Solo Travel 2015: A Weekend in Milan

My third stop in Milan was short. Literally very short, just a weekend stint. It gave me the chance to relax and recharge before heading to my final destination to Venice on Monday.

The only way I could shoot Duomo was tilt my head up to avoid getting people in my photo

I have to be honest, Milan didn’t impress me much. I found it somehow overrated and underwhelming, although there were a few nice parts, the city itself didn’t ‘wow’ me.

I spent most of my time wandering around Piazza del Duomo where the Milan Cathedral and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II are both located. Even that got boring quickly, however I had my camera to take candid shots of random passersby.

90 percent of people here were taking selfies

Milan does live up to its reputation as being the ‘fashion capital of the world’, with its famous fashion week hosted there twice a year, plus a variety of famous designer brands based in the city, such as Armani, Missoni, Valentino and Versace.

Almost everyone and anyone at Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping centres, were fashion forward. It was like a never ending catwalk in the centre of Milan; almost everyone was dressed to impress. The Galleria has endless designer shops, restaurants, boutiques and even a luxurious hotel (since has closed).

The roof of the Galleria is absolutely amazing. I have to admit, I did really admire the Italian style architecture
A bar right outside the Galleria

The Piazza was the centre of the selfie obsessed tourists, many taking shots of themselves in front of the Cathedral. There were even some people selling selfie sticks left, right and centre for a couple of Euros. It was hard to get through crowds of people who possibly wanted a quick snap or a few! I went through a nearby park for some peace and quiet, which I can’t remember the name of but I know it is a reasonable walking distance. I think it is near a castle or a fort; it escapes me what it was.

Throughout my trip, I was in touch with Ivan, whom I met on the train from Zurich. He told me about Expo Milan (or Expo 2015), a world fair that was happening in the city with its theme based around ‘Feeding the Planet, Energy For Life’. I did see it advertised around Milan. The event began from May and ended in October 2015. Sadly, I didn’t go as my time was limited. I think Ivan went and asked if I wanted to come along.

Originally shot in colour. I had cropped it focusing on the four religious sisters, who were passing through the Piazza

Milan ended on an indifferent note. I don’t know if I would go back again in the future or not. I met a few people who shared similar experiences; not being overly impressed or found it boring. Had I explored more, maybe my opinion might have changed. Who knows…

The final stop of my solo trip was Venice, a two hour train ride heading towards Trieste close to the Slovenian border.

My trip would slowly come to a close the same week. I would return back to London life after spending ten days abroad discovering and exploring parts unknown. It would soon be back to normality on home turf.

Take care and stay safe

Solo Travel 2015: Zurich to Milan – A Country Crossing

Saturday morning arrived, I departed from Switzerland to Italy. My first Italian stop was Milan, only for a couple of days until I went to my last stop in Venice.

I arrived at the main station early and because of my Interrail pass, I could take any train at any time. I decided to take the 11am one going straight to Milan, which was a four hour journey.

As I was looking for a seat in the second class carriage, while dragging my suitcase and heavy backpack, I bumped into (not literally) an Italian man who was also looking for a seat. We were like, ‘we’ll settle here’. We sat opposite each other throughout the whole journey, just talking about travelling, Switzerland, Italy and the fact his name is Ivan (unusual for an Italian name) and his surname is Ferrari. He stated he didn’t own the namesake car, however he knew someone with the same surname who did.

He told me that he spent some time in Zurich and was heading back home. I believed he stopped at Como S. Giovanni station, although he lived somewhere in the Ferrara Province along the coast. Thankfully our interesting conservations didn’t stop there, we have been in touch through Facebook Messenger ever since.

A big lake that I don’t know the name of, however it is far away from Zurich

During the train journey, I was admiring the lovely scenic views; the mountains, the lakes and beautiful landscapes. I took out my camera to shoot some shots, trying to avoid getting reflections or lens flare in my photos. This was the starting point of capturing scenic journeys on transport, train or bus (odd occasion on the plane), especially if they go through interesting places. Not only did I admire the Swiss scenery, but also the architecture heading towards the Ticino region – the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, where the buildings were Italian style mainly Neoclassical and Villa inspired.

