Author Archives: Joe Benning

About Joe Benning

Author, photographer, musician and entrepreneur...

The Shenandoah Valley and Virginia Countryside

We got a chance to get away for a quick trip over the Labor Day weekend, so we took a drive to the Virginia Countryside. Virginia is a fairly large state by area, but not densely populated like the North East. The landmass is just under 43,000 square miles with a population of about 8.5 million people. For comparison purposes consider New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation.  NJ has a population of about 8.8 million, (about the same as Virginia) but a landmass of only 8.7 million square miles—which is only 20% as much as Virginia. 

The upshot is that there is a lot of beautiful unspoiled country to see in Virginia. For instance, forests cover 62% of the State. There is quite a bit of wildlife. There are over 1 million white-tailed deer. Carnivores include black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes and skunks. The skunks can generally be seen on the beltway heading toward the district. 

Photo of farmland in Virgina with the morning fog burning off.

There are lots of parks in Virginia, both State and Federal. The bigger ones include Great Falls Park, the Appalachian Trail and Shenandoah National Park. Almost 40% of the  Shenandoah National Park has been declared to be a wilderness preserve. A particular interest of ours is the Virginia Natural Bridge State Park. 

An old barn in a Shenandoah Valley meadow; the Blue Ridge Mountains are in the background.

The park includes a 215 foot arch that serves as a natural foot bridge over Cedar Creek, a tributary of the James River. It is estimated to be almost 500 million years old. In 1774, Thomas Jefferson bought 157 acres of land, including the Natural Bridge, from King George III for 20 shillings. Jefferson built a log cabin with a guest room on the land and had many famous visitors including John Marshall, James Monroe, Henry Clay, Sam Houston and Martin Van Buren. (Note).

Photo of a woman tourist walking toward the landmark Natural Bridge in Virginia.
Natural Bridge, Virginia, USA — September 7, 2020. Tourists walk along a hiking trail by a stream under the landmark Natural Bridge in Virginia.

On our trip we saw the spectacularly beautiful countryside of the Shenandoah Valley, visited the Natural Bridge, took a ride along the Skyline Drive, and stayed in the small town of Lexington, VA. 

Blue Ridge Mountains from the Skyline Drive

The Shenandoah Valley and its surroundings are sights that should not be missed. Here are a few photos of from the trip. 

JFB

The Outer Banks

Thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak our travel plans have changed quite a bit. The 2 month trip to Florence and Rome—well that didn’t happen. Three cheers for British Airways and Road Scholar for promptly sending us refunds after Italy shut down the country. The same can not be said for Hotel Adriano in Rome. After initially promising a refund, they tried to back out until we reported them to American Express. After that they saw the light. 

On a happier note, we traveled to the outer banks and stayed in Duck, North Carolina for two weeks. What a spectacular place–for instance, see the image below.

A beautiful pastel colored sky reflects soft morning light onto the beach in Duck, North Carolina

The Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands located between the Atlantic Ocean and Currituck Sound. There aren’t any cities on the 100 miles + of the Outer Banks. Instead the islands are mostly populated by small seaside villages and towns. It is a favorite vacation spot, attracting visitors from the Northeast as well as Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. 

We rented a house for a 2 week stay in Duck, a tony village with plenty of gorgeous beaches, fishing spots and restaurants.  That’s right. Restaurants you can actually go to and sit inside and have cocktails and dinner. Or you can get a table outside and relax over food and drinks. 

There are other places to go to as wee—for instance Kitty Hawk, where Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first historic flight in their flying machine back in December 1903. And then there is Corolla Park with the architectural masterpiece Whalehead and its Museum. 

If you get a chance, visit the Outer Banks and the town of Duck. You’ll be glad you did. 

Here are a couple of photos from our trip (below), taken with a Leica Q2 camera. Click on a photo to enlarge it. They can be licensed at Evocative Photos.

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Reston in the Time of COVID-19

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam who re-emerged into public view after the midterms announced a series of public health measures related to COVID-19, among them steps to encourage social distancing. The measures were directed at “non-essential” businesses. Fortunately, that definition does not included pharmacies like the CVS across the street which sells wine. So all is not lost; we are keeping hope alive. With Cabernet Sauvignon as it happens. 

But it is eerily quiet on the streets in Reston Town Center as well as RTC Park. The Bow Tie Cinema is closed, as is the Apple store. And retail merchants have shut their stores for the time being. But the restaurants in town have take-out menus up and running, so that’s a win. 

We had planned to 2 month trip to Italy, primarily to Rome and Florence, beginning April 8. Needless to say, that has been cancelled. The good news is that if we had scheduled the trip 2 months earlier we could have been caught in Italy in the middle of the disaster with no way to get out.   

Anyway, I went out and took a few photos around the neighborhood because it’s so rare for the streets to be so empty, especially on a Saturday afternoon. The photos are posted below. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how long this lasts. 

Reston, VA, USA — March 21, 2020. The streets are eerily quiet in Reston, Virginia as Covid-19 social distancing takes effect.
Reston, VA, USA — March 21, 2020. A wide angle photo looking over an empty Reston Town Center Park.
Reston, VA, USA — March 21, 2020. Photo overlooking an empty Reston Town Center Park.
Reston, VA, USA — March 21, 2020. Photo overlooking Reston Town Center Park from the second floor of the Midtown building in Reston.
Reston, VA, USA –March 21, 2020. Market street in Reston Town Center is still as people stay home and practice social distancing.

