Posts Tagged Zurich

Top Drives Around the World

My best vacations require a long scenic drive, whether my own car or a rental car (manual preferred), with lots of random side stops along the undetermined route to explore deeper and get a more authentic experience of the town, state, or country. It’s important to try the local roads over the highways, because you’ll just miss all the architecture, local shops, food and people. The trick is not to have a set itinerary, be flexible with your time and what activities you want to do, this will open up plenty of options when you discover them on the road, with no time restrictions.

What makes a great drive? I am always looking for well paved roads that have a lot of twists and bends with elevation changes, either along the coast line, a cliff, or a mountain side. Being able to scale a mountain and look down 3,000 feet is awe inspiring, while driving along a cliff knowing if you don’t pay attention, you could easily be at the bottom of the cliff in a mangled wreckage, will keep your heart at a high pace. The speed of the drive is relative to the contours of the landscape. It’s more fun to take a slower car and pushing it to the limit, than having to take a fast sports car and idling around a bend. If you really want to experience full control, either drive your own manual car or rent a manual car outside the States.

I will try my best to describe my top favorite drives around the world in order starting from the best. I will be available for hire as an international driver if anyone is interested!


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South Africa: Favorite Photos

South Africa is definitely a beautiful country with all seasons to experience, from hot summers to cold winters. I was able to feel it all in one trip, the hot sun beating down on us in the village, to the cold winter frost on top of the mountains in Drakensberg. The most unforgettable sight was the stars and Milky Way galaxy at night. The night sky was so bright it felt unreal.

The prints are up for sale and all profits will go to Zimele.

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South Africa: Saint Lucia

One of the must-do’s in South Africa is to see the wild life. Our first stop was the town of Saint Lucia to see crocodiles and hippos. Surprisingly hippos are probably the most dangerous animals in the area, but I assume it’s due to the fact that these large beasts are allowed to roam the city streets day and night. Nothing was cuter than seeing the baby hippo take a nap next to mom and stretch his little paws. If you come to South Africa, you can expect to eat very well, just look at the photos! After lunch we visited a beach that meets the Indian Ocean where the sand is littered with titanium deposits.

Our next stop was the cheetah farm where we saw wild cats and cheetahs feed and pet them after they weren’t so hungry. Don’t be fooled by the cute cats on the fence, they look and sound ferocious in person. The only actually cute cats were the cheetahs. A few simple rules, never approach from behind, and don’t play with their paws. They were so fun to pet and rub, I wanted to hug it like Hobbes.

Our last day out was to the safari in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi. We started off early in the morning, and drove around for 8 hours trying to spot animals. The most abundant were the impalas and zebras, and it was always a joy to see some giraffes. The lions were quite a distance away and they usually just lay in the sun, so not much action there. We were all hoping to see some elephants all day long, but it wasn’t until the final hour on our way back did a male elephant stopped us on our path. Our driver informed us it was angry and it started walking toward us as the driver slowly backed up the truck so we could maintain a very uncomfortable yet close up viewing distance. Seeing a giant up close and personal with unknown angry intentions really puts the fear in you. Imagine wanting to let your mouth release your fear but knowing you have to be silent so you don’t agitate the elephant even more. We were all done with seeing elephants ever again after this experience! When we finally got passed the elephant, our last spotting gave us a chuckle – the ever so tame and harmless donkey!

Fore more info on the safari trips, check out Heritage Tours & Safaris

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4


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South Africa: Making Bricks

One of my favorite experiences in Swayimane was brick building for a new rondavel. The bricks are made from the dirt and water straight from the land. We dug up the dirt into a pile, then added water as we used gumboots to stomp and mix the mud. It was a great workout for our legs. The next step was to fill a brick mold with the mud, tap out the air pockets, smooth the top, then score. Liz and I decided to make a design on top of each brick. It was one of the few chances we were really able to get down and dirty, but also experience the labor that the local women do all on their own.

Photos taken by Scott Kwak


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South Africa: Drakensburg

During the weekend when we had time off from the village, we took a trip up to the Ukahlamba Drakensberg mountains to stay overnight. While biking along the trail, I found a beautiful lake with a mountain view, so I made my group wake up early the next morning at 6AM to catch the sunrise. It was freezing weather in the morning, the windshield was completely frosted over, and we brought extra blankets to stay warm. It was worth the effort, as the sunrise was awe inspiring. I was so excited by the landscape, I was literally running around the field getting all different angles as the sunrise time was limited.

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4


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South Africa: Swayimane

The heart of the trip was to visit the village of Swayimani in the province of KwaZulu Natal and teach the Zulu women trade skills to establish better living conditions and sustain their own economy. We came as the Zimele team. Each team member would teach finance, another fashion, baking, medical, daycare, and I taught photography and computers. The skills they learn would help improve their quality of life, and even help them grow or start their own business. Zimele does not give hand outs, instead, they encourage each adult to find a way to generate and save money as a community.

I was assigned to teach two classes a day for three days. Each class had just over a dozen women, eager to learn. While their native language was Zulu, some spoke broken English and we had a translator in each class. The women were donated a handful of new digital compact cameras, yet they’ve never held one before. It was amusing to watch them fiddle with the devices, and humbling to watch their eyes light up when they were able to take their own photos for the very first time. One of the youngest students had the greatest potential, as she immediately grasped the concept of composition and light/shadow. Once I assigned homework for them, the women spent the rest of the day taking photos of everything. This was by far the most rewarding lesson I have ever given anybody.

