Greece To Me


It’s nice to know that there are Greek gods out there,

because you have somebody to blame

when things go wrong.

Rick Riordan


To begin celebrating empty nest, let me take you along on a European adventure that I will feature over the next few months with glimpses of Croatia and Italy. First stop, Athens!

After seeing some ruins one moonlit night 1867, Mark Twain concluded “We have seen all there is to see,” and set sail for the islands. I have met a few travelers who share this attitude thus I have not hurried to visit. If there is truth to Athens’s reputation as ugly, dirty, even dangerous, that you should get in and get out as quickly as you can, then we can, at least, spend a day there. If you need to check off the Parthenon, the Acropolis, the Agora, etc. off your list, arrive early in the day so you might spare yourself a long queue before the heat gets miserable. I feel sort of “been there, done that” after a well-traveled tour guide in Sicily assured me that the Greek ruins in Sicily are far better preserved than those in Greece so my brief stop in Athens will be about mingling among people, not stones.

Stay at the Hotel Grand Britagne (photo at top of page) if you’re a fancy old world Europhile. I like that its location straddles the Kolonaki and Plaka districts so you can walk either way. They have the best views from their rooftop restaurant and bar. The rooftop of the Electra Metropolis Hotel gives you an even better close up view of the Acropolis.

For the quiet romantics who prefer a boutique hotel experience, check out the quaint Palladian Home in the Plaka.

Check out the upscale Greek version of Eataly at Yoleni’s in the higher-end Kolonaki district where you will find a bit more foliage amidst the hilly streets of shops and restaurants. The Travel Porter blog lists where to dine and shop in this neighborhood.

In the shadow of the Acropolis, the Plaka is like a village within the city for those who don’t have time to island hop. It’s arguably the nicest commercial neighborhood in Athens without car traffic.  Even regular tourist shops have amazing postcards to make your friends wish they had traveled with you. I’m happy to breach my “no jewelry shopping as a tourist” rule to find a truly golden souvenir from Byzantino Jewelry store (120 Adrianou Street), an artist-owned shop that makes quality modern jewelry, as well as copies of ancient museum pieces. 

To keep kids of all ages occupied while you browse, send them to the nearby Children’s Museum, the Music Museum or for art lovers, the Frissiras Museum of Contemporary Greek and European Painting at 7 Monis Asteriou Street. The only museum of its kind in Greece, it houses a private collection of contemporary paintings and drawings as well as temporary exhibitions by Greek and European artists in two fully renovated neoclassical buildings of the 19th century.

Cafes may be pricier on the main roads (Kydatheneon and Adrianou) and around the squares, but they are worth the fun of people watching. Everyone who comes to Greece walks down these two streets, true crossroads of civilization.

Cine Paris is the best outdoor movie theater in Athens with a bar, featuring movies in English with Greek subtitles. The theater is on the roof with a view of the Acropolis so you can get lucky and witness the colors change during its sound and light show. This is also one of the best places to browse and find unique gifts for movie fans because their shop sells the Greek versions of movie posters from the 60’s to today.

For those who need their ouzo, stop by Brettos Liquor store. This was the oldest distillery in Athens. Admire the old barrels and the colored bottles that line the walls all the way up to the ceiling. It has a tiny bar where you can get drinks by the glass.

George Dolkas T-Shirt and Swatch Shop may be your best bet at finding those last Olympic Pins people fanatically collect and trade. He offers the more tasteful shirt collection in the Plaka. If you walk up Kekropis Street next to the T-shirt Shop, you will find the small workshop of Dimitris Koutelieris (14 Kekropis Street) on your left. Dimistris makes furniture and art out of recycled objects and materials. His creations include smaller pieces that you can carry home with you.

Anafiotika is the cluster of small houses built on the slopes of the Acropolis above the Plaka. The name Anafiotika is from its original inhabitants who were stone masons  from the island of Anafi who built Athens in the mid-19th century.   Anafiotika is as close as you can get to imagine wandering around the back streets of a Greek island like Mykonos without leaving the city.

I found the best picture of Anafiotika on this blog post with a cheeky title on Athens Insider: If Athens Were a Dating App, Which Way Would You Swipe?

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to add your Athens favorites. (All images on this page from Google.)



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Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman







Alone Need Not Be Lonely


Your child’s life will

be filled with fresh experiences.

It’s good if yours is as well.

