10 Most Inspiring Cities in the World

I’m not Johnny Cash, and I ain’t been everywhere, man. I haven’t been to Tallapoosa, Oskaloosa, Grand Lake or Crater Lake, for Pete’s sake. I have been to Fargo, but don’t ya know, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. But I have been around the block a time or two, and I’ve visited some amazing cities along the way. Half of my job is photographing beautiful places; the other half is writing about them. These are the ten most inspiring cities I’ve ever visited, places that spur creativity unlike anywhere else I’ve tread.

No two places are the same, of course. I love Dublin and Yangon, but the reasons couldn’t be more disparate. Seoul has a very different vibe from Porto, and a weekend in Montreal is a totally different experience from ten days in Luang Prabang. Difference, of course, is what makes travel so exciting. In making this list, a city need only qualify under two criteria; it must inspire photographic curiosity, and it must stir literary ghosts.

Keep in mind that I’m focusing on cities alone – if it were a list of my ten favorite travel destinations, things would be different. But since most of my work begins and ends in large urban centers, I thought I’d kick off my first “Top 10” list with a bang.

I’ve included a trio of places you shouldn’t miss for each destination. Quirky cafés, world-class brew pubs, boutique hotels, secluded temples – that sort of jazz. Little things that help make a place unique.

 

Ireland_5053-2

Dublin, Ireland

Arguably the world’s finest literary legacy. Crumbling Georgian architecture. Noble Celtic heritage. St James Gate and Guinness by the barrel full. Atmospheric Liffey River. The green lung of St. Stephen, and the tortured liver of Temple Bar.

If you succeed in removing yourself from the pubs, cafes, and bookshops, Dublin’s hardscrabble streets hold plenty of intrigue for intrepid travelers.

Don’t Miss:

1. The Porterhouse | Brew Pub

16-18 Parliament Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 2, Dublin

porterhousebrewco.com

 

2. The Winding Stair | Café & Bookshop

40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Dublin

winding-stair.com

 

3.  Glasnevin Cemetery | Cemetery and Museum

Glasnevin Museum, Finglas Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 11, Dublin

glasnevintrust.ie

 

Korea_35567-2

Seoul, South Korea

To the world Seoul is bright neon lights, fuel-efficient cars, genetic research, and mountains of kimchi. The Land of the Morning Calm is deservedly lauded as a spreading ground for future tech, and well known as the K-pop powerhouse, and rightfully so – just try and pretend you don’t sing Gangnam Style on your way to work – though Seoul is furiously rebranding as a design-centric, green-focused hub to East Asia, and a welcoming haven for the independent traveler.

Some of the world’s best street food, Korean BBQ, ancient palaces, bustling markets, and a furious nightlife scene make Seoul one of the most exciting places to visit in East Asia.

Don’t Miss:

1. Namdaemun Market

49-1 Namchang-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul

Subway Line4, Hoehyeon Station

 

2. Gyeongbokgung Palace

161, Sajik-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul

 

3. Anyang Art Park

Anyang 2-dong, Manan-gu, Anyang, Gyeonggi Province

 

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Yangon, Burma

Burma, Myanmar, the mystical python kingdom, is a place where nothing is ever as it seems, and expectations are shaped on the fly. There is a side of this country that few visitors ever get to experience, even though it exists right before their eyes. Yangon is a vast, quixotic city, home to busy thoroughfares that shoulder ancient pagodas, an absurd chicken market, a vibrant, colorful Indian Quarter, crumbling colonial architecture, and some of the world’s friendliest people.

Watch the breathtaking Shwedagon Pagoda come to life at night, dine on succulent Shan noodles at a hole-in-the-wall café, swap black-market currency in Chinatown, and walk among the ghosts along Strand Road at midnight.

