that any of this really happened.  I can’t imagine an age without instant communication and 24 hour news coverage.  I don’t think Hitler would have been able to seize power through murder, coercion, and general disregard for the law in this day and age.  It seems like all of the above happened (the shady stuff at least) with most of the people in the dark.  Then one day Hitler announced he was Supreme Chancellor and with his powerful SA, no one could really stop him.  Obviously, there were many pro-Hitler supporters that wanted to make Germany great again, but I doubt (hope at least) people knew about or accepted Hitler murdering people to get his way or the quick dissolution of the Weimar Republic government to pave the way for a Hitler-run totalitarian regime.

Hunting the Northern Lights

My brother and I traveled to Iceland… primarily to see the Northern Lights.  We specifically traveled to Iceland during the winter because there is more darkness, and a greater chance to see the Lights.  However, unbeknownst to us, they are much harder to see than we thought, primarily because of the erratic weather and cloud cover in Iceland.  To see the Lights, you need clear skies, and people across the country constantly check maps like the one below for the most up to date information about the Lights:

chasing the northern lights!

On our first night, we paid for a tour which drove us outside the city and into the dark countryside, in an attempt to see the Lights.  After many hours of waiting in the bitter cold, we “saw” them.  On this night, the Lights appeared as a cloud-esque, white, hazy, light, in the night sky.  On this night, the Lights were definitely not green, or yellow, red, or any other color that you may have seen in a picture.  With the naked eye, it looked like a white, light polluted, cloud.  BUT!!  With a camera and a 15 second exposure, they looked like:

northern lights, night oneI would say, the picture is pretty incredible.  But, like I said, none of the green in the above picture is visible with the naked eye. My brother and I felt like the Lights were the biggest scam ever.  You can only “see” them with a camera??  Unbelievable.  We talked to a dozen people, and their opinions on the Lights ranged from, “yep, the Northern Lights are a scam,” to “you know when you’re seeing the Northern Lights, it’s incredible.”  Later in our trip, determined to see the “actual” Northern Lights, my brother and I took our rental car, checked the map above, and drove around Iceland to find the most opportune location to see the Lights.  We sat in our car for a few hours, staring at the sky, and saw nothing.  We then noticed tour buses driving by our parked car in droves.  Knowing that the leaders of the tour buses know more about the Lights than we ever will, we followed the buses in our car.  We tailed the buses for miles down the road, pulled off the road with them, and watched the night sky.  Finally, we saw the Lights in all their glory. It was incredible.  The pictures below are representative of what you can see with the naked eye:

northern lights, night two

northern lights, finale


Truly, a natural wonder of the world.


NOT just another city

Sometimes when traveling, you hear, “it’s just another city”, or “same same.”  And, a lot of the time, I agree.  But, sometimes there’s a city that’s so unique, and amazing, you think, wow, this is NOT just another city.  Italy had two atypical and unique cities for me.  Venice and Rome.

Venice is truly unique in the world.  A city on water.  Endless meandering streets between buildings, the only mode of transportation by foot, or boat, via wide and winding canals, it’s a completely unique architecture.

The city of Rome isn’t unique like Venice, but it’s filled with so many structures, built thousands of years ago, that it’s truly awesome – inspiring awe.  The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon.  A daily life surrounded by incredible history.  The buildings make you feel small.

And, then there’s the Vatican.  A quasi part of Rome.  The line to enter the Vatican is longer than any line I’ve seen, but it’s worth it.  Hands down, the most incredible building I’ve ever seen in the world is St. Peter’s Basilica.  It makes you feel the presence of God.

Venice and Rome are not just cities.  They are experiences.