WhereaboutsPhoto

Seeing more by making the world stand still.

Oh Diner, My Diner

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The old-fashioned diner remains one of the quintessential symbols of America.

The old-fashioned diner remains one of the quintessential symbols of America.

Diners don't change much, and that is perfectly alright with most people.

Diners don’t change much, and that is perfectly alright with most people.

It may not be high-end cappuccinos like in Rome, but diner coffee always hits the spot.

It may not be high-end cappuccinos like in Rome, but diner coffee always hits the spot.

When it comes to restaurants, it doesn’t get much simpler than the great American diner. And while restaurants come and go, all those magnificent diners that dot our great land are nothing but the rough diamonds of our culinary landscape. Too greasy? Yes. Too many calories? Sure. Cholesterol bombs? Definitely. Delicious? Absolutely. This culinary dichotomy (eyes raised to the heavens while placing one foot on the grave) is what makes these places a must while we spend time on this earth. Gravy on the biscuits? Must you ask.

But what is it that attracts so many people to the simple American diner? To a large extent, it is a large degree of nostalgia. Diners remind us of simple days, of small town America, of long-gone family time when you could dress casually while enjoying food that at some level helped to bind us as a people. What’s more, when go to a diner, we really don’t care much about how the food tastes. We already know how it’s going to taste. After all, how may permutations of eggs and hash browns can there be. No, going to a diner will always be about feeling differently when we’re there; about unpretentious servers who greet you as if they’ve known you forever. It is about the sweet “seat yourself” melody resonating in our ears, and about not being able to decide what to order because everything looks too good to pass. Heaven on earth, if you ask me. A place to be who you truly are and not the promotional version of yourself. I only wish I could turn back the clock a few decades or so, to a time when I could have added a couple of pancakes to my order. Next time, my friend, next time.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

April 30th, 2016 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Food

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Always Looking, But Never Finding

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One of the many incredible rooms at the National Gallery of Art.

No matter how many times I visit the National Art Gallery in Washington, DC, there’s always something fascinating to be found amongst its many art chambers. And while I too admire its world-class exhibits, I would have to admit that it is the pursuit of the elusive perfect photographic scene that keeps me coming back to this wonderful place. Sadly, I haven’t found it yet, but sometimes I can’t help to think that I am so close to it, that I can feel it in the next chamber. Along I go, heart beating with the expectation of a 15-year old, and always hopeful that this time will be the lucky one. Mysteriously, and no matter the amount or level of disappointment, I never cease my quest. I know it has to be there, that perfect scene just waiting for me around the corner, with the backdrop of canvases and the magic strokes of long-gone masters of the arts. Yes, it has to be there, and no matter how much my feet hurt, or how tired I am, I can’t bring myself to stop looking, for to do so would amount to voluntarily extinguish the spark that lit the search flame in the first place.

The thing is, that no matter how hard I look, I really don’t want to find that perfect photograph. This may render my quest somewhat illusory, but in reality it is a case of enjoying the search (i.e., the journey) more than the idea of getting to what I’m after. It may not sound unique, but it really keep those aching feet taking one more step along the way. I will grant you that this whole notion resides somewhere deep in my mind, but after all, don’t we all live inside our heads? Photographers do, and that is why they wrestle all the time with the concept of visual meaning, or value for that matter. One minute they are happy with their work, the next they are not. The emotional and artistic yo-yo effect constantly pulling in one direction or the other. And all driven by the notion that next time, yes, next time, they can do better than yesterday. Self-dilusion or unbridled optimism? Take your pick, but I think I’ll stick with the optimism part for a while longer.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

April 28th, 2016 at 11:02 am

Hiding In Plain Sight: The Dumbarton House

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The magnificent rear garden of the Dumbarton House. [Click photos for larger versions]

The magnificent rear garden of the Dumbarton House. [Click photos for larger versions]

The serene lower terrace right off the Herb Garden at the Dumbarton House.

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Stairs headed up to the Herb Garden.

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The majestic front section of the Dumbarton House with its wraparound brick walkway.

