CityStock.Photos: Blog en-us (c) CityStock.Photos (CityStock.Photos) Sat, 30 Sep 2017 19:32:00 GMT Sat, 30 Sep 2017 19:32:00 GMT CityStock.Photos: Blog 80 120 Date Night - McKinney After a month of travel, mostly to Colorado where our sons have decided to go to college, we are officially empty nesters – at least until the holidays.  So as we look at one another in amazement, it seems a good time to have a date night and get re-acquainted.  With so many choices in Collin County to enjoy great food, music, and adult beverages, we decided to create a monthly series on great date nights.  So, we hope you enjoy this first entry on McKinney and will share your ideas for future ventures.


If you haven’t been to McKinney, I urge you to go.  This historic city, and the seat of Collin County, has some great historic houses and things to see as well as great options for a night out.  And some of our favorites are conveniently located around the lovely downtown square.


Start at Rye, a tiny spot with artistic craft cocktails, just off the square.  It is fun to watch the bartenders move around such a small space, making magical potions that taste as good as they look.  With only a few barstools in front of the bar, it is good to go there early before it gets crowded.  

  20170721-0279Rye Cocktails 20170721-0271Rye Cocktails

Then walk over to Harvest, facing the side of the courthouse, for a delicious farm to table meal.  While many restaurants now promote themselves as farm to table, Harvest has built a strong reputation in their three years as being true to their word.  Nearly everything in the restaurant is locally sourced including the tables, linens, art, and of course, food.  They proudly name the local farms and sources for their inventory. Chef Andrea Shackleford has been around since the founding of the restaurant.  She developed relationships with the farmers at the local McKinney Famer Market (link to our blog) and works with them closely. Harvest has even held symposiums on sustainability to build stronger relationships between farmers and restaurants. 

  20170721-0106Harvest Farm to Table Restaurant

Andrea is also a master gardener and oversees the restaurant garden where many of their herbs and vegetables come.  She also loves the idea of sustainability and believes in not wasting anything when possible.  When we visited, they had recently gotten a bumper crop of tomatoes from a local farmer and Andea set out to use every last bit.  First they juiced the tomatoes, then made a sauce.  They then dried the remaining pulp for garnish and to add some extra spice or taste to broths and dishes.

  20170721-0116Harvest Farm to Table Restaurant

Not only does their menu change with the season, but their craft cocktails do as well.  Toby Thomason, General Manager, is responsible for the homemade bitters and infused liquors, which look as good as they taste.  And for those of you who are like to try new things, they have “noncommittal” cocktails so you can try one and if you don’t like it, send it back without charge!  We strongly suggest the Midsummer’s Night created by their bartender, Kayleen Ledford, while it lasts. 

  20170721-0207Harvest Farm to Table Restaurant

20170721-0208Harvest Farm to Table Restaurant

And while Harvest has great food, their people are really special. Everyone we spoke to had been with the restaurant for well more than a year - unusual for wait staff – and all took great pride in what they were doing at Harvest.  They had a wonderful family atmosphere which spills over into great service.  The night we were there, there was a private party for someone’s rehearsal dinner and they took great care in setting up the tables to make it special.

  20170721-0187Harvest Farm to Table Restaurant

20170721-0208Harvest Farm to Table Restaurant

After dinner, do some window-shopping around the lovely and romantic town square and work off some of that meal.  You will want a little extra room for the final stop of the night, Emporium Pies.  Just off the square, this small pie shop has delicious pies, coffee, and tea as the perfect nightcap to your evening.

  20170721-0248Emporium Pies

Of course, if you are still up for more, there is also a vibrant music scene in McKinney with several options to hear some live music.


There are many other fun and delicious spots in McKinney so feel free to let us know your favorites.  We might have to revisit in a future blog post.  Our next Date Night blog will be on Plano, focusing on the downtown area first.


]]> (CityStock.Photos) date night mckinney texas Sat, 30 Sep 2017 19:31:48 GMT
Art and Wine - A Great Combination Downtown Plano has become a great spot to visit with galleries and shops that feature unique and artsy items. While it is a fun destination to explore every day, it becomes a special 20160609 Plano Dntn-01120160609 Plano Dntn-011Fun finds in many of the shops downtown. night out when you add in wine tastings!  Plano Magazine with the Historic Downtown Plano Arts District presents a monthly Art & Wine Walk from April to December.  During these special evenings, you can enjoy shopping, listening to music, and tasting a variety of wines from prosecco to cabs.  Last month, there were also a few liquors and ports added to the mix.

The evening starts at Event1013, a great event space on 15th Street where you pick up your identifying bracelet, your glass and a map showing all the stops and the beverages offered.  If you make it to all the stops - and you really should - you will get in a lot of steps for those of you aiming to get to 10,000 steps a day!  With stops ranging from the Artcentre of Plano to State Farm Insurance on 14th, you can cover some ground.  It is all very manageable though with the greatest concentration of   20160609 Plano Dntn-00220160609 Plano Dntn-002A wide variety of wines to sample stops along 15th Street around the restaurants and shops.

Whether you have never been to downtown Plano or are a frequent visitor, I highly recommend this fun event.  You can explore the interesting handmade artwork at Pipe and Palette or view the latest art installation at ArtCentre Plano, plus enjoy learning about the variety of businesses in downtown.  Plus, you can enjoy music in many of the stops as well as onstage at McCall Plaza.

It is a great date night or girl's night out.   My strong suggestion - go by Dude, Sweet Chocolate -  they give out samples.  And if you are like me, after a few glasses of wine, I usually need something sweet!

The next Art & Wine walk is this Thursday, August 10 so enjoy.  Have a sip of wine for me!  And let me know which stop was your favorite. 20160609 Plano Dntn-01020160609 Plano Dntn-010Music along with wine and chocolate - Sweet!


For more information:

]]> (CityStock.Photos) art walk arts downtown plano plano arts district plano magazine wine wine tasting Mon, 07 Aug 2017 00:01:03 GMT
Brewing Homegrown Passions After visiting three of the four Collin County breweries, I learned a lot including one big take-away - brewmasters really enjoy their work and are great examples of following your passion.  Two of the brewmasters we spoke with started out brewing at home as a hobby, then turned it into a full-blown career. So not only a lesson on beer, but a life lesson as well!

