Archive for November, 2008

Amsterdam – The Adventure Overview

Whew. I’m back from a week in the Netherlands. I got to spend three days sight-seeing in Amsterdam before heading south for business. With travel companion, Ryan Somma, we ended up packing in a lot of stuff into a three day visit to the city. It is going to take me a while to parse through the photos and already I tally up at least eight different blog posts I could do. But I figure it would be best to start off with a overview/summary.

Thursday

Thursday afternoon, I dropped the dogs off the boarder and we made our way to the airport. In DC, we boarded a large Boeing 777 and we were off.


Ryan Somma and I on the plane to Amsterdam

Friday

Seven hours later, between 6-7 AM local time, we landed in Amsterdam, got our luggage and boarded a train. As the early morning views whizzed by, Ryan observed, “There is a surprising lack of logos.”

I believe I replied with something about as enthusiastic as “Mmpf.”

We got off at the Centraal Station. I was well aware that Amsterdam was a bike-centric city. I had been there briefly in 1995 and seen some impressive pictures from Tony Airaghi. Even with that preparation, when one gets off the Centraal Station and sees the mass of bicycles parked outside, the view is breathtaking.


A triple decker parking deck— FULL of bicycles


More bikes outside of the train station

We dropped the luggage off at the hotel, snagged some maps from the concierge and headed out to Anne Frank’s house. Along the way, we got to see plenty of the canals and house boats.


Houseboats on one of the canals. I love how they make use of the roofs and decks to grow plants.


Houses line a canal

The Anne Frank Huis was a good museum with moving testimonials and quotes. I had been there once before in 1995, but this time I had a new interest– The horse chestnut tree! While Anne and her family hid for more than two years, one of her few glimpses of nature was a horse chestnut tree outside her window. That tree is quite ill right now, but efforts are in play to keep it alive. Of course, there are no photographs permitted inside the house, but I thought I would outsmart the system.

“Let’s just walk around the block and take a picture from the street!” I told Ryan.

Little did we know, this tree is in a sequestered courtyard surrounded by buildings, so there was no view from the street.


Vicky’s Stealth Fail– there was no way to see the tree in the red area from any street.

Luckily, the Anne Frank House has a web cam, so I have the ability to see the tree whenever I want from the comfort of my own home.


Me looking at Anne Frank’s tree via the web

After Anne Frank’s house, weary Somma and I visited the Dam, the historical center of the city. At the Dam, some street vendors were dressed up as Grim Reapers and Batman.


Grim Reapers at the Dam

After that, we hit a local cafe for some lunch, stopped by a Hologram store and finally returned to our hotel for a well needed nap.

In the evening, we woke up and explored the city at night.


Amsterdam at Night

We had supper at an absolutely delicious India restaurant and got our first exposure to the famous Red Light District (Sorry, it is illegal to take pictures of the renowned Window Ladies)

Saturday

Saturday was NEMO Science Center day! We woke up late, had an English Breakfast and then headed straight to the boat-shaped center. Although the museum is targeted for children, I found myself thoroughly engrossed with the displays. I was most impressed with the frank and uncensored information about sex that was available in a museum…for children (more on that later). I also enjoyed the Chain Reaction presentations they did throughout the day.


One of the many hands on displays at the NEMO Science Center– when the child holds the plasma ball and the fluorescent light bulb at the same time, the bulb lights up.


Two children start off a large chain reaction


Kids making giant bubbles at the NEMO Science Center

After a full day at NEMO, we saw a little more of the city, visited another Hologram store, we shared another great supper at an Argentinian Steak house and once again got to stroll through Red Light District on the way back to the hotel.


Another canal in Amsterdam


View of the city from the top of the NEMO building

We closed the evening with getting introduced to the BBC show, Outnumbered. We saw the wedding episode. Be on the lookout for it. It’s rather hilarious.