Don’t Miss:

1. Chicken Wholesale Market

Outside Yangon, near the airport

 

2. Shwedagon Paya

Dagon Township, Yangon

Daily: 5:00 pm–10:00 pm (closed on Saturday and Sunday)

 

3. 999 Shan Noodle Shop

No. 130 B 34th Street, Kyauktada Township, Yangon

 

Canada_2938

Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Montreal is more than just curds, fries, and gravy (if you’re not familiar with poutine, then I feel sorry for you). Montreal sits at the epicenter of one of the most unique cultural enclaves in all of North America. Old European charm, contemporary art and design, raucous nightlife, fine French dining, invigorating green spaces, and enthralling boutiques, galleries, and museums culminate in Quebec’s marvelous cultural capital, and imbue all who visit with a certain joie de vivre.

Montreal also serves as Canada’s craft beer capital, which may put a serious hurting on your early morning photographic designs.

Don’t Miss:

1. Patati Patata

Dining in Montreal begins and ends with a trip to a local poutine shop. Poutine is a unique Quebecois dish of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Patati Patata is a favorite among young locals. 4177 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, Montreal, Quebec. 9am-11pm.

 

2. Dieu du Ciel

Craft brewers like Le Cheval Blanc, and L’Amère à Boire have been brewing brilliantly for years, but Dieu du Ciel sets itself apart with masterpieces like the Corpus Christi Rye Ale and the Peche Mortel Imperial Stout. 29 Avenue Laurier Ouest, Montreal, Quebec. www.dieuduciel.com

 

3. Atwater Market

Shop for artisanal breads, cheeses, and chocolates at this robust market built in the 1930s. Dig a little deeper for gems like seaweed caviar, salted codfish, and fresh pig’s feet. 138 Avenue Atwater, Montreal, Quebec. www.marchespublics-mtl.com

 

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Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago is a city on the cutting edge of gastronomy, urban design, contemporary culture, and, well, gigantic metallic beans.

Chicago is unlike any other place in America. It’s more than the Midwest’s biggest hitching post; Chicago’s culinary dreamscape is every bit as nuanced as New York’s, and not half as pretentious. Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, formerly home to about a million slaughterhouses, is now the ultimate pit-stop for haute pub grub (Haymarket Brewery); the Market District has a fancy new tenant in the beloved Schwartz Pickle Factory (One Sixtyblue); and that notorious deep-dish death sentence pizza is never more than a few blocks away (Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria).

Chicago is so enticing, in fact, that even Batman decided to relocate here on Christopher Nolan’s wishes. It may have been the skyline that brought the Dark Knight West; one look at the shimmering towers from Lincoln Park or Northerly Island at sunset is enough to make anyone want to pack a toothbrush into their utility belt.

Don’t Miss:

1. Lincoln Park

For brilliant views of Chicago’s skyline.

2045 North Lincoln Park West, Chicago, IL

 

2. Haymarket Brew Pub

737 W Randolph St  Chicago, IL 60661
Tel. (312) 638-0700 haymarketbrewing.com

 

3. Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

805 S. State Street, South Loop, Chicago, IL 60605

Tel. (312) 786-1000 loumalnatis.com

 

HongKong_78983

Hong Kong, SAR, China

Arriving in Hong Kong is to step into the future – at least how I’ve always dreamed the future may look, so long as the future is a curious blend of Bladerunner style and Disney-sponsored endorsement deals. HK is the financial wunderkind of the east, and the post-modern skyline reflects that; skyscrapers stretch from one island to the next in an infinite concrete and glass conflux. At times the city seems so foreign and impenetrable that it’s hard to wrap your head around – you want to see more than high-rise apartment blocks and shopping malls, but you can’t figure out how. That’s half the fun, of course; exploring this psedo-dystopia is one good time after the other, once you realize that you’re never too far away from world-class dim sum, a traditional Chinese Market, a 7-star hotel spa, planet earth’s wildest grey market, and an armada of traditional dragon boats built to cruise.

Don’t Miss:

1. Fragrant Lotus | Restaurant

160-164 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong

Tel. 852-2544-4556

 

2. Peninsula Hong Kong | Hotel

Salisbury Rd, Hong Kong

Tel. 852-2920-2888, peninsula.com

 

3. MacLehose Trail | Hiking Trail

Sai Kung District, New Territories East, Hong Kong

 

Laos_73984-2

Luang Prabang, Laos

Tangerine-robed monks toting parasols through the mist. Elephants crashing through the jungle. Asia’s most underrated cuisine. Dark Beer Lao. Waterfalls demanding ill-advised cannonballs. An incredible open air night market (the best place in the city to sample traditional Lao food), a vibrant local arts scene, and more Buddhist temples than almost any other city on earth. Just thinking of our time in Luang Prabang has me yearning for hotpot by the Mekong River, sausages infused with lemongrass, canoe trips on the murky water, and chilly bottles of Dark Beer Laos – seriously, I can’t stress how much I love this beer.

