Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Funny How Things Happen...

So, in the midst of putting together a trip to New York City for me and 15 friends, people started bowing out. I expected that. I would've been shocked had everyone decided to go. The idea was put out there, it sounded exciting, and people said "yes" just so they would have a place when the arrangements were being made.

What I didn't expect, though, is that everyone would drop out. Everyone, of course, had their valid reason, and I find faulty with no one. But, what that means is that Ruthie and I will simply go alone. It'll be far easy to schedule things, of course; not only flights, but also any shows we want to see, museums we want to visit, etc.

So, it's become glaringly evident that planning a trip for two is infinitely easier than planning a trip for 16 (although that would've been a blast). It will surely lend itself to us seeing and doing more than if we were in a group.

So, let's see what happens!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

So, Where To Next?

So, folks have been asking me where I'm heading to next. I

In the last year, I've been to Ireland, Italy, Scotland, New York twice, the Blue Ridge Mountains and Ohio. Not a bad little run, but even though I got good deals on those trips to Europe, they were still mildly spendy.

So, in the interest of ratcheting things back a bit, I'll be staying stateside for the next adventure. Eleven friends and I (well, that's where it sits right now, I suspect it'll end up being less) will be headed to The Big Apple, New York City this October.




Simply put, there's no greater city in the world. There's just way too much to do and way too much to see and if you lived a thousand years you'd never get to see it all. And, given that I'm the only New Yorker in the group, I get to play tour guide. That's cool; I dig that. My thought is to craft an itinerary that will most of the people will be happy with (hey, you can't please everyone).

The "hop on/hop off" type buses that I used extensively in Europe also operate in New York City. For my money, it's the best way to get to all of the tourist sites, but also a great way to move about the city without having to rely on cabs, Ubers of the subway (although we'll ride the subway for the experience).



See, while several of us have been there before, but several of us have never been; it's probably a 40/60 split in that regard. I want to make sure those who've never been to New York City enjoy it as much as four days will allow (I know, it's a short trip).



The best part? I'm finding prices, which include air fare and four nights in a nice hotel near Times Square, in the $600 per person range. For me, that's a no-brainer.

So, stay tuned. October will be here before we know it!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Arlington National Cemetery...

While on my way to New York for a shoot, I had planned a two day stop in Maryland to visit a friend and his family. It's always good to visit old friends, and I've known Mark over 40 years, so he certainly qualifies.

As I would be arriving on Father's Day, I decided I'd give Mark some "Dad time" with his two boys and show up later in the day.  So, to pass the time, I decided to visit Arlington National Cemetery.

I've long held that every American should visit Washington DC at least once. I went first when I was very young, during a family trip. Years later, I visited while attending a seminar at the Naval Surface Weapons Center (NSWC) in White Oak, Maryland.

Over the years since, I've visited when my travel schedule allowed, but I never made it across the Arlington Memorial Bridge, located behind the Lincoln Memorial, to visit Arlington National Cemetery.
For $15 you can ride a "hop on/hop off" tram which takes you to most of the major areas of the cemetery. If you're active duty military in uniform, the tram is free. If you're a Veteran, it's only $6.75 and it's worth every penny.

The first stop on the tram tour is the grave of President John F. Kennedy. I was surprised to learn that Kennedy is one of only two Presidents buried here, the other being William Howard Taft. Arlington National Cemetery. More than 3,000,000 people a year visit Arlington, and it's a fair bet that every last one of them stops at Kennedy's grave.

The Eternal Flame atop John Kennedy's grave...

The graves of John  and Jacqueline Kennedy...

The former President and First Lady aren't the only Kennedy's buried here. Among the others are JFK's brothers Robert and Edward (Ted). The only one to see age 50 was Ted Kennedy, who died at age 77. President Kennedy was assassinated at age 46, and his younger brother Robert was assassinated at age 42. There's a commemorative headstone for Kennedy's older brother, Joseph, who was killed in action during World War II. He was only 29.








