Living in the beautiful city of Amsterdam, travelling abroad, taking great photos of destinations while visiting them and getting paid for it. It is a secret desire for a lot of people. Well, this all is happening to Sofia, professional photographer and interior designer, originally from Greece, currently living as an expat in The Netherlands.
# Tell me how it all started? How did you become an expat?
I grew up, studied and worked in my hometown in Greece, Thessaloniki, but I always had the inherent desire to experience life abroad. Then one summer, I had been accepted for an advanced master’s degree in Belgium and within a month I found myself with a suitcase in another country and lots of new adventures ahead. I was excited and frightened at the same time.
# It’s always the best idea to ask the locals for the recommendation of the greatest places in the country. Which towns/islands would you recommend visiting in Greece?
Thessaloniki, my hometown! I love the city, its relaxed atmosphere and developing creative vibe. Definitely Crete; rent a car and explore both the northern and southern part. The very famous Cyclades; every island has its special tradition and delicious food. Do visit Amorgos where a big part of the movie ‘The Big Blue’ was filmed or the mystical and not so touristy Tinos. And of course make a trip to the Greek mountains, especially the Tzoumerka mountain chain; the natural environment and the traditional settlements there are unique and have remained unaltered from the modern civilisation.
# You grew up, went to school, university and started your career in Greece. After it, you moved to Belgium for a MSc in Architecture and then started your new career in The Netherlands. What were the biggest differences between these countries?
Every country represents a different part of my life. Greece is my home, it’s where I grew up. My family and friends all live there and I’ll always have a special bond with this country. Despite the economical problems that it’s facing today, there is an artistic resurgence which is wonderful, and the country benefits from great climate, landscape and food.
Moving to Belgium coincided with the beginning of my life as an expat. There were a lot of new things in front of me; a different climate and customs, myself becoming a student again and a new way of life in general. It’s a multicultural country with unique medieval architecture and despite the introverted character it is believed to have, I’ve met very warm people who became true friends and passionately introduced me to to the country and its culture.
The transition from Belgium to The Netherlands seemed easy but it was this time in my life that I had to really decide what it is that I want and actually go for it. Amsterdam was the city to do that; flexible and creative, it embraces fresh ideas, inspires and helps you think outside the box.
# While you were living in Belgium, you were discovering the country. Which town did you like the most?
During the time I was living in Belgium, I really liked Ghent. The city has a great medieval atmosphere paired with a lively vibe due to student life. But recently I’ve discovered Antwerp, which I find truly wonderful. Definitely visit the monumental train station there; one of the most impressive in the world. The Middelheim park museum with the open-air sculpture exhibition provides a unique and refreshing experience. Finally, I would recommend a visit to the MAS Museum at the upgraded old port area and dinner at Felix Pakhuis nearby.
# Your move to Amsterdam gave you a lot of opportunities to discover the city as a photographer, as well. How does the expat life influence your photography?
Expat life has made me more curious and attentive. It has trained me in actually ‘seeing’ everything that surrounds me and has created this urge to document it all. After all… Who knows how long it lasts?
# What are your favourite places in the city (Amsterdam)?
As a coffee enthusiast, I always enjoy Back to Black, near Spiegelgracht. They serve great coffee and homemade cakes in a homey environment. I regularly visit FOAM and Huis Marseille, where I get a lot of inspiration. Whenever I get the chance, I like hitting the movies at Uitkijk or Kriterion and for food and drinks, Foodhallen is a great choice. But most of all, you will often find me in Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum on the lookout for creative new magazines and in ABC or Waterstones for english books.
# What inspires you while taking photos? And what are your main topics of interest?
Anything creative, be it a work of art, a photograph, a person or space. Also, culture and history; learning more about a place have influenced the way I see. A combination of these with great light definitely define the way I photograph. I would say that I’m mainly focused on travelling, lifestyle, people, interiors and architecture.
# You are also travelling a lot, both for work and leisure. Are you looking for the inspiration for travelling through the photo possibilities you can get?
Not really. I wouldn’t say I plan a trip to get that great photo I’ve seen in a magazine or a travel website. I’ll definitely be inspired by it but I like to consider every place as unique with various photo possibilities; it’s just that sometimes it becomes more challenging than others. And most of the times the best photos happen when you haven’t planned it at all. Suddenly you are in the middle of the most picturesque spot, or you’ve seen a tiny detail or you’re experiencing something that instantly ends up in your frame.
# What were the best destinations you were photographing?
I’ve had a great time recently photographing Antwerp. Although I had visited it several times before, working on a project for a city guide, gave me the chance to discover the mood of the city and all its neighbourhoods —every one of them had an interesting story to tell. Also, there is something wonderful about Lisbon, maybe some kind of melancholy that came out of me while being there that places this city on the top of my list. Finally, I always enjoy photographing the Greek landscape and islands.
# So, where are you planning to travel next?
Next stop will be Bucharest, probably London in September and hopefully Iceland by the end of the year.
If you want to see more of Sofia’s work take a look at her social media and website.
All photos: © Copyrights by Sofia Garefi