20170708-963120170708-9631Kegs ready for delivery

First thing to know - there are four breweries located in Collin County.  Three are open to the public, with one, Franconia, only open for tours a couple times per week. Franconia focuses on selling to restaurants while the others sell to restaurants and maintain a public taproom. So you have four choices to keep it local when ordering out.
20170623-942720170623-9427Get a flight of beers at any of the breweries to find your favorite The three “bars” are very different in look and feel so not only can you pick your favorite brew, but also your favorite vibe.  Nine Band located in south Allen has the smallest indoor taproom with a plain outdoor porch where they sometimes host bands.  The atmosphere 20170623-944020170623-9440Nine Band Brewery  is very much your friendly neighborhood taproom with high wood chairs and tables, regulars talking at the bar, and a very friendly brewmaster, Ian Larsen.  Nine Bands, which I learned refers to a specific Texan armadillo, sells beer that is a “good representation of that style of beer.” In other words, Ian is striving to make beers that represent their chosen style whether pale ale or a hefeweizen. His philosophy is that he wants to make a beer that sells and that you want to drink again. Based on our tastings, he has done an excellent job! And fun fact, all the beers have Texan-flavored names.

Tubbs is the polar opposite in look and feel - a large warehouse space off the beaten track near downtown McKinney. This barn-like atmosphere felt more like a Saturday night out gathering place for friends who want to listen to live music, play giant jenga, and drink some unusual beers. While they weren’t there when we were,  we are told they also have food trucks on Saturdays. The place had a shabby chic feel with lots of flags, kegs, and an assortment of fun chairs and tables. There were about nine beers on tap and a couple of non alcoholic choices, giving a good assortment for those looking from your basic IPA to a fruity seasonal.  

In Wylie, you will find Good Neighbors, another large warehouse with a clean look, pleasant front patio with games, and a  family-friendly atmosphere. You could tell there were regulars who visited often from the surrounding neighborhood and the owners, Darren and Jill, were very friendly and personable. After talking to them for a few minutes, you sensed this was a personal passion and they 20170623-944720170623-9447Tubbs Brewery has a fun junk chic feel. were having fun, even while still getting the business off the ground!  They just opened in February and are still getting the word out that they are open. There were a variety of board games on the shelves and I was surprised to see folks take them to their tables to play while sipping their beers. They sometimes offer food trucks and bands on the weekend along with seven great beers in a variety of styles including a fun watermelon flavored seasonal. As Jill pointed out, everyone has a favorite beer whether at their place or somewhere else and unique tastes. So, they are not trying to convince you that their beer is better, just a good beer that you enjoy drinking.


20170708-961320170708-9613Play cards, board games, or corn hole outside while enjoying your brew. It was a fun way to support local business, spend time with friends and learn what it takes to follow your passion.  If you start early, you can visit all four in one day - just have a designated driver! Then you decide which atmosphere and beer was your favorite.  Let us know what you decide. 

Visit their websites for open hours and more information:

Franconia -

Good Neighbor -

Nine Band -

Tupps -

]]> (CityStock.Photos) beer breweries collin county friends plano taprooms weekend fun Wed, 26 Jul 2017 03:41:57 GMT
Learning Lightroom While our blogs are meant to showcase Collin County and the wonderful things that you can do here, it is foremost a photography website showcasing the work of Barry Benton and David Downs.  We hope to share with you images that inspire you and that help you grow your own photography skills.  So occasionally, we will share tips and ideas on photography.  One of the ways that we hope to help is through workshops where you can learn certain skills or have a chance to practice with professionals who can offer you hints.  

Our upcoming workshop, Introduction to Adobe Lightroom, will help you grow in skill and organize your images so that you can easily find and showcase them. This day long course, led by David and Barry, will help you learn how to easily locate an image and choose the best one.  When you go out and take hundreds of images, it is important to organize them in a way to quickly find them so that you can improve or augment them for use as display or gifts.  

Sometimes you take a great photo with perfect light, composition, and beauty, yet the photo looks dark or off in some way.  Lightroom can help you improve these imperfections to get the photo that you meant to take.

Join us August 26 at NYLO in Plano for a great and informative day that will improve your photos and make your life easier!  Lunch and beverages are included. Register at

Here's one of David's before and after examples showing the improvements that can be achieved through Lightroom:


Beach Grass SOOC-1Beach Grass BEFORE


Beach Grass LR Edit-1Beach Grass After



]]> (CityStock.Photos) adobe lightroom skills workshops Thu, 13 Jul 2017 22:42:56 GMT
Independence Day  

Happy Independence Day!

This week, as I was looking through our Lightroom photo gallery, I was struck by how much of our country we have had the privilege to show our sons.  They have traveled from “sea to shining sea,” from the mountains to the prairies, and many spots in between.


2012_07_0275San Juan Islands Lighthouse


One vast land with a diverse landscape and beauty in which we could freely travel.  We have had the amazing and literally heart-pounding experience of watching a rocket go up in space

IMG_0961NASA Space Shuttle Launch


We have visited the manmade beauty of the national capital


DSC_0093Washington DC


And the natural beauty of Yosemite



And we have been amazed at the many symbols of freedom such as our lady of liberty

2008 NYC Trip_2008Statue of Liberty


And an eagle flying over a bay in Alaska

2014 Alaska_1072_Eagle Soar_7x5Alaskan Eagle

The amazing thing?  It is all here in America, one country, diverse in opinions and thoughts, but united together under one flag.


2008 NYC Trip_2018United States of AmericaHappy 4th of July!


We wish you a safe and blessed 4th of July.  Please take a moment to remember the men and women who bravely fought for our freedoms, 241 years ago and every year since.   And may the pride and patriotism of this day stay with us throughout the year!










]]> (CityStock.Photos) Beauty Flag Freedom Independence Day Statue of Liberty This country USA eagle Tue, 04 Jul 2017 12:00:00 GMT
Blues, Brews, & ‘Que Festival GarnerDigital-1Beth Garner



“The blues is…about overcoming hard luck, saying what you feel, ridding yourself of frustration, letting your hair down, and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic, and starkly emotional. From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.”  (


                            20170617-8860Jason ElmoreJason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch             GarnerDigital-4Beth Garner             GalesDigital-8Eric Gales

I don’t know much about the Blues. But, I do know how I feel when I see a performer feeding their heart and soul to a hungry crowd. And on a good night the crowd reciprocates by giving energy back to the artist. It’s an emotional experience to be part of that two-way exchange and last Saturday’s inaugural Blues, Brews & ‘Que festival presented by the Plano Rotary Club was an excellent example of that mutual love of this genre of music called the Blues.

ElmoreDigital-19Sunset at the Oak Point Amphitheater

David and I had the opportunity to photograph some of the festivities and we’d like to share some of our favorites with you. There are more photos in our Music gallery. So, set your Pandora or Spotify account to the Blues station and browse away.

Leave a comment if you know of any local festivals and venues in the area that host occasional Blues performances. We’d love to hear from you!

