Monday, May 25, 2015

Night and Day - Zürich, Switzerland

After crossing "the Pond" once again on a C-5 to Ramstein Air Force Base and cleared customs at around noon, I made my way to the Exchange to grab some much needed German style coffee and rhubarb pastries!  Once my appetite was satisfied, I crossed the atrium over to the travel center to book the fastest train south with Zürich in my scope!  After sitting down with my ever so helpful travel agent, we got my ticket squared away via mixed German-English dialogue and I was out the door tickets in hand!  Stepped out into the perfect autumn Rhineland weather with perfect timing as an available taxi pulled up in front of me.  I wish I could recall her name, but my driver and I had a fantastic drive into K-Town whilst I warmed up my German and she practiced her English skills talking about this and that, and of course travel.  Soon enough, I was at the familiar doors to the Kaiserslautern Hauptbahnhof and ready to board by train!  Continuing into the beautiful autumn day was a tremendous train ride through the German countryside next to the Rhein.  Adding to the already great first day, I watched the sun set over France from Germany as I neared the Swiss border to the city of Basel where I would depart my comfort zone of the DeutscheBahn to SNCF lines to what the locals call "Downtown Switzerland".
I arrived to the city after dark which made for an interesting trek up to where I was staying for night as my first AirBNB experience.  According to Google Maps, the walk looked like "cross the bridge, make a left, and go a few blocks" easy, but little did I know that Zürich was built on near ski-worthy slopes.  After arriving to Marti's top floor apartment on Winterthurerstrasse, quite the handle for a street name, I asked for recommendations for the best view of town and she immediately lit up with excitement as she explained the view from the ETH Library.  ETH is short for Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, long name, but great school with a ranking of third in the world for engineering and also the alma mater of Albert Einstein.  Once I rounded the corner of the library to the plaza I understood why Marti was so eager to tell me of this spot!  If you ever find yourself in Züri, take in the view from this heavenly vantage point at night and during the day, especially for a sunset over Zürichsee and northern Alps of beautiful Schweiz!

Caught in the Rain - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When I departed Union Station in Washington, D.C. the skies were clear as the sun edged toward the horizon, but as I tracked north the weather 'went south'.  The City of Brotherly Love had been at the top of my American Cities list for quite sometime and once I got over my awe of the 30th Street Station, I ventured out into the early evening rain to one of America's grand architectural wonders: Philadelphia City Hall.  Knowing beforehand that the top of William Penn's hat marked the record for tallest habitable structure in the world for more than a decade, I was still shocked by the incredible height of the tower looming into the hazy mist above as I stepped closer and closer.  Once I was checked into my hotel less than a block away for the night and my bag hit the floor, I was out the door in a flash to capture this engineering marvel in all it's might at night!  The spring rain did not damper my spirits as one might have suspected, but much rather the opposite for the mist gave a striking definition to the immense size of McArthur and Walter's masterpiece.    

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The River City's Cathedral - Richmond, Virginia

Overlooking the pentagram park named after James Monroe at the edge of the Fan District and the downtown of Richmond, the twin towers of the Sacred Heart rise above the ancient trees of the park below.  This being my third visit to the "Capital of the South", I finally was provided the opportunity to take in the remarkable interior of this Richmond landmark.  Before my departure westward to Charlottesville, I was going to try my luck once more on finding an open door and being it was a Sunday morning, I knew my chances would be high!  I wish I could have stayed for the morning service, but I had a schedule to keep so my stay was brief.  But, I did take the time to sit down in an aft pew and read from the self-guided tour pamphlet and that is when I learned of the cathedral's rich history, in the adjective and monetary sense.  The construction of this grand cathedral was financed by a recent convert to Catholicism and railroad magnate, Thomas Fortune Ryan and his family.  When completed in 1906, the cathedral is believed to be the first cathedral to be built entirely by the funding of a single family in American history.  What peaked my interest was the foundation of the church, more specifically the rare stone that was laid down on the sixth of June, 1903, as the cornerstone.  The stone block chosen to be the first set for Ryan's cathedral originated from the Garden of Gethsemane.  Quarried from the base of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and the same ground on which Jesus and the his disciples slept on the eve of the crucifixion.  One of those powerful and surprising pieces of worldly history that can be  right under your feet and you would never know it!  

