Author Archives: Bryan Johns

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Just got back from a trip down to Punta Cana. I don’t have much to say since my trip was just straight beach time and I did not get a proper exposure to the culture there, but man is Punta Cana beautiful.  Cheap to get to, cheap to stay in, completely worth it.  We chose to not do the resort route, but instead to get an Airbnb to save some money. Punta Cana is very safe and tourist friendly, so deviating a little bit does no harm.  Don’t be afraid to try the seafood, and make sure you buy a lot of drinking water to keep yourself hydrated!  Also, be aware that there is a problem with coastal seaweed there. Beaches must be cleaned daily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pete Cage, Master of Amps

Recently I had the need to get an old guitar amplifier repaired, as it was starting to crackle and spit at me every time I wanted to play.  The amp is an old Fender Twin Reverb from the 70s and it has such a beautiful wholesome sound.  Since I use the amp for recording music, I decided I needed to get it sorted out.

I reached out to a guitar aficionado friend of mine, James Finnerty, who just released a book on Gibson pickups.  He informed me that I should bring my amp to Pete Cage, an amp repairman out of Maryland who is notorious for his craft.  So I did just that!


 

 

Pete only works on vintage, all tube guitar and bass amps, so if your unhealthy amp fits the description, he’s your guy.  I was struck by Pete’s workshop, and told him that I’d like to fire off some pictures of the space since I found it so photogenic.

 

 

 

 

Pete keeps his work space organized and tidy, which enables him to be thorough at his craft.  I was impressed with his professionalism and candor.  He explained what he was going to accomplish with my amp, why some changes needed to happen, and how I would eventually benefit from his work.  And true to his word, I couldn’t be more pleased.

My amp sounds so much more lush and beautiful, and feels solid.

 

 

 

For those in need of Pete’s services, here is the link to his site.

Cage Amplifiers 

Thanks to Pete for letting me into his space and also making my amp sound angelic.

Charleston in Charge

I just got back from a trip down to Charleston, South Carolina to visit some good friends who had recently moved there. I’d been hearing some great things about the city; how it’s steeped in history but has become a burgeoning cultural gem in the South (USA).

 

 

 

 

We ran the gamut on that town.  Charleston’s slow paced, Southern culture is being revitalized by an influx of vibrant young transplants.  There are moments where cultures clash, but overall I think that it’s doing wonders for the city.

Right now there is a purity to Charleston, something magical and mythic.  You feel like your imagination could run rampant if you let it.  All that Spanish moss in the trees, man.

 

 

 

 

My photography professor in College was adamant about never taking photos in cemeteries, due to the potential for your photos to be tragically banal.  While I somewhat agree, I couldn’t help but want to capture the beautiful old cemeteries around Charleston.  Most have graves that are 200 years old, beautifully worn into the marshy terrain.

History is very important in Charleston, and its hard to ignore its bloody past as a slave port.  My impression of the locals is that they are in a transition period of remembering the mistakes of the old world, but trying to move forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pace is slow, the people are polite, and the heat is hot.  We encountered mercurial weather, with periods of downpours in between hot sunny days.  I’m told this is normal.  Fortunately I love this kind of weather!

 

 

 

 

Thanks to Alison, Mike, and my Moms for being great travel companions.  We ate too much, and I’m still feeling full!

Takk Fyrir Iceland!

I just returned from a week and a half winter adventure in the beautiful island country of Iceland.  Right now the tickets to fly to Iceland from the East Coast of the United States are averaging around $300-400 RT, so it’s a no brainer for those looking for a spontaneous getaway.  I chose to fly the discount airline WOW Air, which offers you the cheapest flight ticket but charges you for literally everything else.  It’s a good idea until things go wrong, and then you have to deal with their lackluster customer service, which I had to do.

My friend Inna and I flew into Keflavik Airport, which is about a 45 minute drive from the capital of Reykjavik.  We chose to rent a 4×4 vehicle instead of using one of the many bus tours that the country has to offer.  There were upsides and downsides to this, but ultimately we were thankful to have the freedom that renting a car provides you.  We had organized a road trip across the southern part of the island, following the primary highway that circles Iceland, Route 1.

 

 

 

 

 

For those that are unfamiliar, Iceland is full of volcanoes, glaciers, and lakes.  There are dried lava fields randomly peppering the landscape, and the ridiculously majestic mountains pop up across giant fields of flat terrain.  Most of the population lives on the fringes of the island, with 2/3rds living in the capital of Reykjavik.  It’s sparse and extreme country. Inspirational and terrifying at the same time.