While the Kennedy grave site is undoubtedly the most popular site in Arlington, running an extremely close second is the Tomb of the Unknowns. 


The Tomb of the Unknowns...


The first 24-hour guard was posted on midnight, July 2, 1937. The Tomb of the Unknowns has been guarded continuously; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since then.

It's interesting to note that no guard wears a uniform which displays a rank, so as not to run the risk of being of a higher rank than those unknown ranks of the interred. While the Relief Commander wears a rank, he also has a uniform which displays no rank for when he stands guard.


The Relief Commander (with back towards the camera) inspects the guard being relieved...

The guard

The Sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns...
While there are meaningful adornments on all sides of the tomb, perhaps none is as famous as the inscription on the front:

HERE RESTS IN
HONORED GLORY
AN AMERICAN 
SOLDIER
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

The Tomb of the Unknowns actually contains the remains of unidentified servicemen from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. There was, at one time, a service member from the Vietnam War, however his body was disinterred and identified, through DNA testing, to be that of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. Following this, it was determined that the crypt for the Vietnam War would remain empty.

All servicemen interred at the Tomb have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The tomb is located behind the Memorial Amphitheater, which was opened on May 215, 1920.


The Memorial Amphitheater...
Across the road from the Memorial Amphitheater are the memorials for the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia. Challenger, of course, exploded and broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff in 1986, and Columbia broke apart over northern Texas during re-entry in 2003. 

Memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia...

Memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger...

The grave of  Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Scobee, Commander of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia...
Over 400,000 people have been interred in the 624 acres of Arlington National Cemetery. Now, you might think that's pretty big and, in fact, it is. After all, you can't put 400,000 of anything anywhere without requiring a lot of space. For whatever reason, I always assumed Arlington was the largest National Cemetery in the country but, in fact, it's not. It's the eight largest. Between 20 and 30 funerals a day are held here every day except Sunday.

And, in case you're wondering which is the largest, that would be Calverton National Cemetery near Riverhead on New York's Long Island.
Arlington National Cemetery...
To see all of Arlington National Cemetery would take a massive investment of time. It's too big and too sprawling to allow visiting the entire facility in a full day, not to mention the afternoon I was able to dedicate to it. So, unless you have the ability to spend a couple days exploring, I think it's best to pick the sites you want to see and ride the tram to get to the spots you want to see most.
As you might expect, left to your own devices, finding a single grave at Arlington would be like finding a needle in a haystack, and you probably have better odds of finding the needle. Fear not. The Visitor Center has kiosks into which you can enter a name and locate the grave. Once you do that, you can take a free shuttle from the Visitor Center to that grave. They drop you off and give you a phone number to call when you're ready to be picked up.

I wanted to visit the grave of R. Lee Ermey. When I told friends I was going to visit this grave, I was met with blank stares. 
"I don't know who that is."

Well, see, you do. You just don't realize it (Warning: Adult language, and a lot of it):





Ermey was hired by Stanley Kubrick as an advisor for the movie "Full Metal Jacket". When he made an instructional video for Kubrick, he was hired to play the role of Marine Drill Instructor (which he once actually was) Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. "The Gunny" passed away on April 15, 2018, due to complications from pneumonia.

The grave of "The Gunny"...




The day was getting late, so I decided to make my way back to the car and continue on with the day's plans. I'm glad I made this stop, though, as it's resided on my "bucket list" for quite some time. And, while I don't know when I'll be back, I know I will, and I'll be sure to spend a little more time here.

I'd suggest you do the same...









Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Scotland - Some Final Thoughts...

Scotland was an amazing trip.

I guess I expected it to be a lot like Ireland and, in some ways, I suppose it was. The people were friendly, the beer was good, and there was a lot of rain. 

But it was also very different.

For some reason, I never considered using mass transit in Ireland, yet it was pretty much the first thing we did in Scotland.

