Category Archives: travel inspiration

The Honolulu Fish Auction

Wholesalers bid on tuna, opah, snapper and more, fresh off the boat, at the Honolulu Fish Auction.

A Visual Fish Tale

All that goes on behind the scenes at the Honolulu Fish Auction in Honolulu, Hawaii, makes a fairly complex story .  Yet, this photo delivers the gist of it.

It’s around 4:30 a.m.  Fishing boats have arrived in port through the night and unloaded their ocean catch at Pier 38 on Honolulu Harbor.  Auction workers have set out the ice-covered pallets of fish in the damp and extra-cold air of the market building.

Wholesale buyers arrive around 5:00 or earlier to examine the fish–thousands of pounds of tuna, marlin swordfish, snapper, opah and many others–and carefully evaluate it for freshness, fat content and other qualities. At about 5:30, a bell rings and they gather in a competitive scrum around the auctioneer who quickly takes their bids.

These are valuable fish and it’s serious business. A single fish may go for upwards of $1000.  Each fish is tagged with the name of the winning bidder and sent off to the buyer’s wholesale or retail operations, in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Visitors may tour the market.  Afterward, head over to Nico’s restaurant on Pier 38 for breakfast or shop at their market. You can’t get any fresher tuna for sushi or poke than right here.


New Orleans at 300

 There’s nowhere like NOLA.

“New Orleans isn’t like other cities.” That’s what Stella Kowalski said in Tennessee Williams’ most well-known play, A Streetcar Named Desire. So true, Stella, so true.

New Orleans Tricentennial

This crazy and fabulous city celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, which makes it a great time to visit, though I must say, just about any time is fine to visit New Orleans. They’re planning all sorts of events for the celebration including a visit from some Tall Ships.

Over 300 years, New Orleans has evolved, as Stella says, to become very different from other U.S cities.  Tricentennial events aside, the city constantly features such a variety of unusual experiences–parades of second line marchers, drinking everywhere, cemeteries above ground, and the phrase “who dat?,” to name a few–that it’s sometimes difficult to understand how it came to be that way.

New Orleans Literature

Naturally, I look to writers for explanation. One of the great places to do that is the annual Tennesee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival held every March, with authors, playwrights musicians and more. It ends with the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, which simply furthers the city’s fun and zany reputation.

“It’s a city of ‘oddnicity,'” says author Andrei Codrescu in his collection of essays, New Orleans Mon Amour. John Kennedy Toole’s captures much of the oddnicity of New Orleans in his quirky classic th-2Confederacy of Dunces. Yet, the city is so unusual and has such a reputation for its party atmosphere that it’s easy to pass New Orleans off too simply, as just one big raunchy party on Bourbon Street.

“That’s not the whole picture,” New Orleans author Chris Wiltz told me. “It’s a city of amazing contradictions. People in New Orleans will party until down on Fat Tuesday, but it’s a city of extremely devout Catholics who show up with ashes on their foreheads the next day.  This is a city where Desire Street runs parallel to Piety Street.”

So, head for New Orleans and figure it out for yourself. But read up before you go to best appreciate the city’s many layers and historic complexity. Here’s a brief reading list. Booklovers, while you’re in New Orleans, check out the Garden District Book
Shop and Faulkner House Books.  For more, see my book Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways.

French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia—Joshua Clark ed.
City of Refuge, Tom Piazza (about Hurricane Katrina)th-1
The Feast of All Saints–Anne Rice, about New Orleans free people of color. And, sample one of her vampire novels before visiting a New Orleans cemetery.
Confederacy of Dunces–John Kennedy Toole
A Streetcar Named Desire—Tennessee Williams
All the King’s Men—Robert Penn Warren

Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans—Roy Blount
The Last Madam: A LIfe in the New Orleans Underworld—Christine Wiltz
Zeitoun—Dave Eggers
Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans— James Gill

Naniboujou Lodge- An Amazing Detour or Destination

The dining room at Naniboujou Lodge on Minnesota’s north shore of Lake Superior.

I’ve been waiting for a chance to post something about Naniboujou Lodge, just north of Grand Marais on Minnesota’s North Shore.  This photo challenge, Ooh, Shiny!Diversions, distractions, and delightful detours offers the perfect opportunity.

Naniboujou is the Cree god for the outdoors.  In 1929, this lodge was planned to be an exclusive getaway for Chicago celebs and outdoorsmen.  It was a great idea, but the Great Depression brought that to an end.  In smaller form than originally planned, this historic lodge on Lake Superior continues on– and the best part is this stunningly-painted dining room.  The food is great, but the ceiling (this is the original paint) is mind-blowing.   It’s a delightful distraction and worth a detour if you’re on your way along the north shore between Grand Marais and Canada or ready to set out on the Gunflint Trail.


Nostalgia: Detroit

The taste of Fargo pop–yes, we call it “pop”– is one of my childhood memories, especially Rock & Rye.

I love Detroit.

If you haven’t been there lately, that may sound pretty crazy.  There’s been no shortage of reporting on Detroit’s hard times.  But I grew up near “the D” and as a kid, a trip to Detroit meant something special–a Detroit Tigers game or a speedboat race on the Detroit River with my dad, shopping at Hudson’s with my mom, Broadway shows at the Fisher Theater, field trips to the Detroit Institute of Arts, all accompanied by the rhythm of Motown.

A portion of the famous murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

I live in Minnesota now, but returned to the city last week and once again felt how special it is–its history, it’s people, and a general vibe of grit and coolness found in few other places. Best of all, many of the things from my memory are still there, though sometimes in altered form.