Here is yet another one of those “hiding in plain sight” stories. Ever heard of the Dumbarton House in Georgetown, DC? Well, neither had I. That is, until the last 48 hours or so. In fact, I wasn’t even looking for it, as I was driving along Georgetown’s Q Street on my way to the eccentricities of Dupont Circle, my photography destination for the day. Considering how enchanting this Dumbarton House is, I am kind of glad that I never made it to Dupont that morning, even if my discovery soon led to disappointment when I discovered that the House itself did not open its doors until 11:00 AM for inside-the-house tours. Thus, the early bird did not catch the proverbial worm this particular morning.

Like other houses built around 1800 in the area (almost all of them private properties closed to the general public), the simple elegance of the mansion bespeaks to a world that is almost unimaginable by today’s standards. It is described as a fine example of Federal Period architecture of the type that began dotting the Washington area during the early days of the capital. And while the attached East Park and Herb Garden are beautifully serene, the gem of the outdoors has to be the section right behind the house itself, were blooming flowers perfume the morning air with the soft embrace of a morning sun. A quiet, little-known hamlet surrounded by busy streets and busy people, and a reminder of how rewarding it can be to take a detour from our charted journeys in order to see where our tired, wandering feet will take us.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

April 19th, 2016 at 2:34 pm

A Short Visit To President Lincoln’s Bedroom

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A somewhat unassuming monument at the Cottage reminds visitors of the dwelling's most famous tenant. [Click photos for larger versions]

A somewhat unassuming monument at the Cottage reminds visitors of the dwelling’s most famous tenant. [Click photos for larger versions]

The beautiful Cottage sits high above one of the best locations in Washington, DC.

The beautiful Cottage sits high above one of the best locations in Washington, DC.

A simple reminder of the turbulent times experienced by President Lincoln at a critical time in American history.

A simple reminder of the turbulent times experienced by President Lincoln at a critical time in American history.

Think most politicians dream of spending time in the White House? Then think again. It just so happens that high up on a hill barely three miles north of the White House, a simple cottage next to a civil war cemetery was the preferred dwelling of none other than Abraham Lincoln himself. During the Civil War years, when more than your usual number of shady characters walked the power hallways of our nation’s capital, old Abe managed to spend around one-forth of his presidency conducting business from the quieter government quarters a short walk away from the Soldier’s Home in the District. And after spending a few hour recently touring this little-known Washington attraction, I can definitely see why he chose to spend his summers there. He may not have been able to avoid the raging civil war, but he was able to put some distance between himself and the grinding politics of Washington during these troubled times.

The Cottage is a bit out-of-the-beaten-path for most people. You pretty much have to drive there, although you could get there by bus if you have unlimited patience reserves, or by Metro if you if long walks are your thing when you travel. However you get there, the Cottage is well worth a visit for anyone interested in history and the personalities of the Civil War era. Be mindful, though, that the place is not what I would call photography-friendly. The DC area as a whole is a bit paranoid about photographers, but at this restricted installation you would think that you just entered Area 51 or something like it. No photographs inside any building, severely restricted movement around the Cottage, and security personnel on you like a cheap suit. You would certainly be forgiven for thinking that President Lincoln was still there. But the place is part of the rich history of our country, and well worth enduring the minor photographic and movement inconveniences that come with visiting.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

April 3rd, 2016 at 11:42 am

The First Days Of Spring

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The first days of spring bring incredible colors to the Washington, DC area. [Click photo for larger version]

The first days of spring bring incredible colors to the Washington, DC area. [Click photo for larger version]

Magnolia trees begin to bloom at the Smithsonian Institution garden.

Magnolia trees begin to bloom at the Smithsonian Institution garden.

The quiet and understated Mary Livingston Ripley Garden behind the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building.

The quiet and understated Mary Livingston Ripley Garden behind the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building.

Oh, spring. It comes every year as a refreshing breeze that renews our spirits in ways that are hard to describe. With the emergence of those wonderful first flower buds from their winter slumber, we can’t help but think that life continues its yearly ritual of offering us a new beginning, and a much-needed momentary antidote to all that the gloom accumulated during the winter months. And as we take those first, hesitant steps into the warm sunshine infused with the subtle perfume of those first blooms, we realize once more that in spite of all the challenges in our lives, there is still plenty of beauty out there for us to enjoy.

