In a few short weeks spring emerged in Northern Virginia. Grey is out; green is in. One of the great advantages of Northern Virginia is its great variety of parks and gardens managed by the Fairfax County Parks Authority. From Meadowlark Botanical Gardens to the wetlands in Huntley Meadows Park to the children’s exhibits in Frying Pan Farm Park, there is a lot to see.
And the parks are a great place to take photos. So here below are a few recent ones from Huntley Meadows. More from other locations will be arriving in the coming weeks and months.
The year 2020 is just about gone; a year defined by politics and a pandemic. It is a year that I expect few people will remember fondly.
At the outset of the year most eyes were fixed on the Democratic presidential primary, not to mention the impeachment and Senate trial of President Trump. Who remembers that now? It seems so long ago. But it wasn’t.
By March the year had morphed into one in which the focus became the Coronavirus, taking countermeasures, and a frantic search for a vaccine. Mercifully the drug companies were successful in finding several vaccines, and in record time.
But not before American life turned upside down. Governors began issuing orders, often unilaterally, requiring citizens to wear protective masks, restricting travel and closing all but essential businesses. Essential businesses included state liquor stores and lottery sales. In parts of the country, churches and religious services didn’t count as essential, at least until the courts stepped in.
The travel and hospitality businesses took a giant hit. Plenty of small businesses will never re-open. Big cities took a big hit. Manhattan is like a ghost town; some estimates put office space occupancy at around 12%. People who can work with a laptop and an internet connection are doing so from home. City real estate prices are plummeting; the suburbs are soaring as people look for more space and home offices.
We lost a dear friend in May when Ron Thau passed away after a long illness.
But there is some good news amongst all the doom and gloom.
Amid all the chaos and conflict, the November elections came and went, accompanied by long lines and mail-in ballots. There was a huge turnout; the largest in percentage terms since 1900 when William McKinley thrashed William Jennings Bryan. In that race McKinley won a second term in a rematch against Bryan. Unlike today, Bryan (the loser) accepted the result.
Vaccinations of front line medical personnel began in December. More slowly than hoped for, but the process is now underway.
Most important, two family members (our nephew Tom Benning and our niece Shannon McDonald) announced engagements at Christmas time.
I have included some photos below from 2020 that reflect some of the tumult of the year. Here’s to a brighter 2021.
Well, this Thanksgiving was different. Fortunately though, we got a visit from Mary Anne’s brother Joe on Thanksgiving day. The original game plan was for the three of us to take a ride over to Great Falls National Park in McLean and hike around a bit.
It turns out that we weren’t the only ones with that idea. It seems that pretty much everyone in Northern Virginia had the same thought. The line of cars to get into the parking lot was so long that we abandoned that plan and headed over to River Bend National Park, which also runs alongside the Potomac River.
There we had a chance to look over the Potomac, and take a walk on one of the trails in the woods and catch up. Later, we went to Lake Anne and looked around, before ultimately heading back to Reston Town Center for a not-so-traditional, but delicious, Thanksgiving dinner at Morton’s Steakhouse.
Some photos from our walk and a Kayaker on the Potomac are posted here.
The Shenandoah Valley, with its spectacular vistas is a wonderful place to visit in Autumn as the trees begin to change colors. There are small towns and farms to visit as well as B&B’s wineries, breweries, campgrounds and RV parks. We prefer to do our camping in hotels with nice bars, so the campgrounds are not in our plans.
We recently took a short trip to Shenandoah Valley and stayed in the Iris Inn. The Iris Inn describes itself as a luxury retreat overlooking the Shenandoah Valley.
It’s an apt description. We stayed in the Main Inn for a night so we could walk around the various paths in the woods of the valley. Unfortunately we were met by pouring rain, so that idea was scotched. Nevertheless we did see some of the spectacular sights of the Shenandoah Valley and will return someday.
Here (below) are a couple of landscape photos from the trip.
We headed out to Baltimore over last weekend to see our long time friends Ethel, Rich and Anne Marie. Rich and Anne Marie were in town from the coast to visit with their daughter Jen, her husband and their 7 month old daughter Loretta. It was great to see everybody although tinged with some sadness because Ron Thau had passed away in May.
Baltimore (or Bal’mor as some locals pronounce it) has a population of about 600,00 making it the 30th largest city in the U.S. measured by population.
The five of us headed out to the Fells Point section where we had some lunch. Then we eventually made our way to Patterson Park where we met Jen and her baby daughter Loretta.
At 137 acres it is not Baltimore’s largest park, but is impressive all the same. Among its attractions are numerous ballfields, a duck pond, war memorials, and a pagoda that served as a lookout in the early 1800s. The locals refer to the park as the best back yard in Baltimore. Here below are some shots from the park as well as a photo of a brightly painted row house, complete with campaign sign in the window.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The Shenandoah Valley and its surroundings are sights that should not be missed. Here are a few photos of from the trip.
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.
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.
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.