You exit the Metro at Denfert-Rochereau, cross the street, enter the little building and pay the admission price, then descend 130-something steps down a steep spiral staircase. From there, you walk and walk through dimly lit tunnels until you come to a doorway with a large sign admonishing you to touch nothing and to not smoke. Through the doorway begins a walk through the largest cemetery imaginable. You walk past thousands and thousands of human bones, stacked neatly and artfully in sections marked by signs indicating which cemetery they come from. It's an interesting and creepy tour, and well worth your time if you're in Paris.
Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago.
We've made it a tradition in our house, going back to when we were first married, to go out to a Christmas tree farm each year and cut down our tree. Yes, it's way more work than popping a fake tree out of a box but we love doing it. It's like a treasure hunt with no map: You know exactly what the treasure looks like but you have no idea where to find it. Given that we live in sprawling suburbia, we often drove a pretty good distance to a suitable tree farm. The return trip was always fun — us doing our Griswald family impression, blasting down the interstate with the tree strapped to the roof of the car, praying that it wouldn't blow off and kill somebody. But a few years ago we found a tree farm very near home. It's one of those places, one of those "I can't believe this hasn't been bulldozed and turned into a subdivision" places, tucked away in the next suburb over. And it's, ummm, rustic.
This is not a tree farm with rows of perfectly pruned and spray painted trees lined up like six foot tall green dominos. This is a "Here's your saw; here's your cart; good luck" kind of place: Lots of acreage, paths that meander all over said acreage, and a wild mix of trees. Wild as in "haphazardly placed by Mother Nature." Wild as in "forget pruning and shaping; these babies are all natural."
Some years, it's taken a lot of wandering and hiking, and some desperation, to find a tree. As we're not of the "Let's put the tree up right away — like on Halloween!" ilk, we tend to wait well into the season before venturing out for the yearly hunt. This year, we were actually kind of early (for us).
And so these are some pictures from this past weekend's hunt in which we ended up with not one but two trees: one not terribly tall, but tall enough, and the other fat and downright short for a spot upstairs.
Photo geek info: It was a bleak, gray day and the colors were very flat so I decided to try out Nik Software's Silver Efex Pro plugin to convert everything to black and white. Summary of the experience: the software works well, is very flexible, and generates some really nice tones. The only downside is that there's no way to batch images in Lightroom. You can do it with the "costs twice as much" Photoshop version but not with the Lightroom version.
Though it's technically not correct, I always view Fall as beginning on Labor Day (the first Monday of September) and ending today, Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday in November). For those outside the U.S., Thanksgiving is a national holiday in which we're supposed to give thanks for everything that's good in our lives. In practical terms, it's when families get together and, by tradition, eat more in a single meal than a normal person needs in three days. Thanksgiving = "Eat too much; watch football." To celebrate the end of the season, I thought I'd post these from the beginning of the season when we drove into southern Illinois to pick apples. I can't remember how many pounds of apples we came out with but even with their "buy one lb., get another lb. free" pricing that weekend we still spent $40. But it's a lot of fun and we try to go every year.
After wandering around the French Quarter for a while (see previous post) and having breakfast at the Stanley, we headed to the nearest cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, to see the above-ground tombs up close. This cemetery opened in 1789, making it one of the older ones in New Orleans. It's just slightly beyond the boundaries of the French Quarter (just barely) and sits next to the Iberville housing project (which was built on the site of the old Storyville district.)
We were lucky: we had beautiful weather – sunny and cool. But you can use your imagination and think about what this place is like on a dark stormy night. <shudder>
I've always thought that the nicest time to spend in the French Quarter is a weekday morning. The craziness of the night is (mostly) gone, there are far fewer tourists or people in general on the streets, and the morning sun highlights the area in a way that you don't see later in the day. Mornings make the Quarter feel like a real neighborhood with a history that you can almost taste. I was in New Orleans for a job a couple weeks ago, over a weekend. My flight on Monday wasn't until the afternoon so I was able to spend the morning just wandering about.
I've fallen behind in getting new pictures posted here. I supposed that's due in part to my not being all that thrilled with anything I've shot lately. (The other part is, of course, pure laziness.) This is from a trip to the St. Louis Zoo a couple weeks ago. Our zoo here is really nice, it's free, and this summer they're staying open a bit later than normal every evening. These two guys, at the entrance to the Penguinarium, were just hanging out, completely ignoring the line of people waiting to go in and view their cousins. I love that the one on the left, who sat not more than a couple of feet from me, was sound asleep.