ElmoreDigital-1Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Blues Festival Music Plano Texas Sat, 24 Jun 2017 00:00:00 GMT
Grads and Dads Grads and Dads
While it is a marketing slogan, it is that time of year again when we are faced with the inevitable reality that our children grow up and get older every year. All across Collin County, students are graduating from one grade to the next, some of them having milestone changes such as moving to first Jason kindergartenerJason Kindergarten Graduate grade, middle school, high school or even out of the system all together. Every year, we face this passage of time with emotion as we face change and, dare I say, our aging.

This year marks a key milestone in our household as our youngest son graduated from high school.  With his brother only a year older, this marked our second graduation in two years so a lot of new emotions as we faced the prospect of an empty house in the fall.  Beyond our personal reasons, graduation was particularly special as our son attended Plano Academy and this graduation was the first for student who attended all four years of high school there.  This unique school has been an interesting experience for all of us and quite different than our Plano Senior High School experience of our eldest with no 2017_06_07 Jason Grad-8761Jason High School Graduate strong traditions, project-based learning, and small classes.  Nowhere was this difference more pronounced than at graduation!  
With only 98 graduating seniors compared to the 1400 from Plano Senior in 2016, the ceremony was clearly shorter and had a more personal as they showed video from the school and the student speakers discussed the special experience of opening the school and establishing its traditions.  It was, of course, also bittersweet as we looked on with pride and wistfulness as our own son and his friends walked across the stage - several of whom, we have known since grade school.

From kindergarten to high school, we have met their friends, occasionally were able to help with homework, and had a peek into their school days.  While it seems like yesterday that I cried my eyes out in the parking lot after dropping him off at kindergarten, time shows that it has really been 12 full years.  And as much change as occurred in those 12 years, the next 12 will be bring even bigger 2017_06_07 Jason Grad-8809-EditThe Benton Family changes as relationships change, they join the “real world,” and hopefully start their own families.

We are very proud of our two graduates as we are sure you are of yours.  Please share your pride with a shout out to your student and tell us from where they graduated.  
We wish all the 2017 Graduates the best of luck and great happiness in their next pursuit. And to the fathers of all the graduates, whether from kindergarten to high school, Happy Father’s Day and enjoy whatever stage they are in as it all goes by so fast!  


]]> (CityStock.Photos) Emotions Graduation Plano Plano Academy High School Sat, 17 Jun 2017 03:37:51 GMT
Another World Right in Plano Collin County is a melting pot of cultures with many nationalities represented in our population and retail stores. With restaurants, clothing and house decor stores of every country, we are blessed to experience the world right in our backyard.  Recently, we decided to make Pad Thai and decided to get out of our box and visit an authentic Asian grocery - Jusgo Supermarket.

20170520-863620170520-8636Snacks, desserts, or ingredients for your favorite dishes are all here. It was a complete sensory experience as we stepped into the grocery.  Everywhere were new things to see, smell and hear.  While the aisle signs are also in English, the sounds of multiple languages being spoken 20170520-862920170520-8629Seafood galore! made it feel like we had traveled into another country. 

Probably the most interesting area of the store for us was the seafood section.  Here you can find large tanks of swimming catfish, lobsters, shrimp and more along with freshly cut whole fish. Along the tanks are large crates filled with live frogs, crawfish, and turtles as well as tables filled with ice and large fish.  Individuals walk up and take their pick.  20170520-863420170520-8634One got away!


The produce section was also filled with unfamiliar items like the largest mushrooms and longest green beans I have ever seen.  The fruits and herbs that looked delicious and I picked up small Thai chilis that added a great deal of spice to my dish. 

20170520-864020170520-8640Makes me wish I liked green beans! Of course, the aisles were filled with everything else you need to make delicious Asian dishes from soups to desserts.  If only I knew how to make it all!


Jusgo anchors a block of stores and restaurants focused on Asian cuisine.  We stopped in the popular Bobaland ( to try 

their bubble tea.  My mango smoothie had cayenne straw that added a lot of spice to the refreshing drink!  At the other end of the center, near the food court, was a store filled with teas, dried mushrooms, and more.  This beautiful store was filled with bins set out like display cases and crystal chandeliers - more jewelry store than herb store. No pictures allowed there so you have to stop in to see it yourself. 20170520-862620170520-8626A refreshing stop for shopping or after the movies at Cinemark, across the street.


It was a wonderful afternoon exploring Asia without every leaving Plano and I highly recommend it, especially if you want to try your hand at authentic cuisine – homemade or at a restaurant.  We haven’t tried any of the restaurants in there yet, but heard great things about the crepe stand in the food court so let us know your favorites in this area or if we need to try any other corners of the world in Collin County.

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Asian Asian Markets Collin County Cultural Experience Grocery Jusgo Supermarket Plano Seafood boboland Thu, 01 Jun 2017 01:17:06 GMT
Farmer Markets of Collin County 20170507-840920170507-8409A popular spring weekend outing The idea of farm to table is increasingly popular for restaurants to advertise.  But why go out to dinner, when you can have your own farm to table at home by visiting your local farmer's market?  Here in Collin County, we have a wealth of farmer markets, with a great variety of vendors and unique settings.  On a recent tour of markets, we had the opportunity to visit many of them and talk with the people who make the offered products, which go beyond just fruits and vegetables.  In addition to beautiful food, you can find some great gifts including your choice of bath products, a variety of honey items, and beautiful jewelry.  The best part?  I loved talking to the people who made the products and hearing their stories, passion, and explanations of what I was buying.

20170507-837620170507-8376La Esperanza Farm had beautiful vegetables including very tasty tomatoes.

For some, this is a side business outside a full-time job or in addition to their farming. At the McKinney's Adriatic Market, I enjoyed meeting  Kyle Hoyle, who told us that when he couldn't find a summer job while in high school, his  grandfather suggested he revive his recipe for olive salad and sell it at the markets.  So, he did and now Delicious Delights ( has expanded their line with new recipes from Granddad.  Kyle was at two of the markets we visited and hopes to grow the business after he finishes college.

20170511-848920170511-8489Delicious choices from Delicious Delights. We also met Jim Cable, a knife sharpener who told us that he had a full time job in addition to his small farm, but was unhappy with his job.  His wife pushed him to think of what else he could do or what talents he had.  Having learned how to sharpen knives as a boy, he decided to build a side business and now has multiple restaurant accounts in addition to his regular customers.  We were excited to see him again at the Melissa Market since we remembered to bring our knives!  Not only were we thrilled to get our knives restaurant sharp, but we also had a chance to meet his family, who were operating another booth selling eggs from their Canticle Farm and goat milk soaps that Heather, his wife, made.  The friendliness of the vendors makes it feel more personal and you can build some great connections as well as a better understanding of your products.
20170511-850820170511-8508Jim Cable sharpening a pocket knife on his wheel.