Partly because of those qualities, the city is making a huge comeback.  I was there for five days and could have stayed longer, partly enjoying the memories, partly seeing what’s vital and new, and feeling nostalgia with a positive spin.

The Detroit riverfront has changed dramatically, with old industrial land converted to parks. Windsor, Canada, is on the opposite shore.

Travel Photography: Portraits

Here’s a young guy I met at the Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden in Minneapolis.  Love all those rings.

While I’m on the topic of travel photography….Portraits–don’t even get me going on what a challenge I have getting good portraits of people I meet while traveling. Yet, there’s nothing more interesting than faces. Portraits are worth the effort because photography lacks a greater sense of place without them. Sure there are beautiful landscapes, artistic still lifes—food!—and some fun shots of people from a distance but those close-up photos of faces are what really tell a story and give an impression of the folks who inhabit any place—from Minneapolis to Morocco.

A resident of the Acoma Pueblo, “Sky City” in New Mexico.  This face tells a thousand Native American stories.
The concentration on Chuck Berry’s face shows what a challenge it was for the aging rock n’ roller to play his famous tunes.

I’m kind of chicken. It’s hard to get right up close to people you don’t know, but that’s what it takes for a good portrait. Up close, the subject may become more stiff and self-conscious so sometimes I take the photo from a distance, maybe when they’re not looking, and just crop the heck out of it later. If I’m lucky it won’t be blurry.  Ultimately, it just takes a few extra seconds–and a little bravery–to get a better shot.

Not the best portrait, but I want everyone to know I really was this close to Girard Butler.

Also, there’s the etiquette and ethics of portraiture. I’m getting better, but it’s a challenge to ask people that may not speak my language if I can take their picture. Some people just hate to have their picture taken, sometimes for religious reasons. Often, the more exotic looking (or sometimes the more downtrodden looking) the person, the more dramatic the photo.  Am I taking advantage of them or invading their privacy? In Morocco, I was told not to pay children for their pictures because it encourages them to forego school for money-making photo opps.


One way I’ve found to get good portraits is to buy something the person is selling or simply put a few coins in a street entertainer’s music case. And, if my potential photo subject is in business, like a bartender or shopkeeper, they’re usually happy to cooperate.

The folks at Lake Drum Brewing in Geneva, New York, were happy to show off their bar and their beer.
The owner at Prison Brews in Jefferson City, a delightful brewpub right next door to the infamous Missouri State Penitentiary.
I always question how much of a person’s environment to show….


Version 2
…more or less? as with the case with Giuseppe, an artist from whom I purchased a little Leaning Tower painting in Pisa, Italy.

When all else fails, animals are usually very eager to pose for a portrait, no questions asked.

A noble hound at Chateau Cheverny in France.


Travel Photos- Composition Comes First

Version 2
Colorful pottery in Sienna, Italy.

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and have many stories and pictures to share since I last posted.  I’ve had adventures in quite varied places including the backroads of Missouri on the Katy Bike Trail, around central Italy, and a few spots right here in Minneapolis (more on those soon).  Every time I return from a trip, I pour over my photos, delete the junk, crop and perfect the good pics and relive my experiences in the process.

I use these photos in my blog and sell them as part of article packages or slide shows, but I take pictures on the fly, more like a tourist than a professional photographer who camps out for several days to get the best light.  I’m too small to lug all that equipment–several cameras, lenses and a tripod and more.  Plus, I’d rather pay attention to the experience than gadgetry.

That’s why I try to keep a few basic ideas in mind to elevate my photos several notches above “snapshot.”  Sherry Ott, a photographer and travel writer who as far as I can tell is completely nomadic, which fascinates me, just posted a great summary of what to keep in mind while taking pictures as a traveler. On her blog, Ottsworld, she says, it’s not about the equipment, its about composition.  In fact, many of the travel writers I know take great pictures with their iPhones, though I have to say a good digital SLR makes a difference.

I’m sharing a link from her blog, my fellow travelers, for your own use and inspiration: How to Take Better Vacation Pictures.  No matter what your skill level, her tips are a great reminder that it just takes a little extra thought to compose more satisfying photos.

And please share any tips you have with the rest of us by commenting here.

Why is Polar Explorer Ann Bancroft Paddling the Ganges?

Polar explorers Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft. Now, they’re adventuring in India.

Need a little travel inspiration?  This explorer, teacher and environmentalist’s example will get you out on your next adventure.

Ann Bancroft became the first woman to arrive at the North Pole on Unknown
foot and by sled in a 1986 expedition with Will Steger, six other men and 49 male dogs. After that, she tallied other firsts, including being the first woman to cross both polar ice caps to reach the North and South Poles and was part of the first group of American women to ski across Greenland.

I had the fun of interviewing Bancroft for an article as she was about to set out on a new expedition, a surprising trip for someone who is typically associated with cold and ice.  She and her frequent expedition partner Norway’s Liv Arnesen, are leading an international posse of women who are paddling the length of the Ganges River, from the source of the river in the Himalaya Mountains to the Bay of Bengal. They’re doing it to to call attention to the crisis of fresh water around the world.

Bancroft is an inspiration for anyone who yearns to get outdoors for some adventure travel.  You don’t have to go to the polar regions or the Ganges, but she encourages everyone to push themselves for new adventures and experiences. “We’re all on a journey,” she says.  “What’s your expedition?”

Read more about the Access Water expedition in this article for the Minnesota Women’s Press. And, follow the group online as they paddle the Ganges.