Sunday

Sunday was full of unexpectancies. We set out to see Energetica, an energy museum we read about in the Fall 2008 issue of an Amsterdam tourist guide. Our hotel concierge gave us directions to the museum. Yet, when we finally arrived, we were greeted by a sign announcing the museum was closing in November of 2007… over a year ago!


Ryan by the Closed Sign

But never fear– we still saw a lot on this particular Sunday. We got our first introduction to a curious Dutch Christmas custom. We got to see the lovely Weinheim Park and a thoughtful Auschwitz Memorial. And probably my absolute favorite part of the entire trip– the Botanical Gardens. They are INCREDIBLE. More on each of those activities later. And of course, along the way, we got to see more of the city.


Flurry of activity near the Centraal Station


Modern buildings and a church from 1614


Sunflower growing in an apartment window

After that day was done, we took a train back to the airport and picked up a rental car. We were off to our next destination– Bergen op Zoom.

Only… with a complication. I…uh…. I sort of, kind of, left the driving directions at home. After some amount of stress, further aggravated by me not knowing how to turn the car on (you have to put the brake on before you turn the key), it was Somma’s web-enabled Cingular phone to the rescue. He pulled up Google maps and we managed to find our way.

More pictures of my Amsterdam trip are available on my Flickr site.

And never fear– there are many, many more Amsterdam posts to come. 🙂

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November 23, 2008 at 7:57 pm 15 comments

links for 2008-11-18

  • When Anne Frank was in hiding for more than two years, one of her few connections with nature was a horse chestnut tree outside the window. Now you can sneak peaks of the horse chestnut tree too… via this handy dandy webcam.

November 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm 1 comment

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

When we were at Bald Knob, Tony and I ran across yet another tree that demonstrates great determination. It fell down, but it wasn’t deterred. It sprouted new roots and shot up three new “trunks” towards the sky.


A tree’s second try

Up at the top of Bald Knob, Tony and I also found value in trying again. It took us a few attempts to get a shot of us at one of the overlooks.

The first time my foot accidently hit the camera as I rushed in frame. Tony and I quickly tried to correct our poses:


Take 1 – Leaning into the shot

We had some issues with lighting and focus and then one shot, the dogs were in the way.


Take 4 – Trying to get the dogs out of the shot.

Then finally, we got a workable shot:


Take 5 – Jimmie, Vicky, Tony, Henry


November 18, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Changing Leaves 2008

I’ve gotten a lot of “leaf-peeping” done this fall. Here is a quick mosaic of some of the changing leaves I’ve gotten to witness Autumn 2008. West Virgina, Virginia and North Carolina are represented here as well as notable trees like the Virginia Roundleaf Birch Tree and the American Chestnut:

1. Sinking Creek Mountain – More Changing Oak Leaves, 2. Dismal Swamp State Park – More Changing Leaves, 3. Sinking Creek Mountain – Changing Leaves, 4. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls – Changing Leaves, 5. Dismal Swamp State Park – Changing Leaves, 6. Poverty Creek – Changing Leaves in Sun, 7. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls – More Changing Leaves, 8. Sinking Creek Mountain – Maple Leaves From Below, 9. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Zebra Leaves, 10. Sinking Creek Mountain – Oak Leaves From Below, 11. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Red Leaves, 12. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Intertwined Leaves, 13. Douthat State Park – Orange Leaves, 14. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Fractal Leaf, 15. Douthat State Park – Blue Suck Falls Trail – Evergreen Over Red Leaves, 16. Douthat State Park – Chestnuts – Leaves, 17. Bald Knob – Turtle Leaf, 18. Camden Causeway – Leaves with Raindrops, 19. Causeway Park – Holey Leaf, 20. Virginia Roundleaf Birch – Yellow Leaf with Hole 2, 21. Tinker Cliffs – Red Virginia Creeper Leaves, 22. Duck Pond – Green and Yellow Leaves, 23. Angel’s Rest – Turning Leaves, Spiderweb, Powerlines, 24. Clay County – Leaves

November 17, 2008 at 8:00 am 1 comment

I See Extinct Things

When I was a young child, one day for no particular reason, I told my grandmother a lie.