And strange as it may sound, one of the most wonderful places in the wold to enjoy the glory of a new spring is none other than our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. From the incomparable beauty of the Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin, to the dreamlike magnolia trees at the Smithsonian Parterre and Moongate gardens, this city of massive concrete buildings and long faces suddenly cheers up as it transforms into one of the greatest gardens in the world. Bureaucrats don’t seem to hurry as much, passerby’s actually smile a lot more, and lo-and-behold, the city experiences a dramatic increase in “public displays of affection.” And if the spring flowering ritual can infuse such transformation on hardened DC bureaucrats, just imagine the effect that it has on the rest of us. Without a doubt, a magic potion for all that afflicts us.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

March 12th, 2016 at 6:08 pm

The Power of Contemplation

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"He sat watching what went forward with the quiet outward glance of healthy old age" ... George Eliot

“He sat watching what went forward with the quiet outward glance of healthy old age” … George Eliot

Very few things fascinate me as much as when I observe a stranger in a state of utter contemplation. Can’t quite say why, but I assume it has to do with what such scenes do to the power of the imagination. Contemplation is perhaps the ultimate form of freedom, as it gives birth to who we truly are, stripped from the the cacophony of sounds that demand so much of our senses, but deliver so little to out souls. Of course, many would argue that such musings are nothing but signs of mental illness on the part of photo blogger, but I have to believe that there’s something to it. When we loose ourselves into ourselves, something transformative seems to happen. We connect dots, we make sense of us, and above all, we come to know the self in ways that are so deeply personal that it is impossible for others to see. That is precisely what this simple scene along the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris reminded me of. Silence, contemplation, and a journey that only eyes that had seen so much more than mine, could see. No doubt that scenes like these led Percy Bysshe Shelley, the famous British romantic poet from the early 19th Century, to perfectly capture the deep feelings generated by such moments:

 

There is eloquence in the tongueless wind, and a melody in the flowing brooks and the rustling of the reeds beside them, which by their inconceivable relation to something within the soul, awaken the spirits to a dance of breathless rapture, and bring tears of mysterious tenderness to the eyes, like the enthusiasm of patriotic success, or the voice of one beloved singing to you alone.

 

But why do we allow so very few of these moments in our lives? Fear of what we may discover? Or could it be that they would require us to give less to others as we pursue more of ourselves? I’m sure that there are as many explanations are there are pebbles on a beach. Such a pity, for I’m sure we could all benefit from heeding Shelly’s wise advice to “… awaken the spirits to a dance of breathless rapture…”

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

February 8th, 2016 at 12:20 pm

The Universal Language Of Photography

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Birds fly high above the Limmat river in Zurich, Switzerland.

Birds fly high above the Limmat river in Zurich, Switzerland.

Over the past few days it has dawned on me that photographers, together with many other artists out there, may well be some of the greatest linguists in the world. I kid you not, they really are. Think about it. What language is the Mona Lisa? Or the photo above? It really doesn’t matter whether I snapped this photo myself or someone from Botswana took it. Does it? Photography, like so many other artistic forms, truly enjoys the virtue of universality. It speaks not in a single language, but in a way that anyone from any part of the world can understand. A single voice, a single moment. It renders language barriers irrelevant and elicits those simple feelings that are common in us all. It makes us aware of the fact that while we are all rather unique creatures, in the end, we are also so very much alike.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 26th, 2016 at 12:07 pm

Lately, I’ve Been Seeing Red

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While small in size, the red purse dominates the canal scene. [Click photos for larger versions]

While small in size, the red purse dominates the canal scene. [Click photos for larger versions]

A red mailbox is a very rare sight these days.

A red mailbox is a very rare sight these days.

Even in a busy scene, the color red will stand out like no other.

Even in a busy scene, the color red will stand out like no other.

The color red tends to monopolize a scene like no other.

The color red tends to monopolize a scene like no other.