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Wedding of Eritrean Aura - Columbus, Georgia

Nearly six years ago, I met a vibrant and vivacious spirit during the trying times that come with Navy boot camp.  After our eight weeks of "hurry-up-and-wait's", seemingly endless marching, and other preparatory lessons to prepare us for what lay ahead within our Naval careers, we parted ways.  Despite going about the world in different directions, we stayed in touch and after she finished her time, our paths crossed once again in a very special place.  Over an ocean and in the picturesque Marienplatz in the heart of the Bavarian capital city during one of the world's greatest festivals - Oktoberfest!  Under the opulent tower of the City Hall of Munich, I was met with a smiling familiar face and a new one was tagging along with her.  Whilst eating savory German food and quenching our thirst with Reinheitsgebot beer in lieu of the Oktoberfest season, the memories flowed and were made all the same as we sat next to a table full of jubilant Danes that made the experience all the more memorable.  After parting ways once again, I was invited to be a part of their happiest day on a beautiful November day with their families and friends, which was also a reunion after many years for a few of us from Division 360.  Adding to an already enchanting day, her family of Eritrean heritage gave charisma to the beautiful celebration of marriage to two beautiful people.  Their song filled the hall and poured out over the gardens of the old river mill in downtown Columbus and their dances raised all of our spirits and smiles alike!  I am truly honored to have taken part in such an extraordinary day for this Port-watch's dear friend, Starboard Watch.    

The Tar Heel's Capitol - Raleigh, North Carolina

Having visited 17 of the 50 state capitol buildings at this point, each has their unique twist to their stage of the political scene.  Today's statehouse of the Old North State was built in a Greek Revival style giving the building a spartan touch, simple but strong.  Although the structure may seem austere, this edifice holds some uncommon treasures that visitors will not easily find in any of the other 49 counterparts.  To begin the adventure, I entered the capitol's first floor and made my way toward the natural light beaming down from the dome above to find a peculiar statue.  A replica from the original that was housed in the first capitol building in the new city of Raleigh until fire took it's heavy toll, the statue is of our first President - George Washington.  What makes this sculpture especial is that our founding father is depicted as an officer of a Roman legion, from the short cropped and curly hair to the traditional tunic of the era writing on a scroll in Italian!  Venturing up the cantilever staircases to the levels above, the second floor housed the common findings of a legislative center of Senate and House chambers in a simple Colonial design.  Continuing upward to the third floor is where North Carolina hides her jewels of the building.  My favorites, and judging by the response and the amount of questions by the rest of the tour group, were the Library and the Geologist's Office.  Both chambers were heavily influenced by the Gothic style but all in Carolina material and character, the offices hold two forms of the state's history by either pen & paper or by fossilization.  The photo above shows the glassed cases housing various minerals, stones and soils naturally occurring throughout the state while the interior laboratory tables demonstrate how the geologists studied alongside prospectors and agriculturists of yesteryear. 

The founding of Raleigh came from the growing concern as the predictable Revolutionary War loomed over the citizens of colonial North Carolina.  New Bern hosted the seat of government from 1766 until growing concerns of attack to the coast put leaders on edge and as westward movement across the territory called for a more adequate capital city.  One might say, the leadership sent men on a wild goose chase across the rolling hills of eastern North Carolina to find a suitable tract to lay out a new city.  Under the persuasion of Colonel Joel Lane and the area being a prime location for such a calling, Wake County was voted to be the political center and by luck and fortune, the spot is nearly in the exact center of the state!  Starting from scratch, the city planners drew up inspiration from the then-capital city of the new nation: Philadelphia.  The cornerstone to the copper-domed capitol was set in place in 1833, two years after the first colonial brick building was consumed by fire in 1831, and was completed in 1840 under the direction of the father-son designers William Nichols and William Nichols Jr among others.  As I wandered the grounds after my tour, I found the Presidents Statue quite intriguing.  Seated are two "confirmed" citizen Presidents born in the Tar Heel State, being James Knox Polk and Andrew Johnson.  Riding proudly atop a horse is none other than Andrew Jackson - Pride of the Carolinas.  Which Carolina that is exactly is still an ongoing friendly yet earnest dispute between the two sister states and I foresee that debate to continue for as long time allows! 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Old Capitol Glory - Baton Rouge, Louisiana