We brought as many extra luggage per person possible with donated items such as medical supplies, sewing tools, bake ware, calculators and toothpaste. We would ride in the back of a “bucky” every day back and forth from our B&B to the village. It was quite uncomfortable flying through the rough dirt terrain, and even worse after a full day of sweat and dirt, however we made the best of it. Being dirty and uncomfortable in a group made the experience a lot more tolerable, sometimes funny, and always a bonding moment. The number one thing that kept the group intact was our sense of humor.

The kids were one of the greatest joys of being with the Zulu people. While we didn’t know their language well enough to communicate verbally, it was not necessary for us to bond. The act of being there, playing soccer with them, taking photos of them, was more precious than words. They lit up when they saw us, as did we.

There were two nights we stayed at the village in their rondavels to experience a small taste of their living conditions. It was close to comparable to camping, no electricity, no plumbing. We just roughed it out for 2 days and 2 nights with sleeping bags and air mattresses. Being guests at their village, the hostess Thanda would prepare amazing meals for us with a full table setup. We were very honored how much effort they put in to make us feel comfortable.

While the community lives in poverty, none of them acted like it. They were always cheerful and were always grateful of what they had. Their lands were beautiful, the people even more so. We felt so welcomed, as time passed we were feeling like this was our second home.

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4


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South Africa: Miranda’s

Our flight took us from New York to Zurich, then to Johannesburg and finally landed in Durban. We would then take another hour drive to Pietermaritzburg, our bed and breakfast lodging. Miranda owns the B&B with her husband Max, and their dog Tessy. Tessy would wake up late at night and bark at all the porcupines eating their garden. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any porcupines ourselves. You can see Scott, our trip leader for Zimele, sitting in the back of the “bucky”, which is how the rest of the team would be traveling for the remainder of the 2 weeks. Xolani was one of our main drivers, he is the funniest man in South Africa, incredibly dedicated, and drives like a madman, like me.

Every morning Miranda would cook us a delicious breakfast, and the nights we spent there, an amazing dinner. We were absolutely spoiled by her meals and desserts. The dish which I will forever be fond of the name, bunnychow, is chicken curry in a loaf of bread. We can see the distant rolling hills from the back yard, and chicken and ducks would wake us up early every morning.

I have to admit my impressions of Africa was dirt and brown, however I was completely wrong when I witnessed all the lush green hills and trees that surrounded me. It was a beautiful land, but unfortunately segregated between the rich whites versus the natives.

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4


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South Africa: First stop, Zurich

On our way to South Africa, we had a 12 hour layover in Zurich, Switzerland. It was a nice experience to see the city for a day, and it was definitely more than enough time. ¬†After a while, all the architecture begin to look the same, however I was amazed how crystal clear the water in the rivers were, it made me thirsty, and if I could swim, I’d jump in. Our team from left to right, Hannah, Annie, (Sophie our Zurich guide), Mike, Scott, Liz, Maria, Coco, Peter, and me (behind the camera).

All photos taken with Canon 5D Mark II and processed through Lightroom 4


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Vacation Photography: Switzerland

Imagine you’re on a vacation of a life time, you spend a large amount of time researching what camera and lens you need only to find out it’ll cost you more than you imagined just to snap some mediocre photos on your trip because you don’t even have time to learn how to use it. Not to mention, you will have to carry a few pounds of equipment every where you go. Or perhaps the only photos you will take during your vacation are a few mobile phone snapshots, which is not worth looking at again. So how do you solve this dilemma? Hire a vacation photographer!

I was hired by my friend Jennie for a snowboarding vacation to Zermatt, Switzerland early this year, and my job was to document the trip and scenery. I flew to Zurich, rented an eco-car Ford Ka, and proceeded to setup my iPad navigation to route to Zermatt. I found out the hard way that the Wi-Fi only iPad can only activate GPS when it’s connected to Wi-Fi, what a waste of a GPS feature! My iPhone had GPS signal but no data service, so I could only use a cached map of Switzerland on Google Maps to guide me through the major highways. The rest of the local roads and all German signs I had to learn on the way. What would’ve taken 3 hours on the major highways ended up taking me 7+ hours on local scenic routes. Every minute of it was exhilarating and beautiful, I would’ve missed all the sights had I used the highways. I was able to experience endless tunnels through mountains, windy dangerous roads, and car trains.

I explored the resort in Zermatt, and took a lift all the way up the mountain to 9,000 feet where they built a restaurant complete with free Wi-Fi. You can see the famous Matterhorn mountain which is the logo used for Toblerone chocolates. From there, I took another lift higher up the mountain followed by a short elevator ride and two flights of stairs to finally reach 12,736 feet on top of the Swiss Alps, “Europe’s highest mountain lift” so the sign says. Those crazy Swiss had also decided to build another full restaurant/gift shop on top!

I had once seen a travel show on Lake Como, labeled as one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Star Wars and James Bond were both filmed there, and Clooney, Versace, and Madonna have all had homes on the lake. After watching the show I knew I wanted to visit there someday. While looking at the map, I noticed Lake Como was only a short drive away, I couldn’t pass up the chance to visit. Jennie and I were so excited we planned a one day trip to Lake Como, and we can now say “Yeah, we drove to Lake Como, Italy just for lunch and gelato.”

I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. My ideal vacation is to be spontaneous and adventurous. Rent a car, and explore local sights and good-eats, with an occasional tourist stop. I have enough driving experience in different countries to get me around without much issue, and getting lost is half the fun. Jennie was able to enjoy her vacation fully without having to buy and learn a new camera, carry the equipment, stop to take photos, learn how to drive stick, navigate alone in a different country, come home and download/edit/upload tons of photos. All the things I take care of as a hired vacation photographer.

Where do you want to take me next?


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