Not all colors are alike. How’s that for a tautological argument? But let me explain. I spend a considerable amount of my time on earth walking around cities searching for interesting photographic subjects. And while my somewhat optimistic searches don’t always prove fruitful (ok, some of it may have to do with my inherent photographic limitations), there is no denying that colors, or the lack of them, kind of influence what I look at, or at the very least, what I find interesting. They make objects stand out from their surroundings and dramatically influence the visual choices we make out there in the world.

So what is it about the color red that usually makes it stand out supreme from other colors? It’s not even my favorite color. But no matter where my eyes take me, red is a color I’ve found impossible to ignore. In its own silent way, it screams at me, demanding my visual attention like no other color out there (well, maybe with the exception of the neon oranges that some tourist groups wear so they won’t loose anyone). From a fashion perspective, you would not catch me dead wearing such a color. Perhaps because different to other colors, I don’t find red to be a passive color, or unassuming for that matter. It visually pokes you and demands not to be ignored. In its own convoluted way, it represents both passion and pain, smiles and tears. It can’t hide and cannot be missed. It pulls more than it pushes, and demands a photographer’s attention like no other. Resistance is futile, so it’s not even worth trying. Isn’t that wonderful?

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

January 18th, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Imagination Defines The Image

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What we see if usually more important than what we look at. [Click photo for larger version]

What we see if usually more important than what we look at. [Click photo for larger version]

As far as I’m concerned, imagination, or simple flights of fancy, are the stuff of life. I say this because no matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to be able to look at the world for what it is. No, not possible. Images, and the scenes I constantly see before me, are mere windows into an imaginary world. For some reason or another, I keep thinking of what I see as incomplete stories, almost begging for me to fill in the blanks with my imagination. A man standing at a corner is not just simply a man standing at a corner. This untamed imagination refuses to see just that. He must be waiting for someone, he has nowhere to go, time doesn’t matter to him, he is there because the events in his life, he seems to be in love, or appears to be totally devoid of it. Whatever. It just goes on and on, and there’s nothing I can do to control it. Imagination, like time, is simply impervious to boundaries.

And thus the photograph above. Is it just a picture of a man in a white uniform staring at passerby’s? Or a baker taking a break from the morning rush? I stood there for nearly ten minutes observing the ongoing scenes, and all that I could think of was the title of Thomas Hardy’s famous novel, “Far From the Madding Crowd.” What to make of this solitary man with his forlorn look, staring at a “madding crowd” of shoppers and consumers? Surely, more than twenty or so feet separate their world from his, and there is no doubt that he was being ignored by the very people who’s lives he was enriching by his labor. Did he envy these people? Or pity them? Did he aim to join them, or leave them? I wondered what his plans were for the holidays. Who would be waiting for him at home. Who misses him when he’s gone, while he quietly observes the crowds, not uttering a word to anyone and no one uttering a word to him. And so it goes, imagination trying to add context to the scene, something that photographer Duane Michals understood very well when he addressed the subject: “I believe in imagination. What I cannot see is infinitely more important than what I can see.” I must agree, because therein, behind the raw data collected by our senses, lies the mystery, and the wonder of the things we see.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 29th, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Slowing Down In Freiburg, Germany

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A young woman walk by Adelhauser Platz during the early morning hours. [Click photos for larger versions]

A young woman walk by Adelhauser Platz during the early morning hours. [Click photos for larger versions]

While not as large as in other cities, the Freiburg Christmas Market is just as colorful.

While not as large as in other cities, the Freiburg Christmas Market is just as colorful.

Vendors don't seem to miss a day to sell their wares by the Historisches Kaufhaus next to the Freiburg Cathedral.

Vendors don’t seem to miss a day to sell their wares by the Historisches Kaufhaus next to the Freiburg Cathedral.

There is never a shortage of patrons at one of the most popular breweries in town.

There is never a shortage of patrons at one of the most popular breweries in town.

Like in most European cities, getting lost in the backstreets is half the fun.

Like in most European cities, getting lost in the backstreets is half the fun.

Blankets are very popular at local cafes, where locals insist to sit outside no matter how cold.

Blankets are very popular at local cafes, where locals insist to sit outside no matter how cold.

A small canal bordered by quaint restaurants and coffee shops is part of the charm in Freiburg.

