Waiting for the cake

Chocolate CakeThe plane from Savannah to Atlanta, Georgia lands around 1:30 p.m.

“We have about two hours here,” says what I presume is the grandfather, in the seat across the aisle from me.

“I’m ready for lunch” says the 11-or-so-year-old boy kitty corner to me, who turns around and perches his hands and chin on the headrest “Kilroy was here” style to address his grandfather. The elder man seems not to notice. Instead, the grandfather carries on a discussion with what I guess to be his wife regarding the logistics of the stopover and the birthday of a relative in their final destination.

“I’m ready for lunch,” repeats the boy.

More adult conversation.

“I’m ready for lunch.” The now familiar refrain isn’t a demand or an example of tween entitlement. He makes his declaration in calm, measured tones.

Three more times.

The grandfather, in an adroit demonstration of multitasking, keeps his focus on his wife but mentions that they likely have enough time during their stopover in Atlanta to grab some lunch.

The grandson ceases his mantra, turns back to face the front of the plane. A long pause. Then, he turns a quarter of the way back so that he’s facing the aisle where no one is yet standing (we’re still taxiing across the runway in what feels as if we’re spending more time driving in this plane than flying in it). In the same level tone of voice but with a dreaminess that was lacking in his lunch remarks, he says to no one in particular, “I can’t wait to eat chocolate cake.”

*******

Personally, I can get pretty jaded flying almost every week for work. I find myself making comments — hopefully only in my head — about “amateur hour” at the airport, especially this time of year when Spring Break is underway. And it is always underway somewhere it seems, from the end of February (how is that “spring” anywhere?) to early May. People who clearly have either never been on a plane or at least not for some time shuffle around the airport dazed and distracted, like someone texting as they walk. Only these travelers walk eyes up, glancing around in a whiplash manner as they try to find their gate, wandering child or missing composure. They make for tricky obstacles to navigate around at the airport and challenges to on-time departures on board as they try to get a suitcase that exceeds the carry-on restriction by at least 50% into an overhead bin that was already full back during Zone 2 boarding.

Travel snob? Spoiled elite traveler? Not a very nice person at airports? I’ll own the first two but I still try to put people over efficiency. Unless I’m late for a flight. Then, it’s probably three for three, alas.

But then, on that endless taxiing across the tarmac, I overhear this conversation. And suddenly, all the hassles and judgments of travel and travelers melt away. Because in that boy’s single sentence, I remember what it’s like. The long journey. The pinched cheek by an aunt with too much rouge on hers. All the adult chitchat and maybe, hanging out with cousins you rarely see. And then, the cake and all it represents.

I hope those folks — especially the boy — had a great lunch at the airport. I hope the birthday was a wonderful event for all. And I hope the chocolate cake tasted as good in reality as it did in that boy’s mind on the plane.

It all makes me think I’ve been on too many planes myself lately. There’s more to life than flights or travel or even work. There’s family and home. Arrival and lunch. And somewhere, after a long journey, maybe a piece of chocolate cake waiting just for me.

 

Taking shortcuts: Guess who gets cheated most?

Taking shortcuts: sketching in Lijiang

My son sketching a busy night scene in Lijiang, China.

I’m a big fan of shortcuts. They save you time and energy. They demonstrate your ingenuity. (You, after all, found a faster way to get something done. Clever you.) They free you up for more important or interesting activities.

I love shortcuts.

When they work.

Which, I’m finding out, isn’t as often as I thought. I had a recent reminder of this when I was in China a few months ago.

Shortcuts and speeding up the process

There, I took up sketching. I was traveling with my son, an artist, and I wanted to be able to do what he was doing, you know, that father-son bonding-type thing. What started as a relationship-building tool soon became an enjoyable experience on its own. But emperors of old could have built entire sections of the Great Wall in less time than it took me to sketch a small section of a city wall.

Thus, a little over halfway through our trip, I had a brilliant idea. Always – always – beware when you judge any of your own ideas as brilliant. But c’mon, tell me this doesn’t sound like genius: Instead of sketching say, a statue, I’d speed up the process with some shortcuts. I’d snap a photo of it on my phone then hold the phone beneath a page of my sketchbook (whose pages, lo and behold, were the exact same dimensions as my phone, surely a sign), and trace just the outside edge of the statue’s image through the paper to get the proportions right. That’s all. No copying over all the lines (which, of course, would be unfair). But just that outside edge? Brilliant. Then I’d finish off the rest of the sketch just as I normally would with no outside aids.

