Showing posts with label Saturday Snapshot. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saturday Snapshot. Show all posts

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday Snapshot: Sunrise in the Outback

Sunrise at Uluru-Kata Tjuta Park, 15 June 2011
Sunrise has been vying for position as my favorite time of day since I was 17. On a spring trip to France in our junior year of high school, two friends and I decided that getting up to watch the sun rise over the Baie des Anges in Nice was the perfect way to celebrate our first full day in the country. Neglecting to consider how much further north than Southern California France is, we arrived on the beach shortly after 5am, nearly two hours before sunrise. We walked the length of the Promenade des Anglais and continued partway around the headland at the eastern end of the bay. I snapped pictures of every infinitesimal lightening of the eastern sky. Jet-lagged and sleepy-eyed, we yawned, more than once. In the end, it was worth every chilly moment. Not because the sunrise itself was a particularly spectacular one, but because it just felt like the perfect way to have started the day and our time in France.

In the nine and a half years since that April morning, I've watched sunrises from planes to various destinations, on my way to class during Washington, DC winters and while sitting on the steps of a stone library at Angkor Wat. I spent nearly three of those years seeing four or five sunrises a week as I put in the necessary miles to keep up my marathon training. Watching the sun sneak above the horizon as I paced along, puffing out fog into the frozen winter landscape or inhaling what felt like half a river from air weighted with summer humidity, came to be a comfortable part of my routine. I can't remember a day that's started with the sun that turned out to be a bad one.

With grad school keeping me up later and homework eating up a lot of the time I used to use for running, I've fallen out of the habit of watching the sunrise this year but didn't think much of it until my trip to the Northern Territory this June.

My tour left Alice Springs shortly after 6am on June 14th - which meant it was still dark, since June is winter here in Australia. It doesn't take long to leave the town of Alice Springs behind and move into empty Outback, which was where we were when the sun began to peek over the horizon. The ghostly shapes of scrub brush and the occasional desert oak became clearer and color seeped into the landscape by degrees. By the time we stopped at our first roadhouse of the day, my breath had caught in my throat a dozen times at the beauty of the Outback at dawn. The early morning air seemed gilded around the edges, rays of sunlight dancing over the red earth and teasing out depths of color that seemed impossible in the full light of day. I soaked in as much of the scenery as I could, feeling more peaceful than I had in weeks.

At Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park the next day, we watched the sun rise over both Uluru and the "many heads" of the Kata Tjuta. Sunset at Uluru the night before had been a great experience, but it was watching streams of light flow across the horizon, pouring color back into the landscape and glinting off the frost that had formed during the night that took my breath away. Watching the silhouettes of the Kata Tjuta lighten as the sun crept higher into the sky, I couldn't help but smile.

I had one more Outback sunrise that week, watching the early morning light break over the top of Kings Canyon as we made our way up the Rim Walk's "Heart Attack Hill," then chase the shadows from the trail. As the canyon walls absorbed the first of the sun's rays and reflected them back in rich shades of red and brown, I paused to catch my breath in the slowly warming air, drawing in the feeling that's what I love best about sunrise: the twin sensations of peace and possibility that accompany the start of each new day.

Color seeping back into the landscape as the sun creeps up to illuminate the "many heads" of the Kata Tjuta.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Snapshot: Cradle Mountain

My first look at Cradle Mountain, from near the beginning of the Dove Lake Circuit.
I'm a sucker for national parks. Maybe it's having all but grown up in them, but plunk me down in a national park with plenty of trails to walk, night sky to stargaze at and wildlife to marvel over and I couldn't be happier. So when I heard from a couple of Aussies (Queenslanders) my parents and I met in Utah's Zion National Park in the U.S. this past September that Australia's island state of Tasmania is 40% national parks, I decided I had to get there.

Cradle Mountain and the pristine waters of Dove Lake.
Freycinet National Park with its charming bays and coastline was lovely and I'd have liked to spend more time in Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, but it was Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park that made me feel like camping out forever might just be a viable life plan. Known for its six-day Overland Track that stretches from near Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair itself, Cradle Mountain NP is a backpacker's dream, with trails ranging from easy but visually stunning walks to challenging climbs over rocks and crags to reach a view that could take your breath away.