Dr. Margaret Rutherford



Happy new school year and Hurray for Empty Nest!  While our young wannabe adults are happily settled in their respective college dorms, I am skipping around the house, thrilled to have it all to myself at last. No more waking to other people’s alarms, slamming doors or heavy footfall. No mess in the kitchen sink that isn’t mine.  No one else’s junk spilling out of one less cupboard. The only thing I miss is a compelling answer to that question well-meaning friends and family never tire of asking: What next?  Why–Do they imagine being stripped off the mantel of mothering depressing? That I’d mourn its relentless martyrdom?  Rush to fill the void of being needed?  Au contraire!  I am quite content admiring the empty spaces in my internal and physical landscape, reveling in the freedom of a blank slate, stillness and quiet. I feel so much excitement bubbling over no specific reason. It is an exhilaration not unlike  jailbreak!

Aaah, that blank canvas–it is intimidating even as it promises much possibility.  In this culture of relentless achievement, how can I possibly look people in the eye and admit I do not have a grand plan?  Yet, yet my heart feels full and so very excited over what appears to be absolutely nothing.  I take pleasure in this time to embrace and circle back to the self I have ignored for too long in the service of family. I am seduced by the attention I can give to the woman whose voice has been drowned out by everyone else’s wants and schedules at work and at home.  This could be a scary chapter indeed. What if that blank canvas remains just that?  At least, I am cushioned by the confidence that I have been in this familiar place of new beginnings many times before. Since then, I have acquired riches over the years in wealth and clarity about what makes me happy or not.  I can choose to narrow options or expand creatively, seeing the old with new eyes.

As unread books on the shelf wink at me complicity and travel adventures beckon, I dream of new crafts awaiting to be learned, beautiful objects to be found in cultures and traditions that I’ve taken for granted.  I may yet learn Mandarin, find the patience to paint like a renaissance master, write that darn book that stubbornly refuses to write itself. Who knows what doors I’ll open or what doors I’ll build if opportunity doesn’t knock?  Great expectations include plotting my escape from cooking for two (without resorting to divorce,) going back to college for the sheer joy of learning, and why not a gap year from all adult responsibility?!

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share what a blank canvas means to you.









Give the women you love the most unique gift

of elegant and timeless portraits with a

Powerful Goddess Gift Certificate

for a most memorable photo shoot for up to three people!


Buy Now Button with Credit Cards

© Sharon Birke

Managing Member, DoubleSmart LLC

201 697 1947

Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Woman











When in Rome… Best Photo Locations


Best Instagrammable locations in Rome

Piazza Navona

My favorite piazza for its sculptures in the fountains and nightlife of hawkers and street artists. This is the neighborhood I find most central for booking a hotel so I can walk every which direction.

The Tiber River at dusk

The views along the rivers of most major cities are impressive. Rome is no exception, and the river Tiber offers photographers a number of good photographic options.
There are lots of points along this river that you could use. Here are three of the most popular choices.

  • The view to St Peter’s Basilica – The view down to St Peter’s from Ponte Sant’Angelo is one of the best in Rome. Certainly the best along the river Tiber. Aim for sunset and blue hour to make the best of this location.
  • Castel Sant’Angelo – Looking along the same bridge, Ponte Sant’Angelo, is Castel Sant’Angelo. The lines of the bridge leading up to the Castel offer another great photo from this location.
  • Street photography – It’s always good to practice some street photography, as this will enhance your Rome photography portfolio. The areas around the river bank offer good opportunities for this, with street artists going about their day.

Altare de la Patria (aka Vittorio Emmanuel monument or The Typewriter Building)

The Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) is an immense structure with striking architecture. It’s great to photograph, and offers the chance to do some cityscape work.
The proximity to busy roads will also give you the chance to juxtapose modern traffic light trails against an old traditional building.
As it’s located just in front of the Roman forum it will often be very crowded. That means arriving early in the morning if you want to photograph this building with less people wandering around.
It’s good to photograph up close to get some architectural detail photos. Another location is from Piazza Venezia, from where you can use the rule of thirds to compose a nice photo of the Altar.
Best time to visit – Early in the morning, or perhaps blue hour in the evening.

Spanish Steps

Always crowded with tourists because it’s iconic and gets featured in popular movies set in Rome.

The Colosseum

Of the New7Wonders of the World, the only one to be found in Europe is in Rome, and it’s the Colosseum.
There are plenty of good options for photographing this masterpiece, so let’s look at some of the potential photographs you could take.

