Thursday, July 30, 2015

Central High

I haven't really taken many pictures of one of the most famous buildings in Little Rock - Central High School. It's a grand old school, built back in 1927. When it opened, it was considered to be the "most expensive, most beautiful, and largest high school in the nation." But Central would become infamous when the city tried to desegregate the school in 1957, but the crazy governor of Arkansas called out troops to prevent the nine African American students from entering. President Eisenhower sent Army troops to Little Rock to escort the students to the school, making it one the first big Civil Rights battles.


Sixty years later, Central High is still a working school and annually ranks as one of the best schools in the state (which part of me hates admitting since Central was my high school's big rival - go North Little Rock Charging Wildcats!).

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Jurassic Presidential Library

I had a free evening, so I decided to go and try to take a few pictures. It was a stormy night, which resulted in a pretty dramatic sunset. This is the view from the Clinton Library, with some clouds being lit up by the sunset.


And a view of the Arkansas River and a distant storm, from the Clinton Park Bridge. The storm here is actually above the town of Danville, which is about 75-80 miles away.


And another shot of the front of the Clinton Library, with a dinosaur. There is a dinosaur sitting in the fountain because the Library is currently hosting an exhibit about dinosaurs.


The exhibit has several dinosaurs placed throughout the museum, although I feel like they could have done better. How about videos of members of the Clinton Administration quoting lines from Jurassic Park (with Janet Reno, for example, saying "Hold on to your butts"). Or to have the animatronic dinosaurs placed in different parts of the museum (why not have a velociraptor sitting behind the desk in the replica of the Oval Office?).

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

4th of July

On Independence Day, we headed to Riverfront Park in downtown North Little Rock for the annual Pops On The River fireworks show. For a summer day in Arkansas, it was surprisingly cool and pleasant outside, which is probably why the crowd seemed a little bigger in the park this year. This was taken by the I-30 bridge, looking across the river to downtown Little Rock.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Chicago - Part 3

Later on that morning, we headed out to visit the Field Museum. The Field is a massive museum, actually one of the largest natural history museums in the world.


And having just watched Jurassic World, we had to of course go and pay a visit to Sue. Guarding the first floor of the museum, Sue is the largest and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex fossil ever found. She was uncovered in South Dakota in 1990, and is about 67 million years old.


From there, we headed over to the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). Since this was once the tallest building in the world, the views from the observation deck (on the 103rd floor) are pretty good.


The Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world from 1973 to 1998, when it was surpassed by the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia. It is the second tallest building in the US (only the new World Trade Center in New York is taller), and the 12th tallest building in the world.


It was raining when we were there, but the weather didn't obscure much of the city skyline. The spires of the Hancock and the Trump towers rose up high above the city. It's amazing to see all of the various types of architecture on display in Chicago.



The observation deck has three glass boxes which stick out four feet from the side of the building. It's not a good spot for people who are scared of heights, since they are 1,353 feet above the street below.


This was taken a few hours later at dusk, from the window of our hotel room. It was raining, and Michigan Avenue was reflecting the bright city lights above it.


The next day was our last in Chicago, we would fly out in the afternoon. But we had a little bit of time before having to go to the airport. So we walked over to the Hancock Tower and visited the observatory there.


The Hancock Tower is 100 stories, making it the fourth tallest building in Chicago and the seventh tallest building in the US. The observatory, located on the 94th floor, offers some great views of the city and Lake Michigan.


It was also the first time on our visit to Chicago that it was sunny. Although we really couldn't complain about the weather. The high temperature for most of our time in Chicago was in the 60s, a nice contrast to the high temps back home.



The view looking down on the old Water Tower, which is dwarfed by all the tall buildings surrounding it.


And a wide view, looking across downtown and the lake.


And one last shot from Chicago, of the old church that sits in the shadow of the Hancock Tower.


From here we left downtown and made one last stop at a brewery tour of one of my favorite beers before arriving at the airport. It had been a long week, with a lot of walking across DC and Chicago. Thankfully there wasn't any more airport drama and our flight back to Little Rock was short and uneventful. And while I wasn't necessarily ready to get back to work, it was nice to get back home to our two dogs (who were happy and spoiled by our dog-sitters).

Friday, July 17, 2015

Chicago - Part 2

The main reason for taking our trip was to attend a U2 concert in Chicago. So that night we headed out to the United Center to catch the show. I've been lucky in that I've been able to attend a few of their shows over the years (and they are an amazing band to see live), and this one ranks as one of the better concerts I've seen.