Back in the District

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” 

When Abraham Lincoln uttered those words in his second inaugural address the end of the Civil War was days away and slavery would soon be ended in the United States. The war was waged at an immense cost. Estimates of fatalities directly attributable to the Civil War range between 650,000 to 850,00 thousand men, women and children. The population of the United States at the time of the war was only 31 million. 

It is hard not to think of that sacrifice when you walk by the Lincoln Memorial on the Mall. Similarly, a walk past the Washington Memorial, Capitol Hill and the White House brings a stark reminder of the toil and sacrifice of the founders and signers of the Declaration of Independence. People like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. 

Perhaps Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi might consider taking a walk around town for a moment’s reflection before launching the next round of juvenile behavior. 

Photos of the Lincoln Memorial, White House, Washington Memorial and Capitol are below. 

Washington DC, USA — February 3, 2020. A wide angle photo of the Lincoln Memorial with visiting tourists walking up the stairs.
Washington DC, USA — February 3, 2020. A photo the Washington Memorial that includes tourists posing for a selfie by the reflecting pool.
Washington, DC, USA — February 3, 2020. Photo of the White House on a crisp and clear winter morning.
Washington, DC, USA — February 3, 2020. A photo looking down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol Building on a winter morning.

JFB

In the District–Washington, DC

We spent a busy weekend in the nation’s capitol. Among other things we saw an absolutely terrific performance of My Fair Lady at the Kennedy Center.  Shereen Ahmed, a 26 year old graduate of Townson University was perfectly cast as Eliza Doolittle. She lit up the stage with an astonishingly versatile voice which she combined with first rate acting. The Kennedy Center revival performances of My Fair Lady are the beginning of a national tour. Don’t miss it if it comes to a theatre near you. 

We stayed at the Watergate for the weekend which now advertises that you don’t have to break in to enjoy the place. We also got a chance to stop in to see the exhibits on display at the Phillips Collection of Modern art and the National Geographic Museum. The National Geographic had an exhibit featuring Jane Goodall, known for her path breaking field work on chimpanzees in Africa. Both the National Geographic and Phillips Collection Museums are certainly worth a visit when in DC. Finally I should mention a very good French Bistro, the Opaline Bar and Brasserie, where we had dinner. Good food, great atmosphere and a fine Martini can be had there. 

Some iPhone photos from our jaunt are below. 

JFB

The Watergate Hotel
Photo that focuses on one of the buildings in the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC


Stairwell and Window in the Phillips Museum
Photo looking out a window in the Phillips Collection Museum of Modern Art to a Washington DC neighborhood.
Kobacker Building
Washington, DC, USA — 1/18/2020. An iPhone photo of the exterior of the Arthur and Sara Jo Kobacker building that now serves as a home for the Religious Actions Center for reformed Judaism.
In the Phillips Museum
Photo of a painting that takes up an entire wall in a Phillips Collection exhibition.
The Cosmos Club
Photo of the outside of the Cosmos Club in Washington DC.

Oh Canada!

We went up to Montreal for the Thanksgiving holiday and took a side trip by rail to Quebec City.  And boy, was it cold. I mean really, really cold. At one point my iPhone read 8 degrees Fahrenheit. This was during the day, around 9:00 AM. By the way, did I mention that it was cold? 

Cold or not, both both Montreal and Quebec had lots of beautiful French architecture. Montreal in particular looked a lot like Paris. The Old Town section of Quebec, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had Christmas carolers out and the Christmas markets were alive with shoppers and browsers. All in all, the people were very friendly, the food was terrific, cabs were plentiful and the trains actually ran on time. A good time was had by all.

Here below are a couple of shots from Quebec, mostly taken in the OldTown Section. 

JFB

Quebec, Province of Quebec, Canada–November 30, 2019. Christmas carolers sing seasonal songs and hymns outdoors in Old Town Quebec, Canada.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada — November 30, 2019. A photo of a side street in Quebec (rue St. Anne) with the popular red roofed Bistro 1640.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada — NOvember 30, 2019. Pedestrians are window shopping in the Christmas markets of Quebec.
Quebec City, Quebec, Canada — November 30, 2019. Steam risies from the chimney of a commercial building on the bank of the St Lawrence River in Quebec City, Canada.

Arlington National Cemetery

In the United States it is easy—much too easy—to take freedom for granted. In part it is because we have a long tradition of freedom; for most Americans  the idea of being without it is almost inconceivable.  But that can be a dangerous thing if it leads to letting down our guard. 

In that respect, a trip to Arlington National Cemetery is a sobering reminder that freedom has to be zealously defended; that freedom is not free, as the saying goes.  The endless rows of headstones that quietly mark the final resting places of over 400,000 people is a monument to the price of freedom. 

We visited Arlington Cemetery today; it is a place that belongs on everyone’s list of places to go and things to see. A few photos from the cemetery are below. 

JFB

Arlington, VA, USA — October 14, 2019. Photo of a sea of headstones in Arlington National Cemetery on a clear Autumn day.
Arlington, VA, USA — October 14, 2019. Soldiers begin the changing of the guard in Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington, VA, USA — October 14, 2019. Wide angle photo of an amphitheatre outside the entrance to the Tomb of the Unkown Soldier.
Arlington, VA, USA — October 14, 2019. Photo of the Eternal Flame over JFK’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery; Arlington House is in the background.