6th Blog Anniversary and 21 Best Pictures of 2021

Oh wow! What a rollercoaster the year 2021 has been for me! The COVID-19 pandemic was still heavily restraining international travel and tho...

Oh wow! What a rollercoaster the year 2021 has been for me! The COVID-19 pandemic was still heavily restraining international travel and those who dared to go overseas often felt like rolling the dice with all those ever-changing pandemic rules and regulations. After getting both shots of an mRNA vaccine, I personally felt quite safe moving around, however, I understand the pandemic is not over so things can change at any time. If I were to choose a single most important lesson this year 2021 has taught me, I would definitely pick "live in the moment". It means letting go of the past and not having high expectations for the future. Living in the moment also means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift. I am very much thankful to my son Roman for encouraging me to live in the moment and leaving my camera at home while spending quality time together. Mainly, for this reason, my best memories of this past year will always remain memories, not captured on digital film.  
1. Ottawa's Greenbelt, Ontario (January 2021). 
Ottawans are truly blessed with their Greenbelt, a large chunk of mostly undeveloped public land that circles around the city. Greenbelt has been my playground for hiking, biking, snowshoeing, berry picking, beaver watching, squirrel chasing, and chickadee feeding. The latter never gets old and is always fun no matter the season and no matter how many times I've done it before. And in case you're wondering - I know, we should keep wildlife wild, but can we make just one exception for chickadees? They are so cute and super light when they land on your palm.

2. Casselman, Ontario (January 2021). 
Do you know what I like the best about the Canadian winter? A sunny morning after a heavy snowfall, like I am actually experiencing right now as I am writing this article. I had a chance to experience one of those sunny cold mornings with crisp air back in January 2021 when I took my cat to a vet clinic east of Ottawa. Overnight, everything transformed into a winter wonderland with thick piles of soft snow on fir paws. That idealistic morning quickly turned into a nerve-wracking adventure when I accidentally drove onto a snowmobile trail and my car got stuck in deep snow. Realizing that heavy shovelling was only helping keep me warm, I resorted to calling roadside assistance so they could get me out of the snow before the town issued me a ticket for violating their by-law. 

3. Ottawa, Ontario (May 2021). 
I particularly like the month of May in Ontario because it brings much-needed greenery and bloom after a long harsh winter. I think I've had these crocuses for three years in my front yard and they always bring me joy as everything else would still be pale and gloomy. It was one of those sunny mornings when I took my camera and captured these beautiful spring flowers with my 50 mm fixed-focus lens. 

4. Ottawa, Ontario (May 2021). 
Being partially extroverted and partially introverted, I really need some "me" time when I can just go wherever I want and do whatever I want, all by myself to recharge. I used to fulfil this innate requirement with my frequent business trips, but ever since the pandemic hit in early 2020, I, like everyone else, got locked down at home fantasizing about those old-day outings. What has been working pretty effectively for me is taking my camera on a long walk or a bike ride, especially when I have a theme in mind. That day in early May 2021, I decided to commemorate Ottawa's rich but highly underrated architecture in my photos which I even wrote a separate article about - Architectural Preferences of the Federal Government in OttawaThese two lonely white tulips caught my eye as I was trying to find a perfect angle on the roof of the new Bank of Canada Museum against the austere backdrop of the Confederation Building. 

5. Ottawa, Ontario (May 2021). 
I spent another "Me" day in May 2021 photographing Ottawa's murals in Westboro, Hintonburg, Bank Street Downtown and Glebe. Don't worry - you haven't missed an article as it's still in the making. This mural at Bank and Nepean is not random. First, it's painted on a building where my sister's best friend used to sell laptops for as low as $99 as advertised on the wall. He closed his business in late 2020 due to a worldwide shortage of computer parts and pressing competition from e-commerce and big-box retailers. Second, this mural, created by a very talented artist Dom Laporte, was born out of the pandemic as its left part features a nurse in a protective mask (you will have to trust me or see it yourself). And lastly, I was just enjoying sneaking on a lovely chat between two ladies oblivious to what was going on on the other side of the street (hint: me bluntly taking pictures of them).  

