Road Trip Series, Part 1: Washington DC (Day)

A road trip across the US, from New York to Los Angeles, can be completed in as little as 3 days, or at a more snail like pace if time is on your side. I opted for somewhere in between and devised a plan that spanned 10 days of driving and sightseeing. In hindsight, this resembled the European-city-sampler cruise ship itinerary my husband and I experienced last year. Trust me – you cannot see Rome in a day. Same goes for Washington DC, Charleston, New Orleans…

Nevertheless, a cross country trip is a journey I would recommend to you, readers, despite its inherent double edged sword. The cities leave a lasting impression – they inspire you long after you’ve left, but you will yearn to return and explore them some more.

I’m so grateful for what I’ve seen, and would like to share some thoughts, scenes, and experiences with you. I hope you’ll enjoy.

On the road

On the road

PART ONE: WASHINGTON DC – A DAY IN OCTOBER

Cloaked in vibrant autumnal colours underneath an overcast sky, the moodiness and architectural beauty imparted by the US capital on this particular day felt very Parisian;  it looked as if Washington DC had fashioned itself on the City of Light. Walking through the grounds of its vast Mall, lined on either side with elms shaded yellow by the season, I was reminded of the Place de la Concorde but without the car traffic. Here, in place of Paris’ Obelisk, the Washington Monument dominates the landscape.

DSC_0998PSThese grounds served the military during the Civil War. Today, The Mall is anchored by the Lincoln Memorial at one end, and The Capitol Building at the other. The Smithsonian museums, galleries, and memorials – along with tourists – are scattered in between.

The images below focus on the Western end The Mall, where we spent a number of hours at: The Lincoln Memorial, The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

TRAVEL TIP: To save money, stay outside of DC and avoid high hotel and parking costs. We stayed in Arlington, Virginia – I scored a great deal at the Hyatt through Priceline.

It took about 20 minutes to get to the heart of The Mall via subway, including waiting time. The method of buying a Metro ticket seemed nonsensical to us at first, so ask for help to save those precious few minutes if you’re in a rush.

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World War II Memorial

From WWII Memorial, looking to Lincoln Memorial

From WWII Memorial, looking to Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial

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Looking towards the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Looking towards the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Names inscribed on the wall at Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Names inscribed on the wall at Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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Inside the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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US Holocaust Memorial Museum

US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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In Search of Cherry Blossoms… Central Park, Manhattan

Rewind. Back to Monday.

No choice but to push aside any notion of those so-called Monday morning blues. A chilly start gave way to a spectacular spring-like day in New York. I don’t know why I felt so unprepared; March 20th is around the corner after all.

Armed with the knowledge that Central Park’s cherry blossoms were in bloom a few weeks too early, I’d planned to walk to the Jacqueline Kennedy Reservoir from 68th Street on Central Park West, up to around 94th Street East, where I know many of the trees line its water’s edge.

An unexpected change of plans.

I had two hours to spare, yet I never made it to the Reservoir. Was I a slow walker? Did I take lose my way within the Park’s criss-cross of pathways? No, and kind of.

Entering the Park, I was immediately sidetracked. My purpose and direction had given way to inevitable distraction and intrigue. From stopping and starting to admire practically every flower in bloom – daffodils, snowdrops, crocuses; to dodging cyclists, strollers, and groups of runners; to stumbling upon a meeting of the minds with some hard-shelled creatures (who won my heart) – I was simply caught up in a seasonal change of pace.

What a far cry from the snowscapes I’d documented in the same area a couple of months ago.

Caught up in springtime musings, I only managed a walk around part of the Lake, and across to Bethesda Terrace – both spots a stone’s throw away from my where I’d started. Yet I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Such is the appeal of Central Park; so alluring is the unfurling of its changing landscape as the months go on.

That’s all wonderful, but what of those blooming pink cherry blossoms – you might be asking? Whilst I am planning on returning again soon, I saw so much more that I had anticipated during this time-out.

You’ll see what I mean.

Enjoy the stroll!

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Flowers line the park’s entryways along Central Park West. The gentle hum of Spring takes over; there’s a buzz in the air. Bunches of gold daffodils make for a jovial welcoming party, as if smiling under the sun’s rays…

… heads bowed in respect of their admirers.

A solitary bouquet of snow-white white crocuses peeking out from the ground; so delicate, new, and pretty.

Early afternoon shadows: lines; asymmetry; a haphazard mosaic design.