A small canal bordered by quaint restaurants and coffee shops is part of the charm in Freiburg.

A fairly typical German university town, Freiburg has an abundance of affordable eateries.

A fairly typical German university town, Freiburg has an abundance of very affordable eateries.

Some places have a way of captivating you through their quiet, unassuming ways. They usually don’t make the front pages of travel magazines, nor do they become world-famous for hosting major events like the Olympics or the World Expo. And yet, for those who venture outside the normal touristy venues to explore a bit deeper into a country, these somewhat out-of-the-way gems are full of rewards. In a type of understated way, they charm you not with UNESCO-type monuments to humanity, but rather with the easy-going simplicity that characterizes most of our everyday lives. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany is such a place.

Straddling the western side of the Black Forest, this smallish university city in the state of Baden-Württenburg provides a much welcomed break from its more touristy French neighbor to the north, Strasbourg. It’s geographical location alone (sitting on the south-west corner of Germany by the Black Forest) makes it somewhat of a refuge from the tourist lanes that crisscross most of Europe these days. To go to Freiburg, you must want to go to Freiburg, because it will require you to get off the main road to do so. But this, my friends, is the good news about this wonderful city. It charms you for what it’s not, which if you have traveled any time recently to the overcrowded, major European cities that dominate most vacation brochures, you will soon come to appreciate.

If I had to pick a term to describe my time in Freiburg, I would probably refer to it as “slow travel.” None of that need-for-speed stuff that characterizes major metropoles these days. On the contrary, days wandering the twisted, quiet streets in Freiburg tend to blend into each other with the ease of day passing into night. After spending some time in a major European city, life in Freiburg felt like you had arrived at a place you could call home. Orderly, clean, and charmingly low-keyed, it is the kind of place where you go to recharge your batteries while enjoying a simpler way of life. But don’t get me wrong, Freiburg is not some desolate city where nothing of any consequence is happening. Rather, it is a charming city with all the trappings of a larger city, but on a much smaller scale (and a lot cheaper too), and with a lot less tourist traffic. And even if you wouldn’t think so from trying to find a free table at the incredible Hausbrauerei Feierling brewery (which by the way, is reason enough to go to Freiburg for a few days), you will be able to dispense with any notion of speed during your visit there. The city, with its easy-going, unassuming rhythm, will definitely grow on you. And as you board that train on your way to Basel, Stuttgart, or wherever your travels are taking you, you will be glad you took the time to stop and visit this charming city by the Dreisam river.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 21st, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Winter Days in Strasbourg, France

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Some of the small restaurants near La Petite France are the sheer definition of ambiance. [Click photos for larger versions]

Some of the small restaurants near La Petite France are the sheer definition of ambiance. [Click photos for larger versions]

A characteristic establishment in La Petit France could not be more inviting.

A characteristic establishment in La Petit France could not be more inviting.

Friends enjoy the few, precious hours of sunshine during the short days of December.

Friends enjoy the few, precious hours of sunshine during the short days of December.

A sole gargoyle sits on the grounds of the cathedral as if keeping an eye on it for all eternity.

A sole gargoyle sits on the grounds of the cathedral as if keeping an eye on it for all eternity.

The religious fervor of the locals was quite evident during the days leading to Christmas.

The religious fervor of the locals was quite evident during the days leading to Christmas.

Cold December days convince customers to move inside, much to the consternation of the smoking crowd.

Cold December days convince customers to move inside, much to the consternation of the smoking crowd.

Some travelers do not enjoy returning to places they have visited in the past, but I’m not one of them. Granted that with so many places to see around the world, it is perhaps advisable not to narrow your travel focus to a mere few of these. Nevertheless, there’s something nostalgic about visiting old stumping grounds after your feet have taken you far away from those familiar places, and for far too long. Strasbourg, France is one such place for me, and while it has been undoubtedly too long since I once roamed its streets accompanied by those happy days of youth, the magnificent sights of this great city still evoke the sense of romance and awe that was there when life was nothing but a long, uninterrupted spring.