Such a time saver. Clearly, an innovative approach to shortcuts and drawing. I started to consider my acceptance speech for the inevitable MacArthur Genius Award.

Shortcuts: When saving time doesn’t

In my great enthusiasm, I explained the idea to my son. He just looked at me, his expression lying somewhere on the spectrum from amused to aghast. OK, it was pretty much on the aghast end, a look as if either he’d just stepped into something offensive or he was questioning his lineage. His eventual reply left no doubt: “That’s cheating, Dad.” I could detect disappointment exuding from his pores.

Heck, it was just a few shortcuts, not as if I’d worn the same pair of underwear for a week or evidenced some major moral failure. Or so I thought. But from his perspective, it was more than a quicker way to draw. In fact, the notion of wanting to speed up the sketching process itself lay at the heart of his response. To him, drawing was a prayerful and meditative activity. So taking the short cut of tracing only robbed me of the fuller experience. Behind his objection lay an expression of concern: why would I want to miss out on something so powerful and gratifying? Following that line of thinking, my phone tracing would be the equivalent of taking an exquisite seven-course dinner, dumping each dish into a blender, switching on the frappe mode, then downing the whole in a single breathless chug.

“So I guess I shouldn’t do it, huh?” I asked in a small voice. The parental expression I received from my firstborn said it all. And guess what? He was right. Smart boy, my son. Takes after his mom.

With shortcuts, consider more than just the outcomes

Now that we’re back, I do love having a sketchbook filled with drawings from our trip to China. But more importantly, I love what it took to make that, the flow and the joy of creating. I think back to my favorite moments of the trip such as when my son and I sat side by side on a lonely mountain, lost in the scene before us and the slow, laborious, beautiful process of rendering that scene on paper. Or when I was sketching on my own and a young Chinese woman came up and asked if I’d pose for a photo with her dad who was too shy to ask himself. And yet he wanted a photo with me not just because I was a foreigner (I had several requests almost every day for that reason alone), but because I’d been sketching a particular pond. He cared that I cared enough to draw this one tiny corner of his country. I would have missed that interaction had I taken some shortcuts, snapped the scene on my phone and traced it later.

Since I’ve been back, I’ve found another way, a better way, to get my drawings completed faster. It doesn’t leverage any new technology. It allows me to enjoy the process as well as the outcomes. And it doesn’t involve shortcuts or cheating.

It’s called practice.

 

Li Huayi: a new take on an old artform

Li Hauyi painting

I recently returned from a trip with my elder son, 23, to China. The theme of our trip was design. We intended to sketch and photograph our way through three different regions of China, getting a better sense of both classical and contemporary forms of design. To refine the concept of design, I focused mostly on understanding the design element of line. From architecture to fashion, room interiors to tea ceremonies, line plays a big role in defining the Chinese experience. But nowhere is the sense of line clearer than in Chinese calligraphy (which is nothing but line) and painting. And no where on our trip did I find paintings that moved me as much as the work of artist Li Huayi.

Li Huayi, born in 1948, learned painting in the traditional style in Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, he survived by painting works of propaganda. In 1982, he departed China for San Francisco, working there and delving into the world of Abstract Expressionism. In the late 1990’s, however, he returned back both to China and to a focus on traditional Chinese landscape subjects and techniques. Today, he splits his time between studios in San Francisco and Beijing.

To say that Li Huayi’s work is merely a modern rendering of traditional subjects would be to miss what makes them so special. His paintings are currently part of a solo exhibition at the I.M. Pei-designed Suzhou Museum in Suzhou, China. These works, on paper and silk, some shimmering with gold foil, reflect both Eastern and Western influences. But it is less a fusion of cultures and more one of eras that add depth to Li’s paintings. In them, some several meters in width or length, he blends themes going back to the Song dynasty with contemporary sensibilities and even subjects: some of his windswept trees seem more likely to be found in Carmel, California than Huangshan, China. The influence of Abstract Expressionism emerges in the atmospheric perspective of his backgrounds: you’re not quite sure on some what you’re seeing. This rendering of old and new also shows up in the presentation of some of the works with vertical scrolls hanging over longer horizontal pieces but the scenes blending perfectly.

This is contemporary art that surprises because you don’t expect it to be that.

Learn more about Li Huayi and the exhibition at the Suzhou Museum.