  • The wider scene – Capturing the Colosseum from a vantage point is possible from the area just in front of the building. Use a wide angle lens to capture the building from an elevation.
  • Traffic trail long exposure – At street level it’s possible to capture bus light trails and the Colosseum in the same image. You won’t see cars drive past the front of this building. If you wait patiently for buses, these provide excellent light streams.
  • Detail photos – Photos of the side of the building and its architecture work very well. Use the evening sunshine to get a nice warm glow as you photograph the window arches of the Colosseum.
  • Wide angle from inside – There are several view platforms inside the Coloseum that will give you a nice view. Once again a wide angle lens is best.
  • Dawn – Arriving at dawn means being able to photograph the Colosseum with no people. You’ll also be able to capture the sun peaking through the windows of the Colosseum, as the sun is low to the horizon.

Best time to visitSunrise or blue hour.

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi fountain was completed in 1762, and today stands as one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s not as popular as the Colosseum, or the Vatican, but still attracts large crowds.
The statues of the fountain make excellent backdrops for portrait photos. This is not lost on the throngs of people take photos of themselves and each other at this photo spot.
As a photographer you have two options, to embrace those crowds, or try to avoid them.

  • Include the crowds – Crowds can provide an important narrative element to a photo, giving the image context and life. To get the best of crowds in a photo you’ll want to get above them.
  • Avoid the crowds – There are two main ways to increase your chances of photographing a monument without the crowds. The first is to wake up early in the morning, the second is to travel during the low season.

Best time to visit – Early in the morning, before the crowds.


The Pantheon

In the centre of Rome is the Pantheon, yet another iconic building in Rome which you’ll want to photograph. It’s a building that’s equally nice to photograph from the exterior and the interior.
One of the best times to photograph the building from the outside is the blue hour. It will be lit up, and you’ll have the blue skies to contrast against the yellow glow of the illumination of the Pantheon.
The issue is avoiding the crowds once again. You might opt for the morning blue hour, before sunrise. The other choice is to use post processing to remove people.
The interior also presents good photos in the form of the roof of the pantheon, and the various statues you can find inside the building.
Best time to visit – The blue hour.

Piazza del Popolo

For a vantage point above street level, head towards the back of the Piazza where you can climb some steps that lead to a lookout point. Take a photo of the Piazza extending down through Rome with the dome of St Peter’s basilica in the background.

Best time to visit – Sunset and the evening twilight hour when the sky is that rich blue after sunset.

St. Peter’s Basilica

The other part of the Vatican that’s popular to visit is St Peter’s Basilica, with Piazza San Pietro right in front of it. This is an area of the Vatican that’s not walled off, so you can freely wander in here.
If you’re lucky, you might see the Pope. Should you be there on such a day bring a long telephoto lens with you. You’ll not get close enough to photograph the Pope without it.
Beyond photographing the Pope there are two main reasons you’d want to photograph at St Peter’s Basilica.

  • Church architecture – Architecture in religious building is meant to impress. That’s certainly the case at St Peter’s. So get that wide angle lens out, and do some interior architecture photography.
  • The viewpoint – This is a great place to visit for your Rome photography, with a nice view over the city.

Best time to visit – At sunrise if you want the courtyard empty.

The Vatican Staircase

The Vatican staircase is going to be one of your main Rome photography targets. It’s beautiful to photograph from the top looking down, from the bottom looking up, and midway along.
It’s also crowded with people, and they don’t really add to the photo. There is the option of arriving early, the problem is other people may arrive early as well. That’s because the queues to get in are often very long indeed, giving regular tourists the motivation to arrive early as well.
So what are the other options? The answer is layering, and using this to remove the people.

Removing People From a Scene

The following is used to take the classic photo of these stairs, from the top looking down.

  • Compose your photo, you’ll want to go as wide as you can to capture those swirling stairs.
  • Make sure you’re nice and steady, and can hold your position for the duration of the photo sequence.
  • Take a series of photos, you’ll likely need at least 20. Take a burst of 5 or 6 photos as the crowds move down the staircase, wait a while and then take another burst of photos.
  • Ensure your composition stays exactly the same throughout. As you can’t use a tripod, you will have to concentrate on staying very still.
  • Import these images into Photoshop. You’ll need to make sure the photos are all aligned. Layer the photos on top of each other, then go to Edit>Auto-Align Layers.
  • Now select all the images again. Next go to Files>Script>Statistics. From the menu that appears choose the median option. This will remove non-stationary object from your image, in theory leaving you with an image containing no people.
  • It’s possible you will have some areas of the image that either still contain people, or a blurry area where people moved. Should this be the case you’ll need to clone out the areas of concern, but these should be small after using the automated script.

Best time to visit – Arrive early to avoid waiting several hours in a queue.

Rome is fun to walk about, but there’s an excellent tram system that will get you around a little quicker if you want to spend time lingering elsewhere.

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