The SpaceX Crew 3 launch, transporting 4 astronauts to the International Space Station. Photographed from the Project Gemini Memorial at Space View Park in Titusville Florida. This launch had been postponed several times. I picked this location for the original launch date. Once I pick a location I try to stick with it. I used this location one other time, but there was heavy cloud cover and the rocket disappeared shortly after takeoff. So I wanted to give this location another try. There was light rain falling as I left the house, not a good sign. The rain was supposed to stop by launch time, but what about the clouds? When I arrived, the moon was covered by clouds. It was looking like I may have a repeat of the previous cloud situation. As launch time got closer the moon and a few stars became visible, I was hopeful. The sky was pitch black and it was hard to see if the clouds were going to be an issue or not. As soon as the rocket ignited it lit up a huge cloud bank! Shortly after lifting off the rocket disappeared into the clouds. A collective “awwwww” arose from the crowd. I waited and waited, it peeked out and was gone again, finally the rocked reappeared, although partially covered by clouds. The clouds are not always bad. A good night launch photo looks better with some clouds. You just don’t want too many. If I try this location again and there is another cloud issue, I will begin to think the twins have a cloud curse. The area around the Gemini Monument was recently renovated. They installed some new LED lights. This is a really dark area and needed some light. From a photography standpoint, the lights created a bunch of crazy lens flairs and a shadow from my lens hood. I took the lens hood off for a test photo, this made way more lens flairs. I kept the lens hood on and dealt with the shadow. Over all I was pretty happy with my image and it was a beautiful launch to watch.
Christmas Day, December 25, 2021, we sailed into Amber Cove, Dominican Republic. The port is on the north side of the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. The north side of the island is in the Atlantic Ocean and the south side is in the Caribbean Sea. The port at Amber Cove is owned and built by the Carnival Cruise line, Holland America is a Carnival company. The port has two areas, a shopping area and a resort type area. The shopping area has a dozen or so shops with all types of souvenirs. The resort side has a swimming pool with a swim up bar. The pool is free for cruise passengers to use. Pool cabanas are available to rent. There are also some cabanas in the cove for rent. All types of watercraft can be rented to use in the cove. The sky bar is perched on a hilltop with a great view of the cove. If you wanted to, you could just spend the day at Amber Cove. The historical town of Puerto Plata is about 6 miles from Amber Cove. We wanted to see more of the Dominican Republic, so we chose to book a shore excursion. We could have just grabbed a taxi into town, but in this case, the shore excursion was the better option. We booked the Mountain Views and City Sights shore excursion. We met our guide Rambo, AKA Sylvester Stallone, AKA Juan Mendoza, in Amber Cove.
Our first stop was the town of Puerto Plata (Silver Port). Our guide Rambo, said that when Christopher Columbus stopped here on his first voyage, the water in the port looked like silver. It has also been said that the mountain was covered in clouds and Columbus said it looked like silver. I think that would have made it Silver Mountain though. The day we were there both were true, so it could be either or both.
Our group of 14, stepped out of the minibus at Parque Central Independencia, a cute little park in the center of town. It was all decked out for Christmas! Rambo gave us small stickers to wear, he said they identified us as “The Rambo Family.” Adjacent to the park was St. Philip the Apostle Cathedral. We were there during a Christmas Mass. After telling us all about the cathedral, Rambo said it was OK to go inside and take some photos. It seemed a little awkward to me, but we all slipped into the back of the cathedral and took a few photos.
We walked across the street to the Island Treasures Gift shop. There, Rambo was telling us about Dominican amber. Amber is fossilized tree sap that can trap all kinds of things inside of it like insects and small animals. Along with the amber color there is also red, green, and the rare blue. Dominican amber is also the inspiration for the movie Jurassic Park. Another Dominican item he told us about was Mama Juana, a spiced rum/red wine drink, flavored with tree bark. There is actually tree bark in the bottle. It was tasty but very sweet! It’s supposed to be a strong aphrodisiac. There was a very light and brief rain shower as we finished up in the gift shop.
We walked to our next location as another cruise ship was sliding into the dock at the Puerto Plata Cruise Port. Passing another HAL tour group, we came to Paseo de Dona Blanca. An alleyway painted bright pink! It was very interesting to see and photograph.
