Places

A visit to Las Vegas

Situated in the Mojave Desert, its Spanish name means “The Meadows” because of the wild grasses and desert springs originally found there. An oasis in an otherwise dry and unwelcoming place, it became known to Native Americans over 10,000 years ago. It was discovered by the modern world in 1829, when a young Mexican scout named Rafael Rivera put it on the map. Settlers were slowly but surely drawn there and in 1905, it became a city. In 1911, it was incorporated.

Its growth back then was limited by the small water supply, but in a couple of decades, things were about to change in a big way. The year when Las Vegas came to be known as the place we know it today was 1931, when it legalized gambling and reduced residency requirements for divorce to six weeks. This move was “blessed” later that year when construction on the massive Hoover Dam started nearby. This meant the city now had access to an incredible water supply and it began to grow in spite of the Great Depression, helped by the influx of workers who stayed there to work on the Dam. The workers wanted to have fun when they weren’t working and thus Las Vegas began to gain its reputation as Sin City. After WWII, the big real estate developments began and the Strip as we know it today began to take shape. Hotels, casinos and stores, each bigger, more colorful and more lit than the other, dotted the ever-changing cityscape. And let’s not forget the appearance of heavy-duty, commercial air conditioning units in the 1950s, which can be credited with the tremendous growth in human settlements in what were uninhabitable areas. None of the large real estate developments in any of the hot places in the world would function without air conditioning.

Here is a gallery of photographs I took back in 2010 during a visit to Las Vegas. Drab during the day, its colors washed out by the desert sunlight, this place truly comes alive at night and it stays that way till morning. Throngs of people always crowd its sidewalks and the car traffic slows to a near halt on the Strip due to gawkers. If you’re going to visit, I recommend you do it during the cooler seasons (autumn, winter or spring). Visit the shops and museums during the daytime and save your evenings for walking around on the Strip and taking in the lights and the entertainment. It is unlike anything on Earth at night. The place screams abundance and availability of anything and everything. It is the pinnacle of consumerism. While I was there, I got a clear sense that everything you could want was readily available. Ads are everywhere, for every thing. All of the luxury brands have a visible presence there. Every big hotel has its own shopping mall inside, exquisitely decorated, lit to perfection and air conditioned to keep you comfy and happy. Restaurants are everywhere. Bars are everywhere. Should you want to go outside, hustlers on the sidewalk hand you phone numbers for “entertainers” of all sorts. Young women invite you into the casinos. Big LED panels flash ads at you non-stop. The buildings are all lit to perfection, to accentuate their architecture and make them stand out and draw you in. You will get visually and mentally overwhelmed by it all, so be ready for that. As I said above, I took these photos in 2010. The city has changed yet again since then. Some places already look different. Frequent change is the only constant there.

Enjoy the photographs!

Standard
Places

Old Town, Annapolis

About three years ago, we visited Annapolis, MD and walked through Old Town. While it was a bit hot during the early afternoon hours, it cooled off nicely toward the evening and we had a wonderful time walking about.

I love it when towns make the effort to preserve their historic sections. Not only is it good for business (because of the tourists) but it helps to ground the townspeople, because they’re always reminded of their heritage.

Standard
Places, Video Log

Biking the C&O Canal

While in the States, my wife and I loved to bike up and down the C&O Canal (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal). The scenery is truly picturesque, particularly along the section from DC to Great Falls. I recorded these videos during the summer of 2008, on various of our biking trips.

Biking the C&O Canal

C&O Canal near Carderock Wall

The Waterfalls at Great Falls, MD

Sinkhole on the C&O Canal

I hope you enjoyed them!

Standard
Places

A tourism film from 1964, promoting Miami Beach, culled from the travelfilmarchive channel on YouTube.

For one who grew up in the area, it’s interesting to see how the place has changed since, and how many resorts popular then still exist (or don’t) today. Some scenes in the film are natural, some are staged and awkward, but it is fun to watch.

It’s also worth noting that the same studios that made cartoons (Van Beuren Films, Castle Films) also made travel films.

Miami Beach in 1964

Aside
Places

Larriland Farm, Maryland

Larriland Farm is a place where you can pick your own fruits and vegetables. It’s in Woodbine, Maryland, well into the countryside, so it’s a nice getaway from the city.

