A beautiful day in the neighborhood – Jersey City view of the Freedom Tower

It was 65 degrees and sunny today – the Freedom Tower looked fantastic glinting one of its jeweled facets in the sunshine.

Beautiful lower Manhattan skyline view from Jersey City - Nov 2013

Beautiful lower Manhattan skyline view from Jersey City – Nov 2013

Also, it’s been made official, while the building itself is 1776 feet (the year of independence for the U.S.) with the architectural spire at its crown, the Freedom Tower is the highest building in the United States.

Sometimes even I can’t believe how lucky I am… this view is only a fifteen minute walk from my apartment!

The Freedom Tower - Nov 2013

The Freedom Tower – Nov 2013

It was a great day for a walk in the neighborhood!

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Brugge Beauty Shots

After all the moaning and whining I’ve done on the blog about the bad weather and difficult transportation conditions, I’d like to show you some photos I took in Brugge, Belgium.

Yes, these are beauty shots, there is no way around it. Brugge is a beautiful town and a designated Unesco World Heritage site.

It’s a town for tourists, the place is overflowing with them, but it’s easy to see why. The architecture is magnificent, even on a grey-skied, rain-drenched day like the one I spent there.

The view from my overpriced tourist hotel room in Brugge, phenonemal view

The view from my overpriced tourist hotel room in Brugge, phenonemal view

A rainy street scene - Brugge, Belgium

A rainy street scene – Brugge, Belgium

The views along the canals in Brugge are so charming, and somehow the misty rain just added to the romantic feel of the photos. I doubt you can take a bad photo there.

Canal view of Brugge - ancient buildings and lovely greenery in the mist

Canal view of Brugge – ancient buildings and lovely greenery in the mist

Yeah, yeah… “oooh and ahhh”

The charms of Brugge

The charms of Brugge

Come on, aren’t you getting tired of seeing all this loveliness?

No?

Okay, here are some more… but you asked for it…

Lovely canal view - Brugge

Lovely canal view – Brugge

Brugge town square

Brugge town square

This next one feels like cheating, too easy to romanticize it…

Horse and carriage - Brugge

Horse and carriage – Brugge

Another canal shot in Brugge

Another canal shot in Brugge

Okay, that’s it for Brugge. Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you – it’s a beautiful place but being run these days for tourists.

Travel Tip: If you are going to go to Brugge, do it as a day trip from Gent which is close… Gent is a bigger city that is gorgeous and you’ll have a ton of options in the evening for entertainment and the hotels will be much more reasonably priced!

2011 Roundup – Highlights of My Inaugural Blogging Year

On March 26, 2011 I began this blog with the auspicious post: “Is This Thing On” with a two word revelation: Hello World!

Yeah, I had no freaking clue what blogging was about, or what I signed myself up for. Even though blogging is a ridiculous amount of work, I’m happy with my inaugural year results.

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THE NUMBERS:

  • 134 postings created during 2011, and over 600 tags used. Some months, like June 2011 had only 1 posting, while others, like December 2011 had 23. (To look at the postings of a full month go to the calendar in the far right column of my blog towards the bottom and you can hover over any date to see what was posted, or move between months with ease.)
  • Pages were viewed more than 3000 times in 2011! I’m proud of that stat! I couldn’t have done it without YOU the reader, coming to see what the heck I had to say. Which leads me to….
  • There are 432 comments on my blog. Because I reply to nearly every comment, about half of them are mine. Of the rest, my top commenters are: Wren Andre http://wrenandre.wordpress.com, Patrick of Sporting Sense, Scribbla http://scribbla.wordpress.com and Louise Jacques of My Other Book is a Tolstoy. You four have been my strongest participants in this blog and have enhanced it tremendously with your inputs. THANK YOU! And thanks to everyone else who commented too!
  • Speaking of participants, 47 people have followed my blog since inception. I had no idea 2 people would want to read what I had to say, nevermind 47. It’s exciting to see this number increasing over time.

