Friday, March 30, 2012

Cologne Round 2, Part 3: Night Falls in the City

When the sun goes down in Cologne, it becomes even more magical.  Everything is illuminated, and the street performers stay out quite late, keeping the whole downtown area filled with music.  We took our time on our way back to our hotel the first night, savoring the beauty of the city.

Once across the bridge, we discovered some very unique artists.  They used a projector and computer to 'paint' one of the four statues at the corners of the Hohenzollernbrücke.  (The statues represent Wilhelm I, Wilhelm II, Friedrich III, and FrederickWilliam IV, all of the Hohenzollern family, on horseback.)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Cologne Round 2, Part 2: Leggo my...Lego?

After some amazing food at the Hard Rock Cafe our first night in the city, we happened upon the Lego Store on Hohe Strasse (the main shopping street downtown). I had never seen a store dedicated entirely to Legos, and was amazed.  If you're in Cologne with your kids, or if you're something of a kid yourself, I highly recommend checking out this store.  It's full of life sized Lego statues, and there's even a Lego creation station for the kiddies to explore.  It was a fun break from the many historical sites and tours Cologne has to offer.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ten Quick Tips for a Better Blog

When I first entered the blogosphere, I had no idea what I was doing.  I was sloppy with grammar, the images I used were mostly lifted from elsewhere on the web, and my posts rambled aimlessly (to put it nicely). It's no wonder it took so long for my following to grow.  Thankfully, over the years I've set my sights on a few model blogs, and adjusted my blogging accordingly.  I'm no expert, but I've at least survived long enough to shed the "Blog Rooky" title.  These tips, compiled here for the benefit of fledgling bloggers everywhere, are the guidelines I've come to adopt today.

1.  Find your niche. 

Before you choose a blog title, pen your "about me," or start making eye-catching buttons, take a few moments to decide what kind of blogger you want to be.  If you're stumped, think about this:  What interests you?  In what ways is your life unique?  The most successful blogs, with the most dedicated followings, are the ones that showcase something close to the author's heart.  Find something in your world that inspires you and use it as fuel for your blog posts.

For example, there are tons of successful "Mom Bloggers" who fill their blogs with anecdotes about their families, commentary on parenting, and trade secrets of cloth diapering.  Do you own your own business?  You could form a blog around the day-to-day of running your bookstore/dog grooming parlor/taxi service/tattoo shop.  (All of those sound fascinating to me.)  Are you a traveler?  Travel blogs are some of the most popular, because they take their readers along on an adventure.

However, you don't need an exceptional life to run an exceptional blog.  You can make any topic extraordinary for your readers if you're passionate about it.  Case in point:  food blogs.  Food blogs are a dime a dozen, but some of them find a way to stand out from the crowd.  Take Food Wishes, for example -- Chef John ups the ante on the average food blogger by providing not only recipes, but video tutorials on how to prepare all his featured dishes.

Bottom line:  Take an idea you love, and run with it.  Your passion will make it desirable, and readers will chase you down.

2.  Be true to you.

Don't post things on your blog that don't resonate with who you are.  Not a sports fan?  Don't blog about the Super Bowl.  Even though it's a huge topic for blogs across the board, if you're not into it, you should skip it.  Chances are there's another non-sports fan out there looking for something to read that has nothing to do with field goals and lame commercials.

Another no-no:  Don't fluff up your writing.  Try to write your blog in the same style as your speech.  If you're from the south, a few y'alls now and then won't kill anybody.  If you use funky figures of speech, there's no need to prune them from your posts.  Your quirks will set you apart and make you endearing to your readers.

Similarly, there's no need to "put on" a voice that's not genuine.  If you don't curse in real life, don't do it on your blog.  If you live in Texas, but come from New York, don't try to sound like your neighbors.  Be you.  All of you, and no more than you. 

3.  Keep it clean.

Grammar is important.  Spelling is imperative.  A few mistakes now and then are forgivable.  WRiting lik dis isnt.  Just sayin'.

Also, be aware of your blog layout.  Don't over complicate things.  Glitter falling from your mouse is distracting, and neon orange text probably isn't the best idea for the body of your post.  When in doubt, imagine yourself as a new reader when you look at your blog.  Is it organized?  Can you navigate easily from one post to the next?  Is the comments section easy to find?  Is your "about" or introduction easy to locate?  Does anything draw your eye in a negative way?

