New town center, Baia Mare, Romania

We began our recent trip through Bucovina in the city of Baia Mare, the capital of the province of Maramures in Romania. A few interesting tidbits about the city:

  • It has a Mediterranean-like climate, which means it can support chestnut trees — a rarity given that it’s located in the northern part of Romania, which in itself is quite a ways north from the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Population is about 150,000 people
  • The region is rich in gold and silver
  • It was one of the few known shtetls in Romania, along with Radauti and Gura Humorului. (Shtetls are, or rather were, pre-WWII, small towns with large Jewish populations from Central and Eastern Europe.)
  • The new town center was built in the 70s and 80s and features modern architecture

We visited the very same new town center. The architecture is certainly modern, but is unfortunately not maintained. Almost all of the buildings show cracks, some of the exteriors have begun to peel off, some windows are broken, there’s graffiti on most of them, and all are covered in a nice, thick layer of muck. I guess some of that can’t be helped after 40 years, but still, some efforts ought to be put forth by the city to maintain the architecture, right?

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The image of the church above is a fairly good representation of the state of downtown Baia Mare and of Romanian cities in general. At first sight, it looks nice, but as you get closer, you begin to see glaring problems such as the state of the sidewalk (potholes among a mixture of pavement, mud, asphalt and stones), poor landscaping, poorly maintained buildings, etc. If you were to look closer, you’d see problems with the building as well. To some extent, this can be blamed on the past Communist regime, where the emphasis was placed on quantity, not quality. The construction issues have only become evident in recent years, as layers have started to come off apartment buildings and public buildings alike, peeling like onion skins, revealing the crumbling masonry work beneath.

This next photograph shows the building defects a little better.

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The buildings look much nicer from nice from afar, don’t they?

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I took most of the photos from a park in the new town center, as you can see for yourself if you look at the surroundings. All in all, in terms of planning, it’s good. The idea of a central park in a new downtown, and the allowance for plentiful vegetation among apartments and shops and hotels is great. But a great idea must also be executed in appropriate fashion in order for it to be fully appreciated. In this new town center, like in most town centers built during Communist times, proper execution just isn’t there.

Look, don’t think I’m bashing Baia Mare. It’s a wonderful city, and there are many cities in worse shape in Romania. All I’m saying is things could be a lot better than they are. The predecessors could have done a better job building the city, and their successors could be doing a better job maintaining and beautifying it.

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Photos from Baltimore's Inner Harbor

My wife and I recently joined up with my parents for a weekend stay in Baltimore. I took a lot of photos of the beautiful inner harbor. Here are 56 of them. Yes, that’s fifty-six. I think that’s the most photos I’ve ever posted in a single post. I’ll single out several of them below, but most will be posted as thumbnails, so click through to see them at full size.

This was another one of those situations where a versatile zoom lens was much better than a prime lens. There was no other way to compose photos but to zoom into the foreground. I obviously can’t walk on water, so a prime lens, with its fixed focal length, was no good to me.

From afar, the Inner Harbor looks like this:

To the right, you have the Baltimore World Trade Center tower, and to the left you have one of the marinas. The downtown skyline is clearly visible in the background.

If you stand in the same spot and look to the right, past the WTC tower, you see this:

That’s the Baltimore Aquarium in the center, and another of the marinas in the foreground. The Power Plant building is behind the Aquarium from this location.

Now, if you look even further to the right, you’ll see this:

That big, tall building is the Marriott Waterfront Hotel. That’s where we stayed. It’s a beautiful hotel, but it’s hard to get to it if you’re not familiar with the area. There are no street-level signs to direct you to it, so you’ll drive right by it and past the harbor if you’re heading toward it on Fleet Street. Unless you stick your head out the window and look up to see a little logo on top of the building, you won’t even know it’s there. Strange, you wouldn’t think you’d miss such a tall building, but we missed it and literally drove right by it the first time.

If you look even further to the right from the same spot, you see the Rusty Scupper restaurant.

Further down the quay, you’ll find newly constructed housing that’s literally built right on the water. Each unit has its own boat dock.

We spent most of our time on the other side of the harbor, so let’s head over there, shall we?

By far the most noticeable landmark in the Inner Harbor is the Power Plant building, which houses the Hard Rock Cafe, ESPN Zone, Barnes & Noble Booksellers and a few more locales.

Here’s the Baltimore Aquarium:

Many boats were anchored and available for tours in the harbor. In the photo above, you see the Chesapeake and the Torsk submarine. In the photos below, you’ll see the Constellation and Taney, the last surviving boat from Pearl Harbor.

Paddle boats and electrical boats (little fiberglass dinghys) were available for rental, so we got one and puttered around the inner harbor (in the vicinity of the WTC).

This is what the little electrical boats looked like:

We went around this small yacht a few times. It was anchored right in the middle of the inner harbor. I think the folks inside it were still asleep, although it was mid-morning.

