We’re back from our vacation and it’s time to write something about it. I’m not sure where to begin best, so I’ll break it up into a couple of parts — states and capitals part of the strip and Shenandoah National Park part. But I will start with something a bit unrelated — photography.
The unusual start is an introduction to the photos that will be a part of this and upcoming posts. They break up in to two categories — family and general vacation snapshots group that are just that and a group that will later go into my photostream here on the blog and on Flickr — an artistic attempt at landscapes, nature and other types of photography.
Since our plan for the road trip was less ambitions than usual I was done with general shots of the park fairly quickly and instead concentrating of throwing all the conventions of photography out of the window and just experimenting. I took a lot of shots with the sun shining directly into the lens or hitting a lens at an angle that would create a flare. I took a lot of shots with lenses wide open with have very little in the focus plane. I took much fewer HDR shots than usual.
Basically I’ll let you be the judge. I think I’ve come back with some interesting and pleasing shots that I myself like, but as always I would welcome and appreciate any feed back I can get — if you like something, don’t be shy — say it.
States and Capitals
As part of our “goal oriented” travel we’ve set out to “recolor” some of the states on our visited states map that I’ve posted about
Our first stop was Dover, Delaware. We checked in into the hotel late at night and in the morning our first order of business was visiting the capitol. The building turned out to be rather modest, but the personnel was very friendly. They let us roam around all over the place, since it was Saturday.
We went through the Senate and Congress chambers and took a bunch of pictures, even some HDRs. A lot of portraits inside, but otherwise nothing really spectacular.
Right after that we went to Annapolis, Maryland. The capitol was bigger than that of Delaware, but nothing made it really
stand out in my memory either. The city itself was noticeably bigger and much more busy than Dover. We ate lunch at one of the local places and where on our way.
Our next stop was Washington, DC. Even though we’ve been to this city many times before and have visited majority of its memorials it was before we started our stamp collections. And when I was researching it some time ago I noticed that Washington Monument actually has ALL of the stamp available at the other memorials. So it was a great chance to make a stop and grab all the missing stamps of the places that we’ve been to.
Next was Shenandoah itself, but about that a bit later. Sadly Richmond (Virginia capital) was way out of our way and since we were with Arosha we didn’t want to take any extra detours, so we skipped it and didn’t get a chance to “recolor” Virginia. But we did continue our venture after our stay in Shenandoah, or to be more precise — on our way back home.
If our trip to the park looked like a downward curve the trip home was a mirror curve facing upwards. This allowed us to drive through West
Virginia (first for all of us) and make a stop in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
We stopped in a town called Marginsburg in WV, but there is really not much special about any of it. Harrisburg on the other hand was very impressive. I expected to see some small provincial town, but it turned out to be a modern city.
The city lies on the banks of Susquehanna River. We drove along it and saw a lot of huge mansions. Eventually one of the streets opened up and you get a magnificent view of the Capitol Building right from the banks of the river. Our timing was also perfect as the sun was setting down and the green dome of the capitol was basked in golden rays of an evening sun. It really looked breathtaking.
I don’t know if the pictures I took will do it justice, but it was probably one of the best looking capitol buildings any one of us has seen. The whole district around it was very “Washingtonian” — a city that is a museum on its own. We didn’t get a chance to get inside, but otherwise we left happy.
The city outskirts though looked very much different — a completely contrast to the center. Everything was extremely ran down and poor. For some reason a lot of capitals tend to be similar in this way, including Washington, DC itself.
So to sum up — we have visited capitols of Dover, Maryland and Pennsylvania for the first time, stepped on the soil of West Virginia for the first time and filled up our passports with missing stamps from Washington, DC.
Shenandoah National Park
We spent most of our vacation in Shenandoah. We got here on Saturday evening and left on the next Saturday’s morning. Upon arrival to the lodge we were given keys to a pair of interconnected rooms on the 2nd floor of the cottage located right on the edge of the mountain.
In the morning we really saw the view for the first time — huge valley and Blue Ridge mountains on the other side of the valley, right in front of our windows. They couldn’t have picked a better place to build a lodge.