As part of my goal to see all the state capitol buildings, I subjected my two friends to going on a side trip before we made the trek back to Georgia.  At this point, I have toured seventeen of this nation's government houses to also include the historic ones such as this one and I will admit, the Old Capitol of Louisiana is one of the most beautiful that I have opened the door into!  Entering from the north door, I was showered with rich colors from the stained glass dome spanning high over the spiraling staircase.  I had quickly learned in New Orleans that the people of Louisiana are a bright and vibrant people that also celebrate their history and a sublime example of that is the resplendent Gothic styled Old Capitol.  Surrounding the railing of the last few steps stand the fifteen flags of the states that were part of the Louisiana Purchase, to include my homestate of Montana!  Serving as a museum today, the Old Capitol holds a tremendous amount of the Pelican State's diverse narration of history.  

After learning that the decision to move the capital from the metropolis of New Orleans in fear of power concentration and corruption in the 1840s that the "Red Stick" was chosen to house the seat of government for the Bayou State.  One can say that Baton Rouge had "bloody" beginnings, for that is where the name of the modern city was derived.  When the earlier French explorers ventured up the waterways of the Mississippi under the lead of Pierre le Moyne Sieur d'Iberville, they came upon poles stained red from the adhered carcasses marking the boundary between to the two tribal nations of the area.  That exhibit is a fairly detailed exhibition, so take heed!  As a disciple to architecture, this building held many rewarding features beyond the dazzling dome and grand staircase.  Learning about the construction of the structure depended largely on cast iron came to a surprise to me due to the ungodly high humidity and the likeliness of cast iron to rust.  In addition to that, while being used as a garrison for the Union "invaders", the building caught fire twice and remained standing.  Before the turn of the 20th century,  great renovations and alterations were made to the Capitol, namely what is the focal point today: The Dome and Staircase.  But, after Freret finished his work in the "old castle" in 1882, the building would be decommissioned from political service as the new towering capitol to the north half a century later.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Mausoleum Maze - New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans holds that title of unique stardom for the spirited jazz playing on every corner, spicy cuisine of endless options and notably, Mardi Gras, but for me the true unique aspect of the city is the Saint Louis cemeteries.  Lying at the northern edge of the French Quarter, the vaults rise up in rows for blocks like petite houses to the bygone New Orleanians.  One of my many oddities is that I take pleasure in meandering about cities of the dead and this necropolis ranks in the top five that I have explored.  The walls encompassing the weathered brick vaults and stone tombs are multitasking as barriers to the living and as chambers to the less affluent dead to maximize the crowded spaces.  One the note of crowded spaces, the oldest portion of the cemetery known as 'No. 1' is subsequently the oldest of the areas, dating back to the founding of the grounds in 1789 is an eerie place to course through and am not entirely too sure about which way is the exit.  As a person of more than six feet in height, these mausoleums loomed above me and seemingly wanted me to stay lost in their labyrinth of the lasting temple of what remains of citizens past.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Saint Louis Cathedral - New Orleans, Louisiana

Rising out of the fervor of the French Quarter are the three iconic steeples to one of America's oldest cathedrals: Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France.  Set overlooking Jackson Square, one of only a few American churches of Roman Catholicism to do as many of the Old World often do, onto the mighty Mississippi River only feet away.  With that in consideration, it surprised me that this church was first established in 1718 knowing the likelihood of spring flooding of the river and surges from summer storms from the Gulf.  Although, the church grew into a larger and grander structure as time past on and in 1793 was elevated to serving as the seat of a bishop, or more commonly given the name 'cathedral'.  While on the drive from Georgia, I was hashing out how my time would be spent while sober and visiting the Cathedral had priority and looking back on the experience, I am glad I committed the time that I did!  The afternoon before we departed from the Big Easy, I spent some time in the shade of the old oak trees writing postcards and whenever I would look up, it was the stark facade of Saint Louis looking back at me.  I highly encourage any visitor to the Cresent City to rest your tired feet for an hour in the shade listening to the live music fill the air in the sight of this American treasure.