Li Huayi paintingLi Huayi painting detail

Li Huayi painting Li Huayi paintingLi Huayi painting Li Huayi painting Li Huayi painting Li Huayi painting detailLi Huayi painting on gold foil

Li Huayi painting

The benefits of noticing

Noticing cloudsAs my flight to Santa Fe, New Mexico awaited take off, I flicked on my Kindle. Work had to wait until the magic 10,000 foot elevation that signaled that I could pull out my laptop. Until then, I glanced through the myriad titles on my Kindle. One caught my attention. Wired to Create. I vaguely recalled the book and was surprised to see I’d previously read almost half of it. Perhaps I’d remember more if I picked up where I left off.

Within minutes, the authors were reminding me of the value of paying attention (rather ironic since I couldn’t remember anything I’d previously read in this book). They explained how essential truly seeing things is to the creative process. As I read the words, I realized something both profound and rather sad.

It hit me that not only had I stopped noticing. I’d stopped noticing that I’d stopped noticing. In the busyness of daily business, I’d ceased to value the pause. The look. The curiosity of seeing something for the first time or as if for the first time.

And so, although on a trip for business, I decided to be intentional. I would strive to see, to appreciate. Here are just a few of the things that I beheld in new ways.

Clouds

When you look at a cloud, what do you really see there? I don’t mean just the child’s ability to discern circus animals, a car driving through a donut or other fanciful imaginings. What exactly are you seeing in a cloud? Shape? Texture? Color? Proximity? Size? Variation? Familiarity? Why is it shaped the way it is? Is it a cirrus, cumulus or stratus cloud? Do you even know the difference (I had to look them up)? How can what makes up that cloud be the same thing we drink in a glass or that sinks ocean liners? Clouds are wonders, truly. But too often for me they don’t even register.

Weather

Notice weatherI sat through my meetings in Santa Fe looking out on a wet day. I seem to endure weather rather than notice it. But in a town that gets 350 sunny days a year, beholding downpours throughout the day got my attention. Then, as we wrapped up our meetings, the sun came out. So my colleagues and I headed out for a stroll around town before dinner. Near Santa Fe’s cathedral, I noticed something that rarely registers: moisture on the road. In any other place, this might be commonplace. But here in Santa Fe, that wet street was a thing of beauty, particularly in the late afternoon light. I even paid attention to the manhole cover, as well as the more obvious colonnade and the uneven lines of its roof. An ordinary scene made profoundly beautiful not just by the weather, but by my seeing the weather in the scene.

Noticing peopleThe human element

I wanted to take a photo of the Loretto Chapel just because…well, I think because I was in tourist mode and felt it was something I should photograph. I’d been there before and had seen the famed spiral staircase built by an itinerant carpenter in a manner that defies logic as to how it can stand without support. All that initially occupied my thinking. But then I noticed the human element. A wedding. And in the doorway, the newlyweds having wedding photos shot. A whole story right before me that so easily could have been lost in the focus on the architecture itself.

Geometry

Noticing geometryI rarely pay attention to or name the shapes of things. Yet, in learning to draw, that’s exactly what I must do. If I were to draw this building, a gallery in Santa Fe, I wouldn’t think, “Door. Gateway. Fence. Window.” Those labels evoke stereotypes of what a door, fence, window, etc. should be. Thus, I’m more likely to draw the stereotype than the actual scene before me. But if I put aside the labels and see what is there, I behold mostly squares and rectangles, with a trapazoid or two thrown in their due to the slope of the street. I see what is there, not what I think is there.

The unusual

Noticing the unusualI looked down an alley. This row of cow skulls being sold alongside other Southwestern decor items grabbed my attention. When did you last see a row of dead cow heads hanging on the wall (at pretty prices as well)? But what I really noticed was the size of the eye socket. Cows have big eyes.

Seasons

Noticing seasonsYes, I’ve noticed that fall is here. Yes, I’ve even commented to my wife at home that the leaves are changing. But no, I haven’t bothered to appreciate the beauty of this season until a few bright trees framed Santa Fe’s cathedral nicely. It wasn’t just the leaves I noticed. The overall light of this evening in this place at this time of year. All that registered in a way I rarely allow in part, I believe, because I was not at home. Travel helps us perceive exactly what we see at home but in new ways.

Window displays

Noticing windowsThe entire intent of a window display is to get us to notice. But as an avid non-shopper, a store’s arrangement of goods barely gets a glance from me. But here in Santa Fe, now in the evening, the stores were closed. And when I ceased to think about them as stores and more as repositories of items that warranted my attention, I discovered a world of curiosities. Including a very well-to-do angel.