During the month of December the city of Strasbourg, with its award-winning Christmas Market, dresses up for the holidays like very few cities in the world can. Anywhere you go in the Old Town there will be too much to see, too much to eat, and when it comes to that great, spiked wonder that is Gluehwine, too much to drink. And while in other places of the world people may complain about cold, overcast, and otherwise sun-deprived days, in Strasbourg these sort of days only add to the pure magic of the season. Small, cozy restaurants and cafes around the inner city will be beautifully illuminated and decorated, affording couples the perfect backdrop for conversation accompanied by a glorious Alsatian wine. Stopping during the blue hour on the Passerelle de l’Abreuvoir bridge to take-in the ancient rooftops surrounding the Cathédrale Notre Dame will transport you back to those days in the 17th Century when the cathedral was considered the tallest building in the world. And if it is your softer side you need to get reacquainted with for a change, just walk the narrow, twisting streets of La Petite France at night and you’ll be reminded that life is not just about speed, or about the eternal chase of golden mirages. Walking along these streets as if in a mindless drift, I could not help but think that the sheer beauty of this dimly lit city during the Christmas season had to be the perfect antidote to the many worries afflicting us these days. A beautiful city, lit by candlelight. An energy drink for the soul, and the stuff of which life’s most pleasurable moments are made of.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 18th, 2015 at 4:25 pm

Zurich, Switzerland Never Disappoints

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The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland acquires a certain glow in winter. [Click photo for larger version]

The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland acquires a certain glow in winter. [Click photo for larger version]

Just about everywhere you look in Zurich, you are surprised by some incredible landscape.

Just about everywhere you look in Zurich, you are surprised by some incredible landscape.

Get off-the-beaten-path in the city and you will be rewarded by some unique finds.

Get off-the-beaten-path in the city and you will be rewarded by some unique finds.

Sometimes, it is the little things that make Zurich and other Alpine cities so special.

Sometimes, it is the little things that make Zurich and other Alpine cities so special.

While not quite fast food in the American style, many local eateries do cater to those short of time.

While not quite fast food in the American style, many local eateries do cater to those short of time.

A local chef and a bartender take a break before the dinner crowds descend on their establishment.

A local chef and a bartender take a break before the dinner crowds descend on their establishment.

Ever wonder why photographers love European models? Well, wonder no more.

Ever wonder why photographers love European models? Well, wonder no more.

In Zurich, Christmas celebrations in the Old Town section appear to be quite fashionable.

In Zurich, Christmas celebrations in the Old Town section appear to be quite fashionable.

It’s been a long while since I last visited Zurich, Switzerland.  In fact, it’s been about a decade, to be precise, and if it was wonderful the day I left, it has gotten even better now.  Sure, the crowds have increased quite a bit, and this world financial center has not gotten any cheaper.  But the Alpine magic that once captivated a younger version of myself is still there, and in great quantities.  The blue evening glow generated by the sun’s reflected light from the snow-capped mountains, the chilly morning strolls along the Limmat river, and the joyful holiday spirit that makes the Christmas season so special along the Alpine Region of Europe.  Yes, they are all still there, and so is the evoked feeling that you are visiting a very special place in the world, where in the course of one day you can’t avoid but feel that you have heard just about every language under the sun spoken along the old, cobblestone streets in the city.  I may not understand most of them, but one thing I do know for sure: that they are as fascinated as I am with this gem of a city.  How do I know this?  Because a happy face is easy to spot, and happy faces they have.  After all, couples don’t hold hands and kiss in public places when they are not happy.  But Zurich has that effect on people, and as long as it does, this aging traveler will continue to come back to find its incredible magic.

Written by whereaboutsphoto

December 7th, 2015 at 4:52 pm

Little Havana: 50 Years Late, But Still Worth It

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One of the iconic images of Little Havana is the old cigar maker sitting in front of his shop smoking.

One of the iconic images of Little Havana is the old cigar maker sitting in front of his shop smoking.

Summer straw hats have been a symbol of the Caribbean nation for longer than anyone cares to remember.

Summer straw hats have been a symbol of the Caribbean nation for longer than anyone cares to remember.

Hand-crafted Cuban cigars are one of the main reasons tourist still flock to Little Havana.

