Monday, September 29, 2008

MD Urban Exploration

On a wet Saturday, we snuck into an abandoned childrens' TB hospital. As we trudged around the perimeter, the rain dampened our clothing but not our spirits. Inside, the effects of decay were apparent but there were many wonderful photo opportunities in areas that weren't too destroyed by vandals.
A few of the rooms held evidence of the childrens' activities including some rusted physical therapy aids, but many of the rooms looked alike until we headed down into the basement.

We all turned on flashlights to carefully pick our way through 2 inches of water and past eroded machinery. Pumping machinery offered rich color amongst the drab greys and orange rusts and the air was thick with moisture. We had to place our feet carefully in the water as we knew there was a 7ft hole in the vicinity and there were audible sighs of relief when we found a previous explorer had covered it with a sheet of metal.

The saddest part was finding the morgue where we all stood in silence imagining times when these doors would have been closed. The graffiti on the doors seemed to only add to the sinister atmosphere.

We climbed to the roof and found the elevator shafts and machinery along with old shower rooms. I particularly loved the Otis logo below which reminded me of the art deco or art nouveau period.

We had a group photo taken in one of the rooms which I gave a dramatic feel to suit the feel of the building and the day. We left the hospital with a stack of photos and memories and headed back out into the rain towards our cars.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Renaissance Festival

On Saturday, I traveled with some friends to the Renaissance Festival that is held in Maryland every year. It was a perfect day with sunshine but not too hot, and many had taken advantage of the ideal conditions to dress accordingly in period costumes. some were dressed in the garb appropriate to the reign of Henry VIII which was the festival's theme, and there were others fitted out as pirates, scottish highlanders, modern gothic or fantasy characters.

There were many craft stalls and I loved this glassblower's arena. The sunlight glinted and sparkled off his globes and glasses, with every hue in the spectrum appearing in the creations surrounding him.

Comedy and satire played out on the many stages of the festival and these two nuns sang a raucous song about five constipated men in the Bible, including Noah who filled an ark!

I had absolutely no idea what these four ladies were supposed to be, but whatever it was captured everyone's attention. They glided across the ground stopping momentarily to strike a pose for photos. They never uttered a word but were beautiful in their form and each possessed her own character.

I caught these two enjoying a private laugh as I coursed my way through the crowds.
The jousting contest was the highlight for me as I'm very much into knights and armour. There were five knights who jousted, clashed swords and wrestled for I have no idea what, but they were very convincing on their percheron horses.
Many lances were satisfyingly broken in combat and voices were raised in anger, yet the purpose of all these tussles was none the less lost to me. I remained blissfully ignorant to the end and clapped heartily at every event. I love knights.

There were many moments of music through the day, some scheduled but many were impromptu. It was wonderful to stop and listen to off the cuff performances of violins, harps, bagpipes and drums.

While sitting to eat some icecream, we started chatting to this guy and his family who were all dressed as pirates and attending every festival day through the season. I was honored to be able to shake this man's hand as I learnt he was a soldier who had served on two tours of duty in Iraq and was shortly to return for a third.
The day was fun being surrounded by costumes and characters from all periods of history and all scopes of imagination. At the Renaissance Festival, anything goes and every outfit works.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Scottish Games

I went to Sky Meadows State Park on Sunday with the British Ex Pats group to watch the Scottish Games. This is a beautiful park with meadows and rolling hills. The day was very hot and humid but thankfully, we had a cooling breeze buffeting us. There is so much to see here but my favorite activities are the fiddlers, bagpipes and the highland athletics.

Many people are dressed in Scottish tartan to show their heritage and there are also period actors present, a few suffering in the heat with their heavy costumes and seeking shelter under shady trees, but everyone was smiling and quenching their thirst with pints of Guiness and Newcastle brown ale, including us.

The bagpipes were magnificent, filling the air with their resonant tones and the pipers marching in time.

I love spending time listening to the fiddlers. Last year, I took this photo of a guy who demonstrated every different kind of violin, flute and pipes through the ages, playing each instrument beautifully. I printed a copy and was delighted to be able to meet him again this year so I could give him a copy. He gave me his card so I could send him digital files and later sent me an e-mail saying he would be using this portrait on his website.

After we'd stuffed ourselves with scones, strawberries and cream, we sat down to watch the Scottish Games. The event below is the Sheaf Toss, where the guys have to pitchfork a 20lb hay weight over a raised bar.

