Sunday, June 28, 2009

Parks in Chicago

While we were in Chicago, we spent an afternoon exploring some of the parks in the city. The first place we made a beeline for was Millenium Park which was completed in 2004 and won awards for accessibility and green design. The pavillion hosts many free concerts under its stainless steel beams that are supposed to represent a flower blooming or unfurling sails. I would never have known that if I hadn't read it!

Cloud Gate, or 'The Bean', is made of steel and cost $23 million! It's meant to represent a drop of mercury about to land on the plaza and is wildly popular with photographers including us.

We had a lot of fun taking pictures here and even saw a wedding party posing underneath it.

Crown Fountain was a wonderful place to cool our feet and these 50ft towers were mesmerizing.
They're made of glass blocks with LED screens behind showing the faces of nearly a thousand Chicagoans intending to show the diversity of the city.

All the faces are smiling and then they slowly stop to purse their lips at which point a jet of water spurts from their lips imitating historical fountains with gargoyles. It's a really entertaining and original feature and the black granite under the water felt wonderful beneath bare feet.

This is the back of one of the towers where two girls were enjoying the continuous waterfall of water which cascade down from the top.

We found a beautiful little park which was a peaceful retreat from the noise of the city and
quietly walked around enjoying the flowers, the cool shade of the trees and the sculptures, including one from Henry Moore. The one above is part of a roman numeral series of stainless steel works by David Smith housed around the world.

This gentleman was completely oblivous to all around him as he read his bible, not once lifting his eyes from his book.

Next door was another small park shaded with trees in large square raised beds and this beautiful bronze fountain at the end called the Fountain of the Great Lakes created between 1907 - 1913 by Lorado Taft and is his best known work.

It shows five woman with the water flowing through them in the same manner as the Great Lakes. We left here and headed to Grant Park where at dusk the Buckingham Fountains played to music with a light display. The fountain was financed by Kate Buckingham in memory of her brother and dedicated in 1927. It is modelled after Latona Fountain in Versailles.

These wonderful art deco serpents featured around the fountain but some of them were damaged. The fountain is undergoing restoration throughout this year.

Buckingham Fountain was the official starting point of Route 66 and also featured in the title sequence of 'Married...with Children'.

We sat and watched the changing colors during the 20 minute displays and as dusk turned to night, the skyscrapers glittered in the background with white lights. We watched the last display of the evening at 10pm and then left the dark peaceful park behind as we headed back to the bright bustling streets of the city.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Photographing at Dark

I've been offline for a couple of weeks as I've been so busy that I've barely had time to cuddle the cat, let alone write a blog, so sit tight as during the next couple of weeks, I'll be posting more frequently than usual to catch up.
Just over a week ago, I went out with some fellow urbexers to Ellicott City, MD to check out an abandoned theme park that closed down in the mid 80's. A lot of the attractions have been rescued and moved elsewhere and some simply 'disappeared', but some of the buildings have been left to slowly fall apart and gradually become blanketed by the woodland plants.

I arrived before dusk as I wanted daylight photos of the remaining structures. The main gateway above is the only building on site to be maintained and sits rather unceremoniously next to a Petco.

This King was saved and now directs shoppers to the local strip mall instead of excited kids to a fairy castle.

As I investigated the perimeter of the remaining park, this was the only building that could be seen from the fence. Our group met at a local diner and entered the park in black darkness. We had been hoping to get some night photos but unless we used flashlights as lighting, this would be impossible. Bullfrogs bellowed in the night air as we stumbled across vines and through muddy puddles. We found some of the buildings but after realizing that photography wasn't really an option we left.
Since most of us hadn't yet snapped our shutters, we decided to find another venue for our cameras. We ended up at the Thomas Viaduct near Elkridge and grabbing our tripods and gear, started walking along the track towards the bridge.

We took a few shots of trains before we reached the bridge and one of the group smashed a glow stick and set up a horror scene with his mask on the tracks.

The Thomas Viaduct was built in 1835 is the first multi-span masonry railway bridge in the States and the first to be built on a curve. Today it remains the world's largest bridge of its kind, as well as the world's oldest multiple arched stone railroad bridge, and was named after Philip E Thomas, the first president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.