Hand-crafted Cuban cigars are one of the main reasons tourist still flock to Little Havana.

Sidewalk-facing coffee stands are the perfect places to experience the powerful Cuban espresso shots.

Sidewalk-facing coffee stands are the perfect places to experience the powerful Cuban espresso shots.

Hanging bananas brought back memories of youth growing up in the Caribbean.

Hanging bananas brought back memories of youth growing up in the Caribbean.

The heart of Little Havana lies at the Domino Park in the middle of Calle Ocho.

The heart of Little Havana lies at the Domino Park in the middle of Calle Ocho.

Not everyone can join the local domino games, but if you are over 55 and a local resident, then you're in.

Not everyone can join the local domino games, but if you are over 55 and a local resident, then you’re in.

The colorful, Cuban restaurants are still thriving there, with prices that will make you want to come back over and over again.

The colorful, Cuban restaurants are still thriving there, with prices that will make you want to come back over and over again.

Sometimes, it takes a long time to get to a place that has always been right in front of you.  In my case, four or five decades, to be exact, but even if late to the game, the trip was still worth it.  I’m talking about one of the most famous communities in America: Little Havana.  After endless trips to Florida, I finally made it to the famous Calle Ocho (8th Street) in Miami.  And while perhaps the original flavor of the place has changed somewhat since the 1960-70’s, the Cuban latin vibe that made it famous in the first place is still there, even if perhaps in smaller quantities.

Coming from the somewhat sober Washington, DC area, it was more than refreshing to walk down a street while listening to the latin rhythm of bongos and enjoying the unmistakable aromas emanating from Cuban kitchens.  And while I had been forewarned about petty crime in the area, all I experienced were great, friendly locals who didn’t mind at all you taking their pictures.  Maybe the fact that I spoke Spanish had something to do with it, but I’m not totally sure.  My impressions were more of a very proud people intent on showcasing their cultural heritage while feeding you copious amounts of food.  And if it is great food at incredible low prices you’re after, go no further than the Nuevo Siglo (New Century) grocery store/restaurant, where you can eat lunch with various sides for less than $10.  I guess the domino-playing locals at the Domino Park were right when I asked them where would they have lunch today in Little Havana if they had to.  A little bit of Cuba and the Caribbean in America.  And for this roving photographer, a welcomed reminder of an island upbringing and the Spanish melodies that still, quietly reverberate inside his mind.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 22nd, 2015 at 10:59 am

Attempting To Figure Out Luxembourg City

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An old observation post sits high above the Vallé de la Petrussé. [Click photos for larger versions]

An old observation post sits high above the Vallé de la Petrussé. [Click photos for larger versions]

Small, trendy restaurant bars line the off-the-beaten-path, narrow streets of Luxembourg.

Small, trendy restaurant bars line the off-the-beaten-path, narrow streets of Luxembourg.

While there seems to be a lot of French influence in Luxembourg, the city has its unique, classy character.

While there seems to be a lot of French influence in Luxembourg, the city has its unique, classy character.

The European artisinal café culture is alive and well in Luxembourg.

The European artisinal café culture is alive and well in Luxembourg.

The dancing figures stood in sharp contrast to the foggy, dreary days of November in the city.

The dancing figures stood in sharp contrast to the foggy, dreary days of November in the city.

There are some places that are not that easy to figure out. This may have to do with the grey area that lies somewhere between expectations, reality, and perceptions, but whatever it is, warming up to them may take longer than you have when you visit. For me, Luxembourg City is one of those places. During my short visit there, I found this banking enclave in the heart of Europe to be both beautiful and a bit of a riddle. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it sort of reminded me of those parties where everyone is having a good time, but nothing much exciting is taking place. Lots of mingling, but no music, and definitely no dancing. A city that you travel to not so much with the intention of being in the middle of it all, but rather with the intention of being a bit removed from it all.