6. St. Jacobs, Ontario (July 2021). 
The village of St. Jacobs has been on my bucket list for a while. It's home to the largest Mennonite community in Canada that has been scrupulously carrying their traditions and rites for many centuries. Originally, Mennonites migrated from Germany to the United States, mainly settling in Pennsylvania. Many of them continued their journey further north, to the present-day cities of Kitchener and Waterloo in southwestern Ontario. Despite the common opinion, not all Mennonites abstain from goods of civilization such as electricity, motor vehicles and modern clothing, however, those that do, are largely found in the vicinities of St. Jacobs. As I was strolling along the back streets of St. Jacobs, I covertly took a picture of this lady in traditional Mennonite clothing who was busy manicuring a yew tree near a large and beautiful Victorian house. 

7. St. Jacobs, Ontario (July 2021). 
St. Jacobs, Ontario, while famously known for its farm market and the large Mennonite community, features a very elegant Main Street dotted with fancy cafes, restaurants and gift shops. This luxury car from the era of big engines and cheap gas brought some nostalgia to me as I pictured an old-mannered mister in his late 80s taking his beloved mistress on a Sunday brunch at a local English bakery. By the way, one of the places you cannot miss while in St. Jacobs is Hamel Brooms, apparently the last surviving corn broom manufacturer in Canada. Hey, all the witches, your one-stop shop for finding a perfect self-flying aircraft! 

8. Great Canadian Bungee, Quebec (July 2021). 
What do most teenage girls wish for their birthdays? A phone camera lens kit, a personalized jewellery box, a set of cosmetics or maybe a toasty heatable plushie? No, my daughter wanted to go bungee jumping at the highest site in North America! 200 feet head down, I even get chills when I think about it now. Luckily, the site of the Great Canadian Bungee is only a short 20-minute drive from Downtown Ottawa surrounded by a beautiful spring-fed indigo-blue lagoon at Morrison's Quarry. 

9. Juan de Fuca Trail, British Columbia (September 2021). 
Vancouver Island has been my discovery of the year. In fact, I briefly visited it before, in August 2020, but that introductory trip only included half-day spent in Victoria and half-day spent in Tofino plus some extensive driving in between. It was enough, though, to make me want to come back and explore more. Two separate trips to British Columbia in 2021 allowed me to experience Vancouver Island at a much slower pace. My all-time favourite activity was hiking the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail which stretches in a narrow strip along the Pacific coast from China Beach to Botanical Beach near Port Renfrew.

10. Juan de Fuca Trail, British Columbia (September 2021). 
Some fun facts about the Juan de Fuca Trail (taken from my Instagram highlights): 47 km long; 4 days and 3 nights; total elevation gain and loss 1,800 m; 441 floors climbed; 3,700 calories per day burnt; level of happiness - insane. 

11. Juan de Fuca Trail, British Columbia (September 2021).  
This was my first experience camping on a beach and it was a total blast! The best part was listening to stories from other fellow hikers at a campfire. At night, tidal waves were so loud, I woke up despite being super tired after a long day hike. The most important aspect to remember is to pitch your tent above a high tide line, otherwise, you can get washed out to an open sea at night. 

12. Richmond Night Market, British Columbia (September 2021)
If you like Asian food, make sure you treat yourself at Richmond Night Market while in Vancouver. It runs from mid-May to mid-October on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and reminded me of my time in Seoul, Korea in 2008. I hope you're not hungry now because I'm going to mention some of my all-time favourites: Takoyaki or "octopus balls", Taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake with different fillings (I tried the one with durian), Taiwanese ice cream rolls, Xinjiang lamb skewers and many more.