“I saw a puffin walking down the street!”

A puffin. In Occoquan, Virginia. Just 35 miles south of Washington, DC.

I wasn’t just a confused little kid. I didn’t see some kind of other bird, say one actually indigenous to the Mid-Atlantic region, and think it was a puffin. I didn’t even see a squirrel cross the street. I fabricated the sighting altogether.

Why? I think I thought if I saw something rare, something unexpected, that would make me special.

(My grandmother must have disagreed, she didn’t rush out and call the Potomac News about my puffin run-in. She just nodded and went about cooking dinner).

Today, I am pushing thirty-four years old and I don’t have to lie. Puffin Schmuffins. This fall I have been so damn special that I’ve gotten to see things SO rare they were once thought to be extinct. That’s right, extinct!

Coelacanth
In September, I went with Ryan Somma to the Smithsonian’s new Sant Ocean Hall in the Natural History Museum. One of the many fascinating items they had on display was a Coelacanth.


Coelacanth at the Sant Ocean Hall (Photo by unnormalized)

Coelacanth fossils were first discovered in 1836. After that, numerous fossils were found, but they all dated between 400 to 66 million years ago. Seeing how the last trace of them was, well, 66 million years ago, people came to the conclusion that the fish was extinct.

And then in 1938, a fisherman caught one!

Now we know of two surviving species. Both are currently “critically endangered”, but not “extinct”.

Virginia Round-leaf Birch Tree

Compared to the Coelacanths, the history of the Virginia Round-leaf is pretty brief. The Virginia Round-leaf Birch tree was first discovered in Smyth County, Virginia in 1918. Then like the Coelacanths, all traces of the species disappeared… though for only about 1/100,000 of the time. In the absence, the Virginia Round-leaf Birch was also considered extinct. Then after 60 years of laying low, a small patch of the trees were found.

Today, in the one natural population, less 10 individuals survive and “it may be the rarest native U.S. tree species still existing in the wild.” However, thanks to the restoration efforts (and secrecy!), there are enough artificially propagated trees out there for the species to be considered “threatened”.

And some of those artificially propagated trees were practically in my backyard! There is a small memorial grove of Virginia Round-leaf Birch trees planted at the Virginia Tech Duck Pond. I got to visit them about a month ago, right as their leaves were starting to change.


Virginia Round-leaf Birch Tree at the Virginia Tech Duckpond


Stipules and leaves

So perhaps like my lie to my grandmother, these encounters are not yet worthy of the Potomac News. And perhaps they do not make me personally special.

But I will tell you this. When I am looking at these species, when I reflect on their rarity and how at one point in time their existence was about as likely as a unicorn (or a puffin in Occoquan, Virginia), and when I marvel at the surprises this planet of ours somehow managed to hide… the moment feels powerful.

The moment feels special.

November 14, 2008 at 8:00 am 4 comments

links for 2008-11-13

  • This afternoon I leave for Amsterdam, which is one of the most tree-rich cities in all of Europe. The city has 400,000 trees, 75,000 of them are Elms.

    Something tells me I'm going to enjoy my stay. 🙂

November 13, 2008 at 2:30 pm 2 comments

Season Compare: Bald Knob

I have a couple of season compares from Bald Knob. First, this weathered rock always catches my eye:


April 10, 2004- You can see Mountain Lake in the upper right


July 8, 2006



November 1, 2008 – Dry Mountain Lake is in the upper right

And here is a Jimmie Compare– Jimmie a little more than 4 years apart:


Jimmie at Bald Knob on April 10, 2004 – Mountain Lake is behind him


Jimmie at Bald Knob on November 1, 2008 – Dry Mountain Lake is behind him

November 13, 2008 at 8:30 am 2 comments

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