I wanted to find some time to take some city pictures of Chicago around dusk, but we were too busy and I couldn't make it happen. So the only alternative was to wake up extra early and try to take pictures before sunrise. I am definitely not a morning person, so I hated the alarm clock with a severe passion when it went off at 4:30 am. But I sleepily grabbed the camera and tripod and headed out to try to take a few pictures.

Since we were staying downtown, I didn't have to walk far to go back to the old Water Tower. It was foggy that morning, obscuring the tops of the skyscrapers that flank the old Water Tower.


The streets were quiet, with only a few cars driving by. The only people out were working, getting stores ready to open or cleaning the sidewalks. It was nice to be able to take pictures without having to worry about crowds of tourists getting in the way. This is the view of the river, by the Wrigley Building. I liked this angle because it was the one where the "TRUMP" logo was the least obnoxious.


And the view from across the river, looking back at the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower.


And the view of the Chicago River from the side of Wacker Drive.


And the view from the Wabash Avenue Bridge. Although it was foggy and cloudy, I still tried to hurry to get photos before the light got too bright.


It was hard to get good photos from here. Traffic was starting to pick up, and all the cars driving by were causing the bridge to move.


I headed back towards the Michigan Avenue bridge, which actually dates to the 1920s. The artwork on the bridge was finished in 1928, and has sculptures that show scenes from Chicago's history. This one shows workers rebuilding the city after the fire in 1871. The Wrigley Building sits in the background.


And the view from the Michigan River Bridge, as fog continued to cover the tops of the buildings. It would rain that day, and the high temperature only got into the 60s (a nice contrast to back home, where it was nearly 100).


And one last shot, of the Wrigley Building and the Trump Tower. The fog hides the top of the Trump Tower, which is actually the fourth tallest building in the US.


After that I walked back to our hotel and tried to get some more sleep. After getting some rest, we headed out to do some more sightseeing. More on that, coming soon!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Chicago - Part 1

Our visit to DC was wrapping up, but luckily we had a few more days of vacation left. This was a sort of hybrid vacation, we split our week of vacation between DC and Chicago. So since we hadn’t spent enough time in the airport, we went back through the TSA lines and got ready to fly out of DC. We flew out of the Reagan National airport, then had a connecting flight in Detroit. By the time we finally landed in Chicago, we had hit a total of seven airports so far (Little Rock, Dallas, Denver, Washington Dulles, Washington National, Detroit, Chicago). Most of the added flights were due to a storm messing with our flights a few days before, but I figure it’s good practice for when we're on The Amazing Race.

We landed in Chicago, and then took the train into the city. It was right at rush hour, so I’m sure all of the other riders were delighted when they saw us try to maneuver our bags on and off the subway. But we made it in, and checked into the hotel. We got a good deal on a place downtown, just a block from Michigan Avenue. This was the view from the top.


The next morning we went and visited the massive Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute is the second largest art museum in the US, and one of the most visited art museums in the world. It is definitely worth seeing when you're in Chicago.


The Art Institute has works that span over 5,000 years of human art, and has over 260,000 pieces of art in its collection (if they need more photography, I'd be happy to sell them some).



An amazingly large amount of great art hangs on the walls here. There was a room filled with Monets, and this statue by Auguste Rodin (who also made The Thinker), which represents Eve after the Fall.


It's easy to get a little overwhelmed when visiting huge galleries like this, but it is always a neat feeling to walk into a room and then say, "oh look, that was painted by van Gogh." Or "oh huh, that's a Picasso." One of the Art Institute's most famous works is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat. It's a huge painting (7 feet by 10 feet), so it's not hard to miss.


We walked a few blocks to find a Garrett's Popcorn store, which is amazing and lives up to all the hype. We snacked on the popcorn in the plaza by the Federal Building, home to the large Flamingo statue by Alexander Calder.


No trip to Chicago would be complete without a visit to the Cloud Gate sculpture, and the huge Bean was reflecting the city and the pack of tourists surrounding it. My favorite detail about this picture are the seagulls perched happily on the top of the sculpture.



And the view from under the Bean, or if you want to use the fancy term - the omphalos of the sculpture. Here it looks like a kaleidoscope.


From there we walked a few blocks down Michigan Avenue to the bridge over the Chicago River.


