Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hence, Smithsonian

Ever wonder where the Smithsonian Institution got it's name? Turns out that some English gent by the name of James Smithson donated his fortune to the then-young United States for the purpose of establishing an institute for the increase and diffusion of knowledge. Or something like that. Smithson never visited the US, so heaven knows why he decided to do what he did. Anyhow, those are his remains in the urn you see above, located in a small ante-chamber near the entrance to the Smithsonian Castle.

Sensor Cleaning Time

Uh-Oh! I just noticed this dark blob showing up on my pictures. I've really cropped it tight and enhanced it, but it's there in the shots if you know where to look. I've had this 7D for 6 months now, and I've got a whole gaggle of lenses that I sometimes swap on and off a lot, so I'm not surprised. I'll have to try and give it a good cleaning before I go back to the airshow tomorrow. I'm just glad I caught it now before I've shot thousands of pictures this way.  I've gotten 34,768 pictures with this camera since buying it right before Thanksgiving last year, and I've only scratched the surface on what it can do.

Thunder-Thunder-Thunder Birds

Pardon my interruption into my own DC funfest, but I'd like to mention that you can see the USAF Thunderbirds this weekend at Sun-N-Fun up in Lakeland. I took a few hours out of my busy day today to go and watch their practice flights, and it was amazing. The only thing that made it a practice show was that they stayed up in the air for a few minutes after the show was over and did a few extra maneuvers. Hardly the sort of thing that would make you wish you'd waited and seen a real show. I'll be there tomorrow for yet another rehearsal, and then again on Saturday for the real show. If you want, you can also see them on Sunday, but I'll be too tired by then to see them for a fourth time this year.

Sea Horse

I guess I don't pay too much attention to carousels, but one of the animals on this one in front of the Smithsonian Castle intrigued me. It's not a horse, per se, it's a seahorse. Get it?

I'm guessing that more than a few kids are afraid to ride this one. I mean, a big scary horse is one thing, they at least can be thought of as ponies. But this thing? It might try to take you down under the sea!

Where's Waldo?

Anyone want to play a game? Can you find Waldo in the crowd at the Jefferson Memorial during the Cherry Blossom Festival? Keep looking, he's in there somewhere.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Capitol Birds

You know that I can't go for very long without taking a picture of some birds, and my DC trip was no exception. I didn't get to see any raptors this time (unlike last time), but I did get more than a few shots of some local songbirds. That's a robin up above and a starling below. I know we get the robins in Florida once in a while as they migrate through, but I don't think we ever see the starlings.

To The Left And To The Right

Out front of the US Capitol sit several statues. The most prominent one is a sculpture of General (later President) Ulysses S. Grant astride is horse. To either side of that statue are two very detailed tableaus showing Civil War scenes. The Infantry Group is shown above and below, from the front and the rear.

The Artillery Group are shown in the pictures above and below, again from the front and the back. These sculptures were done by the team of Henry Merwin Schrady and William Pearce Casey. They are pretty detailed and intricate works of art.

You'll see more of these later, as well as some shots of Grant in the middle of these two. I was just happy to get good shots of these as they are rather dark and this was the first time I'd seen them so well lit. I'm pretty happy with these shots.

Not Really A Cave

I've had enough education to know a bit about caves, and the formation of stalactites over thousands of years due to groundwater seepage and the slow dissolving and redeposition of minerals. But somehow I'm thinking that these small stalactites (or possibly soda straws, I couldn't tell for sure) aren't very many years old. I guess under the right conditions, such formations can occur right there on the side of the Russell Senate Office Building. Who knew!


Not only were the cherries blooming in DC, so were the azaleas. Or at least I called them azaleas. I learned that the proper name for them is rhododendrons. I'm not sure how that works. I guess azaleas are just a type of rhododendron? They seem to be a large family covering plants from small shrubs up to large plants nearing the size of trees.

I think I showed you some of our local azaleas rhododendrons just the other day. I don't think ours get as full and showy as the ones I saw in DC, but we do alright.

Where Eagles Soar

Perhaps the most popular decorative element in Washington, DC is the eagle. They are everywhere. These three are in front of Union Station, so they were among the first things I shot on my second day in town. Pretty impressive, except for all the bird poop. I'm sure there is someone in Washington who's job it is to clean the pigeon droppings off of stuff. That may not be his official title, but that's what he does. I'd even bet it's more than one somebody. Probably dozens of people. It's a large town.

I thought maybe I could find some more info about these eagles, but I can't find anything at the usual sources. Probably just another decorative element by an unknown craftsman.

Da Teamsters

It seems that anybody who is anybody has an office or a building in Washington, DC. Here's the first of many organizations of interest that I spotted during my travels this past weekend. Look close at the gold lettering across the building above and you'll see that it says International Brotherhood of Teamsters. I got this view of the building on my first day in DC, and then happened on the same building again from the other side on my last day. So lucky you, you get three pictures of the same building in one post!

I'd make some joke about this being the burial place of Jimmy Hoffa, but I don't want to wake up with a pair of cement shoes one morning at the bottom of Sarasota Bay. Or not wake up as the case may be. Actually, this building dates from before Hoffa's disappearance, so chances of him being there are pretty slim. See, I actually research some of this stuff.