The Plano market is the newest, having just started in April, and is still gaining momentum.  Located in a parking lot near City Hall, it was convenient and the only one open on a Sunday.   It included two farms with produce and one with meat as well as many food products and some lovely art including a booth selling artisan handbags and one with jewelry.  Designs by Debbie offers unique jewelry from the friendly Debbie who recently moved to Texas.  She uses antique buttons and the symbolic dragonfly in many of her designs, but she also does custom pieces.  She  told us about a hat band, that she recently made for a customer, who collected silver dimes.   When she had some dimes left over, she made earrings for his daughter. 20170507-837220170507-8372Earrings by Designs by Debbie ( 20170507-839920170507-8399Texas Olive Oil My favorite market was probably Melissa (, which was the smallest of the markets and the only one that included an indoor area.  I loved the community feel at this market as all the vendors seemed to know their customers and several of the booths were run by families, like the folks at Cross My Heart Pies, which sold yummy mini-pies, and the already mentioned Canticle Farm.  We also got some great lessons here by the folks at The Horseshoe Farm, which sold grain-fed meats, about their farm and by a very friendly beekeeper who gave us a great lesson on local honey versus store bought honey.  Russell at Crooked Creek Honey Farm was fascinating and now has me enjoying honey to fight my allergies!

20170511-853020170511-8530The menu from Horseshoe Farm. I recommend the Cajun brats!

The market in Frisco, which is run by the Rotary Club (, had several farm stands as well as a very friendly group, lead by "Big Boss" Scott from K Bar K Farm selling meat.  This market also was the first we had seen with a gluten-free bakery stand and a vendor selling hemp products.  Rev. Elkwood was very willing to share her knowledge about hemp and its status as Mother Nature's Perfect Product. 

20170511-854620170511-8546Frisco Market run by Rotary Club

McKinney has two markets - one at the Adriatic area and one at Chestnut Square, which is the largest and busiest market.  The Adriatic is still growing and has a great location in a grassy area by the water.  Chestnut Square is set in the historic park area with lots of shade and grass.  It 20170511-853620170511-8536Cornerstone items for sale also had a very large crowd and small parking lot, which caused a lot of circling cars waiting for a spot.  Luckily, the customers turn over quickly so you could find one relatively fast.  We saw many of the vendors from Adriatic there and met a wonderful group from Cornerstone Ranch, a program helping adults with disabilities.  The residents and counselors were on site selling their beautiful artwork!  At this market, you could buy lunch from one farm that was grilling.  A lemonade stand might be a good addition.  This market also had activities for kids including goats and a pony ride.  On the unique item side, we visited a couple selling balls made of alpaca wool, which replace dryer sheets and are better for the environment.  Based on our recent load of laundry, we can concur that it reduces static!

20170511-852420170511-8524McKinney's Adriatic Farmer's Market

We didn’t make it to the Celina Market as it is only once a month, but we plan to try it in June.  This one is on Friday night and includes music and wine so I am sure we will love it!  I highly recommend visiting your local farmer's market and maybe even visiting one in another part of Collin County.  It is great fun with wonderful items to buy, plus so special to meet the people making it and see their passion for what they do!  

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Farmer's Market Plano Texas Thu, 18 May 2017 14:00:00 GMT
On the Road Again While discussing my trip out to Las Vegas, a colleague at the convention recommended visiting the Moab and Arches National Park. So, knowing I wanted to take the "long way home," I headed out to Moab.  Since I was there by early evening, I decided to eat dinner at La Hacienda, a popular local spot. The food was pretty good, but service could be better.  Since it is popular, it took a while to be seated and then forty-five minutes to get my food because a party of 12 ordered before me and the kitchen was handling their order. ( That said, Moab is a quant town and I feel it calling me back to spend more time there.

I arrived at the Arches National Park very early the next morning - so early that I didn't pay an entrance fee since the entrance booths were not yet staffed. Feeling somewhat guilty that I hadn't supported our beautiful national parks, I quickly moved on as I had limited time and could only do one hike. It was very overcast with occasional light rain so I decided to do the signature feature of the park - Delicate Arch. The hike is approximately 1.5 miles long and is moderately difficult for a flat-lander due to the elevations. The beginning of the trail is gravel and easy to follow. As this section becomes smooth rock pathways, there are cairns (stacks of rocks) and occasional signs pointing to the Arch. Pay close attention to the cairns as it easy to lose the trail - I speak from experience.

Once I arrived at Delicate Arch, I had to cut my visit short as the winds were extremely high and the skies were looking threatening.
20170331-7838-EditDelicate ArchAmazing what nature makes. 1/100 sec @ f/10, ISO 100


After only a few minutes at the Arch, I descended down the trail to the parking lot. My original plan was to drive the road around the rest of the park and make my way to my next destination. However, I saw a four-wheel drive trail and decided to try it out.   Why else do I drive a Jeep?  It started out as a fairly easy dirt road, but soon turned into a fairly technical four-wheel drive experience.  It was wonderful to get off the road and see parts of the park that relatively few get to see, but I only recommend it if you have a lifted four-wheel drive and some experience.


20170331-7841Off the Main RoadTaking the Jeep for a Four Wheel Driving - 1/60 sec @ f/10, ISO 100

As I left the park, I stopped at “Balanced Rock" (, a must-see in the area.

20170331-7855Balance RockA tenuous hold - 1/250 sec @ f/11, ISO 100


As I turned back towards Texas, I visited Valley of the Gods. The weather was not friendly for this part of my trip as the clouds rolled in and I experienced a mix of light rain and snow.  This did not allow a very good photography experience, so I used it as an excellent scouting mission for my next visit.  If you’re considering a trip to this area, I would recommend a drive through the Valley. It’s an easy dirt road to drive with great vistas. If you have any questions on this area, leave a note in the comments below and I’ll give you more details about the drive through the Valley.
20170331-7862Valley of the GodsA place to return to, 1/40 sec @ f/11, ISO 100

Over the next couple of days I drove across far north New Mexico toward Taos and ended up running into some pretty heavy spring snow storms. It is beautiful county and I'll have to make that drive again when I have more time. 


The Return HomeThe view from the front seat Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or any suggestions for places to visit the next time I'm in this area. 