The top picture was taken in 1949, over a hundred years since the bridge was built and obviously being maintained. My two photos above show it's fallen under neglect today.

Standing next to the bridge, I set my camera up on the opposite side of the tracks from the others so I could photograph the obelisk, sadly vandalized, but built to honor the builders and architect of the bridge and the directors of the railroad.

This last photo was taken with me standing less than 10ft away from the train as it passed, clutching my shutter release and praying no stones would be thrown up to destroy my camera.
We had a great evening and barely noticed time passing. It was nearly 3:00am when I got home. Another thing I barely noticed was how I'd been dinner to a swarm of mosquitoes throughout the evening. By Saturday night, I had scratched every bite on my arms and had nearly twenty swollen and red marks which resembled smallpox, but I thought photos of that would be inappropriate!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sailing on a Schooner

On Saturday, I went with a group to sail on a 74ft schooner in Annapolis, MD. It was a beautiful day, perfect to be on the water with a sea breeze. I borrowed the photo above of the boat from the internet, because if I'd taken it from this perspective, I would've been left behind!
Woodwind II is a sister boat identical to Woodwind and appeared in the movie, The Wedding Crashers.

The dome in the center and the buildings to the right are the Naval Academy, established in 1845.

The sails are hoisted quickly with help from some of our group and the crew offer soft drinks, beer, wine or champagne along with snacks.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a 4.3 mile bridge linking the Western Shore to the Eastern Shore in Maryland.

Annapolis harbor with the dome of the Maryland State House in the background.

This must be the latest form of water transport as we saw a few people getting about using a surfboard and paddle.

A few of us had a go at steering the boat. It was just like steering a car and it had a very sensitive touch. I was lucky enough to be at the wheel when we had to turnaround and head back to land. This involved yelling out loudly to the crew, "Prepare to tack", then "Tacking", while turning the boat round sharply, which I enjoyed very much!

After our sailing experience, we headed to the restaurant to have lunch and chat. We were amazingly lucky with the weather; while sailing, the sun was blazing hot, yet as I left Annapolis, the heavens opened with cracks of thunder. Strange, as I had the same weather conditions the last time I came to this town. I intend coming back here to do some Christmas shopping later so shall see if it was me jinxing the town or a strange coincidence!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Chicago Part II

Chicago has a fabulous skyline but if you look down a little lower there are more wonderful things to be seen. We took a bus tour to get a feel of the city and I realized that I'd need to cover the same ground three or four times to see everything. But with my camera clicking continuously and my head spinning round like an owl's, I managed to capture a few special images.

The image at the top contains a great sign from a famous piano bar, and I was lucky to catch the theatrical McDonalds sign as the bus drove by.

I'm sure there were more of these beautiful clocks around the city but these were the only two I saw. I was also looking out for lamps and managed to get these two images. I would've loved to go on a tour of just fabulous timepieces and lamps.

These buildings almost blinded all of us on the bus, there was so much glass reflecting the sunlight.

Looking straight up provided and interesting skyline.

The two pictures above are of my favorite building in Chicago called Aqua. This link shows the preliminary images before it was built and really show its beauty. I was also impressed to discover that it was designed by a woman, Jeanne Gang, and it is her first skyscraper. This is one high rise residence I'd love. It looks like it's covered in ice.

The Chicago Theater was built in 1921 and is a famous landmark, often used in films and documentaries.

The photos above are some that I managed to capture from the bus. If I had walked the tour, I'm sure I would've filled my 8GB card and been looking for another.

The Navy Pier was a few blocks from our hotel and houses the stained glass museum, along with boat rides, bars, fun fair activities and tourist souvenirs.

I found this very vain seagull who was more than willing to pose for some portraits, but he is very cute, isn't he?

Initially, I thought this humongous boat was privately owned and was coming into port for the night until I saw it berth up alongside a sign offering lunch or dinner cruises. It made the lighthouse look like a toy.

I was very pleased with this photo of the same boat using the skyline as a backdrop.

As we left Navy Pier, we came across this unusual sculpture of a group of children playing.