Final thoughts

It’s so easy for me to think that I don’t have the time to notice everything around me. But let me reframe that. Maybe I don’t have the time NOT to notice. Life is too short not to appreciate the fullness of it all around me. Autopilot works really well for getting us through each day. Habits help. Routines make us efficient. But just getting through the day isn’t enough, is it?

Try this. Don’t worry about suddenly having to pay attention to everything around you. Just tell yourself that you will notice one new thing each day. One thing you’ve never really seen before or that maybe you’ve beheld, but never truly seen. One thing. That’s it. Then try it again tomorrow and the next day.

Now stop looking at this screen and go take a look at a world that is just waiting to be seen.

 

Finding passion in unlikely places

Passion doesn’t always arrive in the ways you expect.

After a day touring through quaint villages and lonely byways of England’s Cotswolds region, we were ready for a relaxing evening at our inn, The Village Pub in Barnsley. Yet as we turned into the inn’s parking lot, we had to negotiate our way around an unfamiliar object.Finding passion - steam engine

There, in splendid redness on the side of the road, amidst the low rumble of its engine and the vapor spewing from multiple vents and seams sat a steam engine. The image above will explain far better than I can. Apart from museums or books, I’d never beheld such a machine before, at least on this scale.

Finding passion - Steam engine and trailerWhen I was a kid, I dreamed of making a model steam engine, but even though the versions I saw were far less ambitious than this one (the models were stationary and about six inches long), the cost and complexity exceeded my paper route income and tween metalworking skills. I was fascinated then by the very elements that made this behemoth so wondrous: intricate metal parts and fittings combined with the heft of huge iron and steel components. Each rear wheel likely weighed more than my car.

Finding passion - Chris LarsonI approached the man clamoring over the vehicle and, unable to articulate any coherent specific question, said simply, “Tell me the story here.” He came over, arms and hands blackened with grease.

His name was Chris Larson. He and his wife, who was busy talking to an inquisitive server from the inn, were on their way to a steam festival down the road. They’d stopped at the inn for dinner since at four miles per hour, theirs had been a long journey from central Dorset county. It was a drive I would make in 90 minutes the next day but one that had taken them most of two days to accomplish.

When he mentioned a steam festival, my naive response was, “You mean there are more of these machines out there?” Indeed, there are. Over a hundred steam engines would be at this festival and there were dozens of these festivals across the country. An entire sub-culture of steam engine enthusiasts existed.

Finding passion - view from driver's seatChris invited me up into the driver’s area. We had to use a ladder propped against the rear wheel to do this. He showed me how he fed coal into the furnace and explained how he’d made this giant beast of a vehicle practically from scratch. He whipped out his phone (a rather anachronistic moment standing in a century-old vehicle using a 21st century mobile device) and showed me photos of the initial pieces he’d bought: part of the engine block, elements of a wheel and a few other odds and ends. My guess is that all of those original components amounted to at best 20-30% of this final vehicle. That meant he’d machined, forged, manufactured, scavenged and assembled all the rest on his own. Amazing.

Eventually, I had to let him go dine with his wife. I wondered how he was going to clean up those greasy arms for the rather upscale pub dining room. But the two of them ate outside on the patio and I left them to enjoy their meal in private.

Finding passion - front of engineFinding passion - engine lampBesides the marvel of encountering something so unexpected, seeing Chris’s steam engine and all the associations, memories and nostalgic longings it evoked made me realize something.

Chris had found his passion. He’d dedicated untold hours and a good deal of expense, I’m sure, in building that steam engine. Now, as he tours the various steam festivals, he can show off his work to wonder-eyed kids of all ages – like me. He’s able to connect with others who share that passion or are awakened to one they never realized they had. He, in short, lives in a world consumed by what brings him joy.

Before we turned into the inn’s parking lot, I didn’t know that any such steam engines still existed, especially in such great working order. So it makes me wonder: What else might be out there that grabs my heart? My passion? I’m not planning on building my own steam engine any time soon. But it delights me to know there are others that are.

It brings me a deep sense of gladness to realize this world is filled with people who do follow their dreams. Who take their passion seriously. Who tackle seemingly insurmountable challenges to bring to life what others don’t even imagine as possible. Who then find similar dreamers and doers who support, encourage and help them to carry on.