Strands of gold form a curtain in anticipation of the big reveal – a theatrical scene. Glimpses of activity on the Lake. Can you see the rowboat?

Getting closer. Rowboat, framed.

Busy is the background scene. Ice skaters have now given way to rollerbladers; cyclists navigate a busy roadway; runners acclimatise to the sudden hike in temps, all the warmer for the lack of shade. In the midst of it all, daydreamers relax on a park benches and soak in the sun.

An inspired artist, sketching…

… and strolling iphotographers, isnapping.

Beautiful yellow blossoms add extra colour along the way….

…as do patches of snowdrops ….

… all the way to the water’s edge.

Only to find, on the other side, a congregation. A meeting of the minds. Under the bare brush and on a couple of rocks – jutting out from under the lake’s surface – a couple of birds and some reptiles have gathered to form a silent ‘council’.

Moving closer, beckoned over, perhaps? What a fine looking pair – a couple of velvety Mallards…

… and a set of statuesque turtles, perched stoically on solitary rocks. Their necks outstretched, not moving an inch. Do they dare blink?

Edging closer; the largest two wear the hardest hats. Yep, they’re obviously presiding over this mind-meeting.

Turtles – just delightful.

Alas, even meetings of the mind come to an end – unfortunately so. Time to move along.

A quick cross over the Oak Bridge, to the other side. From this part of the Lake shore, a view of the El Dorado Apartments flanked by a rowboat and a contemplative soul.

Meandering along a winding pathway and over the Bow Bridge; rowboats float under its archway – they make for a regular sight.

Rowers paddling this way, and that; gliding from this side of the water, to the other.

A garden of crocuses in all shades of purple beckon towards The Boathouse.

The Loeb Boathouse, up close

El Dorado Apartments, aglow; surrounded by an aura of gold.

A little up the hill; a splash of pink against a cloud patterned stretch of blue. Could it be?

It certainly could. A beautiful cherry blossom tree. A search, partly achieved.

Looking through these blooming pink branches; wondering, is this what it feels to stumble upon a pot of gold?

Room with a view.

A panoramic scene overlooking Bethesda Terrace and its still-dry fountain. The Loeb Boathouse is to the right; the main part of the Lake, and El Dorado Apartments – to the left. People, in between.

Turn 180 degrees; look right down the length of The Mall, punctuated by the buildings of 59th street at its end. Spot the tripod.

A monochromatic view, elongated.

Is the time up already? Westward-bound. Pedicabs, already under the eye of their owner-turned-mechanic.

A road leading to the outskirts that is Manhattan.

Departing. The scent of candy-roasted nuts lingering in the air.

Back in Manhattan. Back on Central Park West. Thanks Spring.

Central Park Reflections… with a little help from John Lennon

Today I ventured uptown from Brooklyn (gasp!) to visit Central Park for a couple of reasons. I was scared that I’d miss the chance to stroll the park’s beautiful walkways before the onset of winter, which has been fashionably late in making its appearance this year. And, I wanted to take some practice shots of the park’s remaining autumnal foliage. Who knows when I’d have the opportunity to experience Central Park during such an extended fall season again?

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…” John Lennon

I had set out without a route in mind, which has become my preferred way of exploring ever since I came into possession of my Nikon. Photographing the details has helped to lead the way. Not only did I come across monuments that I’d never seen before, but I’d also managed to photograph some of the park’s most beautiful vistas along the way. More surprisingly, and perhaps even serendipitous due to my new-found appreciation for spontaneity, I walked into a crowd of fans paying tribute to one of the most loved songwriters and singers of our time.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

Central's Park Lake and Boathouse (background)

Like many parks found in the larger cities of the world – think Hype Park in London and Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris – Central Park is akin to an oasis. Located in the middle of an otherwise built up urban grid, the park brings about a sense of peace as soon as you step within its perimeter. Never mind the thousands of residents and tourists who descend upon it on any given day – whether it be for relaxation, to visit its Zoo or to skate the Wollman Rink – there are parts you will come across, where you’ll feel as if you’re the only one there.

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” John Lennon

Set across 843 acres (3.41 km2) of land, running the length of 59th Street to 110th Street and spanning a width measured from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West, the Park is ‘America’s first and foremost major urban public space’[1]. Having won a design competition, Central Park was based on plans drawn up by landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calbert Vaux in 1858 (they are also the minds behind Brooklyn’s Prospect Park).

