Author Archives: Joe Benning

About Joe Benning

Author, photographer, musician and entrepreneur...

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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

Great Falls National Park in Autumn

We had some visitors from the wilds of New Jersey the other day. Mary Anne’s sister Ellen and her husband Steve came by our neck of the woods for a visit. The four of us took a walk around town and then made our way to Great Falls National Park in McLean Virginia. Among other things, the park is known for its stunning views of the Great Falls of the Potomac. Here (below) are a couple of shots taken in the park, along with one photo taken on a hiking trail by Lake Anne in Reston. 

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Wide angle shot of the Great Falls waterfall in Fairfax, Virginia
Great Falls Park on an Autumn afternoon.
A close-up photo of tree leaves that have turned from green to burnt orange.
Hiking path by Lake Anne in Reston, VA.

The Virginia State Fair

The Virginia Farm Bureau Federation runs the annual Virginia State Fair. Scheduled for September 27 through October 6, the Fair takes place in Event Meadow Park, Caroline County. There you can see agricultural exhibits, including entries by students of the major Virginia Universities, horses, pigs, cows, goats, races and tractor pulls. There are rides galore and food trucks everywhere. We saw a performance by visiting Chinese acrobats. And a hip-hop band performed an evening show. We missed the pig races because it was time to go home. Maybe some other time…

Anyway, here (below) are some photos from the event. 

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Doswell, Virginia, USA — September 27, 2019. A photo of visitors at an entrance to the annual Virginia State Fair.
Doswell, Virginia, USA — September 27, 2019. A troupe of Chinese acrobats perform on the main stage at the Virginia State fair.


Doswell, Virginia, USA — September 27, 2019. Wide ange shot of the Virginia State fairgrounds with a large ferris wheel set against a blue sky.
Doswell, Virginia, USA — September 27, 2019. Stable hands are grooming a horse to be entered into a competition at the Virginia State Fair.
Doswell, Virginia, USA — September 28, 2019. American flags fly over a food truck at the annual Virginia State Fair.

Summer’s Almost Gone

As the summer drew to a close we made a quick trip up to Long Beach Island. There we spent some time with Jim and Debbie Benning who rented a place in Brant Beach on Long Beach Island in mid-September. So here are a few shots from early and mid morning at Brant Beach, and later at Barnegat Lighthouse.

Early morning light at Branch Beach, on Long Beacg Island.
Beach House on Long Beach Island
A landscape photo looking up a hilll and over beach grass toward beach houses in the distance.
Barnegat Lighthouse State Park, NJ, USA — September 13, 2019. Photo of Barnegat Lighthouse taken against a blue sky in the waning days of summer.

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Tallin, Estonia

Tallinn may be the most beautiful city you’ve never heard of. The capital of Estonia, Tallinn is a small city in a small country with a turbulent history, particularly with respect to relations with Russia. On our walking tour of the city our guide noted that for Estonia, “NATO is everything”. 

There are about 1.5 million citizens of Estonia, and about 435,000 people who live in Tallinn. Located on the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn has close historic ties with Helsinki, Stockholm and St Petersburg. 

The city proper dates back to the first half of the 13th century, but humans settlements are estimated go back 5,000 years. The first recorded claim for the land was made by Denmark in 1219 after a successful raid. After a couple of centuries of fighting between Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers, Tallinn became an important commercial hub because of its strategic location. 

Tallinn is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval cities and is counted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has the largest number of star-ups in Europe, and is the birthplace of Skype. It houses the EU’s IT agency and is the home of NATO’s Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. It is also ranked as one of the world’s top 10 digital cities.

We went on a walking tour of the city with a local guide and took lots of photos in the process. A few are posted below. 

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Tallinn, Estonia — July 23, 2019. A photo looking down on Tallin from a limestone hill overlooking the town square.
Tallin, Estonia — July 23, 2019. A vertical shot of a side street in Tallin, Estonia with the domes of Alexander Necsky Cathedral rising in the background.
Tallinn, Estonia — July 23, 2019. A tourist makes a donation to street musicians playing in a shopping area.
Tallinn, Estonia — July 23, 2019. Photo of a juice cart vendor giving the thumbs up sign in Tallin, Estonia.
Tallinn, Estonia — July 23, 2019. Photo of a side street in Tallin, Estonia.

More on Three Days in St Petersburg

Among the many mind boggling things to contemplate is the fact that the Russian aristocracy didn’t just have one enormous and opulently decorated and designed palace. They had several of them; each one elaborate and ornate. In fact Catherine actually put a halt to all the gold being used to decorate her palace that had begun by order of her predecessor, Empress Elizabeth. 

Here, below, are some photos of Catherine’s Palace located in Pushkin, not far from St Petersburg. Please note that while some photos link to Evocative Photos for licensing, photos taken inside the palace may not be used for this purpose, so they are not linked. 
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A wide angle photo taken inside Catherine Palace in Pushkin, near St Petersburg.
Pushkin, Russia — July 22, 2019. Photo taken from the outside of Catherine Palace; tourists are admiring the lawn and gardens.
Wide angle shot of a house on a lake on the grounds of Catherine Palace near St Petersburg
Pushkin, Russia — July 22, 2019. Photo of guest quarters on the grounds of Catherine Palace outside St Petersburg.

Three Days in St Petersburg

The Summer Palace, Peterhof, Russia

It would take years to see all there is to see in St Petersburg; actually it would take years just to see just the important stuff. So we picked our spots and saw all we could, including the winter and summer palaces. This post includes photos taken at the summer palace, located in Peterhof, about 40 minutes outside St Petersburg proper. 

The physical scale of the place, along with the wealth on display, is almost beyond belief. The main palace has about 1,000 rooms—big rooms. The rooms we saw, and we saw quite a few, typically were decorated with gold inlays on the walls and ceilings. Classical paintings  and sculpture abounded, including collections by Russian, German and French artists. 

Outside the palace there were gardens, an elaborate set of cascading fountains and a smaller gold domed castle. And this was just the summer palace. There was a winter palace as well, in some ways even more over the top. Note that in the photo of the throne room below, there is no furniture in the room other than the throne. That’s because protocol demanded that supplicants either stand or kneel in the presence of the King.

A political scientist from Johns Hopkins who was on the trip with us (as a lecturer) made the point that while we refer to her as Catherine the Great, the serfs would be unlikely to do so. Their lot was arguably even worse than that of black slaves in the South of the United States. It’s something you can’t help thinking about when confronted by the staggering wealth on display in the palaces of the aristocracy. 

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Throne room in the summer palace
Stairwell in the Summer Palace
Peterhof, Russia — July 21, 2019. Wide angle photo of the Summer Palace in Peterhof and a fountain, the gardens and tourists behind it.
Peterhof, Russia — July 21, 2019. A photo of gold domed living quarters adjacent to the Summer Palace in Peterhof.
Peterhof, Russia — July 21, 2019. Wide angle photo of tourists and the fountains in the garden behind the Summer Palace in Peterhof.