I arrived at Milan Centrale a little after 3pm. My hostel was literally around the corner and was easy to find. I was ready to relax and unwind during my short time in the city.

This was my first time ever crossing the border to another country, as well as doing an open jaw flight. It wouldn’t be the last time I would be doing city stops or leaving from another place, or going through different countries. It was an enjoyable experience many times over.

I am quite proud of myself that I managed to accomplish this on my own, looking back in retrospect. I never thought I would ever do this in my lifetime.

Take care and stay safe

Solo Travel 2015: Friday Night in Zurich

It was my last night in Zurich before I departed for Milan the next morning. I went out and about in the evening in the city centre near the main station.

Lake Zurich from the port

I remember that night being so peaceful, close to being quiet. I wanted to capture Zurich’s nightlife on camera as well as experience it first hand. I shot mainly candids of people walking about and shop fronts, almost in the same vein as the street photography I did back in London with the Canon DSLR.

The evening sky went from a dark pastel gradient to pitch black within a short space of time. Thankfully I wasn’t out for too long as I had to get my stuff packed and get up early the following day.

I enjoyed my brief stay in the city. I think I did quite a lot during the three days I was there, apart from exploring Old Town and going to Lake Zurich, although I did see some part of it from the port.

I loved going through Zurich’s main station, where it had a cool water feature with illuminating lights. The station was probably Switzerland’s answer to London’s Kings Cross or Euston Station. It was very spacious with many platforms; trains going to other places in the country, also across borders to Italy, Germany, France and Austria.

The good news is that I’m travelling to Switzerland next month, where I will be spending my birthday mostly in the mountains. I will be starting from Zurich, then through to Lucerne and ending in Geneva. I only booked everything ‘last minute’ just Sunday gone (at the time of writing and typing this).

A rickshaw whizzing through the city centre

It has been three years since I was last in Switzerland, and Zurich was the last place I had been to (via Germany).

I’m beyond excited. I am counting down the days.

Take care and stay safe

Solo Travel 2015: Kunsthaus and A Wander

Note: I apologise for the severe delays. I decided to put a halt on the Solo Travel series for a bit as I had heavy work commitments last week. So for now, I will be posting as much as I can before this month ends. Thank you and apologies again

My next stop was Zurich, which was around two hours away by train from Geneva. I remember that day well; it was over 30 celsius and was very hot. I had to drag my suitcase up the stairs at the station near to my hostel. My stay in Zurich was only for three days until I went across the border to Italy.

During my stay, I went museum and gallery hopping. I probably went to at least three or four museums/galleries in one day, but my most memorable one (and possibly favourite) was the Kunsthaus Zurich. It has a collection of art from all over the world, including Swiss artists, most notably Alberto Giacometti, who is well known for his sculptures. It was the first time seeing his work at a gallery. A couple years later, the Tate Modern in London would have a Giacometti exhibition of his work that was rarely seen in public for many years; from sculptures, prints to paintings.

I did some wandering and exploring around Zurich in between museum stops. I took trams to various places, even walked to few such as the city centre.

I did my usual candid shots in the city of everyday life, like I did in Geneva and even in Italy. I tried to obscure people’s faces by shooting from behind with some successful and some not, nevertheless I was satisfied with them. I was able to do some wonders during the editing process on Photoshop with some subtle changes and tweaks.

Sadly I missed the chance to go around Old Town, which happens to be very close to the main station. It would have been great for street candids and shots especially during the day, and also capture the classic Swiss architecture such as the churches and old buildings.

I would eventually return back to Switzerland some months later in May 2016, and yes I would eventually go through Zurich’s Old Town at last and finally see the lake during the day!

Take care and stay safe

Solo Travel 2015: Lake Geneva

I went on a boat ride around Lake Geneva, but only in the Geneva district. It is quite a big lake that stretches across the Vaud Canton, and even to some part of France.

It was a small boat with myself and a family with two adult daughters, with the captain running the boat.