Cradle Mountain hangs dramatically above the northern end of Dove Lake and the Dove Lake Circuit.
Tasmanians say that you can expect to see Cradle Mountain itself one day out of every three but, after my humbling drenching in Freycinet a few days before, the powers that be must have decided I deserved a treat, because I was lucky enough to get two days of crystal clear views.

Cradle Mountain from the opposite (northern) side, a shadowy backdrop behind the lovely greenery of Cradle Valley.
There are places in the park where you can't see the mountain at all and wonder where it's gone off to, then you come around a bend in a path or crest a small hill and it appears, striking against the sky and a rugged contrast to the Tasmanian rainforest below.

A morning at Cradle Mountain, with Dove Lake and its boat shed in the foreground.
If you ever get the chance to visit Tasmania, be sure to include Cradle Mountain - Lake St Clair National Park in your itinerary. There's a peace and quiet in the air, not to mention heart-stopping views, that absolutely should not be missed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday Snapshot: Get Lost in the Crowd

Call me crazy, but I love crowds. Not the shoulder-to-shoulder, shuffling-an-inch-at-a-time, can't-breathe-without-inhaling-your-neighbor's-hair kind of crowd, but the kind you find in most big cities, that pulses with the energy of everyone in it, pushes you to walk a little faster and says "Okay, what are we going to do today?"

That energy is one of the first things I notice about a city and, if one doesn't have a distinct feeling all its own, it's a good indication that I'm probably not going to like it much - not a problem for London, the location of this week's Saturday Snapshot.

This photo was taken from the steps of The National Gallery, overlooking Trafalgar Square, in late October 2005, when I was visiting London with a friend during the second half of our October break. We were only there for a few days and had slightly different to-see lists, so we decided to spend most of this day separately. Predictably, I spent a lot of it wandering the city streets, soaking up the atmosphere. After two months in relatively small Aix-en-Provence, being back in the rush and bustle of a large capital city with crowds of people on the streets felt like being a kid in a candy store. Everywhere I looked, there were interesting things to see: people, stores, taxis, landmarks, other tourists.

It was mid-afternoon by the time I reached Trafalgar Square and I was starting to drag a little, probably because I'm prone to forgetting lunch when I'm exploring a new place. I wandered through the square, then joined the crowd on the steps of the museum and just sat for a while, people-watching and snapping photos, happy to be part of the crowd.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Saturday Snapshot: Perfection Provençale

I miss Provence at any number of random moments, but a lot of them seem to hit in November. I think it has something to do with the crisp, clear fall air in the French countryside and the excitement of the winter holidays that starts to creep into the marchés, even before the Christmas markets open.

Back from the October school break, families go for evening walks, bundled up against the autumn chill in the air, and cafés turn on outdoor heaters to let their patrons continue the unofficial national pastime of people-watching.

This photo was taken just outside the town of Lourmarin, in the Luberon region, in November 2005. The Luberon is further inland than Aix-en-Provence, and is home to some of the things we consider distinctly provençal: olive groves and lavender fields, not to mention beautiful skies and charming villages. And, because I couldn’t pick just one photo of that perfect, if chilly, fall day, here’s another – this one of a cottage so picturesquely charming I actually laughed when I saw it. If I lived there, I’d curl up in one of the windows with a book, watching the world go by as my garden prepared itself for winter.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Saturday Snapshot: Wandering Waterways

I've always had a thing about water. Whether it stems from the soothing sound, having grown up by the ocean or maybe being born on the cusp between Aquarius and Pisces, I have no idea, but it's a good bet that, if there's a body of water around, I'm near it (or in it, depending on the season).

One of my favorite ways to find my bearings in a new city or collect my thoughts in a familiar one is to wander through it on foot, usually by the river - the fact that large cities are usually settled on or near one has become one of my favorite things about them. The Seine is an integral part of the path I always walk through Paris shortly after I arrive; when I needed to get off campus in college, I walked along the Potomac; my favorite running trail in DC after college paralleled that same river; I got lost multiple times in Prague, but as soon as I found the Vltava I knew where I was; I can't get enough of the Embarcadero in San Francisco. The list goes on, much the same for nearly every city I've been to.

Today's photo was taken in London at about this time of year in 2005, when a friend and I decided to take the Chunnel up from France during our fall break. I had expected that, after speaking nothing but French for two months, speaking English would be a relief. Instead, I found myself confused by the unfamiliar accents and struggling to figure out a lexicon that wasn't quite the same as the one I was used to. I felt sluggish and stupid every time I had to ask someone to repeat himself, which was often. After buying tickets for a museum or ordering food in a restaurant, switching back to French to speak with my friend was a relief.