Though it is not known as a land of superlatives – there is no highest mountain here, no longest river there, no park of pagodas anywhere – Laos offers opportunities to experience something different every day, whether you’re looking for excitement on the river, adventures in the jungle, or relief from the urgency of humanity in the most elegant of Asian cities. The slow boat from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang is indeed a pilgrimage of a certain kind, while Luang Prabang itself is the sort of place where you can unwind until your visa runs dry.

Don’t Miss:

1. Villa Deux Rivieres | Hotel

One of my favorite hotels in Asia; next door is a really unique vegan restaurant serving traditional Lao food with a veggie twist.

Kingkitsalath Rd 43 Unit 02, Luang Prabang

Tel. +8562077377571 villadeuxrivieres.com

 

2. Phou Si and Wat Chom Si

Climb to the top of the hill in the center of town for fantastic views of the city and her rivers. Evening views are spectacular, but remember a torch for the walk down.

 

3. Ock Pop Tok | Retail Shop

Handmade textiles, arresting bric-a-brac; runs textiles workshops and tours to local villages.

73/5 Ban Vat Nong, Luang Prabang,

Tel. +856 71 253219

 

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Porto, Portugal

Porto is the birthplace of Port Wine. If that doesn’t do it for you, then you don’t like travel (or you’re not a raging alcoholic, I guess). If you manage to dig yourself out of a port cellar long enough to explore the city, you’ll find gorgeous medieval architecture in the form of ancient fishing apartments along the beautiful Duoro River; the Ribeira is a UNESCO World Heritage area done right. A river cruise is a great way to spend an evening, but you can’t go wrong exploring Porto’s litany of churches and cathedrals, testing your mettle on the city’s towering bridge during a storm, and rewarding your bravery with a sinfully delicious Francesinha sandwich.

The whole of Porto’s old center is a photographer’s dream; ferret warrens connecting one crumbling building to another, caves concealing quirky cafés, and hilly terrain marked by galleries, shops, and restaurants.

Don’t Miss:

1. Bufete Fase | Restaurant

Rua de Santa Catarina 1147, 4000 Oporto

Tel. 351 222 052 118

 

2. Sandeman Port Cellars

Largo Miguel Bombarda 3, Vila Nova de Gaia

Tel. 351 223 740 534 sandeman.eu

 

3. Mercado do Bolhão | Market

Rua Fernandes Tomás, 4000-214 Oporto

Tel. 351 223 326 024

 

Vietnam_77654

Hoi An, Vietnam

A sleepy Vietnamese town on the Thu Bon River, a place where colorful shops loom over ancient cobbled streets, lanterns illuminate the path through a grandiose covered bridge, and tiny men pilot tiny skiffs across the glassy surface of the water. At the river’s edge, crates have been turned upside down and stand in as tables, with tiny plastic stools nearby. A plump, jovial woman places a steaming bowl of Cao Lau before visitors – tongues wag in awe. Cao Lau is a regional dish made with hearty flat noodles, pork, and veggies. The noodles are made with water from an ancient Cham well, while the recipe is a closely guarded secret (if you believe what you hear on the road. I try to believe as much as I’m told).

Dining on the river in Hoi An is a quintessential Vietnamese experience. Foodies flock here to sample what may be the best-tasting noodle dish on the planet, But Hoi An is more than a place to stuff your face; it’s one of Asia’s most charming and laid back travel destinations (quite a feat for a country with roughly 400 million motorbikes). I’m a huge fan of sipping frosty beer by the river for pennies a glass, shooting the beautiful Japanese covered bridge (especially when there’s a local wedding taking place), sampling what seems like an endless array of local culinary delicacies, haggling over prices on shiny suits (none of which I ever buy), launching paper lanterns over the Thu Bon River as night falls, and reveling in the solitude of a slow boat ride out to sea.

