Category Archives: North America

Beauty of abandoned places

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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

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Let it snow…

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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

History etched in tuff

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Bandelier National Monument“It’s the grandest thing I ever saw!” exclaimed Adolph Francis Bandelier standing at the rim of New Mexico’s Frijoles Canyon in 1880. He was born in Bern, Switzerland but his family emigrated to Illinois when he was eight. Fascinated with the history and culture of American Indians in the Southwest, he became one of the foremost anthropologists and ethnologists of the Pueblo people. Today the Bandelier National Monument, named after him in 1916, remains a witness to the native people’s ancestral history on this land and a testimony of one man’s determination to bring that history to life.

In 1890, Bandelier wrote novel titled The Delight Makers, a fictional tale in which he re-imagines the life of pre-Columbian Pueblo Indians. The novel opens with a description of the Frijoles Canyon as Bandelier saw it. Over a hundred years later that was exactly the view I was taking in on a cold January day and my reaction was the same – it’s the grandest thing I ever saw!

Frijoles Canyon was formed following the eruptions more than a million years ago of a nearby volcano, now collapsed into a giant Valles Caldera. The eruptions were so powerful that they produced volumes of ash 600 times greater than the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. Soft compressed volcanic ash, or tuff, formed steep and easily carved walls of the canyon. Read the rest of this entry

Un-Conventional Tampa

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Tampa

Downtown Tampa

The non-stop news cycle from the Republican National Convention in Tampa last week was for the most part nauseatingly repetitive (check the word cloud: “America” – “President” – “Mitt Romney”) and occasionally hilariously bizarre (thank you, Clint Eastwood). But now that it’s over, I want to reconnect with a meaning of the word “Tampa” that does not equal the RNC. To me that meaning goes back some years ago when I had a chance to visit.

Tampa is not necessarily on Florida’s A-list of destinations. It doesn’t have the vibrancy of Miami, history and natural charm of Pensacola, or Orlando’s Disney World (ok it has Busch Gardens but it doesn’t quite measure up). When I was there is also felt in a large part under construction with street closures and cranes dotting the landscape. So to me the highlights were a few special, memorable places rather than the city as a whole. Read the rest of this entry

If you’re going to San Francisco…

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Golden Gate Bridge where I got my tan

…be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, sings Scott McKenzie (I would add a jacket and sunscreen – see below). San Francisco, the Golden City…First impression: love it! Second thought: I still love it but why is it foggy every day until noon and lows drop into the 50s in August?? That fairly typical reaction to SF’s unique coastal climate was well summed up by a statement often attributed to Mark Twain, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” Apparently Twain never actually said it but whoever did clearly shared my experience from a last year’s trip. Another highlight of that trip in a similar vein: a facial sunburn acquired on a cloudy day while freezing on a boat to Alcatraz. But even if the weather is not always LA-style “California dreamin” you really barely notice. So much to do, see, taste! Plus, because of SF’s topography it has many different microclimates. If it’s cloudy where you are it may be sunny just over the hill – that is if you manage to climb it, they are steep =) Read the rest of this entry

The story of creative destruction at Mount St. Helens

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Just a short drive of 50 miles northeast from Portland, Mount St. Helens may as well be on a different planet. On May 18, 1980 – exactly 32 years ago – the mountain’s 9,677 ft (2,950 m) tall summit blew its top off and became reduced to 8,365 ft (2,550 m) with much of its northern face replaced by a mile-wide crater. Eruptions are nothing new to this mountain. In fact, local Native American tribes gave it names that clearly indicated a history of violent outbursts, such as Lawelatla (“One From Whom Smoke Comes”), Tah-one-lat-clah (“Fire Mountain”) or Loo-wit (“Keeper of the Fire”). The first European to see the mountain was British Captain George Vancouver. While on a mission exploring the Pacific coast in 1792, he spotted the peak from his ship Discovery as he sailed past the mouth of the Columbia River. He named it after his friend and the British Ambassador to Spain at the time, Alleyne Fitzherbert, Baron St. Helens. Read the rest of this entry

Charm and ceviche in Coconut Grove

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Coconut Grove hibiscus

If Miami had an old town, it would be Coconut Grove, its oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood. It was originally settled in late 1800s and annexed by Miami in 1925. And even though little of the frontier character remains, Coconut Grove still has its unique village-like feel (if you can tune out high rise hotels). Fortunately, it’s easy to find places where the past comes alive.