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Arches National Park Balanced Rock Delicate Arch Jeep Las Vegas Moab New Mexico Valley of the Gods photography road trip Wed, 03 May 2017 02:29:24 GMT
Beauty on the Road to Vegas I don’t pretend that this makes sense. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told many times that my preference to drive is a bit crazy. Be that as it may…when given the opportunity to drive to Las Vegas from Dallas, I decided it was a great opportunity to see some sights and create a road trip "scrapbook." Besides, a friend asked me to share my itinerary, as he is considering a similar trip. Happy to provide some details, happy to share my thoughts and opinions, and really happy to have had this experience.

It all started when talking to my boss about our upcoming annual conference in Las Vegas to promote our attorney portrait services. We needed to get our trade show booth, display TV and other equipment out there. After perusing the map and thinking about options, I offered to load up my Jeep and make the drive. In theory, the cost to ship all our gear to Las Vegas would cost roughly the same as the expenses associated with driving. So, why not, right…right?

Day 1: Left Dallas to arrive in Corsicana, TX and pick up trade show booth, etc.  Then, on to Albuquerque, NM - approximately 12 hours, 777 miles. At about 8 hours and 30 minutes into the trip, I made it into New Mexico. It was an inconspicuous crossing as there were no welcome signs on US380. Interestingly, the elevation here is 4100 feet above sea level so I had a very slow gradual climb from the Dallas area which is around 500 feet. 

Tatum NMTatum NMTatum NM is near the Texas and New Mexico border

Day 2: Albuquerque, NM to Page, AZ - approximately 7 hours, 406 miles via 550 north of Albuquerque.

Big Chief sign on 550Big Chief sign on 550Driving north of 550 through New Mexico

My destination by sunset of day 2 was Horseshoe Bend outside of Page, AZ. (

The bend features the Colorado River meandering down towards the Grand Canyon. It’s an impressive sight, though I don’t recommend it if  you are acrophobic. I am not, but with no fences between you and a sheer drop-off to the river, I was more than a bit uneasy. The hike from the parking lot off 89 (a few miles south of Page) is relatively short and very easy. A bit uphill to a crest then downhill to the cliff’s edge and the stunning beauty of the Bend. Because it is so easily accessible there were a lot of people there -  people looking for the quintessential selfie and backing up a little too close for comfort, in my opinion, to the edge of the cliff. I found a place close, but not too close, to the edge and settled in to await the sunset.

 Horseshoe BendColorado River and the beautiful Horseshoe Bend, with 1/15 second at F/8.0, 16mm, ISO100.  


  • The photos I like best of the Bend are at sunset. Get there early and explore the edge to get a good vantage point. While most of the tourists will come and go, plenty of photographers set up tripods in the premium spots, so you want to stake your ground. Bring water, snacks and maybe a small camp chair, then hang out (you will be entertained by the tourists and the close calls to the edge.) If you have some clouds (but not too many!), you’ll have a beautiful sunset. It is worth the  extra effort in post-processing work to bring out the shadows in the Bend.
  • If you happen to be there when there is a new moon, you will be able to stay as late as you’d like to do some astrophotography. It’ll be lonely though, as most will leave as soon as the sun has settled below the horizon.  Make sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight as it will be dark as you make your way back to the car.
  • Bring your widest-angle lens.
  • If you’re more of a morning person, get there well before sunrise and plan on staying awhile. Next time, I’ll try a morning shot and can share more tips.

Day 3: This was my most anticipated day of the trip - The Antelope Canyon Slot Canyons tour. I elected to do the “photographer’s tour” of Rattlesnake and Upper Antelope (3.5 hours). There are five companies that have access to these Canyons and you must book through them to have access. I used Adventurous Antelope Canyon Photo Tours ( Luckily, I was the only photographer signed up for the earlier (Rattlesnake Canyon) tour so Roman, the guide, and I were able to leisurely walk through this Canyon. At the time, I didn’t realize what a luxury this was. While this Canyon isn’t quite as large and photogenic as the Upper, it was nice to photograph it without the throngs of other photographers and tourists. The water that formed this Canyon falls down the hill into the wash below, so it was  an easy hike up. We would take a short walk through Slot Canyon walls, then climb a ladder to get to the next level. Most were very easy, but a few were a little awkward to climb while carrying the camera and tripod.

Once we completed the Rattlesnake Canyon, we made our way back out to the wash to be picked up. Here I joined a new tour with a group of German photographers/tourists to view the Upper Canyon. This was a much more popular tour and created a lot of people in a very small area. But, our guides did a great job of getting the photographers with tripods into position and holding all the tourists at bay, while we spent a few minutes capturing the scene. The Upper Canyon is much larger and all on one level. We made our way through the Canyon stopping around 6 to 8 times to capture different vignettes. Once we made our way through the Canyon, we turned and walked back the other direction, which gave an interesting and different perspective of the Canyon. We stopped a few places on our way back including the area where, on a sunny day, you get a narrow band of sunlight coming down through the Canyon striking the sandy floor. Just as we arrived, the sun came out from behind the curtain of clouds so we were able to grab a few of these popular shots. It was fleeting and I wasn’t in a great position for that “classic” Slot Canyon shot, but it was fun to see it. Once the sun starts appearing, a guide uses a large ice scoop to pick up and throw sand into the beam of light so it is easier to photograph. I will have to revisit this Canyon in hopes of better luck in getting the shot.

 Upper Antelope CanyonNature creates beautiful angles. 1.3 sec at F/11, 32mm, ISO400


  • If you do the “Photography Tour” they require you to have a “professional” camera and full-sized tripod. They inspected my equipment before they allowed me to pay the fee. My guide told me that they do have to turn people away or redirect them to one of the other tours if they don’t have the right equipment.
  • Don’t plan on changing lenses in the Canyon. It is very sandy and the guides will often throw sand in the air. If you are concerned about your gear you may want to cover it in a rain cover (or shower cap from your hotel room). I picked up a can of compressed air at the local Wal-Mart to clean up my camera after the tour.
  • Make sure your battery is fully charged, your card has plenty of room on it and you have extra batteries with you.
  • Bring a remote shutter release.
  • Make sure your camera settings are set before you enter the Canyon. You’ll be going into an environment that is dark but has strong highlights. Expose for the highlights so you don’t lose detail in them. I photographed on aperture priority and ISO 400 most of the time. My shutter speed varied a good bit but it wasn’t unusual to have a several second exposure. 
  • Bring a bandana to cover your nose/mouth during the tour (see note above re sand being tossed in the air).
  • Talk to your guide before the tour starts and let him/her know that this is your first time in the Canyons and you’d appreciate any special advice he/she can give, especially regarding getting in the correct position when they are setting everyone up to capture a particular scene. If your guide helps you get into the right place for some great shots, tip generously.
  • Look around after you’ve grabbed the suggested shot. Often the other photographers would still be shooting that scene and I would be looking around for other perspectives. 
  • Be prepared for it to be crowded and hectic. Roll with it. It’s a beautiful place.