This was the Caber Toss where they had to toss a pine pole by the narrow end into the air so the pole would land on the wider end in a 12 o'clock position. This looked very difficult and I was amazed when a couple of women walked out to participate.

This event is the Weight Over The Bar, when a 42lb weight is thrown over a bar using one hand only. This seemed to be a killer event with a lot of screams and grunts being emitted by the participants.
After observing all this energy being exerted, we had to rest under a shady tree with some more Newkie Browns, laying back and enjoying the cool grass. A firefighter friend of Mary's stopped to chat who was sporting his kilt and sporran. I was laying back and flipping through my photos on my camera when he stepped across me, on purpose. I was so flustered that I turned off the power instead of pressing the shutter button! What a missed opportunity, but I have first hand knowledge of what a Scotsman wears under his kilt!

We watched the closing ceremonies and it wasn't until later that I realized we hadn't even looked at the car show, or seen the dance competitions. Oh well, there's always next year...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Critter Invasion

I've just had to remove a multilegged creature from my hallway which went ballistic when I caught him inside a pint glass. I could barely contain him as I went out onto my patio to carefully hurl him over the hedge and onto the grass beyond. The experience actually made me shudder as I imagined him escaping and running up my arm.
It seems I'm gradually being overcome with critters lately and I can't say that I'm too happy about it despite my ethics of never hurting a living creature. Is it because Halloween is approaching that I'm being subjected to countless insect squatters in my home or is it merely due to a season change? I strongly suspect the former.
A few days ago, I had a very large spider decide that my patio was the perfect place to make a home. I watched him spin a humungous web; he labored for a couple of hours while I observed from a safe distance.

The photo above shows him about halfway through. He's up near the top and he's got his packed lunch secured in the middle of the web ready for when he needs a break. Something he prepared earlier, probably. I've actually got quite used to him and in the past week, the poor little guy has had to rebuild 4 times so far, because of weather conditions, but I made a point of checking on him every day.
A couple of days ago, I went out to monitor Spidey's activities and found that I had another lodger perched on the railing, a praying mantis. These guys are super intelligent and I've had experiences with them in the past so I was a little cautious. He became aware of me immediately and followed my every move with his black eyes.

If you double click on these photos to enlarge, you can see his menacing expression. I was making a phonecall to a friend with the camera in the other hand so the quality isn't excellent, but it's quite clear to see he wasn't happy with my company.

I took some photos down on his level and he actually got quite defensive. I think on second thoughts that this must've been a female since they're the aggressive ones that bite off their lover's heads. She was definitely giving me the evil eye and started advancing on me and my camera. Then suddenly without warning, she attacked! She flew directly at me, causing me to yelp and run indoors, and then explain the situation to my friend still on the phone. I didn't go out on the patio for the rest of that evening but every time I looked through the blinds, her head swivelled in my direction. A complete surrender on my part. The photo below shows her in her pre-pounce position.

Looks like I won't be using the patio for a while...

Scott's Run

Scott's Run is a picturesque walk that I did a few years ago and remember it well because I took great delight in stroking a pair of copperhead snakes that was sunbathing on some tree roots near the water. I had no idea what kind of snakes they were at the time but they were happy to be petted and have some close-up photos taken. I identified them later and made a note not to be overly sociable to venomous snakes in the future.

Today, I walked the route with a walking group and we made no effort to look up my previous acquaintances. We chatted amiably as we trekked along the stony paths and the trail was easy going with only one incline which could be considered a mild workout. We crossed the creek a couple of times and where it met the Potomac, Scott's Run ended in a waterfall as though making a final statement before it joined the slow moving river.

We had our group photo taken by the shores of the Potomac which was very shallow at this point. Only a couple of kayakers were on the water and I noticed that there was very little wildlife around. No herons or raptors anywhere. But it was peaceful and we enjoyed the quiet a little while before heading back to the parking lot.

After the walk, we headed to a chinese buffet restuarant in Dranesville where we shared some wonderful food and a lot of laughs. We were a great group today with regulars and new faces who were looking forward to the next walk.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ravens Rock

Yesterday, I joined a small group to hike up to Ravens Rock close to the border of West Virginia. We set out at 4:30pm and started the 1500ft climb. The trail was very pretty and consisted of a lot of steep ascents and descents, at times picking our way across boulders and a dry creek. It was a great workout. This was a view about two thirds of the way up.