One of them is the Barnacle Historic State Park with the oldest house in Miami still in its original location having survived several murderous hurricanes. Just like a barnacle clinging to a sea rock, the house has stuck to the edge of the Biscayne Bay since 1891. It was built by Ralph Middleton Munroe, originally from New York, who bought bayfront property among the wilderness of Florida hammock (tropical hardwood forest) for… $400. Ok, it was quite a bit of money back then! Read the rest of this entry

Best of cherry blossoms

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Japanese cherry blossoms were planted around Washington’s Tidal Basin in 1912 as a gift of friendship between the two nations. Actually, the initial batch of 2,000 trees arrived two years earlier but became infested with pests and had to be destroyed – fortunately the second attempt was successful. Ever since every spring cherry blossoms draw crowds of enthusiasts and photographers to DC, myself included. Each year they also inspire dozens of haiku writers to capture the special moments courtesy of the delicate blossoms. I have to say given what’s going on in here this one (submitted to the Washington Post by dmor) is my favorite:

“Beautiful flowers
Pretty and ephemeral as
Bipartisanship”

This year the timing and the weather didn’t quite work out for the optimal peak blooming viewing of the cherry blossoms – at least for me. So instead of trying to scramble for miserable shots of half-fallen blooms, I hereby present my best of collection from the last few years. Following in the footsteps of past generations… Read the rest of this entry

Frida Kahlo in Rosslyn

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Frida in Artisphere

Today I had a chance (last chance since the exhibit is closing) to see 259 photographs from Frida Kahlo’s personal collection, in storage and sealed until 2007 and for the first time on display in the U.S. in Rosslyn’s Artisphere. The images were divided into six thematic collections. The Origins shows the photos of her family, including many portraits of her Mexican mother and German father. The Blue House documents Frida’s life in her beloved Casa Azul where she was born in 1907, lived for years, and died in 1954. The Broken Body shows the physical pain that permeated Frida’s life ever since a tram accident crushed her pelvis and fractured her spine, requiring more than 30 surgeries over the years. Loves, The Photography, and Diego’s Eye focus on portraits and candid moments of Frida and the people who mattered in her life, notably husband Diego Rivera. I learned three pieces of trivia from the exhibit:

    1. Frida’s mother was of Tehuana heritage (from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec area). Frida looked exactly like her, unibrow and all.
    2. Her father was born in Pforzheim, Germany, changed his name from Wilhelm to Guillermo when he moved to Mexico.
    3. Arlington, VA and Coyoacán in Mexico City are sister cities.

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Redescovering Frederick

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Weinberg Center in Frederick, MD

When wanderlust drives us to dream about far-off places, it is good to remember that you don’t have to travel thousands of miles to experience something new and interesting. In fact, many places that you might have been passing next to without much thought have a lot to offer upon closer inspection. For me, one such place has been Frederick, Maryland. Only about 50 miles north of Washington, for years it has been a stop to stretch my legs when returning to DC from a longer car trip. But it never was a destination in and of itself. Until this weekend.

Frederick is older than the United States. Founded in 1745 by German immigrants, the city quickly became an important intersection of trade routes. In 1804, it was the staging ground for Lewis and Clark’s expedition West (known as Fredericktown back then). Later the city’s location put it in the center of Civil War struggles, with both Union and Confederate troops passing through on their way to the bloodbath at nearby Antietam in 1862 and to the fateful battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. Read the rest of this entry