Driving in Iceland in the wintertime is challenging. There is no denying it. Your vehicle must be prepared for weather, and you have to be comfortable driving in rough situations.  With that said, it’s completely worth it.  You won’t see this kind of otherworldly terrain anywhere.  The fast island weather just adds to the atmosphere.   My senses were constantly overwhelmed, and I came home with a sense of enlightenment.

Here is Priscilla, our rental.  She ain’t pretty, but she’s stalwart and sure footed.

 

 

 

 

 

The people who live in the countryside are very acclimated, and are undaunted by the vastness that surrounds them.  They are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met while traveling, and are unhesitatingly helpful.  There is a sense of ease that Icelanders carry, something that I am constantly seeking.  Obviously the lack of traffic and noise has its perks!

 

 

 

After reading blogs and write-ups about what time of year is best when exploring Iceland, I felt that winter would offer me a degree of contrast and intensity that could shake some cobwebs from living comfortably in the modern world.  My takeaway is that there are different comforts here.  Aesthetic beauty moves to the forefront.  Nothing is cluttered or crowded. Buildings compliment the landscape instead of dominating it.

 

 

 

 

My favorite thing about this trip was the glaciers.  I’d never seen a glacier in person, and it was beyond what I expected. They are huge oceans of ice that carve through the landscape over thousands of years.  And they’re distinguishable from regular snow and ice by their beautiful blueish hue.

 

 

 

I couldn’t help but be constantly reminded that there is volcanic activity all around me.  From the geothermal hot springs and geysers, to the beautiful black sand beaches that sprinkle the coastline in pockets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other things of note:

  • There are waterfalls everywhere
  • The hot water may smell of the sulfur springs they come from, but the cold water out of the tap is cleaner than the bottled water being sold in stores. You can actually taste how pure it is!
  • If you go there, don’t forget that wintertime means less daylight due to your proximity to the arctic circle. And of course, the complete opposite in the summertime.

 

 

 

 

Bienvenidos A Miami! (and the Keys)

For the holiday season, my mom and I decided that a trip down south would be the perfect respite to the blinding cold that has hit our area.  I had mentioned to her that I haven’t been to Miami in a long time and that it’s one of my favorite cities.  On top of that, I’ve always wanted to drive the Overseas Highway to the Florida Keys. So we threw some flip flops into bags, summoned an uber driver, and jumped on a Southwest flight to Fr. Lauderdale (airport code FLL).

 

 

 

 

Miami always struck me as such a fun and diverse city, a giant bubbling spicy stew of Hispanic, Caribbean, and American culture, with a heavy dose of Cuban flavor.  It makes the culture and vibe interesting and colorful, and you can see that mix of culture infused in the music and art that have come out of the city for decades.  And of course, the food.  If you go there, try to get away from the bland, homogenized areas and get into the weeds a bit.

 

 

 

 

With that said, my mom and I stayed in South Beach for the first few days of our trip.  Although the area is hyper developed and whitewashed, its gorgeous and lively and always a pleasure to revisit.   We took a trip into Little Havana on Christmas Day just to get into the meat of some of that culture. Unfortunately most things were closed for the holiday.

 

 

 

We left Miami in our rental and headed down south towards the Keys, a chain of islands south of Miami that are connected by a (mostly) single lane highway that runs all the way to Key West.  The entire region is still pretty devastated from the hurricanes that hit them in April, with giant piles of debris lining the entire length of the roadway waiting for dump trucks to do the dirty work.  Here are some key points (or should I say, Key points) that I gleaned from this journey:

  • The drive is grueling but worth it.  The single lane highway is not enough to sustain the amount of people traveling on it, but the scenery is gorgeous. If you’re going to do it, perhaps aim for the off season.
  • The hotels are hit or miss. Do your research. We stayed at a beautiful one, and we stayed at a terrible, terrible one.  Both price gouged us.
  • Everything in Key West is meticulous and beautiful, and expensive. Gas up in the run down areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sambal For Life (Bali Pt. 2)

This is the second post about my recent trip to Bali.  The first post can be found at Terimah Kasi Bali! (Bali Pt. 1).

So lets talk food.  Particularly, Balinese/Indonesian/Malaysian food.

 

 

 

One of the most popular regional cuisines in Indonesia is Padang fare.  Padang food  is usually served in a series of small plate portions of deliciousness, and is somewhat akin to dim sum or tapas in that you are presented with all of the options at once, and you pick which ones you actually want to eat.  The cream of the crop though is rendang.  Oh my god, its easily one of the best foods I’ve ever eaten.  Unfortunately I got food poisoning for the tail end of the trip and only got to eat rendang twice.  Other than padang, Indonesians like fried food, and they do it very well.  Nasi goreng, their fried rice, is hugely popular with tourists (including myself).  Then there is satay, which is principally prepared the same way across southeast Asia.

