Category Archives: United States

Raise a glass to the dead

Standard

Congressional CemeteryWe raise a glass to the dead on various occasions to commemorate their lives – wakes, anniversaries, days of remembrance. But have you ever had a chance to toast somebody at a cemetery in a tasteful, respectful, and memorable way? I never thought I would until a few weeks ago when I did just that at Washington, DC’s Congressional Cemetery. I’ll tell you how in a moment…

Not many visitors coming to the nation’s capital even realize that this place exists since it’s been overshadowed by its larger, newer, and more famous relative, Arlington Cemetery. Yet Congressional Cemetery, stretched on the green banks of the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington (1801 E Street SE), is equally special. Founded in 1807, the cemetery is the final resting place for 65,000 individuals including prominent politicians, local businessmen, veterans of every American war, and other notable and ordinary Washingtonians. Probably the two most famous residents are John Philip Sousa, a composer and conductor known for patriotic military marches, and the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation J. Edgar Hoover. Many early members of the U.S. Congress who died in office are buried here for a very practical reason – it was not possible to transport bodies over long distances before the era of refrigeration. To honor those whose remains were moved, the Congress commissioned cenotaphs, or “empty tomb” monuments, designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the architect of the Capitol building. Read the rest of this entry

Cherry blossoms’ blissful craze

Standard

cherry blossomsIt’s this time of the year again! The time when thousands flock to Washington DC’s Tidal Basin with their blankets, picnic baskets, strollers, and yes – above all cameras – to enjoy the fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms. They just peaked last Thursday after about a week of delay due to unseasonably chilly winter. Today the blossoms were on display in their full glory. But the window for viewing is closing! More and more petals are falling down and even the slightest breeze causes a “snowstorm” – the last of the season :)

In case you’re wondering, yes, it was crowded. Especially spots that offered iconic cherry-blossom-framed angles of Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, FDR Memorial, the Capitol, and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial were popular to put it mildly. Was it worth it? Absolutely yes! I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! Spring in DC is not complete without the cherry blossom experience. A saukra-themed poem is obligatory as well. I like this one, very appropriate today:

“The first day of spring
are those snowflakes or petals
twirling in the wind?”
— Amy Liedtke Loy
Read the rest of this entry

Charming Charleston

Standard

St. Philip's Church

St. Philip’s Church

Charleston, South Carolina is undoubtedly one of America’s most beautiful cities. Inhabiting an irregularly shaped peninsula at the mouths of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, Charlestown – or Charles Towne as it was originally known – was founded in 1670 and named in honor of King Charles II of England. Its colonial heritage is still visible today, especially when one wanders along cobblestone streets of the French Quarter lined with charming houses and ancient trees. Once this was a thriving neighborhood of Huguenot refugees and French merchants, and the core of the Charles Towne settlement.

Interestingly, that settlement was the only English walled city in North America. In the late 17th and early 18th century, the Spanish, the French as well as Native Americans posed a threat to the fledgling colony. The fort-like wall was built in 1690 and ran along what are now Meeting, Cumberland, East Bay, and Water streets. The north, west, and south walls were dismantled by 1730s but the harbor-side fortifications remained mostly intact until after the American Revolution. Not much remains today: eight bastion markers and a portion of the wall discovered during renovations of the Provost Dungeon in a cellar of the Old Exchange, the British customs office built 1767-1771 where Half Moon battery of the city’s fortifications used to stand. Read the rest of this entry

Blagden Alley Progression

Standard
Blagden Alley

Blagden Alley

Tucked away between 9th, 10th, N, and O streets in Northwest Washington, DC Blagden Alley may not be easy to find but it’s worth the search. Blagden Alley-Naylor Court is a historic district and one of the few remaining intact examples of Washington’s characteristic alley dwellings. Thomas Blagden and Dickerson Nailor (now Naylor) were two 19th-century property owners. The former also ran a lumberyard and the latter was a grocer.

Cultural Tourism DC further explains the history of Washington’s old allies:

“Alley dwellings were small houses situated on alleys behind large homes that faced the main streets. They often shared the alleys with workshops, stables, and other accessory buildings. During the Civil War’s severe housing shortages, alley housing was one of the few options available to poor and working-class residents. Interracial in the beginning, alley dwellings were predominantly African American by the turn of the 20th century.” Read the rest of this entry

San Diego beyond the zoo

Standard

Cabrillo Monument

Cabrillo Monument

I miss San Diego. And I imagine I’m not alone in that sentiment. In fact, anybody who visits is likely to wish they could linger a bit longer and come back soon. To me San Diego combines the best of California: LA’s balmy weather with San Francisco-like character of distinct neighborhoods, history – and street cars. For most people San Diego Zoo is the first association with the city. It was for me as well and I’ll write another blog about the sun & fun side of San Diego, the zoo included. But this one is about old San Diego and its charms.

Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo – or rather João Rodrigues Cabrilho – sailing up the west coast of North America in service of Spain discovered San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. He called it San Miguel. The voyage’s diary provides a description of the not-so-friendly first encounter with the locals:

“…they went about six leagues along the coast running north-northwest, and discovered a port, closed and very good, which they named San Miguel. (…) Having cast anchor in it, they went ashore where there were people. Three of them waited, but all the rest fled. To these three they gave some presents and they said by signs that in the interior men like the Spaniards had passed. They gave signs of great fear. On the night of this day they went ashore from the ships to fish with a net, and it appears that here there were some Indians, and that they began to shoot at them with arrows and wounded three men.”

Read the rest of this entry

Travel theme: Big

Standard

Ailsa’s Where is My Backback? blog is fun to read and offers weekly photo challenges. I felt inspired by this week’s travel theme: big. So here we go…

El Jem, Tunisia
This is of the biggest Roman amphitheaters, truly an amazing sight in the Tunisian desert!

El Jem Read the rest of this entry

Albuquerque beyond Breaking Bad

Standard

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad’s Albuquerque (Image: New Yorker)

A cult show Breaking Bad resumes tonight for its fifth (part II) and final season, completing the transition of a mild-mannered high school teacher Walter White, played masterfully by Bryan Cranston, into a drug cook and kingpin par excellence who calls himself Heisenberg. The show’s success spurred great interest in the city where it’s set and filmed, Albuquerque, New Mexico, to a point where even the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau provides a guide to exploring Breaking Bad locations. And local businesses are following the suit by offering popular new items such as blue ice candy – a nod to the show’s iconic blue meth – Bathing Bad bath salts, or Heisenberg’s Dark Ale.

Breaking Bad fans who make a pilgrimage to Albuquerque want to know: how bad is it really? Well, it tends to score on the high side (pun intended) among U.S. cities with substantive crime issues but has a long way to go to “top performers” such as Detroit. And of course the key principle of real estate – location, location, location – applies as it does everywhere, so neighborhoods vary. Read the rest of this entry

Celebrating the gift of trees

Standard

cherry blossomsLast year around this time I pulled together the best of my cherry blossom shots from past seasons. It’s time to augment the collection with fresh images of these delicate and ephemeral blossoms that I never get tired of. Spring is finally here in Washington after a long wait, and with it the blossoms are in full force. So are the throngs of visitors but I tried my best to crop them out and fill the whole frame with white, pink, and blue. This poem captures the mood of today well…

“Shining spring day
Falling cherry blossoms with my calm mind”
~ Kino Tomonari

Read the rest of this entry

Beauty of abandoned places

Standard

Kolmanskop, Namibia (Image: National Geographic)

Kolmanskop, Namibia (Image: National Geographic)

Today I found a fascinating post on BuzzFeed featuring photos of the 33 most beautiful abandoned places in the world. It’s hard to pick favorites but I have to say the one of the sand-filled house in Kolmanskop, a ghost town in the Namib Desert, is the most striking to me. The blues, yellows, and oranges are striking. And the multiple door frames captured in this shot make the image self-referential, reminiscent of the hall of mirrors.

It made me look through my own photo collection to find beautiful abandoned places I’ve come across. Here are my top five. How about you? Have you taken any photos of desolate yet striking locations that you’d have to share? If so blog about it and link back – which I guess would officially make this my first-ever travel theme post! Read the rest of this entry

Let it snow…

Standard

snowAs someone who grew up in Poland, I’m no stranger to snow. LOTS of snow. But in DC a significant snowfall that sticks is a rare occurrence. A dusting now and then, sometimes an inch or two of accumulation that lasts a few days, maybe just one or two big snowstorms during the season – or none at all. As the Northeast is being pounded with a serious blizzard, we have been spared this time. But even though it’s a dry and sunny day here, watching dramatic images from up north makes me think of snow-covered Washington. This is a collection of photos from different years and different snowstorms, including the mother of them all – February 2010 “snowmaggedon.” Enjoy! Read the rest of this entry