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FLASH FICTION:

There are 10 flash fiction stories posted directly to the blog. Some of my favorites are: Fallen,  and Graduation Day.

Click on the tag “Flash Fiction” in my Tag-a-licious Cloud in the left column of my blog and flash fiction tagged posts will come up in a list.

AUDIO! On at least two of my posts, Flash Fiction: Traveler’s Journey and Flash Fiction: Consider the Pomegranate you can listen to me reading my work. I’ll be posting more of these audio clips in 2012.

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SHORT STORIES:

13 stories or flash pieces have been published by small press journals, or are forthcoming in Q1 2012. All of these are listed on my Published Stories page. Yay!

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PHOTOS:

I’m surprised by this number – I’ve got 175 photos posted to the blog. That seems like a lot to me, I hope you enjoyed them.

If you want to see a more composed view of my photographs, please visit my Shutterfly site: http://cdeminskiphotos.shutterfly.com

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HUMOR:

There are 15 pieces on the blog tagged as Humor. (Click on the Tag-A-Licious cloud under Humor.) These pieces are the hardest for me to write, and I’m never sure if they’re all that funny unless you tell me you enjoyed them (which you do, thanks…)

One of my most clicked posts is Funniest Tweets Ever. I’m not sure if this post still holds up, you can be the judge of that.

Here are the humor posts I like best:

  • Girl’s Guide to Living With a Sports Fan
  • What Upper West Siders Did During the Hurricane
  • Reasons Why Fran Lebowitz Has Writer’s Block
  • Reasons Why Your Short Story Was Rejected
  • A Fairytale – NYC Style (a re-write of Snow White)

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I look forward to entertaining you all for another year. 2012 – here we come.

New Orleans Photo page now up!

Hi everybody, I’ve composed my New Orleans photo page on my Shutterfly site.

While quite a few of the images appeared on my blog, they are scattered across numerous postings. My Shutterfly site has the photos all in the same spot, with quite a few images that did not make it onto the blog. I hope you’ll check them out.

Enjoy!

Click this link: http://cdeminskiphotos.shutterfly.com/neworleans

NoLa Diary #14 – Birds of a Feather: Audobon Park II

Today was a sunny day with temperatures in the 70’s, I decided to head back to Audobon Park to enjoy the scenery and to take more photographs of the birds in the park since there is such an amazing variety.

Feathered friends - Audobon Park

It’s very relaxing to walk in Audobon Park, and I love seeing all the little kids on their bicycles or the people jogging or sitting on the benches. Although the park isn’t that large, you can do a “lap” by walking the path that circumnavigates the park and take in different views of the scenery from many angles.

Beautiful fountain

And there are tons of birds. The air is filled with quacking, squawking, chirping and all manner of bird calls.

Enjoying the sunshine - 3 turtles on a log and two ducks looking on

 

And the birds aren’t just in the water either. Sometimes they climb up onto the banks of the stream that runs through the park and take refuge in the shade of the bushes.

I call him the Ugly Duckling - he's got a face only his mother could love

 

And let’s not forget the herons who never cease to amaze me; they are so beautiful…

The heron - such a majestic bird

 

And it seems that the trees in the park are ancient; I love their twisted limbs.

Beautiful Tree - Audobon Park

 

 

Audon Park and St. Charles Ave. streetcar

 

the only thing better than one NoLa classic is two: Audobon Park and the St. Charles Avenue streetcar together.

NoLa Diary Lucky #13 – the Allure of Algiers Point

In order to get to historic Algiers Point from New Orleans, you’ll need to take the Algiers Ferry. You can catch the ferry across Canal street from Harrah’s Casino.

TRAVEL TIP: As you approach the ferry entrance, you will see homeless people sitting on the steps, most drunk. You can avoid this entrance by continuing on towards the Mississippi River, walk over the streetcar tracks for the French Market streetcar and to your right you’ll see a ramped walkway marked “handicapped entrance.” When you get to the top of the walkway, go to your left and up the stairs into the ferry terminal.

