Places

Meeting Mr. Beaver

So I’m driving back home from work this past July. The highway’s ridiculously busy, as usual, and the sweltering heat isn’t making things any easier. I’m in the high-speed lane on I-495, somewhere between the 267 and Georgetown Pike exits. I happen to glance over to the side of the road, and what do you think I spot in the median? Why, it’s Mr. Beaver! (At least I think it’s Mr. Beaver — given my lack of knowledge about beaver anatomy, and the inability to have a closer look… Well, let’s just assume it was a male specimen, right?)

I pull my car off to the side, turn on my emergency lights, roll down my window and get my trusty 5D out of the bag. He stops to check me out. Get a look at that cheeky glance:

A cheeky glance

Mind you, this is the Washington, DC beltway, one of the busiest roads in the US, but does Mr. Beaver care about that? No, he doesn’t. He’s out looking for a snack while thousands of cars zip (or in our case, crawl) past him.

Back to business

He stretches up the branches of a bush, looking for something tasty. Not sure what he’s looking for, since there isn’t much of anything on those branches.

Pickings are slim

So what do you think he does next? He climbs up into the bush, of course!

Beaver in a tree

When I saw him carry on with this affairs so nonchalantly, I thought he wouldn’t mind it if I got out of the car to get a closer look at him. But I was wrong. As soon as I started to open the door, he jumped down and scampered off into some underground tunnel. In less than a second, he was out of sight and out of reach.

Smiling, I got back into my car and drove off, while the other drivers looked at me quizzically. I’m not sure they even saw the beaver at all. Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in our own little worlds and drive right by the more interesting sights in life. I for one am glad I had the presence of mind to stop my routine and my car, if only for the photos and the little story I’ve just told you.

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Thoughts

A rule of thumb to help you avoid accidents

So many traffic accidents happen when we don’t keep our proper distance from the cars in front of us. Here’s a simple equation to help you do just that:

Distance (in car lengths) = (Speed/10) – 1

Let me explain it. Say you’re going along at 20 mph — the distance between your car and that in front of you should be 1 car length. If you’re going along at 40 mph — the distance between your car and that in front of you should be 3 car lengths. Obviously, the formula given above is no good at speeds below 10 mph, so use your judgment there. I try to leave half a car-length to 1 car length between my car and someone in front of me, even if my speed is fairly low. I never know when they could brake suddenly. People’s actions can’t be predicted, and it’s best to have a little room for error in our calculations and reflexes.

I would go further and add an additional car length to that distance — in other words, modify the equation as follows, if you’re older and have problems seeing, if it’s dark, or if it’s rainy or foggy.

Distance (in car lengths) = (Speed/10)

If it’s snowing or it’s icy on the roads, by all means, drive slower and keep as far away from the car in front of you as you can. There’s no way to approximate distances in those situations. You never know just how your car will behave when you brake. Just hope you don’t have to brake on a particularly icy portion of the road, because you’ll skid all over the place, and chances are you’ll hit something.

MINI Cooper S on snowy country road

One additional word of advice. If you’re going to drive through snow, sleet or ice, make sure you’ve either got winter tires on your car, or you’ve got good all-season tires that aren’t worn out. And be sure that your brakes are in good working condition.

I don’t claim to be a traffic safety expert, so don’t think this rule of thumb is written in stone. See how my advice will work for you, and let me know if you think my equations need some adjustments. The idea is to keep the math simple so that everyone can understand and benefit from this.

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Places

Lots of pumpkins

Ligia and I were driving around yesterday afternoon, on our way to the C&O Canal, when we saw a huge patch of pumpkins for sale by the side of the road. I just had to stop and take photos.

Pumpkins

The pumpkins were on sale at a produce stand on Seven Locks Road, in Potomac. That same stand has been there for most of this year, and they sell locally grown stuff. I liked how they arranged the pumpkins on the fresh hay. The contrast between the orange and golden colors is really nice and puts me in an autumn kind of mood.

Pumpkins

Did I mention they had a LOT of pumpkins? 🙂

Pumpkins

The place is called Roger’s Produce Stand. In case you happen to drive by, here’s their sign.

Roger’s Produce Stand

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Places

One perfect foggy morning

Have you ever woken up to the perfect morning fog? I have. We were staying with relatives in a tiny little village in Moldova, Romania. Their house sat between several hills.

As I got out of the house on day, morning was just starting to break. The soft, diffuse light just barely illuminated the sleepy silhouettes of the trees.

Breaking light

A little while later, the sun started breaking through the fog. The empty country road lay out before me, beckoning.

On the road again

People started to wake up. Here, a man took out his horse to pasture as the sun literally burst onto the scene from top right.

Into the morning sun

The fog found itself overpowered by the sun, and retreated to the valleys between the hills. As far as the eye could see, little hill tops peered out from among the soft white fog, greeting the morning.

Hill top after hill top

I descended into a valley not yet touched by rays of light, and spotted the sun around the corner. A new day had begun, and there were many miles still to go.