Edinburgh seemed much more "local" than, say, Dublin, and certainly Rome, which is to say there were more tourists in those two cities. Don't get me wrong; Edinburgh certainly had its fair share of tourists. But, in comparison, far less.

Not to slight anyone in Dublin or Rome, but we found the people in Edinburgh to be ridiculously friendly, so much to the point that we were even invited out to go bar hopping around the city to catch a bunch of local musicians playing about. It was such a good time, and it felt like we'd known these people for years when, in fact, it had been only a few hours. We were welcomed into their inner circles like old friends.



When all was said and done, I think we'd hit the "sweet spot" with regards to how long the trip was. One more day would've been too long and one day less would've been not enough. We had pretty much seen everything we wanted to, and even had some down time to rest up.

It was time to go home, and we were ready.




It'll be interesting to see where we go next...


Edinburgh Castle - The Last Day...

With a visit to Edinburgh Castle, our final day in Scotland was a relatively busy one.

We took an Uber to the "Royal Mile", which is a large shopping district not far from the castle. We turned up hill and started walking towards this monolith of stone and brick which looms over the city of Edinburgh. Seriously, there's nowhere in the city you can go an not see this castle.

As we walked along, we noticed a gathering of people on the sidewalk, stopping to get their picture taken with an owl. A really big owl. For a donation you could don this massive leather glove and the owless (I dunno'; what do you call a woman with an owl?) would set the owl onto the glove and your loved ones could snap away. Jessy went first, and then it was my turn. As big as this animal was, I was surprised at how light it was:


Me and the owl. I named him Carl...

Scope out the talons on this monster (photo by Jessy Parr)...

After our owl encounter, we walked towards the castle.

Sitting atop what is known as Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle dates back to the 12th century and the reign of David I. It was a royal residence until the year 1633. Since then, its role has been primarily  military in nature.


A portion of Edinburgh Castle...

The castle and the grounds are both enormous and expansive. You could easily spend an entire day here and not see everything. Aside from just the architecture of the building seen from the outside, the sites inside the buildings are equally impressive.

Two of the more noteworthy exhibits, sadly, did not permit photography (hence, I shall steal official photos from the web and attribute them appropriately). The first exhibit were the Crown Jewels of Scotland. The crown dates from the year 1540, the sword from 1507 and the sceptre from 1494.


The Crown Jewels of Scotland (photo sourced from the web)...

There were no less than six guards in the "Crown Room" where the jewels are displayed, and they were very, very cognizant of anyone who walked into the room holding a camera. Unlike the Sistine Chapel in Rome, I wasn't going to chance taking pictures here. I got away with it in Rome. I had zero confidence I would get away with it here.

The second display which was off photographic limits was the interior of the Scottish National War Memorial. The insistence here is that the reverence of the place precludes photography and, as much as it pains me to admit, it does.






This sculpture of a unicorn, at the entrance to the memorial, was completed by Phillis Bone in 1927...

The oldest building in Edinburgh Castle and, in fact, one of the oldest intact buildings in all of Edinburgh, is St. Margaret's Chapel. It was built in her honor during the reign of her son, David I (1124-1153). It's still used today for services, weddings and baptisms and, for a small donation of £2 you can get a booklet which tells you everything you may ever want to know about the chapel.


The chapel is very small, holding no more than about 20 people...

As you would expect, the views from Edinburgh Castle are sweeping and absolutely stunning. You can see anything and everything in the city from here.


Looking from Edinburgh Castle towards the Firth of Forth...

Edinburgh, and Calton Hill in the background, as seen from Edinburgh Castle. Waverley Station is on the right...

St. Cuthbert's (L) and St. John's (R) as seen from Edinburgh Castle...

If you visit Edinburgh Castle, wear comfortable shoes (well, that's true for anywhere, I suppose) and be mindful of where you are at any given time. At one point, I gave Jessy a heart attack when I almost went backwards over a wall, thinking the wall was higher than it actually was as I leaned back towards it. I just kept going backwards and managed to keep myself from falling. I'm glad that didn't happen. That would've hurt.