Don’t Miss:

1. Morning Glory | Restaurant

106 Nguyễn Thái Học, Hội An

Tel. +84 510 3241 555

 

2. Hoi An Photo Tours

54 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hội An

Tel. 090567198, hoianphototour.com

 

3. Japanese Covered Bridge

At the West end of Tran Phu St., Hội An

 

India_90998

Jodhpur, India

Just about any city in India could have made this list, but I decided to go with the one that pissed me off the least. Delhi is insane, and a fantastic place to photographic, but a bit of an overwhelming, nightmarish glut of humanity. Agra has the Taj… and that’s about it. Udaipur’s stark whiteness is mesmerizing, but when we found a dead cow floating in our fishing hole, it was disqualified from this list. Jodhpur, then, takes the title! And why not? It’s as bright and vibrant as any other city in India.

Jodhpur’s market is a buzzing hive of human activity – but it’s unlikely that someone will grab your ass or touch your face at random the way they might in Delhi. Views of the Blue City from Mehrangarh Fort are sensational – so long as you brought a telephoto lens to compress the perspective. The giant clock tower at the center of town (in the middle of the market) may help you get orientated after wandering through the endless maze of ancient alleyways, while the shopping is apparently fantastic (I avoided it like the plague – which I think I got from a rat in one of the havelis. Learned my lesson about flip-flops in India).

Don’t Miss:

1. Mehrangarh Fort

The Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan, 342006

Tel. 0291 254 8790

 

2. Sardar Market

You don’t need an address for this. Follow your nose – or look for the clock tower at the heart of the market.

3. Ice Cream Shop

We wandered down the main drag south of the clock tower for about 30 minutes to find this place – and for the life of me, I can’t find the name in my notes. Oops. The secret dies with me.

 

There you have it – the cities that have inspired me most. Some were a lock from the start (Dublin, Seoul, Yangon) while others made it in at the last second (Jodphur, Chicago). I’d love to know what cities have inspired you!

 

Honorable Mention:

Chiang Mai, Thailand | Toronto, Canada | San Francisco, California | Galle, Sri Lanka

Beijing, China | Jogjakarta, Indonesia | Pokhara, Nepal

 

- flash

PS: I’m much better at updating my Facebook page, so if you’re so inclined, head over there for the last goings on from the empire.  Click to join me on Facebook

Inspiration is Everything: 2012 Photography Contest

Contest 1 poster

INSPIRATION IS EVERYTHING

We travel for different reasons. Some of us love the thrill of visiting a faraway, exotic destination. Others want to know what it’s like to sample cuisine from the other side of the world. And there are those of us who just want to dig our toes into the sand on a tropical beach and forget about the rest of the world for a while. Sometimes we travel to experience something new. Sometimes we travel to experience something that will teach us about ourselves. At the end of the day, we all travel to experience.

To mark the release of our first photography guide book, we are launching a photography contest about your experiences, your inspiration, and your photography.

INSPIRATION IS EVERYTHING: 2012 PHOTOGRAPHY CONTEST

We want to know what inspires you to travel. We want to see what inspires you to take pictures when you’re on the road. Share your experiences and your inspiration with us, and you could win a prize or two.

Here is the easy part: all you need to do is upload a photo to our Facebook page or share a link to your favorite photo with us, and tell us why you were inspired to create the image in the first place. You can write us an essay if you feel like it. You can sum up your entire experience in a single word, if that’s what you feel like doing. It’s up to you.

Keep in mind that we want to see your best travel photo – not Steve McCurry’s. The photograph you enter must be your own original property. We don’t want to see your mom’s favorite photo or an album of pix from that uncle of yours that works for National Geographic. Unless they enter the contest themselves. That would be totally cool.

PRIZES

The winner will receive a Crumpler 5 Million Dollar Home camera bag, perfect for a compact, micro-four-thirds or average size SLR camera + lenses and accessories. This is the same sort of gear that Flash Parker uses in the field, so you know it either looks good or works pretty well.