I took a lot of photos within the hour of the boat ride, mainly of the lake, yachts and houses by the lakeside. Mountains were visible in the background despite it being far in distance.

It was fascinating to actually see clear blue water, especially on a lovely summer’s day when the sky is also blue without a cloud in sight.

We went near the Jet d’Eau fountain. I took the chance by zooming close to the fountain on my DSLR; capturing the detail of the water coming out. It was beautiful from afar with the Geneva skyline and reflection in the lake.

The trip ended on a high. It was great to have experienced something different, despite not going far and wide. Thankfully it wasn’t too expensive and didn’t have to shell out on much for the ride. I would definitely do it again.

Take care and stay safe

Solo Travel 2015: Around and About in Geneva

Note: Advance apologies for the delay. This was initially meant to be posted yesterday, but it didn’t. I will be posting the last part of my Geneva stay tomorrow in the morning

Normally whenever I am on holiday, I would explore around my temporary surroundings, such as the city centre, streets or the neighbourhood. Sometimes I would go by foot or take the local public transport, when possible. I often try to go around by foot, since this would give me the chance to see everything. During my few days in Geneva, I probably went on the tram through town at least twice.

While in Geneva, I stayed at a hostel near the city centre and not too far off from the Old Town. I was lucky that most of the places were walking distance, from restaurants to famous landmarks, such as the famous Jet D’Eau water fountain.

I didn’t realise how diverse Switzerland was prior to going. There was a strong mix of cultures from various backgrounds, mainly Asian, Arab and African. I had some knowledge of the country, apart from being known for its neutrality, luxury watches, renowned chocolate, banking, lakes, scenic mountains and the multiple languages spoken across certain parts.

My experience of my time in Geneva was a good one, although I wish I had explored other places within the canton such as Lausanne and Montreux but unfortunately my time was limited. There will always be a next time once it is safe enough to travel freely with no restrictions, but who knows what the future holds.

Take care and stay safe

Solo Travel 2015: Fly In and First Night

Five years ago, I completed my Fine Art degree at university. I submitted my work May 2015, and would anxiously await for the results a couple months later, as well as receive my certificate through the post.

To celebrate my four long years of hard work at university, I decided to book myself a ten day solo trip to both Switzerland and Italy. I had travelled to Italy a year prior, where I went to Rome for a few days with my childhood friend. I had never been to Switzerland before and was considering going for some time.

This solo trip was a first for me: travelling alone for a long period of time; going from one country to another by train, plus experiencing something completely different, such as being out of my comfort zone.

During my trip I kept a diary, detailing mainly my travels and thoughts, with a couple of rants. I also brought along my Canon EOS 500D camera, which I took with me everywhere. It was a big, bulky and heavy DSLR camera. I had bought in February 2011 after saving up; four years at this point. It had been through more SD cards than I had Sunday roasts. It was absolutely reliable and was my weapon of choice when it came to shooting a variety of photographic styles and genres. I took a spare lens, my trusty 50mm 1.8 Canon lens (also known as the ‘Nifty Fifty’), which I use to this day on my film SLR, despite the autofocus no longer working properly.

After my whirlwind adventure, I eventually returned back to London and wasted no time uploading my photos onto my hard drive, which there were at least over a thousand shots. I had used the Jpeg+RAW mode on the DSLR; I had used this for a few times and mainly edited the RAW files onto PS5 or Photoshop Elements.

I also had my Samsung S5 Mini phone as a second camera, where I would post photos from there onto my Instagram account throughout the duration of my travels.

But what happened to the thousands of travel uploads from the camera? Nothing much. Absolutely nothing. No edits, no Flickr uploads or showing to friends or family. However I did edit one photo from the upload, only to submit towards a gallery show some years back. Spoiler alert: didn’t get through, and it is also my Macbook wallpaper to this day.

Occasionally I would be looking through my past digital photography work. I don’t do it as much since I am more focused on film photography. Around a year ago, I decided to sell my Canon SLR. It had no use for me anymore, with it was just stuck in the cupboard. Sadly, I didn’t get much for it, just £45 which I would spend on film processing.

