The city of Chicago never ceases to surprise you. It seems that every time I visit (which, granted, is not too often), the place has significantly changed in one way or another. Unfortunately, these days, when we hear about Chicago in the news, the headlines have more to do with the escalating crime rate than with all the wonderful things that are happening in the city. That’s a pity, because without a doubt, this city has one of the most vibrant urban environments I’ve seen anywhere. Like in New York City, people are about at all hours of the day and night. Incredible restaurants dot just about every block downtown, and if you take the time to walk down the beautiful riverwalk promenade, you’ll be able to do some wine tasting while watching the never-ending boat procession sailing down the Chicago River. The negative headlines are the farthest thing from anyone’s mind in the beautiful downtown area, as the city simply takes your mind away from those concerns.
There’s also a lot more to the city than the famous Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, even if that mile alone is worth a special trip to Chicago. After all, right smack in the middle of that mile you’ll find the out-of-this-world Dylan’s Candy Bar store, which is sure to induce a Pavlovian response from even the strongest mortal. But venture a few blocks west of this famous mile, and you’ll come face-to-face with such places as the incredible Italian import that is the Eataly food emporium. You could spend an entire week inside the place indulging in a joyous adventure of pure, unadulterated gluttony.
But with only a day-and-a-half to spare during this trip, I chose to spent most of my available photography time in a couple of areas: walking under the overhead Metro lines that shoot down N. Wabash Street and visiting the adjacent Theater District in the N. State Street area. These areas south of the Chicago River are perfect for street photography, and while not as busy as the famous mile north of the river, they provide ample elbow room for photographers to do their thing. Venture a few blocks east and you’ll bump right into the plush Grant Park, which also affords a whole slew of photographic opportunities. It is neighborhoods like these that make Chicago such a well-kept photographic secret. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say that if urban photography is your thing, then during the summer months Chicago has to be up there on your list of great cities to visit for great urban photography. The beautiful architecture alone merits its ranking on that list. Come winter, though, the Windy City will live up to its Arctic reputation, and perhaps you’ll be better off taking your precious self to a place where no one has ever suffered from frostbite. Fair-weather photography advice? Maybe, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
What can you say about the yearly H Street Festival downtown Washington, DC. Have I mentioned before that this is by far my favorite street festival in the area? Well, it is, and every year I go back to take some pictures and to enjoy the music, the incredible restaurants, and above all, the laid-back party atmosphere at the place. Apparently I’m not alone in thinking that way, as judging by the wall-to-wall crowds, this must be one of the best attended festival in DC. Not served by a metro station and somewhat out-of-the-way from the tourist areas in the city, H Street is one of those places that you reach by either intentionally walking there for a reason (and there are many reasons to visit) or simply by getting lost. But no one has problems finding the place in September, when masses of revelers and artists descend on the neighborhood for a cultural festival like no other in this town of buttoned-up politicians. Boasting some of the best ethnic restaurants in town, H Street more than makes up for its otherwise glamorous-challenged existence by becoming party central for a day. That the festival happens to coincide with the start of the famous Oktoberfest in Munich is even better, because just like in that great German festival, the folks at H Street never run out of beer either.
This weekend was just no ordinary weekend, and while I am no believer on the effect of cosmic forces on human beings (well, not totally), something was definitely happening out there. For starters, two major calendar events took place this weekend: the official end of summer and the official start of the fall season, as evidenced by the autumnal equinox. This celestial, one-day 12/12 hour split between night and day must have put local residents into a partying mood because Washington, DC was definitely rocking this weekend. On Saturday, it was time for what is arguably the best street party in DC to turn on the party volume along H Street NE. This H Street Festival has become an institution in DC and it keeps getting better every year. With a mix of ethnic and trendy new bars and eateries lining its sidewalks, H Street NE continues to be one of the best kept secrets in the city. You won’t see any tourists there, but if cool establishments with style and a modern vive is what you are after, then you better high-tail-it to H Street NE. This street could just be the antidote you’re looking for to spice up your life a bit.
On Sunday, as the autumnal equinox was in full force, it was time for the Latino Festival DC to bring latin music and celebrations to the streets of DC. Thousands of people jammed Constitution Avenue to watch costumed dancers proudly showcase traditional dances from Central and South America while at Pennsylvania Avenue an incredible assortment of latin food and salsa music extended the party all the way to 14th Street. Fresh coconuts, fresh corn, carnitas, tostones, papusas, yucca, rice and beans, you name it, it was all there. And while my expanding waistline could probably not handle too many weekends like this, I’m already looking forward to next year’s autumnal equinox. I tell you, those cosmic forces do seem to be working after all.