13. Yaletown Seawall, Vancouver, British Columbia (September 2021). 
Street photography has become one of my favourite pastime activities in cities and there is no better place in Vancouver to do so than Yaletown. People stroll, bike, skate, jog, nap, read, dream, eat, drink, smoke, sing, exercise, kiss, and walk their dogs along the Seawall. This photo that I took on one sunny evening in September is not about Shawn Bullshields, a singer from Blackfoot Nation in Alberta, as you might have accurately guessed. It's about affection and intimacy.

14. Metrotown, Burnaby, British Columbia (September 2021). 
Those searching for perfect architectural lines should go to Metrotown in Burnaby. I call this picture "The Vansterdam" for its cute two-story rowhouses in the hollandaise style. I think they perfectly complement modern skyscrapers in the background. I took this picture as my train was slowly approaching the Metrotown Station from the east. 

15. BurnabyBritish Columbia (September 2021). 
You can't get lost with this huge North Star at sight at the Lougheed Town Centre Station in Burnaby. Each borough in Vancouver adjacent to SkyTrain has been vigorously erecting urban oases with concrete and glass over the past few decades. The old three-story apartment buildings in quiet neighbourhoods give way to 50+ story skyscrapers that can easily cost $1,000,000 per flat. Who can afford to live in Vancouver anymore? 

16. Gatineau Park, Quebec (October 2021). 
What I like about fall foliage in Gatineau Park is that it usually peaks on the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend in mid-October. Unlike all my prior years living in Ottawa, I actually got to spend it, at least partially, in my city and experience what many Canadians and tourists alike consider the best attraction in eastern Canada in the autumn. I had a flat tire on my mountain bike, so instead of fixing it, I took my other (hybrid) bike to Gatineau Park and rode it all the way to Meech Lake and back from Hull. In case you're wondering, this trip included some pretty difficult mountain bike trails like Blue #33 and #40. Agreed - totally unreasonable, but very enjoyable! 

17. Hudson Yards, New York (November 2021). 
Hudson Yards is New York’s newest neighbourhood on the west side of Manhattan and definitely the one you don't want to miss. The architects of Hudson Yards made the Vessel, a lofty new structure that resembles a spiral staircase, a centrepiece of the whole complex. What's very sad is that the Vessel has become known as a suicide staircase as four people ended their life there since the structure's opening in 2019. The Vessel closed its doors indefinitely on July 29, 2021, after a 14-year-old teenager jumped to his death while being with his family.

18. Lower Manhattan, New York (November 2021). 
Many people including those that have never been to New York City would be able to recognize its skyline with a high degree of certainty. One World Trade Center is not only the tallest building in the nation but also a sad reminder of the deadly 9/11 attack that took the lives of 2,996 people. I decided to make this picture, taken from the Brooklyn Bridge, more atmospheric by converting its colour palette to black and white and using the Orton effect. 

19. Times Square, New York (November 2021)
Of all the places I have ever had a chance to visit, Times Square is the most distinct and chaotic one. Here you can find people with the most diverse backgrounds, skin colours, religious and spiritual beliefs, sexual orientations, political views, etc. But all of those people are united by the same urge: to capture this timeless moment of being there, at Times Square, where even the global pandemic cannot stop time.

20. Times Square, New York (November 2021)
Given that ethnic Mexicans make up over 11% of the US population, it is no wonder the Day of the Dead is widely celebrated in the country. If you know nothing about this colourful festival, do yourself a favour - watch the 2017 animated movie called "Coco" by Pixar. What caught your eye in this picture? For me, it was a poignant look by those two young ladies on the left.

21. Times Square, New York (November 2021)
New York - the City of Contrasts. Rich and poor, glamorous and ugly, chic and dull, new and old, lavish and cheap, fussy and careless, dazzling and scary - the list goes on and on. I could not help but notice many of those contrasts that wondrously coexist with one another. I am a big fan of street photographer Dina Litovsky who lives and breathes New York City. She never shies away from portraying those contrasts of the "Big Apple" in her pictures. I have a feeling you might enjoy her Instagram page. But for now, ladies and gentlemen, black garbage bags, red coffee tables, and a white BMW from me.

Blog Anniversary Pictures:

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