4.  Be approachable.

Nothing keeps your readers happier than responding to their comments/emails.  Your blog's content will bring readers in, but you have to keep them loyal.  If you never answer questions, or thank people for compliments, they'll eventually stop investing time in your blog.  Now, granted, when you have a blog with hundreds or thousands of readers, it is impossible to reach out to everyone.  However, you can find a happy medium between "responding to everything" and "ignoring everyone."  Maybe you consistently respond to comments from the first day?  Or you only answer questions, and only for the first few days after a post goes live?  So long as your readers feel that they can approach you with their feedback, you're doing your job.

5.  Keep it real.

Don't plaster a phony sense of perfection on your blog.  Everyone has bad days every now and then.  Let your blog reflect that.  It will make hearing about your triumphs so much sweeter for your readers.

6.  Improve your photography.

A picture is worth a thousand words...and a bad picture is worth a thousand bad ones.  Take time to work on your photography skills.  Whether you're a travel blogger, a food blogger, or a fashion blogger, the material you're showcasing will look better if you display it well.

Besides, blogs with beautiful, interesting images are more fun to look at.  A good photo can sometimes mean the difference between a reader skipping or indulging in your post.

This is probably a good place to mention that if you ever use someone else's photography on your blog, you MUST credit the source.  Plagiarism is a messy business that will both lose you the respect of your readers, and make you enemies around the web.  Avoid these problems by asking permission to use any images you find online, and letting your readers know where you found that awesome image in your sidebar.

7.  Get with the times.

These days there are tons of options for bloggers to promote themselves.  Social media sites like Facebook, Pintrest, Tumblr and Twitter are excellent platforms to gain exposure for your blog.  Put your blog out there with these sites; take advantage of the opportunity they present to interact with your following and lure in new readers.

8.  Choose a few role models.

The number one tip published authors give to aspiring novelists is to read everything available, and more importantly, to read in the genre you want to write.  Reading the work of successful writers is one of the best ways to educate yourself and better your own writing.  Learn by the example of those who came before you.  The same applies in blogging.  Find a few successful blogs that embody what you want your blog to become, and apply any tricks that seem to be working for them to your own blog.  When reading a blog you love, ask yourself these questions:  What drew me to this blog?  What keeps me interested?  What is this blogger doing better than I am?

9.  Be willing to dedicate time to your blog.

Blogging takes a lot of work.  Besides all the effort that goes into perfecting your layout, publicizing your blog, and answering reader feedback, most successful blogs update multiple times per week.  Some even update daily.  You should clear a set amount of time each week to dedicate solely to bettering your blog.  I aim for half an hour each day, whether that's spent writing and scheduling posts, answering emails or designing a new header.  I've found that having a designated time to work on my blog helps me focus and accomplish my goals more quickly.

10.  Don't bite off more than you can chew.

It's easy to get swept up in the swarm of blogging memes and challenges, blog hops and social media sites.  Be careful not to take on too many of these and become overwhelmed.  For example, if you participate in more than one meme/challenge that takes place weekly, you'll start to feel as though there's not enough time for original posts on your blog.  And if you're utilizing every social media site on the web, it can become redundant and time consuming.  Pick a few that you like, and commit to making them worthwhile.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cologne Round 2, Part 1: The Hohenzollernbrücke

The Hohenzollernbrücke is the most memorable bridge of Cologne.  It's used only by trains and pedestrians, and opens directly behind Kölner Dom.  But what makes it unique is the huge collection of locks that adorn the side rails.  People from around world 'lock their love' on the Hohenzollern Bridge while in Cologne, creating a beautiful, vibrant gallery for passersby to admire.  Most locks are from couples, but we spotted some that were hung by families, friends and even sports teams.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Castles of the Rhine River

Kyle had a four day weekend this month, and we spent two days of it in Cologne.  We opted to take the train into the city to avoid fuel and parking costs, and about ten minutes out of the station we were glad we did.  The tracks run along the most castle-filled section of the Rhine, and we were able to get some pretty neat photos, as well some ideas for future day trips.  We missed getting photos of most of the sights on the left bank (the sun was not cooperating), but there were lots of impressive things on the right to make up for it.

 Burg Ehrenfels

 Burg Gutenfels

 Burg Katz

 Burg Maus

 Marksburg Castle

 Burg Lahneck

Mondays with Brinks

This one is mostly to prove that he DOES have eyes under all that fluff...

Happy Monday!
{Mondays with Angie @ Harbor Cottage}