Linguistic difficulties aside, I felt comfortable in London the moment I set foot in it (as long as I wasn't required to speak, at any rate). Something in the air, something about the pace of life there, reminded me so much of Washington that it was impossible not to feel at home. And the moment I set eyes on the Thames, London went from being a nice, mostly comfortable place to be to a city I loved. I took a ridiculous number of photos looking over the Thames, of bridges crossing the Thames, of double-decker buses on bridges crossing the Thames...fully half of my pictures of London, like this one, involve the river.

I spent hours on the catwalks of Tower Bridge, watching the river and the city speeding past on its banks. I spent an afternoon walking along the banks of the Thames, watching buskers and tourists alike. One of the first places I took my parents when we all went to London several months later was across the Wibbly-Wobbly Bridge (the Millenium Bridge, if we're being precise), to look at the river. Despite the fact that I was across a continent and an ocean from the place I considered home, I looked at the Thames and thought that - at that moment - there was nowhere I'd rather be.

So if we ever happen to be traveling together and I wander off, listen for the sound of waves crashing, water lapping or a river running, then follow it, and you'll almost certainly find me.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Saturday Snapshot: Pathway to Somewhere

I've run casually off and on for much of my life but, in the past few years, running has become an integral part of who I am. I run when I'm traveling, I travel to races, I run when I'm feeling great and when I'm sulking. Running is my yoga (which I don't do, because I usually can't keep my mind quiet enough to properly appreciate it): it centers me, keeps my muscles in tune and makes me feel good, inside and out. And I like knowing that what happens on a run - where I go, how far I go, how fast I move - is up to me.

Today's photo is a pretty good representation of all of that: a path, pleasantly sunny but shaded by the trees overhead, curving off into the distance. It's empty, but comfortably so, and the curve ahead opens up endless possibilities of what lies beyond. It was taken south of Alexandria in Northern Virginia this May, just a few days before I moved to Arizona after six years in the Washington, DC area (with a year in France between years two and three).

The path is part of the Mt. Vernon Trail, which follows the Virginia side of the Potomac River from Theodore Roosevelt Island/Rosslyn all the way down to Mt. Vernon, George Washington's historic estate. I've run more than 1,000 miles on that trail, pounding out frustrations, heartache and fear or bounding along with happiness, peace or laughter in my thoughts, depending on the day. I know its turns, hills and bumps like the back of my hand, but the scenery is never quite the same from one day to the next. This particular day was beautiful - spring, just hinting at summer, with a warm wind blowing upriver.

I didn't go much further than the curve up ahead that day, but this photo perfectly captures the feel of the trail and running itself for me: a place I can go, a thing I can do, whatever my mood, that lets me clear my head and can take me somewhere familiar or somewhere new - it's up to me. Travel is like that, too. And when I get stressed out about what to pack or where to go or what I'm going to do once I get there, I can pull this image into my head and remember that whatever's around the bend, chances are, it's going to be beautiful.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saturday Snapshot: les remparts de Carcassonne

This is one of my favorite photos from my year in France, despite the fact that it was taken with my very first digital camera, a clunky, low-megapixel, high-battery consumption HP that some of my friends not-so-fondly dubbed "the brick." It was taken when my parents came to visit for my birthday and we drove around southwestern France playing tourist for a few days.

I'd been to Carcassonne several years before but on a gray, dreary day that did nothing to enliven the walled city's ubiquitous stone. This time, however, we had spectacular weather. It was mid-February, but the daytime temperatures hovered around 10 degrees (low 50s, Fahrenheit). And just look at that sky!

Inside the walls, Carcassonne is fairly kitschy, although the tours are excellent and give an interesting history, along with views like this one from the battlements. And despite the plethora of swords and other souvenirs you don't need, being able to walk through a fully restored, fortified medieval city is a neat experience, especially when you consider that the area has been continuously settled since 3500 B.C.E. That's a lot of history under your feet!

We enjoyed soaking up the rare February sun while walking the nearly two miles of battlements - and caved to some of the lovely Provençal fabrics in one of the many gift shops. All in all, a city (and cultural UNESCO World Heritage site) worth visiting, if you get the chance.