I believe the best photographs of St. Louis Cathedral are to be had from the Algiers Ferry. You cannot get the entire cathedral in your shot if you are standing in Jackson Square – the Algiers Ferry shot gives you the entire building, and it is a beautiful view.

St Louis Cathedral - as seen from Algiers Ferry

The best reasons to go to Algiers are the historic homes, plus the Holy Name of Mary Church is picture worthy. A quick stop at the Tout-Suite Cafe across from the church is a great place to have lunch or a snack before heading back to the ferry.

If you do go to the Tout-Suite and you see a distinguished older gentleman with white hair at the counter, it’s probably George. He’s a local and a regular. He’s so friendly and helpful, make a few minutes to chat with him. You can’t help but be charmed!

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SAFETY: Only go during the day. Don’t wave your expensive camera around or flash your i-Phone 4. Don’t walk around texting or talking on the phone. Pay attention to your surroundings.  Be alert and sensible, and have fun.

The first time I went to Algiers I was freaked out by the thuggish looking types I saw sizing up tourists on the ferry and hanging back in crowds watching everybody around them. I didn’t stray far from the ferry entrance and went back quickly. My second time, was a beautiful sunny day in the early afternoon, I felt relaxed, kind of knew my way around, and it was a much better experience.

I had no problems on either trip but for me, the second trip felt safer. Always trust your gut!

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An Algiers home adornment

Okay, so you’re probably wondering how charming the houses are… how about this one?

This Algiers home is picture postcard perfect!

So many of the houses I saw were like the one above – manicured landscape, well maintained and great looking paint to accentuate the architectural embellishments. You could pretend on some streets that you were in Bermuda, not New Orleans. I noticed tropical foliage seems more abundant on Algiers Point.

This Catholic church is pretty, you can practically see the spires of the church from the ferry.

Holy Name of Mary Church - Algiers Point

And if you want a place to stop and relax, I can think of no better spot than the Tout-Suite. This couple opted for the outdoor tables to drink their coffee, but the inside is just as charming.

Tout Suite Cafe - Algiers Point

I loved this old Gulf station too, which had a classic charm all its own. Check out those Spanish tiles on the roof of the gas station! And the slightly rusted orange Gulf sign is a piece of Americana.

Gulf Station - Algiers Point

Everywhere you look, people have decorated their homes so meticulously.

All dressed up - Algiers Point

And that is the allure of Algiers Point!

 

NoLa Diary #12 – the amazing people of New Orleans

No amount of words can express how wonderful most of the people are here in New Orleans. A few encounters today encapsulate the best of my experiences.

I went out and did some shopping before the holiday, and as I walked down Magazine Street, I stopped to photograph a charming storefront. It was Probst Decorating and Interior Design. I liked their old time lanterns, potted plants and worn brick building combined with green holiday wreaths along with the requisite NoLa bicycles out front.

Probst Decorating - Magazine St

After taking the photo an older woman looked at me from inside the store – even though the sign on the door said Closed. I walked up to the door and wondered if I was in trouble for taking photos of her store. When I got to the door she said through the closed door, would you like to come in? Yes please, I answered. So she walked into her back workroom to get her door keys then back to the front of the store where she unlocked the door, let me in and started turning on all the lights.

I’m not open today, but I saw you wanted to come in. I don’t keep the door open when I’m here by myself, she said. That turned into a wonderful conversation about how her family has owned this 130 year old building and run this decorating shop in it for the last 60 years, and she has worked in it all 60 of those years. She told me about her mother opening the shop, and how after 60 years she is ready to turn things over to her daughter. She mentioned she makes all the pillows and curtains and is now referred to as “the lady that works in the back.” I joked with her that they only needed to call her one thing: Da Boss. She laughed at that. We said our warm goodbyes and she encouraged me to come back around sometime to visit.

