Monday, August 19, 2013

Land Between the Lakes: Hummingbirds

This weekend I ventured to the Land Between the Lakes National Park on the Tennessee and Kentucky borders.  A narrow strip of land surrounded by two lakes, Land Between the Lakes contains hiking trails, deer, buffalo, and millions of hummingbirds.  I ventured to LBL for a Sunday drive, and at the visitor's centers encountered several of these delightful birds.  I have inherited the love of bird watching from my mother, and felt like an excited child as I watched the hummingbirds flit around the sugar feeders, chirping at each other, and occasionally attacking one another.  I only spotted one male, and unfortunately, didn't get a very clear picture of him.  I included three blurry images of him only so that you can see the difference between him and the females.  This was my first time photographing hummingbirds, and really the first time I've ever been able to watch them, so it was a great weekend experience.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Washington D.C.

It's been about four months since I've been back in the States, and I've done very little traveling.  So it was with great excitement that I went to Washington D.C. over the 4th of July weekend.  I had never been to my nation's capital, and it was really great finally seeing the monuments that I had read so much about.  The Washington Monument looked wider than I had imaged, but that was mostly due to scaffolding covering the structure.  I took in the fireworks show at the National Mall, spent hours studying photographs and national treasures in the various Smithsonians, and toasted my favorite president (Lincoln) with a mini chocolate cupcake bought at Sprinkles Cupcakery.  The trip was short, but I had a great time nonetheless.

Protester outside of the White House. His sign says, "Obama's Banana Republic."

Jefferson Memorial

View down the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Friday, April 26, 2013

Madagascar: Antananarivo

Antananarivo, or Tana, is the capital of Madagascar.  It is the largest city in Mada, with a population around a million and a half.  The city is built on twelve sacred hills, and its urban sprawl makes it seem like there should be more people living there.  With the obvious lack of sky scrapers, however, it's easy to see why the city is so large.  They build OUT not up.  We were in Tana for several nights, but only two full days.  Our first hotel ended up not being what we had paid for, so we decided to indulge ourselves and stay in a nicer place.  It turned out to be a great choice, and the new location boasted our own kitchen space.

We wandered around Tana the first day we were there and saw some of the sights.  The Queen's Palace is a huge tourist draw in Tana, but no one is allowed without a guide.  The site isn't well preserved, so the building is falling down in places.  The giant white edifice is beautiful to look at from afar, but we decided not to take the tour inside.

The second day we made our way to La Digue, a market on the outskirts of town where a LOT of tourist goods are sold.  We meandered around a bit and bought some vanilla.  In the afternoon we decided to go to Ambohamanga, a "palace" on one of the sacred hills outside of Tana.  It was pretty crazy.  I continuously referred to it as the "Mud Hut Palace," because that's kind of what it was.  A huge rock in front of the entrance is a place for sacrificing zebu, an act that had apparently happened just a couple days before our arrival in celebration of the Malagasy New Year.  The king that had originally lived there ruled until the 1780's and he literally lived in a one room hut with a mud floor.  His descendant, a queen, had a more magnificent building built by the French architect Jean Laborde right next to the "mud hut."  It consisted of four rooms, all beautifully decorated with French style furniture and tapestries.  For me, it was a strange thing to realize that at this same time, rulers in England lived in GIANT sprawling palaces, the French rulers were being executed for their opulence, and this little king was ruling Madagascar out of a one room hut.

I was wary of bringing out my camera (I had been told by several Malagasy people in RĂ©union to not use my camera in the capital), so I apologize for the quality of these images.  I took them using my iPhone, so they are a little grainy.

The Queen's House in Tana

The Mud Hut Palace.  The black building is the actual Palace

gate into the Mud Hut Palace

Queen's Palace

sacrificial stone

view of Palace complex 

This is where they keep the zebu in preparation for sacrifices