Just down the street we came to Umbrella Street. A cobblestone pedestrian street decorated with colorful umbrellas. There are several small shops along the street. Rambo took us into a chocolate shop for a sample of some yummy hot chocolate. I was having fun photographing the umbrellas reflecting in the water puddles on the street. Back to the minibus to climb the mountain!
The first full day of our cruise, Christmas Eve, December 24, 2021. We spent the full day at sea enjoying the ship. We started the day with a nice breakfast in bed! Well not really in bed but we could’ve if we had wanted to. The night before we filled out our breakfast menu and hung it on our stateroom door. In the morning, right at the time we specified, our hot breakfast was delivered to our stateroom. It was very nice watching the world pass by through our veranda window as we ate our breakfast. It was very yummy too! We were far from camera ready so, sorry, no photos.
We wanted to work off that wonderful breakfast and also minimize the weight gain that always happens on a cruise. We took a brisk walk on the windy Promenade deck. We did 6 laps which equals two miles. We had to stop from time to time to watch the Brown Boobies chasing the Flying Fish that were jumping out of the water as the ship cut through the waves. As we were walking, I was seeing lots of photographs. So I took an extra lap to take some photos.
We were on our way to the Dominican Republic. This is the port that was switched at the last minute right before we left. The cruise port at Amber Cove is a fair distance from the places that we wanted to visit, so we booked a shore excursion. A shore excursion can be expensive, but in a port like this, it’s probably the best option. They were giving a talk about the shore excursions in the main showroom. We went to the talk to help us decide which excursion to do. We booked the Mountain Views and city sights shore excursion for the Dominican Republic.
Time to eat again! The reason the we always gain weight on a cruise is all of the wonderful food available pretty much anytime you want. We can’t let it go to waste! We popped up to the Lido deck and ordered a pizza for lunch.
There was another talk in the main showroom about the Caribbean. It turned out to be a sales pitch for rum. So we went back to our stateroom watched the flying fish and relaxed until it was time to get ready to eat again! This evening was gala night, so everyone dressed up for dinner. We had a very nice Christmas Eve dinner in the main dining room. After dinner we went to see the dance show in the main showroom. The Step One Dance Company put on a nice show.
My wife Robbie and I enjoy taking a cruise for Christmas and our anniversary. Unfortunately the past couple of years the cruise industry has been shut down. We have been unable to take our Christmas cruise. So we were really ready to cruise. Things have been getting better, the covid cases have been dropping. Everyone on the ship needed to be fully vaccinated and have a negative covid test to board the ship. Masks were also required everywhere inside of the ship, except your cabin and while eating or drinking. So this year we thought that we would take our Christmas cruise. We booked a 7 day Caribbean cruise with Holland American Cruise Line. Enter the Omicron variant! Covid cases were rising, ugh! We had committed to going, so we made the decision to continue with the cruise.
Our cruise departed from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on December 23rd. We were going to Grand Turk, San Juan Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and Half Moon Cay Bahamas. A few days before the cruise we were told that the Grand Turk port would be replaced with a stop at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Apparently both ports are owned by Carnival Cruise line, Holland America is a Carnival company. The Grand Turk port only had enough personnel to accommodate one ship. Carnival and Holland America were taking turns at the port. It was Carnivals turn, so we got bumped to Puerto Plata. We had been to Grand Turk before on another cruise, so we were good with the switch.
We drove our car to Fort Lauderdale to start our cruise. The great thing about living in Florida is that we are a few hours drive from any Florida cruise port! We parked at the Park N Go parking lot. We took a 5 minute shuttle ride to our ship the Nieuw Amsterdam. Our last cruise in 2019 from Venice, Italy took hours to board the ship. The European ship was delayed by fog but still, after boarding started it took hours! This time in Ft Lauderdale, we boarded the ship in record time! In fairness, the latest ship was about 500 people short of being full. All of the passengers had staggered boarding times, we were in the 1:40pm boarding group. We arrived at the parking lot about 1:30pm. The shuttle dropped us off right at the ship. The cruise line baggage guys grabbed our bags from the curb. We walked into the cruise terminal. We had to wait for one couple in front of us to show our boarding passes, passports, negative Covid tests and Vaccine cards. They scanned our boarding pass and we went right to security. We put our carry on bags through the machine. From there we stopped at a kiosk and had our photos taken for our ship/room key cards. After the photos we walked right onto the ship. I think they scanned our boarding passes one more time, as we boarded the ship. We were in our cabin literally 15 minuets after we got off the parking lot shuttle! Our key cards were waiting for us in our mail slot.