Yep, that's what they're called: shuttlecocks. They're little things you whack back and forth in badminton. I knew they had a name but couldn't for the life of me remember what it was. Google to the rescue, once again. These are some of the most well-known shuttlecocks, standing 12–15 feet or so high, outside the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.
Outside the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.
If you drive just a little south of Newport Beach, California on Pacific Coast Highway, you'll find Crystal Cove State Park just down the highway a bit. It's a great park with over three miles of beach where you can swim, surf, and scuba dive plus there's hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails. But the really cool thing is up on the bluff, just off the highway, overlooking the park and beach. It's a tiny little bright yellow clapboard restaurant called the Shake Shack.
The food at the Shake Shack is strictly diner food: burgers, fries, shakes (not a good restaurant choice if you're counting calories), and the seating is strictly outdoors on their deck. [pullquote author="Me"]I can't believe I just ate all of that. I think I'm gonna explode.[/pullquote]
The cool thing, besides the view of the ocean, is that eating there is a bit like stepping back into the 1940's or '50's as the diner itself and all the cottages in the state park below appear to be from that era (or earlier).
Speaking of cottages, there are a bunch of them in the state park that you can rent by the night — if you can get a reservation. They're small and rustic but look like they'd be a lot of fun to stay in. Click here for a Google Maps view of the cottages.
An overhead view of a hotel pool in Laguna Beach, CA.
Repeated gate changes, weather delays, overbooked flights, stand-by status. Ugh. Traveling through Dallas-Ft. Worth has become as bad as traveling through O'Hare.
Before I head out of town again tomorrow, I thought I'd get the rest of the Miami photos uploaded. All in all, it wasn't a (photographically) productive trip — there are a couple of okay shots but definitely nothing portfolio-worthy. It was, however, sunny and there was a beach so I can't complain. The shot above was from the last night of Miami Music Week. If you're into electronic dance music, Miami was the place to be that week. At our hotel, the Fontainebleau, there were performances by David Guetta, Deadmau5, and (pictured) Steve Angello plus a whole bunch of smaller acts. And there were other shows every night up and down South Beach, and across the bay in Miami proper. When you combine Music Week with Spring Break at South Beach, it was a great time for people watching, especially of what the girls weren't wearing.
[pullquote author="Pretty Much Every Straight Guy Who Wasn't Blind"]"Holy crap! Did you see THAT??!??!"[/pullquote]
The idle rich/jetset crowd was out in force which added to the fun. After Music Week ended, all of South Beach seemed... I dunno, kind of sedate, I guess.
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Looking for quiet solitude to relax and stare out at the ocean? Miami Beach is probably not your best choice. This is just your average Friday in March. But even a packed beach is better than no beach at all.
I stopped by a Starbucks tonight to get a little work done while waiting to pick my son up from a concert and it was unlike any Starbucks that I normally frequent
— it was empty!
It was kind of nice. And it didn't last long.
Hunting Christmas trees, that is. We have a tradition of going to a local Christmas tree farm each year to cut down our tree. For the last couple of years, though, it's been fairly close to Christmas before we managed to get the family together to make the trek to a farm. (As kids get older, scheduling becomes more of an issue.) Anyhow, we made it out yesterday to a nearby farm in Lake St. Louis —70+ acres of rolling hills and scattered trees. This farm's layout is interesting in that the trees are scattered throughout the acreage but not in neat "tree farm" rows like you'd expect; rather, they're planted in patches where the ground is reasonably flat and open. Finding a decent tree requires a bit of walking and wandering, and given the lateness in the season, some serious searching as most of the really good trees have already been cut.
This little lake (pond?) sits near the front of the property. To get to the trees, you walk around the lake into the hills beyond.
This is as close to Black Friday as I was willing to go, and I shot it with a long lens. The whole Black Friday idea makes me gag. I just can't conceive of giving up my Thanksgiving dinner and time with family because I'm sleeping in a tent and peeing behind a light pole in a Best Buy parking lot, trying to save a couple hundred bucks on a flat screen tv. There's nothing in the world I need badly enough to do that. BTW, I shot this on my way to someplace important: Starbucks. :-)