We were both getting a bit tired, so we decided we would grab some dinner along the Royal Mile before heading back to the hotel. We opted for Deacon Brodie's Tavern. William "Deacon" Brodie was a respectable businessman and tradesman during the day, but turned to burglary, to fund his gambling, at night.


Deacon Brodie's, along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh...

Our appetizer was mashed potatoes, mashed turnips and, you guessed it, haggis...

This was the Steak & Nicholson's Pale Ale Pie, and it was ridiculous...

And it was reduced to table scraps...

After dinner, as we walked down the Royal Mile to buy trinkets and souvenirs, it began to dawn on us that our trip was coming to a close. The Uber ride back to our hotel would be our last in Scotland, and we'd taken a lot of them. But it was a great trip, and one which I don't think I would mind taking again sometime. The sad reality is that, on a trip like this, there's so much to see and rarely enough time to see it all.

But that's what makes this whole traveling thing so much fun...

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Rosslyn Chapel - Day 5

We opted to spend Sunday in our hotel. The weather was, well, "Scottish", and neither of us were really too eager to venture out into it. It wasn't raining a little bit. It was raining a lot. Besides, we'd been going nonstop since we landed and were both feeling as though we needed a day to rest, so Sunday was that day.

And then came Monday.

In February, Jessy and I were discussing this trip and I told her I absolutely wanted to visit Rosslyn Chapel.


The mythical Rosslyn Chapel...


A quick perusal of their website though brought me to a paragraph which stated:

Please note that there is no photography or video allowed inside Rosslyn Chapel, 
as this can distract and inconvenience other visitors. 


Yup, I was bummed. This is the one place in all of Scotland I had hoped to photographed, and my hopes and dreams were seemingly dashed on a chilly February night in Florida when I read that.

As I knew I'd be writing about our visit to Scotland, and would be including our visit to the Chapel, I figured there would be no harm in reaching out and requesting special permission to photograph inside the Chapel.

Well, a couple of days went by with no reply. A couple days more... still nothing. A week and a half had elapsed when I accepted that they probably get a dozen requests a day like this, and as such my e-mail was probably sitting in a recycle bin somewhere.

Then I get an e-mail from the Director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust, Mr. Ian Gardner:


Dear Steve,

I would be delighted to welcome you here in May and the best way to get some photos inside the Chapel would be for you to arrive, one day between Monday and Saturday, before we open to visitors at 9:30am. If you were to come here for 9am would that be convenient?

Kind Regards,


Ian



I was blown away. Not only was I going to be allowed to photograph the interior of the Chapel, I was going to get to do it when it was empty.

Our Uber driver dropped us off and, as we walked towards the visitor center, a gentleman in shirt and tie walked towards us, extended his hand and said "You must be Steve." The gentleman, of course, was Ian Gardner.


Here I am with Ian Gardner, Director of the Rosslyn Chapel Trust... (photo by Jessy Parr)


He walked us into through the visitor center and out into the grounds of the Chapel itself, telling us a bit about the history of the St. Clair family and the Chapel itself. Upon stepping onto the grounds, it really hits you. It's difficult to describe the feeling when you see it in person. Sure, it looks good on paper, but to be... right there... it's an awesome thing.

Dedicated in the year 1450, Rosslyn Chapel (or, more formally, the Collegiate Church of St. Matthew) has a deep well of both religious and mythical significance. It's believed that the original plans called for a much larger building, but building stopped when its founder, William St. Clair, died in 1484. St. Clair is buried within the Chapel.


One of the doors leading into the chapel...

The interior of the chapel is smaller than I expected, but it's still absolutely magnificent in its craftsmanship. In the last year I've been inside countless churches in Europe in the last year, and Rosslyn Chapel ranks right up there with the best of them. The craftsmanship of the stonework is stunning.


Looking towards the altar inside the chapel...

Rosslyn Chapel...

Looking towards the entrance to the chapel from the altar...