Once on the ship everyone is required to do a mandatory muster drill. This is a practice run for everyone to gather at their assigned lifeboat in case of emergency. Normally the whole entire ship gathers on the promenade deck under their lifeboats. You are all massed together until everyone is there and listen to the safety instructions. It’s a very tedious and long process. Not to mention huge crowds of people and Covid. They changed their process for this cruise. This time we just needed to go visit our lifeboat, so we knew where it was. A crew member scanned our key cards, so they knew we had been there. Then we just needed to watch a safety video in our cabin. A much better process, thank you Holland America! We took in the view of the port on our way to the lifeboat.
When we sail out of a port, I like to go up on deck and watch the sail away. Robbie stayed in the cabin and I went to take some photos of the sail away. I like to watch the people, watching the people, as we sail through the port. People on shore are waving and yelling at the people on the ship and people on the ship are waving and yelling at the people on shore. Everyone is happy, taking photos, and having fun!
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As we were sailing out to sea, we were treated to a nice sunset over the fantail. One of the best things about cruising is watching the sunset from the deck.
After enjoying the beautiful sunset, I took walk around the Lido deck. There is the rear pool and hot tubs with a pool bar. There is also a pizza shop where you can get a made to order pizza. Moving inside we have the Lido Market buffet restaurant. This is where you can go just about anytime and grab a bite to eat, get something sweet, or something to drink, ice tea, water or coffee. Everything is usually pretty good! Moving through the Lido Market there is the second pool and hot tubs with the Lido pool bar. Get a tropical drink and sit by the pool or have a soak in the hot tub. There is also the Dive In restaurant, a walk up diner where you can get a hot dog, burger and fries. Robbie really liked the portabella mushroom sandwich! In case of inclement weather they roll the roof closed. We had great weather and the roof was open every day. They did close it at least one night. I think we passed through some spotty showers.
Back in our cabin, from our veranda, we got to enjoy the last of the setting sun as Fort Lauderdale faded into the distance. Our cruise was off to a great start!
What a beautiful Star-filled night for a predawn Space Coast Rocket Launch! United Launch Alliance launched an Atlas V rocket carrying the Lucy Space Probe. Lucy will be exploring the Trojan Asteroid Belt in Jupiter’s orbit. After the launch the wind blew the rocket’s contrail into a cool smoke-ring in the sky.
Click on photo to see larger. You will miss all of the stars if you don’t.
After photographing the rocket launch, at Space View Park in Titusville Florida, I stuck around with a few other photographers and a few others that were just waiting for the sun to rise. It was a beautiful light show, a pod of dolphins went swimming buy as well. It was worth the wait!
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Robbie and I had a great morning on our Washington DC/Hamilton tour. We saw lots of things and walked lots of miles. We were exhausted, but we still had lots more to see. We went back to the hotel to freshen up and rest for a while. We planned to take the car and park either by the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial or the Jefferson Memorial. This would save us quite a bit of walking. First we drove to a Safeway to pick up a few supplies. From there we drove to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The parking area there was full, so we drove to the Jefferson Memorial. The parking area there is larger and had lots of spaces left. Since it was after hours, we didn’t need pay the kiosk for parking! The Jefferson and MLK memorials are basically on opposite sides of the Tidal Basin. We walked all of the way around the Tidal Basin, we started with the MLK Memorial.
Continuing around the Tidal Basin we came to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. This is a memorial that you don’t hear too much about. I was thinking that it must be fairly new, it’s actually been there since 1997. The memorial is really quite impressive. It covers a 7.5 acre area consisting of four sections, representing each of FDR’s four terms as president. Each area has lots of stone work and water features. There are statues depicting the depression and other prominent points of his presidency. There is a statue of FDR with his faithful companion Fala by his side.
Continuing around the Tidal Basin we arrived at a stop on our Hamilton tour, the Thomas Jefferson memorial. The memorial was undergoing a partial renovation but we were able to enter to see the Jefferson statue. We were able to get a nice sunset view of the Washington Monument from the portico, also on the Hamilton tour.