While walking out of the Canyon, my guide and I started talking about other areas around Page. He suggested that I check out Alstrom Point ( It’s a long dirt road that leads to a 4-wheel drive. Since I didn’t have other plans, I decided to give it a go. 

The dirt road out to Alstrom Point was long and rough but can be done in just about any vehicle. Plan on a solid hour to drive the 20+ miles and make sure you have the PDF from the website (above) with you. Set your trip odometer at the beginning to accurately follow the map. I got to the Point just after sunset so didn't have a lot of time. I grabbed a few photos before venturing down the 4 wheel drive part of the road. It was pretty rough and the extra clearance of a lifted Jeep came in handy. It didn't take long for it to get very dark so I reversed course and started the long drive back to the hotel. 

Alstrom Point, UtahAlstrom Point, UtahJust after sunset at Alstrom Point in Utah

I made my way a little closer to Las Vegas the next day and started getting mentally ready to leave the all this natural beauty behind to spend the next few days in the chaos and bright lights of Vegas. Stay tuned for “Part II: The Trip Home”


]]> (CityStock.Photos) Arizona Canyons Horseshoe Bend Jeep Las Vegas New Mexico Road Trip Utah Mon, 24 Apr 2017 15:37:04 GMT
The Maroon Bells “Photography Tour” I had a decision to make…I could hike the six miles up to Maroon Lake or take the “Photography Tour” offered by T-Lazy-7 Ranch. I had been to Maroon Lake one time before. It was early fall and the leaves were just beginning to turn. It is a gorgeous place. Truly God’s country. 

170303-7040The Maroon Bells just before the sun found them.

I’ve seen photos of the Maroon Bells in winter and wanted a chance to grab that iconic (if not over-photographed) scene for myself. After some research, it was clear that T-Lazy-7 Ranch snowmobile tours offered me the easiest way to get there during this time of year. The National Park Service does not keep the road open during the winter so you can hike, bike, cross-country ski or snowmobile up the 12-mile round trip. I opted for the snowmobile tour. T-Lazy-7 positioned this early (6:00 AM) tour as a “photography tour.” It was not a pure photography tour. I’ll explain more later.

I departed Plano, TX around 1:00 PM on Thursday and drove around 13 hours to get near Aspen, CO. At that point, I realized that I was a bit tired and should rest before finishing the trip. There are several rest areas on I-70 west of the Eisenhower tunnel and I pulled into one and took a quick one hour power nap. It was difficult to wake up. But, I did and wandered the final hour into Aspen and up to T-Lazy-7 Ranch’s office near the Maroon Bells welcome center.

170303-7110-PanoThe Maroon Bells

The first thing that struck me about Maggie, Red and Dagwood (probably not his real name) is how friendly and upbeat they were at 5:45 AM. After filling out some paperwork and paying the fee we were outfitted with warm boots and a helmet (wear plenty of layers and a heavy jacket…dress for extremely cold weather) and given a brief overview of how to operate a snowmobile (very easy, heated seats and handlebars…it’s a pretty nice ride).

170303-7119The Maroon Bells

We arrived just before the sun hit the top of the Bells and watched the pinkish mountains begin coming to life with sunlight. Now, back to this “Photography Tour” thing. In my opinion, a “photography tour” would last until the Bells were completely lit by sunlight. We could stay only until they were about half lit. This was very disappointing. I’m sure they had other tours lined up for the rest of the day and couldn’t tie up assets for another hour but they really should call this a “Sunrise Tour” or “Watch the Sun Light Half the Maroon Bells Tour.” On the plus side, we were served hot chocolate while were standing shin deep in snow.

In summary, I would highly recommend a snowmobile tour with T-Lazy-7 Ranch. The people were super nice, the snowmobiles were easy to operate and seemed to be in good shape and it was a lot of fun driving one. Just don’t go expecting to have a lot of time down at the lake. If your goal is to photograph the Maroon Bells in full sunlight I would recommend hiking or finding a mountain bike to rent (or cross-country ski if that’s your thing. It’s not mine. Been there, done that and it almost killed me. Much respect for cross-country skiers.) It’s also possible that the later morning tours would be fine for those wanting to stop briefly at the Maroon Bells before going along for the rest of the tour. I’ll be back to Maroon Bells again…maybe next time I’ll hike.

This activity earns 3 out of 4 Cameras:

CameraCamera CameraCamera CameraCamera


170303-7122My trusty steed quietly awaiting orders from his master.

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Colorado Maroon Bells Mountains Snow Winter Wed, 08 Mar 2017 14:00:00 GMT
Downtown Plano - Jan 22, 2017 There's something I don't like about getting up at 6:00 AM on a Sunday morning. It could be that it's so early. Or, could be that it's a Sunday. After careful consideration...I think it's a combination of those two things. However, once I'm up and going I'm usually glad that I got out. Today was like that. There's something peaceful about being somewhere that is usually bustling with activity and finding it nice and quiet. 

I had hoped to catch a sunrise with some interesting clouds. The clouds slept in, however, and the sun rose without them. Doesn't matter...there were still photos to be had. Here are some of the captures from this AM. Others are in the Downtown Plano gallery on our website. Have a nice week!


Haggard Park, Downtown Plano



The Saigling House
From "Built in 1906, the Saigling House sits at the corner of 16th and H Ave in Haggard Park. Currently it is being renovated to an original-like state and will house the Art Centre of Plano when it's complete which is set for the beginning of 2017. Once complete, it will be an art gallery, classes, and an events space available for weddings, receptions, parties and concerts."



DART and Eastside Village



Plano Municipal Center



Plano Municipal Center



Downtown Plano


McCall Plaza, downtown Plano


Fillmore Pub and downtown Plano

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Downtown Plano Texas Sun, 22 Jan 2017 19:41:40 GMT
2016 Wildflower! Arts and Music Festival David attended the Wildflower Arts and Music Festival in Richardson’s Galatyn Park in May ( Here are a few of his favorite images:


Frampton Bass DrumFrampton Bass DrumPeter Frampton Bass Drum

I'm drawn to the details on stage...the unique instruments, road weary cases with labels from forgotten towns and long ago shows, insignia, a strip of cloth tied to the microphone, lights and neatly labeled cables.  Sure, the band is a fantastic subject as well, but the environment helps set the stage...pardon the pun...

This bass drum head from Frampton's show is one of the coolest I've seen.  I believe this will wind up printed and hung somewhere.  I love the iconic message of a electric Les Paul depicted by another instrument....classic.