I went across the street to pick up some groceries and walked to the bus stop to grab it going back home. A man approached and struck up a conversation with me while we waited together. He asked me if I was from New Orleans, because he thought I was. When I told him no, but that I’d been in town for about 2 weeks, he asked if I was staying for Mardi Gras. Unfortunately no, I said. That’s too bad, he answered, because I’m about ready to adopt you as a native once you been to your first Mardi Gras. And anyway, he continued, by the end of this conversation we’re gonna be just about family.

An extraordinary glimpse of Mardi Gras in December - pure luck!

 

And that sums it up for me: we’re all just about family – the human family. New Orleans can be such a great example of how people rise up to meet their humanity. The family of compassionate souls includes people like that woman, making pillows and curtains for 60 years running her decorating shop. Or the man at the bus stop, who got up early today to deliver donated toys to children on his way to work as a painter and said gently yes, he was a little tired. When he shook my hand with his paint covered hand, I felt like I’d never done an honest day’s work in my life.

New Orleans is a very special place, and I’m extremely glad I decided to come here and stay awhile. These vignettes and experiences in the neighborhoods are, I’m convinced, the real gumbo of NoLa with an extra helping of love.

Passion for clarinet

This is a collection of photos of the wonderful people of NoLa I’ve spotted in my wanderings here…please enjoy.

Tromboner salute

Of course the French Quarter is an endless source of wonderful images of musicians…

Singing her heart out on Royal

This gal sure could sing. She was belting it out without a mic. She projected loud and strong, along with her back up band doing a great job.

Slice of Life street scene - Bourbon St

The personality of New Orleans pours out of every brick and lantern in the city, and of course from the hard working people…

Workmen in the French Quarter

There are quiet moments when you can’t help but be charmed by such a place….

Resting by Traceys - Irish Channel

And take in so many smiles and good wishes…

Man with bowler and bicycle

…yes, these things and more are what gives New Orleans its flavor.

Enjoy this wonderfully moving song by Susan Tedeschi called 700 houses, her impressions of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina…

and Happy Holidays everyone.

NoLa Diary #11 – A story in signs

Everywhere you look in New Orleans you’ll find scribbles, scrawls, grafitti and interesting street art. I took some of the shots I got and made up a little story.

If the Angry Birds had NoLa cousins, these would be them.

These grafitti birds (above) were on the side of a building on Magazine Street. I imagine they have names like Earl or Bobby Joe, and they’re probably the NoLa cousins of the Angry Birds (who are city slickers.) The NoLa birds aren’t as angry as they are mean; they’re so mean they have teeth, which is saying a lot for a blue bird.

Then again, NoLa is also a place where dirty means tasty. We can stroll through the French Market to buy a plate of Dirty Rice at the Cajun Cafe, which you might eat along with your Alligator Sausage Po’ Boy.  Yummy, n’est pas?

Alligator Po' Boy anybody? Get one at the Cajun Cafe in the French Market

After you’ve eaten your share of Gator, you say you want to do some dancing to work off those Cajun calories. So, we point our feet to Frenchman’s Street. Before we get there, at the corner of Decatur and Esplanade, we’ll pass the BMC club. From the look of their artwork (below), they sure like to swing.

But since we’re going on to Frenchman, we’re going to have to cross over Esplanade at that corner, go past the firehouse on the right hand side and continue towards the left down Frenchman Street.

BMC Club - 504 Esplanade

Frenchman has tons of clubs and is known as Bourbon Street (minus strip clubs, thank you very much) for the locals and those in the know.

It's all about the mermaids and jesters on Frenchman Street

I don’t know the name of the club whose doorway I photographed (above) but we can call it The Mermaid. Remember, in NoLa, you get extra points for no signage, or if you’re place is very hard to find, and especially if it looks run down. This club qualifies in a few of those categories so it must be fantastic inside.