To mark the fifth anniversary of my solo trip, I am going to share my photographic journey through Geneva, Zurich, Milan and Venice which I will be posting everyday until Thursday 20th August. To note: they were edited on Photoshop to enhance lighting and crop; only a subtle edit. Some posts may come in photo essay form rather than long blog entries.

To start off the series, my week began on Monday 3rd August 2015. I flew out from London City Airport (opposite my old uni) to Geneva in the afternoon. I had the window seat, camera on tow and ready to take as many photos of the fluffy clouds in the sky. I was lucky enough to capture a few interesting shots throughout the flight, including this one when another plane was flying from a distance. One of my personal favourites.

I love looking out the window whenever I am on the plane, although I haven’t had much luck with seating for the last few years.

Once I arrived at my hostel, I wasted no time by going out to try fondue (as recommended by the hostel guide), a famous Swiss dish consisting of melted cheese served in a pot over a portable heated stove. Eaten by dipping the bread into the pot of cheese with long folks. I think I paid around thirty Swiss Francs for it, since it was the cheapest fondue on the whole menu! The restaurant where I had it was walking distance and not hard to find, just go through a few backstreets.

Soon afterwards, I called it a night and headed back to my hostel. I went to bed early and prepped for the next day.

Take care and stay safe

The Petrol Station Series 3: It’s a Wrap and A Very Huge Sigh of Relief!!

Note: Mention of harassment, just an advance warning

Friday 28th February, the last day of the month and also the last night of shooting The Petrol Station Series. I was back in Croydon again, but finished in South Norwood. Thankfully four stops for the finale.

First stop was BP on Shirley Road in Croydon. A little far out from the town centre by bus, passing through Addiscombe. Once I got to the petrol station and got my camera out, I was met by a guy (who happened to be sitting next to me on the same bus). He asked if I was a photographer, to which I replied yes and briefly explained I was shooting petrol stations, however things turned a bit weird after he said he was interested in me and said ‘lived around the corner’. I told him firmly I wasn’t interested in him and to leave me alone. Then in panic mode hoping he would go away, I ran to the petrol station but he was soon following me. I went straight up to a staff member on the shop floor and told him I was being followed. So the kind staff member took me to the back, that was the warehouse, and he checked if the creep was on the shop floor or lurking around outside. I waited a few minutes until I was confident to see if the coast was clear, so I could take the photo of BP. It was quite scary, to be honest and I was glad that it didn’t escalate. I did thank BP, also an M&S Simply Food publicly over on my Twitter afterwards.

BP – Shirley Road, Croydon

Second stop also on Shirley Road was Tesco Esso, a ten minute walk from BP. I was constantly looking over my shoulder and walking at a fast pace, checking if the creepy guy was following me again but he was nowhere to be seen. It was a quick snap from an angle, capturing all three cars at the pumps in perfect harmony.

Tesco Esso – Shirley Road, Croydon

The next stop was Shell on Portland Road in South Norwood, which was a short bus ride to get there. It is located on the high street, surrounded by various shops, restaurants, a dental practice and Citizens Advice bureau. Norwood Junction Overground Station is even nearby, where I would go from to return back home after the next stop.

Shell – Portland Road, South Norwood

The last and final petrol station of the night was BP on South Norwood Hill. A walk up from the previous stop, not even a mile away. I shot the station from the side on Holmesdale Road, in a similar style with an Esso on Brighton Road earlier that week.

BP – South Norwood Hill

Click. The last exposure. Then the film began unwinding from 38 to E on the camera. It had been an absolutely adventurous couple of weeks – trekking around South London during the cold and sometimes wet nights.

As usual, thank you everyone for the support and kindness throughout this series!! I apologise for posts coming in a little later than usual for the last few weeks. I have been juggling work and my personal life quite a lot, especially during recent times.

That’s it. Third Series is a wrap and I am glad it is finally over!!

Take care and stay safe

The Petrol Station Series 3: Beyond Balham

Thursday 27th February, the penultimate night started from Balham with it ending in Pimlico. I shot four petrol stations that evening in three different areas, a perfect way to almost close the series.