The winner will also receive a copy of Photography 101: Inspiration is Everything, the first photography guide book from Flash Light Expeditions.

A few finalists will also receive a copy of Photography 101 and some other stuff we’re going to surprise you with as the contest rolls along. Yeah, we’re sneaky like that. We know you like surprises.

RULES AND OUR DARK SECRET

That’s right, we have a dark secret. We want more people to like us. Yeah, we crave attention. We need it. We won’t be happy until 25,000 people LIKE our Facebook page – and then we’ll set our sights on 50,000. We want your help to spread the word, so we’ve come up with these rules for our photography contest:

1. Upload your photo to our Facebook page, or share a link to your photo on our wall.

2. LIKE our Facebook page, if you haven’t already.

3. SHARE our Facebook page with your friends – at least 100 of them.

4. Sit back, relax, and WIN.

That’s it. Pretty simple. We’re not after your first born. We’re not asking you to reinvent the wheel. Heck, we’re not even asking for money. We’re asking you to spread the word about Flash Light Photography Expeditions while sharing your favorite photograph with us. This contest is open to people anywhere in the world – it wouldn’t be much of a photography contest if you couldn’t get out and shoot someplace exciting.

WINNERS AND FINE PRINT

The contest closes on February 29th. Winners will be announced March 1st. Judging will be done in a non-scientific manner by Dylan Goldby, Len Payne, Megan Ahrens and Flash Parker – otherwise known as the Flash Light Admin Division.

The winning image will be showcased on the Flash Light webpage.

In case you were wondering, yes, you retain full rights and ownership to your photography. We don’t want your photos – we just want to look at them. We have enough of our own, anyway. We promise not to use your image for any commercial or promotional purposes without your consent. That just wouldn’t be cool. If you took it, you own it.

 

Visit us and enter your image:

www.facebook.com/flashlightexpeditions

www.flashlightexpeditions.com

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

 

When visiting a new place for the first time I have the propensity to shoot it the way I see it; this is a trap I don’t like falling into. I take out my camera, glue the shutter to f/8 and take crummy tourist shots of the big sights. I load these frames into the computer and exhale deeply as I click DELETE over and over and over again.

I don’t do this all the time, of course. Sometimes I hit the ground running and I’m feeling creative and the stars align and the sun cooperates, etc. etc. etc… but sometimes none of these things happen and I shoot flat, lifeless images. This usually doesn’t last more than a day, but sometimes it does.

I felt this way when we arrived in San Francisco. Granted, we had just ended a whirlwind five month tour of half a dozen countries and I was feeling a little burnt out, but nevertheless I wasn’t wearing my creative pants for the first few days in town. I could have solved this by consulting my handy Travel Checklist, but I neglected to do that. I could have scoured the interwebs for inspiration, but I neglected to do that, too. Instead I forged on through the afternoon sun shooting this and shooting than and largely feeling non-plused about the whole situation.

Another solution to defeating the tourist blues is to shoot with the intention of creating a cohesive portfolio of a place. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it can really help you dig yourself out of any rut. First thing you might want to consider is throwing your zoom lens into your camera bag – the lazy maker doesn’t help when you’re uninspired – and affixing a prime lens to your camera body. Forget about shooting random things here and there for a few hours and focus on one particular style; street, portraits, architectural design, food – whatever floats your boat, really. Just find a focus and work until you have a half dozen images you’re proud of. Nine times out of ten this cures me of the Day One Tourist Blues and I’m back at it.

I was in San Fran around the same time as one of my favorite photographers, isayx3 on flickr and Plain Joe on the mighty interwebs, posted this SF set right here. It’s cohesive, succinct and creative. Shot with a trio of lenses – all primes – shot with the same tonality and colour palette in mind. To say that I was inspired would be an understatement. Seeing someone else succeed where I was having trouble was enough to rouse me from my funk and get me working again. 

Short and sweet today. To summarize; focus. Motivate. Inspire. It’s easy to lose your head or feel overwhelmed when shooting this wild world of ours. It’s even easier to get back on track again.