Just around the corner

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Places

Passing through Cheile Bicazului (part 2)

I realized something after I read through yesterday’s post on Cheile Bicazului a couple of times. I hadn’t included any photos of the actual mountain pass, which made my comments about how it was carved out of the rock seem a bit superfluous. That was an oversight that needed to be corrected.

This time, you’ll get to see what the road looks like. I have to confess I was too much in awe of those abrupt and incredibly tall walls on each side of me to notice the road very much. Maybe I’ll get my head out of the clouds the next time I visit the place. Till then, here’s what I’ve got.

This was taken before going into the pass. You can see the fog and bad weather hovering above the pass a few kilometers ahead. That’s Ligia walking toward me in the photo.

Walk toward me

After we entered the pass, my eyes kept wondering upwards toward those impossibly abrupt mountain faces. Not only were they almost vertical, some were even leaning inward. This very next photo reminds me of an impenetrable hold, or fort of medieval times.

Hold

It’s amazing how efficient trees are at finding places to grow! You wouldn’t think it possible, but those evergreens managed to find their ecological niche growing right on sheer rock!

Find a niche

I finally managed to get my eyes on the road for this next photo. It’s narrow all through the pass as it squeezes between the mountain peaks, and there are no lane markers. At strategic points along the road, you’ll find shops that sell various folk items such as earthen vessels, carved ladles and other kitchen utensils, sheepskin vests and coats, and other such things.

Mountain shops

When I think of how they made the road, this photo comes to mind. Notice the deep cuts in the stone? It was by brute force alone they managed to get through that impregnable granite.

Deep cuts

This next photo will get across the sheer size of the stone walls surrounding the visitor. Those are fully grown evergreens sitting on top of that ridge!

Tall and taller

Remember the brook in yesterday’s post? That same happy little mountain brook has grown a little wider by the time I took this photo. It winds along through the pass, accompanying the road.

You’ve grown

I can’t resist showing that impressive wall of granite one more time.

Try climbing that

Once we made it through to the other side, the road widened, and we entered a village. Yes, that’s the very same brook shown above. Notice how high the stone walls are on either side? That bridge is also placed high for a good reason. Our happy little brook turns into a furious torrent when the snows melt every spring. The villagers need all the protection they can get to make sure they don’t get swept away with the water. It’s very possible that even that high wall doesn’t protect them enough, and their courtyards flood every once in a while.

On the other side

Cheile Bicazului is such a wonderful and photogenic place! I’ll do my best to return there with Ligia in the near future.

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Events

Accident on I-495

Ligia and I were taking a leisurely walk on Beach Drive last night (Friday), when we were confronted with the overpowering smell of spilled fuel. On our way there, we’d seen a fire engine, but we didn’t think twice about it. This time, I thought I’d inquire, camera in hand. After walking through 100 yards full of fuel fumes, we were both a bit nauseous, but I pushed on, curious. By this time a few police cars had gathered as well, and I could see that there were two fire engines and more policemen on I-495, which runs parallel to Beach Drive on that portion of the road. Something big had happened.

Accident on 495 (1)

I walked up to a policeman’s car, waved, and he rolled down his window. “What happened?”, I asked. He lifted his eyes from the keypad of his laptop. “We got one death, and an overturned tanker,” he said, then looked back down at the keys. “That’s why the fuel smell…” offered I. “Yeah.” I thanked him, walked forward, took a few photos, then turned to join Ligia. It was then that the mention of death registered with me. Oops, I was more concerned with the stench of fuel than someone’s death… Shame on me. It’s sad how only the things that affect us personally register properly in our span of attention.

I don’t know who died up on that highway, and how he or she died, and truth be told, death always leaves me speechless. Don’t look to me for consolation when someone dies, because I won’t know what to say. I’ll just give you a blank stare, followed by an awkward pause and the usual, trite phrases.

Accident on 495 (2)

What I did want to say tonight is this: please be careful when you’re driving. That person that died out there was probably on the way home after a long work week. They were probably looking forward to the weekend, perhaps spending time with the one they loved. Now, they’re not here anymore. When you’re out on the highway, barreling down the lanes in your car, upset that the people in front of you are too slow, think about that. It may be your mistake or someone else’s, but you may end up dead. Keep your eyes peeled, put that phone down, and drive safely.

Accident on 495 (3)
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Places

Sunburnt

This past weekend, Ligia and took a trip out to the countryside. Our favorite haunt is River Rd, way out in the fields hugging the Potomac hillsides. There are so many beautiful places out there, and trails galore. You can bring your bikes along, park your car, and push the pedals around all day, exploring the C&O canal trail or the country side roads.

On our way back home, I noticed this field and the reddish hue of its earth. I had to make a U-turn and photograph it. To help give you a sense of scale, that green line at the horizon is made of full-size trees.