That photo was taken from the top of the Baltimore World Trade Center Building. They say it’s the tallest five-sided building in the world. I didn’t think it was all that impressive. Perhaps I’m just sour because the top floor wasn’t open to the public, so I had to take photographs through their thick, unwashed and tinted windows. Not exactly exciting, and if you see a strange tint in some of the photos, that’s why. I’m sorry about it.

The beautiful thing about the Inner Harbor is that’s it’s so easy to get around. You can walk along the quay, or you can hop into a water taxi. An all-day ticket costs $9, which is a good deal.

One of the funnier things I saw (and a great idea, too!) were the Baltimore Ducks. They were buses you could take to get tours of downtown and the harbor. They would simply drive right into the water. We’ve just got to use them the next time we visit Baltimore.

From the top of the WTC, you can see the working side of the Baltimore port as well. There was a large cruise ship anchored far off, and a few freighters were either getting loaded or unloaded as well.

Our hotel had great views of the larger harbor. We could see the Domino Sugars factory, the Seven Foot Knoll Lighthouse, and the outlying, more quiet, marina across from Domino Sugars.

All of these photos and more are available for viewing (and licensing, if interested) in the Baltimore gallery of my photo catalog.

Photos from downtown Baltimore

We made a day trip into downtown Baltimore last week. I had our point-and-shoot with us, and took photos of the architecture. I need to specify that it was our point-and-shoot because you’ll see purple fringing on a few of the photos. That can’t be helped much when you have a zoom on a digital camera. It’s the price one pays for versatility.

I do love that long zoom though (equivalent of 38mm-380mm on my Olympus C770-UZ). I can get photos like these without having to haul a big, heavy glass with me. (Let me be the first to admit that this is really more of a case of the fox crying sour grapes. I’d love to be able to afford some nice, big, heavy glass, but it costs several thousand dollars…)

This tower was but a small spot on the downtown skyline with the naked eye. I get my kicks from zooming into distant objects. While I like wide lenses a lot, there’s something really nice about the flatter perspective of telephoto lenses.

The shoddy appearance of this roof was a surprise. The standing balustrade, seemingly leading nowhere, was another. This is one of the photos where the purple fringing is readily apparent.

A shingle roof on a fairly tall downtown building? Interesting!

I loved the details on this gleaming golden roof. It lit up like fire when the sun shone on it.

Here’s a close-up. I wonder if the top floor is a penthouse. Can you imagine the views?

There were so many interesting shapes and colors to be found among the architecture!

Here’s a view of this same building from a different angle.

These two reliefs lined the side of a downtown building (a hotel I believe).

A few street-level photos.

This sign was posted to the side of a building. It names it as the original site of the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, founded in the year 1840. It was, apparently, the first dental college in the world.

Here are a few views of the Radisson Hotel. I mention it by name because we’re thankful for its inviting lobby with free wifi. We needed to spend a few hours waiting around, and it was such a relief to be able to sit down on a couch and get on the Internet instead of having to deal with the street noise. They also had a Starbucks at street level. Nice.

Here’s a closeup of one of the hotel’s towers. I wonder if there is a room at the top of the tower, and if it’s available. Or is it reserved as the penthouse for the hotel’s owners? The views must be spectacular.

Here’s a view of the entrance to the Mariner Arena.

A few of the rooftop inhabitants showed some interest in our presence.

Photos from the Bethesda photowalk

On 2/9 at 2 PM, Ligia and I attended the Bethesda photowalk, an event organized by Mark Anderson. It was our first group photowalk — up till now, I took photos by myself and only Ligia accompanied me. The only other similar event I ever attended was the Alexandria photowalk last year, organized by Keith McCammon. I felt much more comfortable there, mainly because there was only one other person in attendance besides Ligia and me: Keith.

I discovered, or rather remembered certain things during the Bethesda photowalk:

  • I don’t like group events. I tend to feel alone and isolated in large groups and feel the need to draw apart and be by myself.
  • I don’t like shaking hands with people when I can’t wash afterwards. This is part of my obsessive-compulsive personality. Even more so, I don’t like shaking hands with people when I’m using my camera and I can’t wash my hands because there’s no bathroom nearby. It’s because I feel their hand germs on my my hand and on the camera, and I can’t concentrate on taking photos. I know it’s odd and probably wrong, but that’s what it is and I have to cope with it.
  • Taking photos in large groups is pretty weird for me. It’s not my bag. I end up feeling like a paparazzi, and that’s not what I got into photography to do. It also breaks my concentration to have all those snapping cameras around me and I don’t end up taking good photos.

None of this has anything to do with the event itself or with the people who attended. The event was a trigger that helped me realize certain things. Everyone was nice, Mark did a great job of organizing the event and mapping out the route, and if only I could enjoy myself, there were plenty of opportunities. But, like I said, large group photowalks aren’t my bag.

Overall, I’m grateful for the photowalk. It got me out of the house and taking photos, and that’s always a good thing. Let’s call this my Week 8 submission for the 2008 Community Challenge.