 

 

So yeah, food poisoning.  It was expected, and it was painful.  I went into the trip knowing that I’d get food poisoning at some point, and I thought I had dodged the bullet. Boy was I wrong.  It could have been from all the sambal I sucked up, which is basically Indonesian for hot sauce.  I do love spicy!  Anyways, wash your hands all the time and don’t get ice with your drinks.

Here is a monkey.

 

 

As far as sights to see in Bali, there are a few specific hot spots that are sort of a must.  My mom’s old friend Harry, who’s lived in Bali for 30 years and is best known as one of the resident DJs of Leed’s prolific disco club The Warehouse, was kind enough to accompany us on all the road trips that we just had to do.  Harry has known me since I was a wee tike in Jakarta, so I call him uncle.

 

 

 

My old friend Marco came to visit us.  Him and I used to play in a band in high school, and we’ve managed to keep in touch for over 20 years.

 

 

First of all I’d like to say that my mom and I avoided the beach, with prior understanding that Bali is not about the beaches.  Don’t get me wrong, they looked beautiful with turquoise water and volcanic sands, but my pale complexion is no match for the near-equatorial sunlight.

 

 

 

Aside from Denpasar, a major draw point for tourists is Ubud.  The surrounding countryside is hilly, with jungles and rice paddies taking turns.  It’s gorgeous. The town itself is unfortunately dense (and I mean dense) with tourism and markets.  Lots of good food though!

 

 

 

Next up is Kintamani.  You drive up a mountain, and when you get there you have this massive view of an extinct volcano with a beautiful lake at its base, all within a giant crater.  The view is obviously one in a million. We ate from a Balinese buffet looking out over the mountain, and it was so serene.

 

 

 

Afterwards we drove down into the valley and made our way to a small village that had some beautiful old Hindu temples.  There were people there that had commuted from far away just to worship at that spot, as there was some religious significance to the location.  Every village you drive through is sleepy and laid back, and this one was no different.  I could also feel the age of the place.  There was emotional and spiritual history there, dense with vibe.

 

 

 

 

 

Another city worth mentioning is Singaraja, which used to be the capital of Bali before they moved it to Denpasar.  It’s sleepy, old, and beautiful, and fortunately untainted, as the majority of tourists don’t really have any reason to visit it.  There are some gorgeous old hotels here, many that are slowly decaying but are still lovely.

 

 

 

My favorite part of the entire trip was our drive back from Singaraja through the mountains, past the three lakes in an area called Buyan (I think, will double check).  Absolutely the most stunning views, and an adventurous drive through towns that live in the clouds and are perpetually foggy.  Keep in mind that I was in the throes of food poisoning through all of this, but it was an experience that I couldn’t sit out.

 

 

 

 

 

Credit must be given to our driver Ajik, whose honed reflexes and keen road awareness kept us safe and moving through the jungle.

 

 

 

 

Terimah Kasi Bali! (Bali Pt. 1)

I just got back from a two week vacation with my mom to Bali, Indonesia and Seoul, Korea, and I’m still a little euphoric.  I’m dividing my experience up into a number of posts due to the sheer amount of pictures that I brought back with me, as well as a separate section on Seoul.

 

 

So for the uninformed (which was me before this trip), Bali is essentially a paradise island, complete with your standard tropical beaches, rain forests, and magnificent mountains, all packed into an island the size of Delaware.  On top of that, the majority of the population of Bali is Hindu, so there are these gorgeous Hindu temples all over the place.   Every town you drive through has multiple open air temples, and most houses have their own shrines in their gardens so that the people can worship at any point in time.

 

 

 

For anybody that has been to Siem Reap in Cambodia, the vibe is basically the same.  Hindu architecture and worship sites are built to integrate into their surroundings and heighten beauty.  It feels very natural and very spiritual.  Also they have these beautiful statues of their gods and goddesses peppered everywhere, with their daily offerings of flowers and rice.  My mother said it best, that it’s amazing how people will build these magnificent structures in the middle of the jungle.

 

 

 

 

 

So to describe the topography and scenery, Bali is comprised of the peaks of mountains along the edge of the Eurasian plate, which inevitably brought about heavy volcanic activity.  So driving through and around the island, you have expansive plains of rice fields with large forested mountains on the horizon.