We had enough time to visit two more locations. We got back in the car and moved to the MLK parking area, everyone there had left by this time. We were heading to the Lincoln Memorial, on the way we wanted to stop at the Korean War Veterans memorial. Robbie’s father is a Korean War Veteran. It’s a pretty impressive memorial with a life size bronze platoon in formation crossing rice paddies. The lighting at night make the soldiers look pretty spooky. We were disappointed to see that the memorial was undergoing a total restoration; we were not able to see it in all of its glory. We did visit the memorial a few years ago on our last visit to DC. We continued on to the Lincoln Memorial, probably everyone’s favorite memorial. I always remember visiting it when I was a kid. We climbed the steps to see the huge statue of Lincoln. We like to walk around the to the back to view the Potomac River. There is always the awesome view of the National Mall and the Washington Monument. It is even better at night.
My little Fujifilm X100V was working out great! It was very easy to carry around and I was traveling much lighter. I normally only carry one camera and one lens anyway, but it was much lighter. I got some really nice twilight images. For the twilight images, I was using my monopod. With my big Nikon, I would have needed to use my tripod. In DC, you can’t use tripods in the monuments.
We made our way back to the car and then to the hotel. We had a very long day! We ended up logging 30,000 steps, over 13 miles!
The next morning we had a long 12 hour drive back to Florida. We took turns driving, had a nice lunch stop, and several stops for gas. We made it home around midnight.
Robbie and I found a nice pizzeria and sat down for a nice long relaxing lunch. We were very hot, tired and thirsty. Feeling very refreshed from our lunch, we got back to sightseeing. We heard that there was a Freedom Ride rally on the National Mall. We headed to the National Mall to see what was going on. There were lots of people with red shirts, even a few horses. We hung out there for a while and listened to a few speakers.
We went from the rally to the Capitol Building. It was disappointing to see the Capitol Building surrounded by a security fence. It was nice seeing the Capitol Building, fence and all. The fence has recently been removed.
Our next stop was on the list of monument to Hamilton characters. The Library of Congress: James Madison Memorial Building. Madison was one of the first people to indicate a need for congress to have a library. He suggested a list of books that would be helpful to members of congress. Inside the main hall of the Madison Building there is a statue of James Madison. Unfortunately, due to covid, all of the federal buildings were closed to the public. There was a very nice capitol police officer at the door. He informed us that we were not allow to enter. Robbie asked him if he would take a photo of the Madison statue for us. He said yes! So he took Robbie’s phone inside and took a few photos of the statue for us. We were very grateful and thanked him for taking the photos for us. We didn’t tell him about our Hamilton tour but we did mention the other reason that we wanted to see the Madison statue. James Madison and I are “cousins” or something like that. My Grandmother was a Madison from Virginia, apparently her family goes back to James Madison’s uncle. So James Madison and I share a great grandfather.
Our next stop was another one on the Hamilton tour, the Jefferson Library of Congress Building. Unfortunately also closed. This is the main building for the Library of Congress. We were able to go inside on our last visit to DC a few years ago. It’s a very beautiful building!
The Supreme Court Building is next to the Library of Congress. It was closed as well but was also barricaded at the street. We also went inside of the Supreme Court Building on our last trip to DC. It would have been nice just to walk up the steps though. From there you get a good view of the back of the Capitol Building.
They call it Capitol Hill, because the Capitol Building is on a hill. It doesn’t look like a big hill, until you walk to the top of it! We are from Florida, so the biggest hill we have is an ant hill. Walking up and down Capitol Hill made us quite tired. We planned on using the car for the next places on our list. So we headed back to the Hotel to take a break before heading back out. About half way to the hotel we took a little break at the fountain for the National Botanical Garden.
My wife Robbie and I took a road trip to York PA to see my family. It was great seeing everyone again, we really missed them a lot! We had a great visit but it was time to head home. We planned on visiting Washington DC on the way back to Florida. We spent two nights in DC, this way we would have one full day to see all of the sights. We had a very full day planned, we wanted to see everything! We wanted to visit some of the Smithsonian museums while we were there. In the past, you pretty much just walked into the museum you wanted to visit. During our visit in June, because of the covid pandemic, they were restricting the number of people visiting each museum. To control this we needed to get a free admission ticket online, 30 days in advance! Unfortunately, we started planning our trip less than 30 days before. We were unable to get any museum admission tickets. According to the website they were holding a small number of tickets for walk ups. We wanted to see the new National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was under construction during our last visit a few years ago. We planned on being there in the morning when they opened. On the way there we took the scenic route through the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden next to the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building. There was a line of people waiting to get into the African American Museum. We asked the woman who was checking tickets if there were any left for today. She said that there were no more tickets for today. She told us that to get tickets the day of, you actually needed to go to the website the day before at 4:30 to get them. So we were unable to get tickets for any of the museums. I checked recently and it looks like you no longer need to get a ticket to enter the museums.