Dark Meat Fried Chicken Special

But look! Across the street we could have had Jamalaya Dark Meat Fried Chicken and Greens on special today. Too bad we ate that Alligator Po’ Boy, now we’re full…

Electric Ladyland Tattoo - Frenchman Street

Oh gosh, I told you not to go drinking with Earl and Bobby Joe, those guys are bird brains! It’s no surprise you wound up at the Electric Ladyland Tattoo parlor on Frenchman Street. Thank goodness they have a sign in the window (not shown here) that says No Drunks. Whew, you almost wound up with that mermaid on your forearm.

You can hardly stand up anymore with all that dancing and those shots of bourbon you drank. Let’s head on home…

Possible Side Effects

Wow, I should have never let you convince me to go for a beer at the Saint, that after-hours place on St. Mary Street near Magazine. As we saw from the “possible side effects” sticker on their dumpster while you puked alongside it, there is some truth in advertising.

 

 

NoLa Diary #9 – Scenes of Magazine Street

Today’s petite photo study of Magazine Street began somewhere around the Jackson Avenue intersection heading in the direction of Audobon Park.

This is a totally different neighborhood (as you can see) from my study of Magazine Street near the freeway overpass. Then again Magazine Street is 6 miles long and has its own bus route so it’s easy to understand how one area could look so different from another.

A blue beauty on Magazine Street

 

I know it’s December 20th and all good common sense would say it couldn’t be 80 degrees and muggy today, but I swear to you it was hot walking down the street in the sunshine. I only had on a short sleeve shirt and I still started sweating.

It’s impossible for me to imagine New Orleans in the summer based on this December weather, but if today is any indication, I’d say it’s got to be unbearable. Thank goodness I was surrounded by so many interesting sights I hardly noticed.

Did you know bicycles are apparently a “thing” here in NoLa? Well, they are. Everyone seems to have one and you see them everywhere chained to black wrought iron fences.

Three bicycles on a wrought iron fence - how NoLa!

Or perhaps chained to a bike rack, right near the corner…

Bicycle on the corner - Magazine St

you get the idea though.

But one of my favorite buildings in this stretch has got to be the Magazine Po’ Boy and Sandwich Shop. The building is truly an amazing piece of architecture (check out that gorgeous wrought iron balcony on the 2nd floor) and history, it’s a beauty!

Magazine Po' Boy Shop

And while I didn’t stop in to buy a sandwich, I want to show you the front of the local “Chinese Food” restaurant at the corner of Magazine and Andrew…

"Chinese Food" - corner of Magazine and Andrew

This places looks scary with it’s “rent this bench” sign and its wire mesh panels that go over the windows (painted dark blue or black I think). Well, this is the place everybody told me makes the absolute best Chinese food in town. It doesn’t even have a name!

Apparently you have to go in through that front door, past the convenience store in the front, and go to the back where there is a Chinese food counter. This kind of wierd instruction about “finding” a place is an intoxicant to a New Orleanian; they love all things hidden, especially out of the way food places no one but a local would know about.

I had already had my chicken fried steak lunch at Joey K’s further up Magazine Street (my verdict was “eh” – I wouldn’t recommend it) so I’ll have nothing to lose by going in this place at some point and trying the Chinese food. The gentleman outside in the white t-shirt and red sweater over his shoulder in the photo above also recommended the red beans and rice.

Somehow I think the worse a place looks outside, the better the food is supposed to be inside. This seems to be a NoLa thing too, like the bicyles. I’ll have to report back to you on the Chinese food – or other soul food sold here – in some other post.

Shadows and light on Magazine St

Everywhere you look here there’s a play of shadows and light, good and bad. The city itself is a study in contrasts. And everyday I have here is a new opportunity for me to see a new facet of New Orleans.

NoLa Diary #8 – Glimpses of St. Mary Street

Corner of St Mary and Camp

Now that I’ve been in New Orleans a little over a week now, I’m glad I made the decision to stay in a neighborhood (not a hotel) because I feel in touch with the rhythms of the locals, and local businesses than I would have if I stayed in a hotel in the French Quarter. This is important to me since I’m here for 3 weeks, not the typical 3 day tourist stay.