In order for me to get the shot of Jackson's statue with limited "people" interference, I waited at this spot for nearly 40 minutes and as I waited, other fellow photographers gathered in hopes of catching the same view.  When this brief but beautiful moment happened, we all gave each other a robust high five afterward for sticking it out all in the sake of one single photograph! 

Exploring the Big Easy - New Orleans, Louisiana

Two friends and I made the trek across the Deep South to the city that famously known as "Nawlins" despite the fact that there is no one in New Orleans that says it in that manner.  We rolled into the town in the afternoon and after a quick cruise about the prismatic streets, we finally maneuvered our way to the hotel on Canal Street.  That street, shown on the left, happens to be the literal line between 'party' and 'business', and we landed ourselves on the party side!  As I made a right hand turn out of the French Quarter area onto Canal Street, there was a parade with a marching band and confetti still twirling down about the crowd.  As we checked in I inquired as to what the celebration was for and the lady brimmed with a smile and replied, "It is Thursday, which means tomorrow is Friday.  Isn't that a reason to celebrate?!" That, my readers, was our welcoming to the noble NOLA!  For our getaway weekend, we could not have asked for better weather to experience the Easy, well, aside from the hefty dose of humidity, but that is part of the Louisiana experience!  Walking about the French Quarter is truly a unique experience for there are things that you will see, and sometimes smell, on Bourbon Street that you will encounter no where else in the world.  Thankfully.  

Friday, May 15, 2015

Inside of Saint Joseph's - Macon, Georgia

After a year's passing since my first visit to the Central City of Georgia, I had made two attempts to visit the sanctuary of this magnificent Neo-Gothic icon to the Macon skyline.  As the saying goes, the third time is the charm!  As the sun was setting on a perfect spring day, I opened the heavy oak doors and entered into the narthex with much anticipation.  My anticipation quickly turned into awe as I stepped into the exquisite yet harmonious interior of Saint Joseph's.  As I made my way toward the transept and peered up into the interior of the dome 125 feet about me, a church attendant quietly approached me to greet me.  I must have had a fresh haircut due to the fact that one of his first questions was if I were military and then ball got rolling from there!  After giving him the affirmative response, he told me about his Marine Corps career and I soon realized I was standing in the midst of a retired Master Gunnery!  All the while of the story-telling, he gave me a near-full guided tour of the church and its history, with the exception of the choir loft and the organ which I truly wished to see.  However, the choir loft was undergoing renovation work at the time and that just means I have to make a return trip!  Quoting from the dedication article printed by the Macon Telegraph in 1903 saying that "If architecture may be described as frozen music, St. Joseph's Church, to be dedicated today, is a symphony." gives life to the beauty of the Jesuit craftsmanship and crown jewel of Macon.  
Please read more about the history of Saint Joseph's Church here!

Cherry Blossom Capital of the World - Macon, Georgia

As I was passing through middle Georgia on the back roads on a summer day, I made a stop in the city of Macon to grab a quick bite to eat and was rapt by the charm and allure of the Central City.  I stumbled upon a local Greek restaurant which happened to be on the corner of Second and Cherry Street.  I did not think to much of the name while going into the restaurant for acquiring food was the priority at the time!  While getting my fill of a fantastic gyro and a Greek beer at my window seat, I noticed the large pink flowers painted all along the sidewalk.  When my server stopped by, I inquired on the street art and she began with a big smile then said "It's from the festival, and if you can, it's worth coming to in the spring!" As a dutifully member of Generation Y, I grabbed my cellphone and Googled about the "Macon cherry festival".  To my surprise, the city is known as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World and for good reason!  Each spring, the Central City is filled with various hues of pink blossoms of more than 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees!