In all fairness, though, my first impressions may have had something to do with the time of the year. November in that part of Europe can result in some rather gloomy, sun-deprived days. In fact, for the three days I was there, the thick fog never quite lifted, casting a mysterious (and quite wet) blanket over most of the city. I know there was sunshine there somewhere, but I never saw it in great abundance. But what I could see was quite impressive. The views from the magnificent Monument of Remembrance high above the Rue de la Semois are nothing short of spectacular. And if shopping is what you’re after, you can’t do any better than along the designer stores along the Rue Philippe II (just take a lot of cash with you). Take a stroll at night along the Place Guillaume II and the Palais Grand Ducal during this time of the year and you will find yourself in one of those mysterious, foggy scenes right out of a Hollywood thriller. Without a doubt, everything that is happening in Luxembourg at these hours is happing inside, somewhere behind those imposing doors and majestic facades.

So what to make out of Luxembourg City? A quote by Lady Edith of Downton Abbey comes to mind. Upon hearing from Anthony Gillingham that it would not be very English to make public scenes about things people were passionate about, Lady Edith said, “No, but I envy it… all those Latins screaming, and shouting, and hurling themselves into graves. I bet they feel much better afterwards.” As my train left the Luxembourg station on its way to Belgium, I couldn’t help but think that a little bit of that Latin attitude could do the city of Luxembourg a bit of good too. I can only wonder if all those bankers would agree.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 15th, 2015 at 1:47 pm

Walking And Dreaming In Brugge

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One of the many beautiful canals in Brugge. [Click on photos for larger versions]

One of the many beautiful canals in Brugge. [Click on photos for larger versions]

Viewed from the top of the Belfort Tower, the city of Brugge is a wonderful sight.

Viewed from the top of the Belfort Tower, the city of Brugge is a wonderful sight.

One of the most romantic ways of seeing the city is by horse-drawn carriage.

One of the most romantic ways of seeing the city is by horse-drawn carriage.

Just about every street in the old part of town appears to come right out of a movie set.

Just about every street in the old part of town appears to come right out of a movie set.

Get lost along the city's narrow streets and you will find some incredible restaurants.

Get lost along the city’s narrow streets and you will find some incredible restaurants.

The statute of monks consoling each other is one of the most emotionally moving in the city.

The statute of monks consoling each other is one of the most emotionally moving in the city.

At night, the city of Brugge is as wonderful as in the daylight.

At night, the city of Brugge is as wonderful as in the daylight.

Talk about a place surpassing all of your expectations. For a long time now I’ve known about this wonderful small town that lies deep in the heart of Flanders, Belgium, but my feet have always taken me somewhere else in Europe. So why not? Off to Brugge then. Six incredible days later, I now realize that I should have visited this postcard-perfect city a long time ago. Yes, Brugge, a city that without even trying has moved near the top of my dream list of places that I would love to relocate to. Friendly, approachable, and real, it is the kind of place where people just don’t seem to have the kind of attitude that keeps people “on edge” in other parts of the world.

With time, I’ve come to realize that there are places you travel to because of the attractions that every tourist must see, and places you travel to because of the feelings they evoke. Brugge is definitely in the latter category, and while there are plenty of local attractions to occupy you during your visit, it is the city’s attitude (or vibe, for that matter) that totally grabs you the moment you set eyes on its wonderful architecture. Venture in any direction from the central Grote Markt square and you will find an idyllic world of quiet canals, small cafes, and quaint, little restaurants that look like places out of a Hollywood romantic movie. Very few places that I’ve ever seen will compare with the serene landscape along the canal bordering Groenerei Street on a rainy day, where arched, brick bridges covered in dark, green mildew, blend seamlessly with the surrounding houses bordering the canal. Wander north to Spinodarei Street to enjoy viewing groups of swans that seem to fly along the watery clouds of the canal. Then head on west along Gruuthusestraat to the 12th Century Oud Sint-Jan hospital site and its incredible courtyard where the statute of two monks consoling each other will almost move you to tears. And what better place to get lost at night, when the soft, yellow lights of barely lit restaurants cast a dimmed glow on the narrow cobblestone streets of an ancient city. It is often said that Paris is prettier when it rains, and undoubtedly there’s a lot of truth to that. But so is Brugge, and in the cool, dark nights of mid-November, it is the stuff of dreams.

 

Written by whereaboutsphoto

November 10th, 2015 at 4:10 pm