Finding passion - engine detailsI’m inspired to build, to make, to create. I’m not sure what it will be yet. But like that moment when I first saw Chris’s steam engine, I expect it will come on almost like magic.

 

Frankfurt stopover: DIY walking tour of Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt stopover: riversideGot a stopover in Frankfurt?

Frankfurt is a surprisingly beautiful city. I wouldn’t necessarily make it a destination on a trip to Germany, but if you are passing through, there are many ways you could spend a few hours to a full day in Frankfurt. The downtown area is only 15 minutes by train from the airport and all the main sights are within walking distance once you get there. Plus, if you’re a photographer, there are many opportunities to make some great images.

How much time do you need?

In terms of timing, I had a six-hour Frankfurt stopover. This means I effectively had only two-and-a-half hours to explore after factoring in time to clear inbound customs, store my bags, get to the train station, catch the train downtown and back, check in two hours before my next flight and go back through security. It was still enough and it makes for a fun adventure that helps keep you awake after a long flight.

If you have a Frankfurt stopover of four or even five hours or less with an international connection during the busy season (I was there in February, so shorter lines) I don’t think it would work to try and visit downtown. No sight there is worth missing your connection! However, that doesn’t mean you’re at a loss for things to do. Here’s a very helpful overview of services at the Frankfurt airport.  One of the options noted is a tour of the airport itself (the 11th busiest in the world) but keep in mind that most of these tours are in German only. Still, if you check out the reviews, many people find it quite interesting. There are also some other things you can do at the airport itself.

Pay to play

Let’s assume, however, that you have at least six hours and want to see some of Frankfurt’s highlights. You have a several choices for paid tours, some of which will meet you at the airport. I can’t comment on the quality of any of these, but here are some options:
Frankfurt on Foot
Tours by Locals
Open bus tour 
Frankfurt city tours 

DIY Tour

However, why not do it on your own? Especially if you are a photographer or just keen on architecture, Frankfurt offers some wonderful opportunities to make some great shots. Besides, when I looked at what was included on most of these tours, everything listed tended to be things you could see for yourself. Let me show you what I did and then give you some additional options as well.

Navigating the airport

First, let’s get you out of the airport. I arrived in Terminal 2, so I’ll explain that route. If you arrive in Terminal 1, it is actually easier since the train station (you’ll be taking the S-Bahn or local train into downtown Frankfurt) is across from Terminal 1.

For Terminal 2, I got off the plane and had to go through passport control. Depending on the line, this could take five to thirty five minutes. You never know. For me, it was only about five minutes. If you have checked a bag, you’ll need to pick this up unless it has been checked through to your final destination.

As you exit passport control, you go down a long hallway. You’ll notice they have showers on the right in case you want to clean up after a long flight. You can always access this later, after your walking tour.
You’ll go down the escalator (to your left) and as you exit the restricted area, the baggage storage (Gepackaufbewarhung) is to your immediate right. There’s also a set of restrooms here. I mention this because finding public restrooms downtown isn’t so easy, so go while you can! At baggage storage, you can drop off your bag(s) and get the receipt. You’ll pay 7 euros for 2 to 24 hours when you pick your bag(s) up.

Take care of the basics

From there, continue straight out then turn left toward the exit signs. Along the way, stop at one of the many ATMs so you have at least a few euros (you’ll need about 10 euros per person for the round trip to/from downtown by train). The train ticket machines don’t always work with US credit cards, so it is easier if you have cash. After that, go to the Information desk near the exit and ask for a map of Frankfurt. They were super helpful here and speak excellent English, so if you want, you can confirm your details about getting downtown and back. Tell them your connecting flight since they also know the usual wait times for when to check back in for the next leg of your journey.

Head outside and immediately, you’ll see a sign for the bus for Terminal 1. You’ll take that bus and get off when it stops and head into the train station. It can be a bit confusing finding your way here, but follow the signs for Gleis 1 (Track 1 which is the one for downtown). First, however, find the ticket machines.

Buying your train tickets

Here’s the key (which I missed the first time I was here): The options for other languages are on the bottom of the screen. Look for the icon of the British flag and select it. I speak fair German but even so, the first time I came through, I was a bit confused with the options in German. So look for the English language selection and your life will be simpler.