Concert CrowdConcert CrowdWildflower! Concert Crowd
Let's face it...a show without a crowd is a little like a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it.  The crowd brings its own energy and visual/audio element to the event.  Doesn't everyone love it when the lead singer stops singing and holds the mic out to the crowd during the chorus?  It's also why stage lighting includes large banks of lights meant to highlight the masses hugging the front of the stage.  It's a great photo opp with the magnificent contrast & colors...


Artist at KeyboardDennis DeYoung at KeyboardDennis DeYoung at Keyboard
The amazing power of a talented musician...mesmerizing a throng of concert goers.  After the first 3 songs the pit in front of the stage must be cleared.  While walking around behind the stage I grabbed the opportunity to capture a maestro at his instrument.  His movements were as nimble and certain as that of a surgeon performing a procedure he invented & perfected.


Drummer's ViewDrummer's ViewDrummer's View

Drummer's view....just wow....


SunglassesSunglasses and CrowdSunglasses and Crowd
Ever wonder what the performer sees?  Wonder no more....


Passionate FanPassionate FanPassionate Fan
A true & passionate fan rocks with one his favorite bands...

David did a guest blog post on Wildflower!'s website. Go here to see it:

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Concert Music Richardson Texas Wildflower Arts and Music Festival Fri, 22 Jul 2016 21:06:50 GMT
Getting Paid to Photograph Sunrises? Getting paid to photograph sunrises...This was news to me. And, I was intrigued. Have you seen the Aleve commercial featuring a photographer whose back issues prevented her from getting up early enough to photograph the sunrise because it’s her job…and her passion? For those of you that have not seen this gem, here it is:

The “Commercial Curmudgeon” had a nice write-up on the commercial:

However, as I said, I was intrigued. So, I popped a couple of Aleve the other night and got a good night’s rest. Then, I got up early and headed out to Plano’s Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve (

When I arrived there was no one waiting for me to offer to purchase my sunrise photographs. Perhaps they show up later I mused. So, I began walking around the park. While this is a nature preserve like Arbor Hills Nature Preserve ( it has a very different feel to it. The lake (as far as I can tell this lake has no name. So, henceforth, it shall be named: Benton Lake) is the dominant feature of the park. A beautiful new Nature and Retreat Center has been built near "Benton Lake" (not its real name). There are some good paved and unpaved trails. The unpaved trails take you into the prairie or into the forest. Some of the forest trails take you along Rowlett Creek. If you find yourself there during the summer and want to go into the forest bring bug spray...lots of bug spray.

Unfortunately, the sunrise wasn't spectacular (photographically speaking). So, I don't suppose I'll be paid for my photographs on this trip. Here are a few images from my morning at Oak Point.

20160611 Oak Pt-05020160611 Oak Pt Park BalloonHot Air Balloon over Oak Point Park

As I was setting up for this shot this balloon appeared over the trees right on queue. 


20160611 Oak Pt-07420160611 Oak Pt-074Oak Point Hot Air Balloon

Before I could get very far along the path a second hot air balloon appeared.


20160611 Oak Pt-04220160611 Oak Pt-042

One of the trails heading into the prairie.


20160611 Oak Pt-08020160611 Oak Pt-080Nature and Retreat Center

View of the new Nature and Retreat Center from the lake.


20160611 Oak Pt-08320160611 Oak Pt-083Nature and Retreat Center

Another view of the new Nature and Retreat Center.

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Oak Point Park and Nature Preserve Parks Plano Texas Wed, 15 Jun 2016 14:00:00 GMT
My Las Vegas This blog post could be subtitled: "How To Go to Vegas for 24 hours and Not Enter a Casino"

I recently traveled to Las Vegas on a business trip. I photograph attorneys for a living and Vegas has a few in town. I arrived on Monday afternoon and departed on Tuesday evening. My hotel was north of the strip (between the "strip" and the very lonely looking Stratosphere Hotel and Casino) and did not have a casino. Here's a pictorial overview of my trip:

20160523 LasVegas-00320160523 LasVegas-003The new paint scheme for Southwest Airlines

Departing Love Field in Dallas, TX. I was lucky to be in one of Southwest Airlines ( new 737-800's. It's a very nice ride. Since I travel so frequently on Southwest I am usually able to grab a roomier exit row seat. However, those seats were occupied by the time I got on so I moved further back. This gave me a unique opportunity to grab a window seat far enough behind the wing to have a view...a rare occurrence for me. So, I grabbed my new Sony mirrorless camera to play around a bit during the flight. 


20160523 LasVegas-00720160523 LasVegas-007Parkland Hospital

As the captain pulled back on the yolk and the plane nosed up we began going over Dallas. I grabbed this quick photo of the new Parkland Hospital and the rest of the very large hospital district just north of downtown.


20160523 LasVegas-02520160523 LasVegas-025Southwest Airlines Wing and Winglet I'm unnaturally obsessed with winglets. I'm not sure why. And, I don't really care enough about it to seek counseling. But, I enjoy photographing them. Here's a "blended winglet" from the 737-800 with the new paint scheme. I believe that it's also referred to as a "fence" since it has a winglet both above and below the wing. Fascinating, eh?


20160523 LasVegas-02720160523 LasVegas-027Hotel Room View: The Stratosphere Hotel and Casino between the Strip and downtown Las Vegas.

The view from my hotel room. I don't see the roller coaster that used to be on top of the Stratosphere. Not that it matters...I wasn't going to ride it anyway.


20160523 LasVegas-03720160523 LasVegas-037Metal Art in Las Vegas' Arts District

After getting some work done in the hotel room it was time to grab some dinner. I already had a place in mind: Lola's Louisiana Kitchen ( Lola (or "Beth") is from New Orleans and has created a very authentic and tasty menu in this very small and hard-to-find restaurant. And, I highly recommend it. This would be my second visit to Lola's. I discovered it on my last trip and enjoyed the shrimp & grits. I'm sort of a shrimp & grits expert (very few people know this about me) and I can tell you that Lola's version is great. This time, though, I wanted to get completely out of my box...try something different, be bold, etc., etc., etc. So, I tried the blackened catfish & grits. OK, so I didn't get all that far outside the box. Actually, pretty much stayed in the box, truth be told. And, yes, I can highly recommend her catfish & grits. Your meal comes with grilled french bread. They gave me far too much so let your server know how many pieces of bread you'd like. There are a number of New Orleans brews on tap and more in bottles plus some good local options. This metal sculpture (above) was on display near the restaurant at a metal arts business.

20160523 LasVegas-02920160523 LasVegas-029Peace Love and Hoppiness Pale Ale

For my adult beverage I selected a Pale Ale from a local micro brewery: Big Dogs Brewing Company ( I found it to be quite satisfying.