Near the top was this sign which showed us we could reach Tennessee in a mere 535 miles if we went back down the mountain. The other side declared we were entering West Virginia.

We reached the top which opened onto a rock ledge where we rested and ate 'dinner' which comprised of trail bars, nuts, fruit and even army ration packs. I had just purchased a camel pack which was a great asset and did a great job of keeping my veggie wrap nice and cool. The views were spectacular and we were happy to sit and munch while admiring our beautiful surroundings.

After a group photo, we set off back downwards anxious to try and finish before it got too dark.

The downhill trip was more relaxed and one of the dogs came into contact with a raccoon which caused a bit of a sensation. I only knew one of the girls prior to the hike from another walking group but everybody got on great with our leader commenting on what a great crowd we'd been.
We got back to the cars in the twilight and after lots of 'goodbyes', and 'we must do this again', we all headed back to our homes. A wonderful way to break up the work week!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Shopping on a Soaking Saturday

Yesterday we were invaded by tropical storm Hanna, and the rain was torrential with winds of around 30 mph. We badly needed the rain after having none for a few weeks, but getting it in bucketloads was a bit of an overkill. I was initially loving the peace of just lazing in bed and then later the sofa, reading a book while listening to the drumming of the rain on the windows and trickling down the chimney, but then cabin fever set in. Suddenly.
I was up and walking back and forth looking out the lounge window, then the bedroom window, and then walking into the bathroom. Why, I don’t know, there wasn’t a window in there.It was no good, storm or no storm, I was going out shopping. Why is it that to women, regardless of time or day or conditions, shopping is always a good idea? Personally, I’ll shop with 2 broken legs and pneumonia, and for anything. Yesterday my excuse was that I needed a bookshelf for my ever expanding book collection, and a vase.
After hydroplaning twice, and losing count after 8 stores, my mission was accomplished, and very satisfied I was too. I was dripping wet, my trousers sticking to my legs, but as I soggily trundled towards the front door with a massive box and bags, I had no regrets. No towelling off once inside my warm dry home, no cup of tea, but instead, I kicked off my boots, grabbed a screwdriver and hammer and immediately started building my bookcase.

An hour later, I was done, and then wondering how the vase could be used. Since the day was so dark and miserable, I decided to start my fall decorating. A couple of hours later, that job was also completed and the rest of the place vacuumed and dusted.

Then I was content to resume the activity that I'd started the day out with, back on the sofa with a book relaxing.
OK, so today is a hot and sunny day again with summer refusing to step down and make way for autumn. My fall foliage is now seeming a little early, but I do have a very pretty fireplace!

Another UE Expedition

Last Sunday, (8/31), our urban exploration group went up to Maryland again to scour another abandoned hospital. We had to walk along a railway track and then through a tunnel to access it from the back. It was a very hot day and the coolness of the buildings was delicious.

Unfortunately, this particular building has become the playground of a local college and much of the interiors had been badly vandalized. There used to be an old theater standing just behind the fire hydrant above but this was burnt to the ground.

We found this glorious old laundry press in one of the rooms and even though there was no power, we could still operate the levers and guess how it worked.

We even managed to get underground and walk between the pipes keeping a sharp eye out for anything that could cause an injury. I still managed to crack my head pretty hard on a windowsill a little later, saved from a gash by my sunglasses. I got very exited to find the drums below. The area we were in must have once been set up as a bunker for emergencies and these were old water storage containers. If you doubleclick on the image, I've saved this as high res so all the writing is legible.

The image below is of a smashed window with the drapes still hanging. I've heavily photoshopped it trying to add some charm to the image.

We also managed to get onto the roof of the main building where we came across an amateur film crew shooting a zombie movie. Their makeup was quite convincing, but to preserve their anonymity, I can't post any photos. After getting back to the cars, some of the others decided to go for sushi but I had an olympic headache so decided to head for home. I'd assumed the headache came from my trying to headbutt out a window, but I read later from one of the guy's postings, that he'd suffered a bad sinus headache and was going to take a respirator to the next trip. Since it's impossible not to kick up some dust in these derelict buildings, that is advice I will be taking and shall be equally prepared for next time.