Select the day pass (Tageskarte Frankfurt) if you’re coming back the same day. It is about the same as two one-way tickets and easier than having to buy a ticket again. There is also a one-day Frankfurt Card for about 1.40 euros more than the day pass and includes unlimited transport for a day plus discounts on museums and many sights. The only challenge is that you’ll need to get this card at the Hotels and Tours desk in the Welcome Center, Terminal 1, Arrival Hall B since they don’t sell it at the train station itself. If you’re arriving late and staying over, just get a one-way ticket (Einzelfahrt) for 4.80 euros since the day pass is for that specific day, not a 24-hour period.

Catch the train to Hauptwache

Look for the sign and stairs leading down to Gleis (track) 1. Then, wait for and board the next train. I recommend that you head to the Hauptwache stop which is two stops past the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) stop. If you have limited time, the area around the main train station, while much less seedy than it used to be, isn’t really worth the effort with one exception: The train station itself offers some very interesting photo opportunities.

Frankfurt stopover - HauptbahnhoffSo if you have the time, consider walking there at the end of your tour (I’ll explain below). But for now, stay on the train till Hauptwache which is closer to all the main areas of interest. It will take about 15 minutes to get to Hauptwache from the airport.

Once you get there, you can use this map or the one linked to below for the city tour.

Arriving at Hauptwache

When you exit the Hauptwache station, to find your bearings, look for this building, now a cafe, that serves as the unofficial center of the city:

Frankfurt stopover - Cafe Hauptwache

From here, you can just wander around the large stores in the area, but if you want some interesting photos, I suggest you look for the largest street, Zeil, and head up that just a few dozen yards until you see the glass fronted mall with diamond patterns and what looks like a giant hole in the middle. That’s MYZeil Shopping Center (follow this link for images of the outside of it).

You can shop here, but visually, you’ll find some really great architecture and angles inside.

Frankfurt stopover - My Zeil looking downHead to the top and count yourself fortunate if it is raining since the water running down the glass forms intriguing patterns.

Frankfurt stopover - My Zeil

Better than Costco

Next, go back out the way you came in, turn left and when you reach Hasengasse, turn right. You’ll go about three blocks then on your right, look for rather small signs for the Kleinmarkthalle. I hope you’re hungry!

Frankfurt stopover - Kleinmarkthalle sweetsThis is essentially an indoor food market with high-end fresh food and other products.

Frankfurt stopover - Kleinmarkthalle produceIt’s like Costco, in terms of all the samples, only with really good food.

Frankfurt stopover - Kleinmarkthalle pesto sellerThere are actual restaurants upstairs, but you can load up on picnic supplies here or make a meal from the samples, some bread, fruit, meat and cheese or whatever you like. Mostly, it offers some wonderful photo opportunities of both the food and the people buying and selling it.

Look up!

Frankfurt stopover - KaiserdomGo back out the same way you came in, turn right and head about four blocks down to Kaiserdom (St. Bartholomew’s Cathedral) with its magnificent tower surrounded by more modern buildings. At this point, I’m going to give you two choices. You could combine the two with some backtracking, but let me explain your options.

The city tour

The first is better if you’re mostly interested in the traditional sights of Frankfurt and want a bit of history and background along the way. For this city tour, rather than me reinventing the wheel, I suggest you check out this virtual tour of the city that provides helpful background on each location. It starts at the Cathedral, circles you back to Hauptwache (where you can catch the train back to the airport) but also provides some additional stops beyond that if you have time.

Here’s the downloadable PDF version of the city tour so you can print it out if you prefer.

The outdoor (mostly) tour

Frankfurt stopover - KunsthalleThe second is more for those who just enjoy walking and want photos that are going to be different than the usual tourist shots. Also, this is for those who may want to take in a bit of art as well. This is the one I did.

Continuing using the Google map above, head toward Romerburg from the Cathedral pausing to take a look at all the interesting architectural photo possibilities of these long hallways along Bendergasse around the Schirn Kunsthalle (art hall, where you can stop and see their exhibit if you have time).

At this point, cut through the buildings (or go around if you can’t find the courtyard that goes through) for a quick detour along Saalsgasse  for a row of buildings reconstructed by a variety of artists using postmodern design principles.

Frankfurt stopover - Saalsgasse

Saalsgasse

Continue down Saalsgasse (heading away from the Cathedral) until you reach Roemerberg. Turn right and you’ll find the main Roemerberg square and the most complete set of Medieval buildings in Frankfurt (reconstructed after the originals were destroyed in WWII bombing).