Near where I’m staying is St. Mary Street. It’s part of the Lower Garden District. St. Mary’s runs from the Mississippi River to St. Charles Avenue. Running along St. Mary are several neighborhoods, which if I had to decide where to say “one side or the other” was I’d choose Magazine Street because it is such a “busy” (all things being relative in New Orleans) street with a majority of the local restaurants, antique shops and art / photography galleries.

I’ve walked St. Mary many times now since I’ve arrived, and the more often I walk along the sidewalks I’m coming to know, the more I like it. Just like I did on Magazine Street a few blog posts back, I decided to take a few shots of St. Mary to give a flavor of the neighborhood.

Half Moon Bar - St Mary

Above: The afternoon light casts a stark shadow from the Half Moon Bar sign across the face of the building, on St. Mary Street. A few empty tables and chairs sit on the sidewalk because the bar is quiet in the afternoon during the week. On the weekends it perks up a bit more.

Lucky Ladle - corner of St Mary and Magazine

On the corner of St. Mary and Magazine, as you can see from the image above, the corner building is undergoing renovations. Two doors down is the Lucky Ladle, a great breakfast spot. I’ve eaten at the Lucky Ladle a few times already. In addition to the wonderful food and good service, the works of local artists hang on the walls, and I admit, I have a soft spot for such places.

The first time I went in I met Bob, a local who eats there all the time. We chatted for a while and he shared his stories about himself and the neighborhood, which was fun. Then Bob let it slip that he goes to the Lucky Ladle so often they named a special after him on the menu! (It’s called the Bob Special and I can report it is completely delicious.)

Strangely, I feel more like I’m in New York when I’m in this neighborhood than when I’m anywhere else in New Orleans, so far. I’ve mentioned this to a few people I’ve spoken to, and they say others say that about this neighborhood too.

Maybe it’s because many people are from out of town and it’s a big mix of locals and transplants, or maybe it’s because art galleries are mixed with restaurants and antique shops and funky looking people walking down the street now and again; I don’t know. But I like it.

Light and shadows on St Mary

 

Photos: Memories of Lake Champlain, NY

A few years ago I went upstate New York and visited (among other locations) Lake Champlain. I found an adorable motel that sat right on the lake, and I rented my own bungalow for the night. Because I was right on the lake, I was treated to a gorgeous pink and purple sunset while looking at the Green Mountains of Vermont in the distance. Enjoy.

 

 

Pastel pinks abound at Lake Champlain at dusk

 

 

A lone kayaker on Lake Champlain

 

 

 

Photos: Memories of Mt Rainier National Park

Along the trail - the lush greens of Mt Rainier Natl Park

When I visited Mount Rainier I encountered snow and rain in late May, early June. That didn’t stop me from taking a hike though, and the lush greens of the mosses and pines were enhanced by the weather. This particular tree was had such an interesting root structure, I grabbed a shot.

Snow Bank - Paradise Inn - Mt Rainier - June 2011

Did I mention there was snow at Paradise Inn? Yeah, there was. 25 foot snow drifts edged the parking lot of the famous Mount Rainier lodging. The morning I awoke there, it was snowing lightly. The staff estimated the snow wouldn’t melt until late July.

A Fox in Paradise

It was just me and this beautiful black fox in the Paradise Inn parking lot in Mount Rainier National Park at dusk when I took this photo. The snow banks were too high for him to climb so he did what any sly fox would do – he took a shortcut.

Fallen Giant - Mt Rainer NP

Mount Rainier and the surrounding Wenatchee National Forest are gorgeous areas and fun to explore. I didn’t spend as much time there as I wanted to…but if I go back I’ll have a decision to make – should I go in July and August and see the beautiful Alpine flowers and battle huge crowds of tourists, or will I go in an off-peak time and continue to deal with whatever cards Mother Nature has in the deck?