The first stop was Sainsbury’s Local on Nightingale Lane in Balham, a five minute walk from Clapham South Tube Station, where I came straight from home via Angel Station; not from Brixton this time round! This Sainsbury’s also has a small supermarket similar to Tesco Express and M&S Simply Food. The petrol station is close to Clapham Common, quite a big park in the middle of South London, also on the other side of the park is BP on North Side, where I went to a week before. Worth noting that I was originally meant to shoot both BP and Sainsbury’s on the same night, however my plans changed a couple weeks prior to make my journey easier.

Sainsbury’s Local – Nightingale Lane, Balham

Next stop was Shell on Balham Hill. I walked there from Sainbury’s, passed the Tube station and crossed the road. The petrol station is on the main high road and it was easy to find. This Shell has it all: a car wash on site, Costa Coffee, plus a Burger King with the drive thru starting from the side of the station next to the kiosk!

Shell – Balham Hill

Third stop was Applegreen in Eccles Court down Kennington, heading towards Vauxhall. I had taken a bus straight from Balham, then walked for a good ten minutes from Oval through a few backstreets. This was the third Applegreen I had shot, with the previous one of this series being in Camberwell, and the very first one in Streatham when I began the first series last summer. I don’t know if Applegreen is a ‘South London thing’ like Morley’s – both a department store and chicken shop (not all in one place!). I haven’t seen any anywhere else so far, including East or North London. This particular stop has a Gregg’s bakery which is inside, something I never seen before.

Applegreen – Eccles Court, Kennington Lane

Last petrol station of the night was BP on Vauxhall Bridge Road in Pimlico. I walked it there from Applegreen rather than take a bus, a straight twenty minute walk on Vauxhall Bridge heading towards Victoria. This stop is quite unique in terms of design: there are residential apartments above, even some surrounding. This BP has a typical petrol station layout despite it missing a roof which would have been impossible to do due to the apartments and planning.

BP – Vauxhall Bridge Road, Pimlico

My night ended there, so it was time to get back home by Tube. Took less than an hour, thank goodness as it was getting late and a little bit cold.

The series would finally wrap up the next day, on the last day of the month. A perfect way to bow out after all this hard work for the last few weeks.

Take care and stay safe

The Petrol Station Series 3: Croydon Chronicles

NOTE: Apologies for the late delay in posting. I didn’t write the entry up until the very last minute. I was hoping to get it done and published as soon as possible on either Saturday or Sunday. I hope you enjoy!

Tuesday 25th February, I was back in Croydon again. I think I had been through Croydon more times than the Apollo 8 going around the moon! Thankfully, I was only shooting four petrol stations in the area, which was a reasonable distance from each other.

There are two petrol stations on Brighton Road in South Croydon. First one was Esso, also known as MFG Whitgift – quite fitting as the Whitgift Centre is a mile away down the town centre. Although Esso is on Brighton Road, I shot it from the side on Haling Road. Close to the station, there is a Volvo car dealership on the opposite side, and a car repairs literally yards away.

Esso – Brighton Road, Croydon

The second stop was Shell, on the same road but a ten minute walk away not even a mile apart. This stop is surrounded by a high road full of fast food places, restaurants and even a pub!

Shell – Brighton Road, Croydon

Third station of the night was another Shell (surprise, surprise) on Whitehorse Road. It was a bus ride to get there, which is down the other side of Croydon and even passed the town centre again!

Shell – Whitehorse Road, Croydon

The fourth and final stop was Esso (yes, another one!) on Lower Addiscombe Road. Not far from the previous stop, despite taking the bus there as it was late and cold. The station is actually in Addiscombe, still in the Croydon area; famous for its trams and supermodel Kate Moss, who hails from there. This Esso is also a Tesco Express, unlike the first one on Brighton Road. This stop has a few interesting surrounding ‘neighbours’ – from a Methodist church, a Scouts group, Chinese language school, business management consultancy to singing lessons.

Esso – Lower Addiscombe Road, Croydon

The night ended in Croydon, again. Now it was time to go return back to the East. I would return back there a couple days later to finish off the series once and for all.

Take care and stay safe