Frankfurt stopover - RoemerburgLook around and keep an eye out for great photo opps of the many tourists playing around the square.

Head for the bridge

Backtrack a bit and head to the river and look for the pedestrian-only bridge ahead and slightly to your right.

Frankfurt stopover - Bird on bridgeStop at the entry tower for good shots of the city historical museum (shown behind our feathery friend above), then go out onto the bridge and take in all the romance of the thousands of padlocks attached to the bridge as a sign of undying love.

Frankfurt stopover - locks on bridge

Lost in the trees

Frankfurt stopover - Biking by the riverReturn back to where you got on the bridge and turn left. Here, there’s no singular sight to see, just a lovely tree-lined walkway that parallels the river and offers a wealth of views of the river, the surrounding area, the trees and all those Frankfurters living out their lives along their river.

Connect to the city tour here or get some art

At this point, if you want to see more sights, return back to Roemerberg and pick up the city tour there (stop 9 on that tour). Or continue down this river walk till the next pedestrian bridge (past another bridge for cars and trucks), the Holbeinsteg. Cross this bridge for another view of Frankfurt or to visit the Staedel Museum (shown to the left of the bridge in the photo below).

Museum and bridge at nightThe collection at the Staedel, while not huge, is good with works from the Middle Ages to contemporary pieces and changing exhibits.

Frankfurt stopover - Staedel MuseumPhotographically, I found their interior galleries and bookstore interesting and wished I’d had more time there. Pop into the bookstore or the adjoining cafe even if you don’t want to pay to visit the museum collection itself.

Hungry?

From here, if you’re hungry, there’s a wonderful Greek and seafood restaurant, Parthenon, a few blocks away from the river from the museum. You’ll find a wealth of cheaper eats down around the train station, but I’ve had a few excellent seafood meals here at Parthenon in case you want something a bit nicer than your DIY meal at the Kleinmarkthalle (i.e. china plates, cloth napkins and few if any other tourists yet actually reasonably priced compared to other fine restaurants in town).

Time to head back

Either way, cross back over the Hobeinsteg (bridge) and note: If you’re here in the evening, you can get some wonderful night shots of and from this bridge of the river and surrounding buildings. I’ve stuck to using only black and white images for this piece, but the color photos of the river at night can be beautiful.

Frankfurt stopover - Bicyclist on bridge

You can head straight up Moselstrasse from the bridge then turn right on Kaiserstrasse and you’ll be at the train station. There are additional photo opportunities here, both day and at night.

Frankfurt stopover - train stationGlance around the train station then look for the “S” sign for the S-bahn which is the train you’ll take back to the airport if you go this route. If you do the city tour and end up back at Hauptwache, be aware that several trains leave to the airport from there. If you get confused, just asked one of the many security or station police in the area. Most people will speak enough English to point you to the right train for the airport.

Back to the airport

Once you return to the airport, you won’t go back from the train station the way you came (if you’re flying out of Terminal 2). Instead of the bus, all the signs direct you to the inter-terminal train. Just follow those signs, get on the short shuttle ride then once at Terminal 2, look for the signs to know where to check in for your flight since there are two main areas, D and E. It’s actually quite easy.
That’s it. I hope you enjoy your stopover in Frankfurt and get some wonderful photos even in the short time you have there.

Final thoughts

Trees at nightFrom a photography standpoint, I know I could have done better with more time there in Frankfurt. Thus, I think of my stopover trips as reconnaissance for next time. The shots you see are actually from two stopover trips, the most recent in February and the other in June a few years back. There are many other things you could see beyond what I’ve covered here such as going up for a city view in the Main Tower or sitting outside quaffing apple wine (a bit of an acquired taste) in Sachsenhausen.

For me, if I did have more time and went back, here’s what I would photograph: The cafes. As you walk through the downtown area, look inside (or better, stop inside) one of the many cafes. They are gorgeous. They make the average Starbucks here in the States seem like a 7-11 in comparison. The people, the ambiance, the whole cafe culture is something I’d love to capture. So if you think about it, take a look yourself.

Frankfurt stopover - typical restaurant

Of course, you could just hang out at one of the typical German restaurants/pubs instead of touring the city on your Frankfurt stopover…

Also, if you want tips on how to make better photos on your trip, check out my Beginners Guide to Making Awesome Travel Photos. It’s free and can be helpful to all levels of photographers.

Finally, if you’re looking for things to do on other stopovers, check out Layover Ninja.