A walk around this part of town is a good way to see the evolution of architecture here. Old, classic skyscrapers like the Wrigley Building sit right next to modern skyscrapers like the Trump Tower. Which is a neat looking building, except for the glaringly tacky sign that is unfortunately affixed to its side.


And then a few blocks down is the old Chicago Water Tower. The tower was built in 1869, and is one of the few buildings in the area to survive the great Chicago fire a few years later. Now the tower is dwarfed by the skyscapers around it, like the 100 story Hancock Tower.


More from the trip coming soon!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Washington, D.C. - Part 3

The next morning we headed back out to visit a few more places in DC. The first stop was the Newseum, a large museum that documents the history of journalism. There were a lot of really interesting exhibits there, and it was one of the best museums that we visited while in DC. There is also a great view from the top of the building, overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue. The large building on the left is the headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission.


And the view from the other side, looking down Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol. The Capitol dome is covered in scaffolding while it undergoes a renovation.


One exhibit here showed every Pulitzer Prize winning photo, and would even occasionally have the actual camera that was used to take the picture. There were also other artifacts on display that have been part of big news stories, like the Unabomber's cabin and the actual shoe bomb used by the Shoe Bomber. There were several artifacts there from the September 11th attacks, including part of the antenna that was on the top of the World Trade Center. The Newseum is also home to the largest section of the Berlin Wall that is on display outside of Germany. They also have a three story East German watch tower from Checkpoint Charlie.


It is a really neat museum, we actually spent more time there than any other museum in DC.


From there we walked over to the Capitol Building for a tour. The part of the Capitol that you can visit on the tour is small, only three rooms. I guess they don't want to have too many tourists running around the place all the time. But it's an interesting tour. After watching a little video they herd everyone into the Crypt, the room that sits directly beneath the Rotunda. From there you head upstairs to the Rotunda, which was partially covered by scaffolding and tarps from the renovation.

This is the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. that sits in the Rotunda. Behind him is a painting depicting the baptism of Pocahontas.


From there the tour takes you to the National Statuary Hall, a large chamber that houses statues that have been donated by each state. There are several statues of some famous Americans in the collection, like George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Brigham Young and Dwight Eisenhower. Also quite a few statues of people you've never heard of before. One of Arkansas' statues is of James Paul Clarke, who probably isn't our most treasured son and could maybe be replaced with a more well-known figure from Arkansas history. Like Hattie Caraway, William Fulbright, Douglas MacArthur, Daisy Bates, Winthrop Rockefeller, Neil Compton or even Johnny Cash.

This shot is of a statue from Oregon, of Jason Lee (not the actor from My Name Is Earl, but a missionary from the 1800s).


Before it was the Statuary Hall, this room used to be the home of the House Of Representatives. It was first used for the House starting in 1807, but had to be rebuilt after being destroyed by the British during the War of 1812. It reopened in 1819, and was used for several decades.


The chamber was the site of the inaugurations of several presidents, like James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Millard Filmore.


But the chamber's size, and its persistent echo, was too much for our delicate representatives. So they constructed the current chambers for the House, and moved into them in the 1850s. The room sat empty for a few years, until it was decided that it should become an art gallery. The first statue was placed here in 1870.


After this, the tour ended and we were shepherded back into the Visitor Center. Looking to stay in the air conditioning for as long as possible, we went through the tunnel that leads to the Library of Congress. Located just across the street from the Capitol is the Thomas Jefferson Building, which is the oldest building belonging to the Library of Congress. It's also one of the prettiest buildings in all of DC.

Built between 1890 and 1897, the interior of the Jefferson Building is an amazing and elaborately decorated wonder. This is the Great Hall, which was awesomely beautiful.



The artwork was incredibly detailed, with rich symbolism. At the bottom of this shot is a large mosaic of Minerva, the Roman goddess of Wisdom.


And here is a shot of the breathtaking Main Reading Room. A tour group came in while we were there, and the guide explained the symbolism of the statues along the walls and the historic figures they represented. Then she added, "and before you ask, yes this is where they filmed the National Treasure movies! Nicolas Cage was right in this building!"


We headed out and walked by the Supreme Court. The building was completed in 1935, and was especially quiet considering this was just a few days before the Obamacare and same-sex marriage verdicts were announced. Only a few people and security guards were wandering around. I tired to take a few pictures, but the sun was reflecting off of the bright marble and was almost too bright to look at.


This was the end of our visit to DC. But luckily not the end of the vacation. We would head out the next day to visit another great city next. More on that soon!