Taft (Not Taft)

The first new monument I spotted in DC this go-round that I hadn't seen before was this memorial to Robert Taft. At first I thought it was a monument to William Howard Taft, 27th President of the United States and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but I was mistaken. This Taft was a US Senator from Ohio between 1939 and 1953. I guess anybody with a powerful enough lobby can get a sculpture placed in DC. And that big building behind him is a bell tower. It takes an awful big lobby to get your own bell tower.  (More bell towers coming up later in this broadcast.)

Big Thanks

A big shout out goes to Florida House, a little piece of home in the District. They were kind enough to hold my bags on Monday while I wandered around and shot more pictures on my last day in DC. They will hold your bags at Union Station as well, but it costs $30. These kind folks do it for free, and they offer you a glass of Florida orange juice! I think I've told you about these folks before, but if you missed that, Florida House is sort of Florida's embassy in DC. Unfortunately, no other states ever caught on to the idea (or had the cash it takes to secure a location this close to the action), so if you want to use their services, you need to be from Florida, or have a good poker face. They don't check IDs, but you might be quizzed on the difference between Kissimmee and Okeechobee.

Junk On The Trunk

I thought it a little odd that the cherries blossomed not only at the ends of all the branches, but also straight out of the trunk.

I don't know exactly how it works, but the blossoms just sprout right out of the trunk at multiple locations. Perhaps there's a spot where a branch is forming or where the tree has been damaged, I don't know, but it's certainly unexpected behavior.

Pretty cool looking, isn't it? This particular tree was beside the Folger Shakespeare Library. I meant to go in there this trip, but I didn't make it. Maybe next time.

What's The Big Deal?

You may be wondering what the big deal about the cherry blossoms in DC is. Well, it's mostly a tourist thing, trying to get people to come visit, spend some money, enrich the local economy. But beyond that, they really are quite attractive. We have plenty of beautiful flowering trees here in Florida, but not in the profusion that these things blanket DC. Seemingly every yard has at least one in it, many have several, often of different species so that they bloom in different colors and at different times. This one is just to the south of the Supreme Court, and I thought it made for a great picture with the little girl all dressed in pink below it.

Now With Cherry Blossoms

First order of business when I arrived in DC was to find a way to get pictures of the monuments with cherry blossoms featured in them somewhat prominently. I was worried at first, since the wind was blowing something fierce, and I was dragging around a suitcase, but I managed to get a few shots in my first hour on the ground. You can see the Supreme Court above, with some vivid pink blossoms in the foreground. (This is similar to the shot I posted here on the blog as a sort of teaser for my trip, but I shot that one on the other side of the courtyard.) And below is the Capitol Building, with a different, less showy species of cherry blooming in the foreground.

Why did I have to get these monument & blossom pictures, you may ask? Well, it turns out that at the same time I was taking these pictures, I was missing an appointment with my dental hygienist back in Florida. She had called the day before to remind me of the appointment, which I had completely forgotten about, and I had to reschedule. She said that wasn't a problem, so long as I brought here some pictures like these. So I made sure to get these first. Now I have to remember to print them out and carry them to the dentist with me. If I could only remember the rescheduled date for that appointment...

Two Lips

You very rarely see tulips in Florida. Pretty much the only time I see them is in pots at Wal-Mart, and they are usually pretty ugly to tell you the truth. But DC must be exactly the type of climate they like. They were everywhere. Huge beds of them, small pots of them and everything in between. And there was just about every color under the rainbow. Sometimes the beds were a single color, sometimes they mixed a couple of colors, sometimes it seemed like they got a few bags of different bulbs and planted them at random. I'm sure some of the people living there thought I was paying entirely too much to their common flowers, but I was just fascinated by them. In addition to the different colors, there were different types. Some, like these, looked like your traditional tulips, a deep cup. I saw some that were more open, some that had so many petals they looked like a rose, some had petals that came up to a point, the varieties seemed endless. And then the patterned ones, I could go on and on. Actually, I will go on and on, but not all in this post.

Where To Start

I saw so much during this trip to DC, I hardly know where to begin. I guess I'm going to just do something roughly chronological, so here's the view through an outside corridor at Union Station when I first got off the Metro in town. I love these sorts of shots, but I don't know exactly how to make them work. Maybe I should crop it so that it begins inside the long string of archways... And is it a better shot with the people in it than without? This might be a good candidate for High Dynamic Range photography, but I don't think would let me use a tripod among all the scurrying people.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Five Sides

OK, I've finally got all 7800 pictures from DC loaded up on my computer, so I can start sharing some of them. I hope to get many, many of them up, but it may take me a while. I think I saw more of DC outside than I have in my two previous trips, but at the expense of not getting to spend much time in any of the Smithsonians. Perhaps my coolest achievement was getting this shot of the Pentagon from the airplane on the approach to Ronald Reagan National Airport. I'd probably rather been on the other side, shooting down the Mall, but this isn't too bad. I think it's a pretty cool shot.  It is a little blurry around the edges, though, but that's because they never clean the windows on these planes.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Again With The Waiting

Here I am, on my way back to Florida, laying over in Charlotte. I can see downtown from where I'm sitting, so I figure I'll share a shot of that with you instead of my mug. Glad that I have a long layover, actually, since it was almost a mile from my arrival gate to my departure gate. There has to be a better way to design these airports... Hmm, looks like I've blogged from CLT before. Thank Heaven for airports with free wireless!