They use integrated pest management techniques to grow their crops, which means insecticides are only used as a last resort. This makes their fruits and vegies healthier than the stuff you generally find on supermarket shelves.

We went there to pick strawberries. That’s our MINI parked near the strawberry field.

If you’d rather not go out into the fields but would still like the benefit of farm-fresh produce, they do have ready-picked bushels available for you to buy. And they have a few goats for your kids to play with, too.

No self-respecting farm would do without a red barn, right?

I like farm machinery. Don’t you?

Continue reading

Standard
Thoughts

Stats about cigarette companies

The following infographic presents some interesting facts about big tobacco:

  • The largest US tobacco company, Philip Morris International, is the 94th most profitable company in the country.
  • The top three US tobacco companies made over $50 billion in revenues in 2009.
  • China is the largest cigarette producing country in the world. Tobacco companies from that country made over $443 billion dollars last year.
  • Federal tax on a cigarette pack has gone up from 5 cents in 2002 to $1.01 in 2009.
  • Many life insurance companies in America are major stakeholders in tobacco companies.

Cigarette Companies

Standard
Places

The John Douglass Brown House in Alexandria

The John Douglass Brown House stands apart from the rest of the houses you see in Alexandria because of the choice of its building material: wood. (Most of the houses in that part of the town are brick.) The simple, rustic architecture talks of an early, more modest beginning as a farmhouse, not a townhome for a wealthy trader, like the rest of the places around it.

Built in the 1700s, the house was owned and occupied by the descendants of the John Douglass Brown and Mary Goulding Gretter from 1816 until the 1970s-80s. When we visited it (it’s not open to the public), not knowing anything about it, we realized something was different nonetheless, and began to look at its exterior more closely.

The neighbors came out, and we talked to them. They graciously offered to introduce us to its current owner, Mr. Charles J. Reeder, who couldn’t have been nicer. We got to talking, and asked if we could come inside the interior courtyard to photograph it. He allowed us in.

Continue reading

Standard
Places

Alexandria, Virginia

The city of Alexandria (Virginia, USA) began its life in 1749, as a port for Scottish and English merchants. Alexandria is located in Northern Virginia, across the Potomac River from southern Washington D.C. The city encompasses 15.75 square miles at an average elevation of 30 feet above sea level.

It was named in honor of John Alexander, the Scott who purchased the land in 1669, for 6,000 pounds of tobacco and cask, from Robert Howson, an English ship merchant. Howson had received it as a land grant from Sir William Berkeley, the Governor of Virginia, for bringing over 120 settlers from England.

The town was incorporated in 1779, and by that time it had become a bustling port, filled with brigs, schooners and ships who came there to trade in flour, hemp and tobacco. In 1789, the town was ceded to the Federal Government, to become part of the new District of Columbia. It was retroceded to Virginia in 1847. In 1852, it gained city status and a new charter.

By the time of the American Revolution, it was one of the principal colonial trading centers and ports. George Washington, America’s first president, maintained a town house in Alexandria, and was on its Board of Trustees. During the Civil War, it was occupied by the Union Army and was a major logistical supply centers for the federal army.

Continue reading

Standard
Video Log

The plaster bagworm

We found this tiny little striped bug in South Florida, USA. It had a silken brown cocoon which it dragged behind it. It was a tiny little larva with minuscule legs, and its cocoon had two entrances. It would hide inside, then emerge out of either end to begin moving along.

I’ve never seen a bug like it, and would love to know what it is. Updated 6/4/10: it’s a plaster bagworm, and that wasn’t its cocoon, but its home — and it’s a pest. Thanks Andrew!

Standard
Places

Natural Bridge: 20 stories high

Formed who knows when, by the collapse of a cavern, Natural Bridge, located in Virginia, is a monument that has been admired by people for over two centuries.

Legend has it that George Washington surveyed it in his youth, for Lord Fairfax. What we do know for sure is that Thomas Jefferson bought it, built a log cabin nearby, and upon his death, left it to his heirs, who later sold it.

The property (157 acres) changed hands over the course of time, gaining more and more public attention, until in 1988, it was declared a National Historic Landmark by the US Department of the Interior.

Although it has remained in private hands till today, it has been open to the public since the early 1800s, and it has been developed in such a way that visiting tourists may find plenty to do while they’re there. Continue reading

Standard