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Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Locals Know the Cool Spots

So you've decided to travel to a location you've never been to. You want to get a "local" experience during your visit if possible and not simply stick to the cliche touristy areas. How would you go about doing this?

Here are some ideas:

1)    Start Simple: Google search "things to do in X"

This is the simplest way of creating your list of locations. For any particular place, you can search Google with the terms "things to do in" and place the location of your choice.

Example for Paris:

Whenever you search Google for a particular area and use some variant of the terms described above, you can navigate your way to the "travel guide" page for that specific place. This is a new Google search feature and it's a convenient way of getting all the "must see" locations. I recommend searching images for each location and seeing if a specific location grabs your interest. Additionally, you can look through the official destination website to get more ideas. For the Paris example, you can check out These sources are a good way to get started on your search but they have one major drawback: they miss lesser-known spots that only locals would be aware of.

2)    Instagram is Your Friend

So, how can you search for more local spots? One of the ways of getting a good sample of local spots is to find users on Instagram who live in the location that you want to explore. Often times, these people have pictures of numerous local spots that you wouldn't find through the aforementioned search methods.

Let's look at one example to illustrate this point:

A review of her page shows that she's primarily based in New York. Now consider this post:

In the above picture we see a unique-looking restaurant. I would imagine that someone visiting New York would want to dine at such a place where you're surrounded by plants. This establishment doesn't seem to be like other restaurants and I would argue that it's distinct enough to warrant a spot on your list of stops. If you use the methods I described in section 1, you wouldn't be able to find this location. This is why Instagram is useful for "filling in the gaps" when it comes to finding local spots.

Here is another example from the same page:

As you can see, this person seems to have a theme and they specifically try to find cafes and restaurants in New York that look unique and incorporate plants in some way. If you want to make your visit to New York more memorable, you could consider borrowing this person's interest and checking out some of the same locations she's been to. Once again, the establishments from both these examples would not appear in official tour guides and Instagram is a convenient way of finding such locations.

This user is just one person and other urban explorers have their own areas of interest. Another person might prefer finding the streets in New York with the most amount of trees or plants. Yet another person might have a page devoted to high quality street art. By viewing the pages of several popular locals, you can get a diverse sample of non-tourist locations.

In addition to reviewing the pages on your own, you can also send a private message to any person whose page looks especially interesting and ask them if they have recommendations to share. I've found that most people are willing to help if your message doesn't get lost in the numerous messages they likely receive if their page is especially popular.

3)    Search "Non tourist spots in X"

Another option is to include the terms "non tourist" in your Google search. This method will find sources where the author (usually a local) has compiled a list of spots that aren't well-known. For instance, using this method for New York yields the following page:

The article above lists locations such as "Sunset Park," "The Cloisters," and "Fort Tryon Park." As a non local, I've never heard of these locations and wouldn't have known about them if I had restricted my search to the methods outlined in section 1.

If you are aware of other reliable methods of finding non-touristy spots, please share. The strategies in this post have often times worked for me. Also, after finding a spot, consider using the "star" feature on Google maps because it allows you to simultaneously see all the locations on the map and how far apart each one is from another. Such a visual representation allows for easier planning when it comes to deciding which cluster of destinations to visit together.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Parallels between music and art

Music and art seem to be similar in the way they use the power of contrasts. 

For instance, let's consider the visual of a completely dark canvas that is filled with a color that is a mix of dark green and dark blue. This color comes close to black but it's not quite there.
Now consider placing a single bright yellow dot somewhere on the canvas. That bright spot will immediately grab all the attention due to all the contrast and the darkness around it.

Let's look at a similar situation in music. Imagine the piece starts with bombastic loudness and with a very fast tempo. After this initial  burst of energy, all the instruments abruptly die down and you hear the faint whisper of a violin. This soft sound from a single instrument that immediately follows the torrent that came before it is much like that small bright dot in a sea of darkness.  Both the composer and the artist use the power of strong  contrasts to highlight something very small that could have been easily drowned out if the contrast wasn't there.

This concept of utilizing contrasts to highlight something small and delicate is present in both music and art and I hadn't realized the obvious parallels until today. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Background Art

This post is a collection of background art from Studio Ghibli films.

I plan to recreate as many of these as I can using color pencils. It's my ambitious long-term project for the coming years.

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