One of the more incredible pieces of craftsmanship is known as the Apprentice Pillar:

The Apprentice Pillar...


Legend holds that the master mason in charge flew into a jealous rage when he saw the level of workmanship in the pillar carved by his apprentice. The master mason took his mallet and struck the apprentice on the head, killing him. There's no evidence, however, to support the contention that any such murder took place.


Outside Rosslyn Chapel...


This stained glass window, located in the crypt, is from 1954...

Looking into Rosslyn Chapel from outside...

Tombs in what is known as the Lady Chapel. The tomb in the foreground is Harriet Elizabeth, Countess of Rosslyn, who died at the age of 39 in 1810. She was married to James St Clair-Erskine, 2nd Earl of Rosslyn...

Of course, everyone knows Rosslyn Chapel from the Dan Brown book The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks. Some of the movie's final scenes were filmed in the crypt, or sacristy, of Rosslyn Chapel.


The steep stairs leading into the crypt from the Chapel above...

The crypt...

As historic a place as it is, one of the most popular sites at Rosslyn Chapel has nothing to really do with the Chapel at all. It's William the cat, names after the founder of Rosslyn Chapel. William showed up as a kitten and has taken up residence. He pretty much enjoys free reign of the Chapel and the grounds.


William the Cat. A reincarnation of William St. Clair, perhaps?


And, just in case you don't think a cat can really be that popular, a walk through the Rosslyn Chapel gift shop could certainly convince you otherwise. William is friendly, approachable and, oddly, rather stately.

As much as Rosslyn Chapel is a magnificent site to behold, it's not the only point of interest in the area. Rosslyn Chapel Cemetery is a mere five minute walk or so from the Chapel, and contains graves both relatively recent and very, very old.


A portion of Rosslyn Cemetery...


A gate leading into a part of Rosslyn Cemetery...

After passing Rosslyn Cemetery, it's only another short walk until you get to the ruins of Rosslyn Castle.

This path runs adjacent to Rosslyn Cemetery to the ruins of Rosslyn Castle...


The first castle on this site was built in the 14th century, although the one which stand here in ruins was built slightly later. The St. Clair family, which still owns it today, has owned Rosslyn since the 12th century.


The ruins of the west curtain wall of Rosslyn Castle...

The ruins of Rosslyn Castle...


The exterior of the west curtain wall at Rosslyn Castle...

The ruins of Rosslyn Castle...

Towards the end of "The Da Vinci Code", Professor Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) explains his theory for a potential blood line of Jesus Christ to Sophie Neveu (played by Audrey Tautou). The scene is filmed on this bridge, near the ruins of the original gatehouse of Rosslyn Castle:


Rosslyn Castle ruins...

Despite the fact that much of Rosslyn Castle lies in ruins, some of it still remains. The main portion of the castle was built around 1460. The current house is available to be rent through The Landmark Trust as a vacation rental. Bear in mind, though, the building has no showers, only bathtubs. Also, many of the St. Clair photographs and possessions remain.


The current Rosslyn Castle. The estate has remained in the care of the St. Clair family since the Baroney of Rosslyn was established in the year  1070. This portion of the castle was built in 1622...

The grandeur of Rosslyn Chapel cannot be overstated. Though widely believed to be much smaller than the original plans called for, it is, without question, awe inspiring. And, inasmuch as we enjoyed every day we spent in Scotland, this day would prove to be just a bit more special. Not only were the images I came away with enough to more than satisfy the photographer in me, but, the welcome and accommodation we received from Ian Gardner and his staff were completely unexpected and deeply appreciated.

If you ever find yourself in Scotland, permit me to recommend a visit to this remarkable, mythical place. Plan on staying a few hours because, whether you're a fan of architecture, art, old churches or you just like visiting sites used in movies like me, there's something here for everyone to enjoy...


Funny How Things Happen...

So, in the midst of putting together a trip to New York City for me and 15 friends, people started bowing out. I expected that. I would'...