20160523 LasVegas-04120160523 LasVegas-041 20160523 LasVegas-04020160523 LasVegas-040
















Lola's is located between the strip and downtown near Las Vegas' Arts District. (Yes, Las Vegas has an arts district. Check it out here: There are some interesting sites. I look forward to heading back to Las Vegas, avoiding the casinos, visiting Lola's and maybe I can check out this arts district next time.

20160523 LasVegas-04720160523 LasVegas-047Las Vegas Bus Stop "Stop Request" button I hopped on the 7:52 pm bus at RTC stop 5466 for the ride home. This is the Stop Request button that I pressed to let the driver know that I wanted to step off at the next stop. Exciting, eh?



]]> (CityStock.Photos) 737-800 Airlines Boeing Field Kitchen Las Lola's Love Nevada Southwest Stratosphere Vegas Sat, 28 May 2016 13:00:00 GMT
Photography Safari - Arbor Hills Nature Preserve  

Photography Safari - Arbor Hills Nature Preserve

20150604 Arbor Hills_008920150604 Arbor Hills_0089

Learn more about photography while exploring the jewel of the Plano park system.

Learn how your camera “thinks” when taking photographs. We’ll discuss basic photography principles, guidelines and tips to help you learn how to take better photographs.  Professional photographers David Downs and Barry Benton will show you their favorite scenic areas of the park and share how you can take your best photos ever.

2015 Arbor Hills_00582015 Arbor Hills_0058 Topics include:

  • Photography "Secrets"
    • Rule of Thirds
    • Fill-The-Frame
    • Silky Water Photography
    • People photography
  • And, much more!

Saturday, May 14, 2016
9:30 AM – 12:00 PM
$25 per person (Until March 13)
$35 per person (After March 13)

Limited to 12 attendees so sign up today!



Arbor Hills-6Arbor Hills Sunflower \ Arbor Hills-2Arbor Hills Overlook 20150604 Arbor Hills_010720150604 Arbor Hills_0107

Arbor Hills-8Arbor Hills Frog

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]]> (CityStock.Photos) Arbor Hills Nature Preserve Photography Safari Sat, 27 Feb 2016 15:00:00 GMT
At Home in Italy 2015 Italy_02262015 Italy_0226

By Debra Benton

It rained our entire trip with the exception of one magical day; but it didn’t matter, we were in Italy! No matter where you were born or your ancestry, going to Italy feels like coming home. Maybe it is the natural beauty or the familiar artworks, maybe it is the comforting food and delicious wines, maybe it is the loving people, or maybe it is just the sense that you could stay here and live happily.

This was a quick trip, starting in Milan. My previous trip to Milan had left me with the impression that it was just another big city, not too different from any other. This time felt different. It could have been sharing it with someone I loved or the fact that we let Italy set the pace. Instead of focusing on the commercial aspects and tourist busyness, it revealed its hometown life.

2015 Italy_03492015 Italy_0349

We visited the Duomo, enjoying the incredible architecture and exterior statues from a nearby cafe, while watching Italians going about their daily commute oblivious to this amazing structure that is just part of their routine. Wandering aimlessly through streets, we discovered a beautiful courtyard restaurant tucked among the residences, where tourists were clearly unusual. We walked to the unassuming church, which is home to the The Last Supper, and were surprised by how awestruck we were standing before this familiar work of art. Despite studying it and seeing hundreds of pictures, we still had a physical reaction to being in its presence — an undeniable realization of the creative genius of this spiritual work. Walking back, we enjoyed the contrasts of tree lined residential streets next to a castle filled with tourists. Stopping at a cafe in a 

2015 Italy_03142015 Italy_0314

church plaza, we soon were witnesses to a child’s birthday party and a wedding party taking pictures after the ceremony. Real Italian life played out in front of us, reminding us that Milan is a hometown and making us feel at home too.


We drove out to Varenna, a small town on Lake Como. This quaint town looked like a mystical postcard shrouded in the fog and rain from our hotel on the hill. Our view obscured, it was pointless to take the ferry tour of the surrounding scenery so we choose to sit instead at an outside cafe overlooking the lake, protected from the rain savoring our lunch and 

wine. It felt so right to just sit and enjoy “being” — being present, being Italian for the moment, being peacefully happy. Perhaps that was the message of the rain — just relax and enjoy life — so we did. We meandered through the town, hiked up the hill when the rain let up and didn’t mind when we got lost, stopping to ask directions in very broken Italian. We admired the scenery, enjoyed the unexpected religious symbols in unusual spots, and appreciated the privilege of travel.

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As we left the area, we visited Bellagio across the lake to shop a little and have lunch before heading to Bergamo. Our day trip in the pouring rain to the upper city was amazing as we viewed incredible architecture, streets that had clearly been trod by Roman soldiers, and the most exquisite church interiors with every inch filled with an outpouring of religious fervor in art. To dispell the chill of the rain, we stepped into a nearby cafe for something warm to drink. Again immersed in Italian culture of the small cafe, my hot chocolate turned out to be more like a warm pudding, so thick, so rich, and so delicious that I savored every spoonful just as a good Italian would.

Our final destination was Verona, a town steeped in history and love’s magic. Here the real history of a

2015 Italy_06572015 Italy_0657

Roman arena still used for entertainment, but with concerts, not punishment now, is contrasted with the fictional site of Juliet’s balcony filled with tourists and selfie sticks. Stately Plazas where you can still promenade in the evening as did the knights and ladies are connected by streets filled with shops selling Italian goods and familiar brands like Disney. Despite another soggy evening, we enjoyed 

walking through the streets and walking up hundreds of church steps for an incredible view of the city. The rain added a magical shine and the mist softened the lights to put the city in soft focus as we looked over the river and city walls at the church steeples and castle turrets. We found a small wine bar serving local favorites and enjoyed a private dinner as the only customers, listening to the “Italian” music of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

As always when I hear Sinatra, my dad comes to mind and I knew if they played his song that he was watching over us from above. So when it inevitably started, it seemed appropriate to ask if he could see about getting us some sun the next day. I was delighted in the morning to walk out on our own Juliet balcony to a sun-drenched Plaza waking to a beautiful day. As we enjoyed the day wandering the busy streets and driving back to Milan, we were again struck by the contrasts of this country — the ancient buildings reminding us of a long ago life amid busy streets filled with real people living a modern lifestyle. Yet despite a modern fast-paced lifestyle, the modern Italy still has a passion for life and its many possibilities, a desire to savor life with all the senses, a life powered by the undeniable magic of love.

]]> (CityStock.Photos) Europe Italy Travel Vacation Thu, 29 Oct 2015 02:25:51 GMT