I made a keen note to make the trip the following spring to the festival to see the city in blossom.  As I made my way from Milledgeville to Macon along the Old Garrison road, I was amazed by the entire city brimming in blossoms ranging from nearly white to as bright as fuchsia!  I came to the festival with intentions of seeing the cherry trees around the downtown and "up on the hill'" as the locals call the area around Coleman Hill park, but found much more!  Quickly realizing that most of the downtown had been blocked off for events, I had to investigate hustle and bustle.  Concerts, local made crafts, artwork display one after another, children's activities and dancers filled the streets of pink meanwhile my favorite part of the festival filled the air with enticing aromas - Food Stands.  The cherries of Macon can be traced back to one man by the name of William Fickling.  On a visit to Washington D.C., Bill noticed that the trees all about the National Mall resembled that of his backyard grove.  Upon his return to Macon, he started to expand his humble collection of cherry trees.  Grabbing the attention of new resident to Macon, Carolyn Crayton, she approached Mister Fickling about getting some trees for to fill her neighborhood of Wesleyan Woods with these beautiful trees was the figurative seed planting of the Macon Cherry Blossom Festival.  After Fickling's donation of 500 Yoshino trees to Carolyn's neighborhood, she sought to honor and thank him.  She did so by hosting a three day event the weekend of his birthday which happens to occur during the blossom in 1982.  The citizens of Macon loved the weekend of festivities of a mere 30 activities on the grounds of Wesleyan College and thus started the festival officially in 1983.  Today, the festival spans over ten days and is the host to more than 500 activities for all ages and interests!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Pax Strikes - Augusta, Georgia

Pax, the given name to the crippling winter storm that struck the eastern half of the United States from the 11th to the 17th of February, 2014.  Not two weeks before this cyclic storm made landfall, the American South had faced the effects of a polar vortex colliding with a storm over the Gulf of Mexico.  The results of the first winter storm nearly paralyzed most of the Deep South by cutting off millions to electricity and coating much of the sub-tropical region of the American nation in ice.  Of my four years of living in Georgia, this was an entertaining week from my native Montanan perspective.  Although, I will admit, these storms were treacherous in their own right, the South is typically not prepared for such weather situations and on a normal day often struggles with common driving skills, but throwing a slick layer of ice into the mix results in utter chaos.  After the brute of Pax had passed, my friend Kristin and I ventured out into the post-"Ice-pocalyptic" Augusta to see what damage had been done.  The freezing rains unyieldingly brought down trees and overhead lines which left large portions of the region in the dark, but out household was fortunate enough to only be cut off from power for a little more than a day.  Pictured below on the left is a shot from Riverwatch Parkway heading to the downtown area of Augusta shows the ice weighting down on the young pines as they bow down to the storm's wrath.  The states of Georgia and South Carolina were greatly hindered in their tree populations with South Carolina with more than ten percent of the tree population lost.  Georgia lost nearly as much, but also some of the the state's more revered trees such as the Eisenhower tree at the 17th hole of the Augusta Nationals Golf Course and numerous magnolias in one of the state's oldest cemeteries, as shown in below to the right.

Although Pax brought havoc and destruction to the American South, it also brought a brief but beautiful change to the landscape.  The top image was taken at one of the most iconic structures of downtown Augusta - The Sacred Heart.  The old Jesuit church topped with its silver spires and white marble ornamentation made for a serene sight in the uncommon winter wonderland in the Garden City of Georgia.   Growing up in a place where winter lasts for months at a time, this was a different experience being snow was not present but rather a glassy coating of ice on every inch of the outside world.  I believe I best captured from the aftereffect of Pax were the amber leaves encased by a thick glaze of ice.  Albeit the winter spectacle was shot-lived, Pax beget irreversible damages to the South from natural tribulations, but also the loss of nearly two dozen lives and more than fifteen million dollars in property damages to homes, schools and historic treasures ranging from Texas to Maryland.

Bombs Burstin' in Air - Augusta, Georgia

This was my first opportunity to use my newly acquired knowledge in taking firework shots after taking a few online courses and I was not the only spectator to enjoy the cameras feedback!  As a few of the passersby made their way behind me would peer at my display screen and awe over the recent burst I won from the night sky.  The short conversations that spurred up from those brief encounters made my bond to the Augusta community all the more on the beautiful summer night. All that being said, this experience added to my joy and love for learning the mysterious ways about the world of photography.