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” John Lennon

Surface reflections

A labyrinth of winding pathways, meadows, bridges and gently undulating hills, Central Park takes a good few hours to enjoy, at the least. I found myself stopping and starting – to pause in front of a monument, here; or to ponder one of the park’s many plaque dedications mounted on its benches, over there.

“The more I see, the less I know for sure.” John Lennon

Plaque dedication

Benches

A major discovery for me was the Literary Walk, punctuated with huge monuments including those of the celebrated poet and playwright Shakespeare, Scottish poet Robert Burns… and for some reason Christopher Columbus. From here, the pathway continues to the adjoining Mall. Though I had never witnessed this part of the park’s literary influence, I am familiar with The Mall, and it is no small wonder why it is the most photographed part of the park. The towering elm trees line a promenade along both its sides that visually makes for a dramatic lead up to a set of steps that descend toward the beautiful Bethesda Fountain.

“Living is easy with eyes closed.” John Lennon

Shakespeare in the Park

The Mall

The Park hasn’t always enjoyed as much fanfare as it does nowadays. In the 1970’s, the Park experienced a severe decline as “years of poor management and inadequate maintenance had turned a masterpiece of landscape architecture into a virtual dustbowl by day and a danger zone by night.”[2] Crime ridden, littered and a hotbed for graffiti, Central Park was hardly a respite from the Big City despite its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1963. In testament to the New York spirit, a ‘group of dedicated civic and philanthropic leaders’[3] rallied together and in founded The Central Park Conservancy in 1980. Together with the City of New York they work towards a common goal:

to restore, manage and enhance Central Park, in partnership with the public, for the enjoyment of present and future generations[4].

Stairwell artwork (leading to Bethesda Fountain). The stonework on this particular balustrade represents winter, old age, evening

It was at the Bow Bridge, one of the Park’s five original cast-iron bridges, where I photographed some beautiful landscapes from its many vantage points. Carefully tended to by Conservancy crews, the space thrives with trees, shrubs and flowers, and encompasses views of the green roofed Boathouse to the East; weeping willows, whose yellow leaves glistened in the late afternoon sun, to the South; bare sycamore trees like stick drawings fringe the Park to the North and the West, their outlines further accentuated by the tall buildings of Central Park West that stoically stand behind them. Water grasses, Common reeds and ducks adorned the expansive Lake, its rippled surface coloured by the reflection of the yellow and orange leafed trees along its banks.

“Love is like a flower-you’ve got to let it grow.” John Lennon

The Boathouse

The Bow Bridge

After what seemed like five minutes, but more realistically a span of two hours, the sun had started to set as I made my way towards the 72nd street exit. Here is also the location of Strawberry Fields and the Imagine mosaic memorial – dedicated to the late John Lennon by Yoko Ono. As the area is frequented by visitors and fans, who only pause momentarily to pay respects, I hadn’t expected to walk in on a crowd of people blocking the way and singing Beatles tunes in unison. Unbeknown to me at that moment, I came to learn that it was the 31st anniversary of John Lennon’s passing. As has been customary every year since that fateful day in 1980, fans were gathered around the mosaic – that had been covered in flowers, candles, momentos and messages – guitars in hand, playing to the tunes of ‘Imagine’ and ‘Come Together’. It was a touching dedication to a much loved icon, “known for his social activism and anti-war rhetoric. He was a praised figure, full of wit and wisdom”[5], and I am glad to have been a small part of the celebratory gathering. (As I sing out of tune, I thought it unfair to participate and simply enjoyed the scene and took some photos).

“Now that John’s a spirit, he has a different effect on people than when he was alive.” Yoko Ono[6]

Fans gathered

'Imagine' mosaic, adorned

In a city that never sleeps and is ever changing, Central Park is undoubtedly a product of its surroundings. It has gone through its ups and downs, and the Conservancy has ensured its maintenance as a must see public landmark. Just as I always seem to stumble upon something unexpected in any of New York’s five boroughs, the same can be said for the Park – a borough unto its own. These days, paying attention to the details paves the way toward my new discoveries, and I have my camera to thank in large part for that. Today, I came away from Central Park with a completely new appreciation for the space. I can’t wait to go back there in Spring, to explore the Park further and to experience the foliage as it changes with the season.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” John Lennon


[1] http://www.centralparknyc.org/about/ [2] Blonsky, Douglas. “Saving the Park: a key to NYC’s revival”. The New York Post, 3 November 2007 Op-Ed page [3]http://www.centralparknyc.org/about/ [4] ibid [5] http://www.ibtimes.com [6] ibid