On our first day we went to Big Meadow visitor center and asked for a couple of maps of trails that we could take a stroller on. Our first hike was to Dark Hollow Falls. The road that lead it was a gravel fire-road. It was relatively flat and all the bumps seemed to have put Arosha to sleep. When we go to the falls Alena and I climbed to the top of the mountain to waterfall origins and parents stayed behind with Arosha.
After that we drove to Luray to stock up on some food and water (even though rooms do not have microwaves of freezers we were given one since we were staying for a week) and see what Luray itself is. Several things came to our attention. Even though trees on the top of the mountain were completely leafless the forest was full of color closer to Luray — that gave us a chance to take some colorful pictures. Luray itself though was pretty much nothing of anything.
We made a great decision to come later in the season and stay in the lodge rather than come earlier and stay in town. And even though the drive to town was about 20 miles away from our lodge it would be a huge pain to go back and forth every day. All the trails are in the park anyhow. Plus the road in the park — Skyline Drive, that runs atop the mountain — is very twisty, so my mom was getting dizzy every time we went anywhere.
Eventually we developed a pretty good schedule for every day. Arosha was sleeping OK. Alena would feed him when he would wake up and put him back to sleep in the complete darkness (except for the bathroom light that we used as a night light). Because he didn’t really have a chance to wake up he would fall back asleep pretty quickly. At 6am when he would wake up for good my mom would take him to their room and let Alena get a couple of hours of sleep.
Then we would wake up and eat breakfast, while feeding or entertaining Arosha. He would do his morning nap and we would go for a short walk around Skyland (our lodge). After coming back we would feed Arosha and go for a 2-3 hour hike. It was great.
Some trails were better than others. One day we went on a long trail right around Skyland, but the fire-road turned
out to be so steep that it started to get scary with a stroller. Somehow while my dad and I were taking pictures of plans my mom and Alena managed to push the stroller and Arosha all the way back up. That was not an easy feat.
Our favorite hike was probably at Big Meadow. At first we started going right through the meadow trails, but most of them were getting narrow and not nearly wide enough for a stroller. But luckily there was another fire-road running right around the meadow and into the woods. At one point Alena spotted a buck with antlers crossing the road. A grabbed my 200mm lens and ran after him into the woods. I didn’t end up catching up to him, but stumbled upon another one buck with 2 females. I guess his antlers were bigger, because the other one was alone.
Sadly I didn’t get any good pictures worth adding into the photostream, but I did get ones that are good enough as proof. When I got back to the road Alena informed me that a coyote just crossed the road, but I did completely miss it. Sad.
Speaking of animals, that’s pretty much all we saw. We were really hoping for a bear or a bobcat, but I guess they weren’t as anxious to meet us. Forest was full of chipmunks and squirrels with super fluffy tails. Also on our very last morning I looked out our window and saw another buck eating grass. I took a couple of pictures of him. When I looked out 30 minutes later there was another different one. This one seemed much younger, judging by the antlers.
For dinner we would always go to the lodge dinning room. To our luck they had a pretty good chief and we were very happy with their cooking for the most part. In the last couple of days we didn’t want to wait until 5:30 (dinning room opening) so we want to a tap room that actually used the same kitchen. Ate some good burgers there.
Overall even though the trees were naked in most of the park the forest had a nice tranquility to it. The weather was great — absolutely blue sky, temperature in the 60s and very little wind. Even though it wasn’t unusual it was very relaxing and calming. We had a great family vacation.
And the best for the last. Aroshka turned 3 months old on November 8th. If to be counted from the very beginning of his existence — it’s been a year. He was great. He cried, but not too often, he ate well, he slept well and he did a lot of “hiking” with us.
It’s amazing how kids grow right in front of your eyes. He has changed so much — not appearance wise, but behavior wise. He is following everything with his eyes, he likes looking at faces and toys and he was extremely fascinated by a ceiling fan.
He smiles a lot and seems to be trying to laugh. He makes tons of very funny noises and says a lot of his own words like “guk” and “agu”. When I talk to him he often starts to smile and then turns his head and hides his face, like he’s shy. When he gets tired he starts to talk in a different tone of voice and it sounds like he’s complaining. He talked to his giraffe a lot like that.
Alena and my mom were worried a lot, because it was pretty much on them to keep him entertained, fed, happy or to make him sleep. But I think they shouldn’t have worried as much. Arosha did really well on his first trip.