Pirates In Alexandria?

El Galeon

El Galeon Deck

Who doesn’t like a tall ship? I certainly do, and they are all the more pleasant if they happen to be Spanish Galleons of the swatch-buckling kind. Thanks to Spain’s Nao Victoria Foundation, which owns the ship, this marvel of the seas recently visited Alexandria, Virginia. Everyone (including yours truly) had a chance to walk on history, as this replica of the 17th Century tall ships graciously sat along the Alexandria shore as an apparition. Canons, Captain’s quarters, and heavily accented Valencian Spanish completed the picture. It was enough for your imagination to run away from you into a world of sea pirates and lost treasures at sea. The crew said that it took them about 30 days to cross the Atlantic from Spain, which compared to the less than nine hours it recently took me to fly back from Europe, sounds like a “no way” kind of trip. Then again, time, a little fresh air, and a sky full of stars, do have their virtue, provided you are not too seasick to enjoy them. There’s a thought. Well, I think I’ll stick to terra firma for now and leave the pirate thing to the pirates.

Empty Tables

There is something about empty tables that always stir the imagination.
There is something about empty tables that always stir the imagination.
Exploring behind restaurants can sometimes result in incredible finds.
Exploring behind restaurants can sometimes result in incredible finds.
Empty tables wait around the fountain in Old Town Alexandria.
Empty tables wait around the fountain in Old Town Alexandria.

I’m fascinated by tables. No, it’s not a clinical condition or anything of the sort, but rather that whenever I see a table with some chairs, it is almost impossible for me not to photograph it. Now, mind you, that I’m not talking about just any table out there. My photographic fascination lies with those unoccupied, lonely, waiting-for-someone kind of tables. Yes, yes, a bit awkward, I’ll grant you that, but I just can’t help it. Every time I see one, I am inevitably transported to an imaginary story of a secret rendezvous, a long wait for a person who never shows up, or the melancholic story of a table that remains unoccupied, night after solitary night. Yes, I can see it now: a long wait, nervous anticipation, an uncomfortable smile, a conversation, a tear. Who knows. All I know is that I’m no writer, but if I were, perhaps it would be at one of those empty tables where I would start my next great story, or end it.

 

Waking Up To A New Year

A young couple enjoys a quiet, early morning moment along the Potomac river in Old Town Alexandria.
A young couple enjoys a quiet, early morning moment along the Potomac river in Old Town Alexandria.
A young girl feeds the seagulls while rhythmically imitating their soaring flight.
A young girl feeds the seagulls while rhythmically imitating their soaring flight.
In the early morning hours, cranes can be spotted walking along the Alexandria shore.
In the early morning hours, cranes can be spotted walking along the Alexandria shore.
An empty boat sits dockside at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria.
An empty boat sits dockside at Waterfront Park in Old Town Alexandria.

You know those days when nothing much seems to be going on? Well, yesterday was one of those days. The whole city seemed to have entered the New Year’s hangover stage and everywhere you went there seemed to be an eerily quiet atmosphere with only a few, slow-moving folks trickling about. This is actually pretty normal during these first days of the year, as people psychologically gear themselves for the inevitable return to the daily grind. After all, all those postponed projects and tasks from last year didn’t quite disappear with the champagne on New Year’s eve.

However, the absence of crowds is also a great opportunity for some unique photography. Empty space can be accentuated, serenity can dominate a scene, and the proverbial “photo bomb” can be eliminated from the frame. Hoping to capture a little of that that empty, serene space, I headed down to the Alexandria waterside to take a long walk along its quiet, rocky shore. Bereft of crowds and the never-ending sound of human activity, the place was like a scene right out of some small European village along the French Mediterranean shore. The mighty Potomac river was so calm that it appeared to be sleeping after a night of celebration. Couples moved at glacier speeds before coming to a halt in order to linger and take in the beauty of an empty landscape. Young girls danced with seaguls as if in a choreographed performance on a vast, outdoor stage. In the quiet humm of a morning breeze, nature and the human spirit appeared to still be dancing the night away. A new year, hesitantly taking its first steps while shining its soft, morning light on us to remind us of the beauty that life can be. What a day. What a life.

 

Geneva In Black & White

The views overlooking the Place de la Madeleine in Old Town Geneva are some of the most magnificent in the city.
The views overlooking the Place de la Madeleine in Old Town Geneva are some of the most magnificent in the city.
Perhaps the most famous landmark in Geneva, the Jet D'Eau started life as a relief valve for a city water pipe.
Perhaps the most famous landmark in Geneva, the Jet D’Eau started life as a relief valve for a city water pipe.
A typical street in Old Town Geneva during the early morning hours.
Even in crowded cities like Geneva, starting the day early before the crowds show up will always lead to some magnificent scenes.
A lady crosses the Rue du Soleil-Levant on her way to the Cour de Saint-Pierre, one of the greatest squares in Geneva.
A lady crosses the Rue du Soleil-Levant on her way to the Cour de Saint-Pierre, one of the greatest squares in Geneva.
Lovers kiss by the historical display at the Geneva Arsenal.
While most people in Geneva seem to be in a hurry, lovers still find time to kiss at the historical Geneva Arsenal.
The cafe restaurant immediately in front of the Geneva Arsenal Museum is a throwback to Europe in years past.
The cafe restaurant immediately in front of the Geneva Arsenal Museum is a throwback to Europe in years past.
The metal Pont de la Machine provides safe passage over the mighty Rhône River.
The metal Pont de la Machine provides safe passage over the mighty Rhône River.
The building housing the Dante Alighieri Association sits quite imposingly between Rue du Perron and Rue Otto Barblan.
The building housing the Dante Alighieri Association sits quite imposingly between Rue du Perron and Rue Otto Barblan.
Always good to find out that while people are curious about your photography, a simple thank you and a smile always go a long way.
Always good to find out that while people are curious about your photography, a simple thank you and a smile always go a long way.