Sunburnt

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Places

Construction, people and traffic jams

For the past month, there’s been construction going on at the American Legion Memorial Bridge. I use it everyday to get to and from work. They’ve closed a lane on the right side, and that’s a huge inconvenience. So much traffic goes over that bridge every day, particularly during rush hour, that the single lane closure backs traffic up for several miles, all the way to Route 66.

Since no notice was given of the nature of the work, I thought they might be building an additional lane. But no, all they’re doing is cleaning and painting the bridge. It turns out that one lane’s going to be closed for 6-12 months, causing huge traffic delays for everyone. I have to file this one under really poor planning. For a road that important, they should have built a platform underneath the bridge and put the machines over there instead of inconveniencing everyone above with their work.

Things wouldn’t be so bad except for the rubbernecking delays. Everyone wants to look at the loud machines and the construction workers. They’re a sight to be sure, the machines noisy, big and smelly, and the workers sunburnt and stained all over with muck and grime — but that doesn’t excuse the traffic delays.

If some sort of wall were put in place to separate the construction work from the passing cars, people wouldn’t have anything to look at, and traffic would go much faster. But that wouldn’t be in character with the poor planning shown by blocking the full lane in the first place, would it? So my commute time (and that of tens of thousands of other people) is doubled, and there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, since there is no other route we can take.

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Places

Biking on the Via Appia (part 2)

This is a two-part article. Here’s Part 1.

While in Rome, my brother kept dangling this promise of taking our bicycles out to Via Appia and making a day trip out of it. I wanted to see it because the Via Appia was the most important Roman road of its time. Roman bases, villas and famous tombs adorned its sides in its heyday, and their ruins can be seen even today. The road itself was a marvel of Roman engineering. It was so well-made that portions of it are still preserved, thousands of years later.

Well, I kept feeling like the horse that can’t reach the carrot, since my brother still buried his nose in books every day. But, I kept nagging him, and in my last week there, we managed to make a half-day trip out of it. It was a wonderful time!

We took our bikes and rode through the city till we reached the highway shown below (don’t ask me for the name, I forgot it), rode alongside it for a bit, then took a side street down a little hill that took us to the start of the Via Appia. From then on, it was an easy (and beautiful) ride out into the countryside.

Along the way, we stopped so I could take photos (of course), and also snuck into some pretty unsafe ruins, as you’ll see below. I’m still amazed the floors didn’t crumble under us as we climbed onto the second floor of a villa. I can only attribute it to good, old, solid Roman construction.

Toward the Via Appia

Roman highway

Time takes its toll

The way we came

Keeping up appearances

Greeting the visitors

Light at the end of the tunnel

Looking right through

You can also read more about the Via Appia over at Wikipedia. Stay tuned for my post on Florence.

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Places

Fantastic fall foliage

If you live in a place where you don’t get to experience the wonder of nature called fall foliage, then you’ll probably enjoy the photos I took on two trips to Shenandoah National Park and its most prominent and well-known feature, Skyline Drive.

I wrote about our September trip to Shenandoah a few weeks ago. Ligia and I took a trip in October as well, and that’s when I got some pretty cool photos of the changing leaves. I think it’s pretty hard not to get good photos from Skyline Drive. The landscapes are just amazing. The road hugs the very mountain peaks, and you get to peer down into the valleys of Virginia and toward the peaks of the neighboring mountains. The overlooks are plenty and offer tons of scenic opportunities, although sometimes I wished I could just stop the car in the middle of the road to take photos.

It’s a gorgeous place! I’d like to take a week’s camping trip out there with a quality dSLR, batteries, lots of CF cards, and a good tripod, to see what photos I’d get. And maybe a good book to read in the quiet evenings, by the campfire.

Skyline Drive is shown below.

Skyline Drive

The road to color

What’s wonderful is that one can see little villages and houses in the valleys below the mountains. I took these photos from various overlook points on Skyline Drive, and as you can see, the valleys below are quite picturesque.

Little villages

Patches of green

Taking advantage of the wonderful zoom on my Kodak v610 point and shoot, I was able to get fairly close to the lake in this photo, even though it was quite far away.

Lake of color

Some of the slopes were just getting some autumn colors in them.

The colors of fall

Autumn starts

Some slopes were already fully colored, and they were quite a beautiful sight.

The colors of fall

Descent into the valley below

Shenandoah Valley

Barrage of color

A short walk through the forest yielded even more beauty.

Parallel lives

Trees on a mountain peak

A glimpse of the autumn sky

One of the other impressive sights was that of the lone peaks arising from the valleys adjacent to the mountain ridge. I found them quite unusual. In shape, they resembled hills, but they were as tall as the mountains we were standing on.

Peppered with gold

Overlook on Skyline Drive

And with that I close. The Shenandoah valleys and mountains are quite beautiful, and I invite you to visit them if you get the chance.

Incidentally, the Shenandoah Valley is part of the story in “The Howards of Virginia” (1940), a movie about a colonial family that played a part in the American Revolution. The title role there was played by Cary Grant.

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