Empty Spaces

Freer Gallery of Art

Let’s face it, winter time in the Washington, DC area could be a very dreary time indeed. Politicians take lots of time off, and with them, whole armies of lobbyists and contractors who have carved an impressive symbiotic relationship with them. They don’t stay away for long, mind you, but that precious period of low tide in the city is both wonderfully quiet and a great opportunity for exploring the many world-class museums and galleries that dot the area. No need to stand in line for an hour to see an exhibit at the Hirshhorn Museum or at any other venue in town. And the often-ignored Freer Gallery of Art (pictured above) becomes even more magnificent in its undisturbed silence. To walk those empty, silent grand hallways and emerging into a room full of historical treasures is nothing short of bliss. The sound of slow-moving, tapping footsteps at a distance reverberating through those empty hallways, nothing short of music to our ears. This is more the case if you happen to find yourself at the museums the moment they open, when that feeling of having the whole place to yourself transports you into a world of ancient Chinese scrolls and golden figurines from centuries gone by. It is all wonderful stuff, and about as close as you can get to losing track of time, and of yourself.

 

Zurich, Switzerland Never Disappoints

The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland acquires a certain glow in winter. [Click photo for larger version]
The magnificent financial capital of Switzerland.
Just about everywhere you look in Zurich, you are surprised by some incredible landscape.
Incredible city landscape.
Get off-the-beaten-path in the city and you will be rewarded by some unique finds.
Get off-the-beaten-path for some unique finds.
Sometimes, it is the little things that make Zurich and other Alpine cities so special.
It is the little things that make Zurich so special.
While not quite fast food in the American style, many local eateries do cater to those short of time.
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.
Ever wonder why photographers love European models? Well, wonder no more.
Ever wonder why photographers love European models?
In Zurich, Christmas celebrations in the Old Town section appear to be quite fashionable.
Christmas celebrations in Old Town.

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.

A Walk Along A River Bank

View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.
View of Northern Virginia from across the Potomac River near Ohio Dr. NW.
Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.
Thousands of geese make their home along the shores of the Potomac River during the winter months.
It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets.
It is a little known fact that the shores of the Potomac River are the perfect place to experience great sunsets on a regular basis.
The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.
The quiet river shores at the end of the day will make anyone forget the hectic world that exists about a mile away in the District.
Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.
Leafless trees in winter make it a lot easier to experience the majestic buildings at the National Mall.

Anyone suffering from the winter blues? No doubt by now the cold, rain, ice, and snow are wearing out most mortals out there, to include your’s truly. Not that my camera has been sitting idle since the holidays, but rather that frankly, I’m having a bit of a challenge in finding those unique city scenes that make those long hours worth every shivering, tedious moment out there. During these cold January days locals appear to be perfecting the practice of hybernation. Tens of thousands of people are out-and-about in cities like San Francisco, Barcelona, and New York, but in the commuter heaven that is Washington, DC it is empty sidewalks and parks that rule the days.

Hoping to capture a little of that wintry solitude, I decided to take a walk by the shores of the Potomac River with my camera. As expected, the wind-swept shores were devoid of people, and with the exception of your occasional jogger vent on getting rid of some winter spread, I mostly enjoyed the company of geese, lots of geese. This panoramic section of the Potomac by Ohio Dr. SW sits relatively close to the famous Tidal Basin area, but somehow gets very little attention from visitors to DC. This may have to do with the fact that there are no monuments in the area, or many benches to sit at. But what this section of the National Mall lacks in amenities, it more than makes up with the beauty of the lanscape, specially during the winter season. Both Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery are clearly visible from the river shores. Small boats and rowing teams from local universities slowly fight their way upstream on their way to Georgetown, while departing flights from National Airport with smoky, white trails splashed against the dark, blue skies of a winter day. It is all quite impressive, even if in a quiet, unasumming way. And for a city that prides itself on how fast it moves, it is quite refreshing that there are still areas that reward those who slow down to enjoy the sound of waves crashing on a river shore.

 

Winter Calm

A serene atmosphere sets in by the river banks during cold, winter days when the crowds disappear won't dare to venture outside.
A serene atmosphere sets in by the river banks during cold, winter days when crowds disappear and life seems to slow down to a crawl.

Something good always happens in our national capital region when a snow storms forces most of the government to shut down for a few days.  For starters, the entire region’s stress level comes down a notch or two.  Bureaucrats get to enjoy a paid day off courtesy of the taxpayers and the environment gets a bit cleaner thanks to tens of thousands of commuters staying home for the day.  What’s more, a sort of calm sets into the area with the falling snow, giving people a chance to reconnect with themselves and the place where they live.  It may not be quite enough for advocates of the Slow Movement to label Washington, DC as a Slow City, but it’s nice to experience for a day or two what all that slow stuff is all about.  I’m digging it.

A Wintry Georgetown Day

The walk along the Georgetown Canal late on a wintry day is definite soup for the soul.
The walk along the Georgetown Canal late on a wintry day is definite soup for the soul.
The new breed of chic cafes along the many side streets in Georgetown will reward those with a vivid curiosity for the road less traveled.
The new breed of chic cafes along the many side streets in Georgetown will reward those with a vivid curiosity for the road less traveled.
In a scene reminiscent of Paris, the Georgetown neighborhood has the greatest concentration of bakeries in the city.
In a scene reminiscent of Paris, the Georgetown neighborhood has the greatest concentration of bakeries in the city.

I sat at home yesterday thinking about the old saying that, “There’s no such thing as a bad day to take photographs,” and pondered the wisdom of going out with my camera to challenge the near-freezing temperatures outside.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a tough guy. Well, above freezing temperatures at least, but I generally do not let a bad day hold me back from hitting the streets in search of the perfect photograph (which by the way, rarely is out there waiting for you).  Nevertheless, out I went to Georgetown because I figured that if anyone would be outside on a cold day like this, it would be the always-there Georgetown crowds.  To my surprise, though, the crowds were quite thin today, but the colors on this gray, overcast day could not have been any more perfect.  And then there was the light, yes, the light.  Not just any light mind you, but that creamy, yellowish, soft light that photographers dream of and which is generally only experienced during what is commonly known in the photography world as the “magic hour.”  Who would’ve known, that on this gloomiest of days we would all be blessed with some of the most beautiful light these sorry eyes have ever seen.  Go figure.