My time in Switzerland came to an end at the cosmopolitan city of Geneva.  Had the weather cooperated a bit more, this would have been a great finale to a most wonderful journey to what has become one of my favorite countries in the world.  And while it does take more than three days (and hopefully, sunny days) to visit this wonderful city, its compact city centre and incredible transportation system are a great help in getting the most out of a limited visit, even in the non-stop rain.  Walking, however, is perhaps the most rewarding activity for visitors.  Venture out along the ritzy Quai du Mont-Blanc from the Pont du Mont-Blanc, with its magnificent hotels catering to a high-flying clientele, and then head on back via the more down-to-earth Rue Philippe-Plantamour (also home to some very good restaurants).  Cross the metallic Ponte de la Machine and spend some of those Swiss Francs along the shopping heaven that is the Rue du Marché (it changes names various times as it goes along).  And when you’ve had enough of people and crowds, get lost in old town and find one of those small cafés that hide along one of the many narrow, cobblestone streets.  Your feet may get tired, but you will hardly notice.  What you will surely notice, though, is that the time you’ve got in this incredible city will never be enough.  Befitting one of the most international cities in the world, there are a myriad of incredible museums, sights, and restaurants that will require more than a single visit to even scratch the surface of this city.  But don’t despair, because the good news is that no one will ever need a reason to visit Switzerland.  Great food, great people, and some of the most incredible scenery you will ever see in a lifetime.  Good enough for me, and I can’t wait to go back.

Getting To The Other Side: A Potomac River Crossing

One of the most fun and less discovered adventures in Northern Virginia is crossing the Potomac River on a harbor boat.
One of the most fun and less discovered adventures in Northern Virginia is crossing the Potomac River via water taxi.
The water taxi connecting Old Town Alexandria with the new National Harbor development arrives at the Alexandria dock.
The water taxi connecting Old Town Alexandria with the new National Harbor development arrives at the Alexandria dock.
While not the cheapest way to cross the Potomac River, the experience makes the sixteen dollar roundtrip a real bargain.
While not the cheapest way to cross the Potomac River, the experience makes the sixteen dollar roundtrip ticket a real bargain.
Coastal and maritime traditions are maintained by the city of Alexandria in spite of pressures by local developers to alter the sleepy nature of the place.
Coastal and maritime traditions are maintained by the city of Alexandria in spite of pressures excerpted by local developers.
During the winter off-season months you could pretty much have the entire water taxi to yourself, even if you are not interested in the views.
During the winter off-season months you could pretty much have the entire water taxi to yourself, even if you are not interested in the views.
As in larger vessels, the boat Captain sits majestically over water taxi with the best views in the house.
As in larger vessels, the boat Captain sits majestically over water taxi with the best views in the house.

Funny how sometimes we convince ourselves that traveling always involve getting into a jet and flying to some exotic, faraway place.  Sure, that’s a lot of fun, but the more I think of it, the more I’m beginning to realize that distance may not have as much to do with the “travel experience” as I once thought it did.  Sometimes the experience can be a lot closer to home.  You know, the places we usually see from a few thousand feet above ground when taking off from the local airport to our great, once-a-year adventure.  Those places do look quite fascinating from the air, but like so many of them we see in aerial photographs, they tend to remain abstractions in our lives.  They are things we momentarily glance at on our way to destinations.

Well, yesterday I decided to change all that.  On what turned out to be a rare, beautiful mid-December day in northern Virginia, I ventured out to cross the Potomac River by water taxi.  Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it?  But I can guarantee you that it was, and the reason may have had as much to do with the absence of crowds as with the incredible views that are only possible from a river boat.  Bald eagles, bridges, historic shorelines, and the soothing sound of a river boat gently slicing the river waters.  It was a surreal experience magnified by the fact that it was so out of character (in a good way) with the crazy, busy world that exist in the area a mere mile inside the river shores.  The ride, which connects Old Town Alexandria on the Virginia side with the National Harbor complex on the Maryland side, lasts less than half an hour each way and will set you back $16 for a roundtrip ticket.  Would it be cheaper and faster to just zoom down by the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in your private automobile?  Sure, provided the destination is all that matters to you on any given day.  But if it’s the journey you are after, then that slow, undulating ride across the river will definitely do the trick.  And the view of the cluttered, busy highway above the bridge is quite nice too.