 

 

 

Driving into and over the mountains is an adventure.  Fortunately the roads are all paved, but they’re windy and narrow.  The infrastructure of Bali was established with roads that are essentially single laned but eventually split into two lanes.  On top of that, the majority of the locals drive scooters and motorcycles, and there are a lot of them.  So driving requires extreme vigilance.   There are very little rules of the road. You have to carve your way to where you need to go.  Motorcyclists there are bold and reckless, often stacking their entire family of 4 or 5 onto one scooter with no helmets on.

 

 

Denpasar, the capital of Bali, is rapidly becoming gentrified and commercialized due to the heavy tourist population.  Once you get outside of the city though, you can find Bali’s beauty everywhere.

The Balinese are extremely friendly island folk, and are quick to smile if you show them friendliness and amicability.  If you go to Bali, be friendly and kind!

 

 

 

The weather in Bali is tropical.  We visited during their summer, which means a lot of rain.  Since Bali is an island, the weather moves quickly and there is a lot of breeze.  The rain only emphasizes the lush green foliage that is everywhere.  Bali is chock full of beautiful flowers and plants, and there are lovely (and scary) insects everywhere.  If you’re afraid of bugs, you probably shouldn’t go! Lots of mosquitoes, dragonflies, praying mantises, and these stupid annoying things my mom called gamu-gamo , which are apparently large flying termites!!!!  Lots of ants, so you can’t leave any food or crumbs, or you’ll wake up to a sea of ants on the table. There are insect eating geckos all over the walls, which are cute but gross when they fall on you.  Stray dogs are everywhere, crossing the street in front of you on the road, and the island does have its share of cats.

 

 

 

Next week I’ll talk about the food and the must sees.

Seratonin Explosion! (Seattle, Again)

I just got back from my second excursion to the great Northwest city of Seattle, to visit my old friend Peter and his wife Audrey.  My previous layover was not substantial enough of a visit for me to feel satisfied with how much I’d absorbed of the city, so I decided that I had to return! (Read my last Seattle post, Coffee Jitters)

 

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My prior trip was spent exploring the downtown portions of the city.  The financial district, the coffee shops, the tourist traps.  While impressive and seemingly unique, there is just so much more to Seattle.  It has become a mecca for naturalists and creatives because of its immediate proximity to water, forests, and mountains.  I had not fully appreciated the depth of how much nature means to the people there until I experienced it first hand.

 

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Unfortunately we did not have enough time to jaunt into the deep wilderness due to time constraints, but I was able to see enough to be convinced that all modern cities should aspire to be what Seattle has become.  The city is obviously in touch with it’s presence and effect on the surrounding nature.  Public transportation uses green energy to cut down on emissions,  and I often noticed how the streets were absent of garbage and detritus.

 

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The city is built around a series of lakes and bays, so as a result there are breathtaking views everywhere.  I couldn’t help but feel relaxed just sitting in the back seat of Pete’s Subaru as he chauffeured me around town, to music that is so expertly curated by him and is such a reflection of the scene and vibe that is the Pacific Northwest.  I’m pretty sure that I caught Seattle at the best time.  It wasn’t overcast for the majority of my trip (despite how it might appear in these photos), and I can imagine how the winter months might start to feel oppressive to the uninitiated.

 

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The people there are polite but carry an edge that I could best compare with East Coasters, although not as black humored.  I found myself having to second guess my salacious comments for fear of sounding boorish, but Pete and Audrey assured me that I was not offensive 🙂

 

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The tech industry is thriving in Seattle.    I’m told that this is due to the city’s proximity to California, as well as Asia.  Amazon basically owns a portion of downtown Seattle.  Blocks and blocks!  Its pretty scary, actually.

 

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Pete and Audrey’s friend Greg blessed us with a lovely boat ride through the inner lakes of the city.  It was a pleasant surprise, and I’m so thankful that we could get on the water in a place that is so deeply maritime in culture.  We didn’t get to see Bill Gates’ (probably ridiculous) house, but we saw yacht after yacht, basically stacked on each other.  I had to ask them “Where do these people take these things?  Do they just stay docked and look pretty?”.  But of course they take them out, inspiring so many Entourage episodes.

 

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I thought to myself the entire time how its no wonder legendary musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam derived so much inspiration from the city and environment.

Shouts out to my good friend John Dstruct (alias) and his daughter Hannah, who I was fortunate enough to have lunch with after so many years of working on music with him in the supergroup, Robot Death Squad.

 

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Respect the Bagel (Montreal)

Last week my good friends and I took a trip up to Montreal, Quebec for a quick summertime getaway.  We chose Montreal because we’d heard that it’s a great place to experience in the summertime.  That it is!

Montreal is actually built on an island that was apparently formed from a volcano.  At the center of the city is a rather large hill called Mount Royal that offers a great view of the sprawling city below.

 

Montreal

 

Once we arrived in Montreal, my friends and I hiked up the hill after dropping off our gear at our hotel.  The hike itself was fun and challenging, and definitely worth it for the view!  There were people all over it, jogging and cycling up and down the roads and trails.  For us, the hike took about 45 minutes to an hour. I wasn’t exactly timing it because I was blinded by sweat and exertion.

 

Montreal

 

 

Montreal

 

Montreal is very pedestrian friendly, but due to its rather immense sprawl the people have taken to cycling to meet their commuting needs.  There are bikes all over the place.  I was actually really impressed by the city’s cycling accommodations.  Bike lanes get their own curb-isolated partition of the road.

Le Plateau, which is the more hip part of the city, is covered with restaurants, shops, and lovely townhouses with wrought iron staircases.  The city is covered with so much green. There are parks all over the place and lots of old trees, which really complements the beautiful row houses.

 

Montreal

 

 

Montreal

 

After about half a day I really started to notice the street art.  Graffiti is unashamedly present on every street, and its beautiful.  It’s a lovely contrast with the European vibe that you get from the architecture.  The murals that cover entire building sides are so impressive, and its obvious that the city allows their local artists to thrive and expand in their element here.

 

Montreal

 

 

Montreal

 

My friends and I spent a chunk of time downtown in the financial district.  Montreal’s economy is obviously healthy and strong, as there was no shortage of looming skyscrapers to block your sunlight.  The streets are all well manicured and kept tidy, and the indoor public spaces like the Underground City are meticulous and gorgeously lit.

 

Montreal

 

 

Montreal

 

 

Montreal

 

The thing that impressed me the most about Montreal is how friendly and patient the people are.  Even if you’re a tourist or outsider, you’ll be treated with tremendous politeness and grace in every store and eatery.  Every sign in the city is in French and the first thing you’ll hear when you walk into any establishment is a greeting in French.  Of course once they realize you don’t speak French, the English comes at you naturally. My mom said it best, that she’d never been to a city where the people were so fluently bilingual.

 

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Montreal

 

I made an effort to smile at everybody, try and dispel the American stigma that I’ve been aware of since I was younger and living overseas.  I did notice that the smile-backs are a little guarded, but there is absolutely no lack of friendly reciprocation.  I don’t think the Montrealites were appreciative of my raucous disposition after a few drinks (our poor Uber driver), but they’ll survive.

 

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I got to spend some time by the water.  Not exactly the best views, but flooded with tourists and their DSLRs.  I felt like I did a tremendous amount of walking to experience what every other big city with a waterfront has to offer.  At least I found a bangin’ pizza spot that appreciated my propensity for tipping.

 

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If you go, don’t forget to try a bagel.  I scoffed, but man…respect to the Montreal bagel.

Also shouts to my buddies’ Hyun and Eric for not throwing their hands up in front of their faces every time I took a picture of them.

Baby Kay for a Day!

Took some newborn baby pictures for my friends Stephanie & Harry a few weekends ago.  First time for me!

It was fun.  I realize now that so much is involved with photographing newborn babies. Mainly, how is the baby feeling in each moment.

We had to make sure little Kay was asleep so we could pose her, basically rushing each scene so we could get some quality shots in before she woke up.  She was a great sport!  Didn’t even give me any dirty looks.

Anyways, here are a few of my favorites from the shoot.

 

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Night Shots With the Zeiss Batis 25/2

Just trying out the new Zeiss Batis 25mm F 2.0 on my Sony A7II.  Wonderful performance!! Really pleased with this lens. Distortion in virtually nonexistent (and even less so with some Lightroom adjustments).

So happy with this lens. Can’t wait to take it out into nature in the daytime.

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

 

Night Shot with Zeiss 25/2

Richmond

Just a quick post on some photos I took of Richmond.  This was my first time seeing the city’s core, and I really enjoyed it.  The vibe there is laid back, with lots of breweries and young people bouncing around with their young people enthusiasm.

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My favorite aspect of Richmond is that it’s still in it’s early stages of gentrification, so you have a lot of old industry peppering the city.  Lots of exploration potential!

My good friend Carter, also known as Alcrani in the Drum & Bass community, was gracious enough to host my visit.

Carter Alcrani

 

Carter’s kitten, Funyons, is the sweetest cat I’ve ever experienced.  Such an intuitive little girl.  Something about Drum & Bass producers and their cats.

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Photos taken with:

Sony A7II
Sony Sonnar 55mm/1.8 FE ZA