Robbie is a huge Hamilton fan, so while we were in Washington DC we also wanted to see all of the monuments to Hamilton characters. Alexander Hamilton was the first Secretary of the Treasury. The US Treasury Building is just a few blocks from the African American Museum, so this was our next stop. There is a statue of Hamilton at the rear of the building. This also seems to be the main entrance, there is a security fence with a guardhouse there. We were only able to see the Hamilton statue from a distance. In the front of the building along Pennsylvania Ave is a Statue of Albert Gallatin, the longest serving Secretary of the Treasury.
Walking from the back of the Treasury Building to the front, we passed the Sun Trust Building. It’s just a neat old red brick building.
Walking down Pennsylvania Ave, we came to Lafayette Square. There is a statue of the Marquis de Lafayette, a good friend of Hamilton and French ally who helped win the American Revolutionary War. One of the men at the base of the statue is Comte de Rochambeau. Rochambeau and his French army were instrumental in defeating the British at Yorktown and winning the Revolutionary War. He is mentioned in Hamilton at the battle of Yorktown.
Across Pennsylvania Ave from Lafayette Square is The White House. There were barricades along Pennsylvania Ave, so we could not cross the street.
We were able to get into The White House for a photo though! No, not really. We stopped at The White House gift shop down the street to do some shopping. With our purchases, we could go around the corner to a small studio, for a free photo in a faux White House.
Heading back down Pennsylvania Ave we came to Pershing Park, sort of a two for one memorial. It honors General Pershing on one half and World War One on the other. The artwork reflecting in the pool will be replaced by a bronze mural when it’s completed. It’s a really pretty memorial.
We were getting pretty tired and hungry from walking around seeing the sights. We found a nice pizzeria and had a long relaxing lunch. The pizzeria was just around the corner from Fords Theater and the Peterson House across the street. The Peterson House is where President Abraham Lincoln died after being shot in Fords Theater. After seeing Fords Theater we walked across Pennsylvania Ave and got a good view of the Capitol Building. We were in Washington in June, it was Pride Month, the Federal buildings were flying pride flags. This one was the Commerce Building.
Ladder Company 10 and Engine Company 10, The Ten House. The Ten House is literally across the street from the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, The Ten House was the first to respond to the towers. Members of The Ten House directed people to exit the towers through the subway. An estimated four thousand people escaped through the subway. The Ten House lost five firefighters in the towers. A total of 343 New York City Fire Department members lost their lives that day.
Robbie and I had a great time in York PA visiting the family. It was awesome seeing everyone again. We missed them a lot! It’s always nice getting back to York. Hopefully it wont be so long until we get back again. It was time to say goodbye and head back home. It’s a really long drive back to Florida. To break it up a little, we planned a side trip to Washington DC. One of Robbie’s favorite cities. On our way from Florida to York we stopped at Mount Vernon. By the time we arrived it was too late to take a tour. We decided that we would stop at Mount Vernon again on our way to Washington. This time we arrived with plenty of time to take a tour. Due to covid restrictions they were limiting the number of people allow to take a tour of the inside of George Washington’s mansion. Although we could still walk around the grounds and see the farm and the mansion from the outside, they had reached the limit for tours of the inside of the mansion for the day. The admission to Mt. Vernon is fairly expensive. Since we could not see the inside of the mansion, we decided not to take a tour. There is a nice restaurant there next to the gift shop so we had a good lunch before heading into Washington.
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We had booked a room in downtown DC at the Holiday Inn. It was just three blocks from the National Mall, just behind the Air and Space Museum. This was a great location, most of the things we wanted to see were within walking distance. Our rate included come and go parking privileges for the parking garage, very important when visiting DC by car. The hotel was really nice, our room was on the top floor. The room was fairly large and had a sitting area with a sofa. There was also a refrigerator that we made good use of. Along with a view of the inner courtyard we could just see the top of capital dome from our window. There was a rooftop pool, but due to covid, it was closed.
I wanted to see how my new little Fujifilm X100V performed for travel photography. The X100V is a very small camera and easy to carry around. Although it is a small camera, it has all of the features and capabilities of a larger camera, with one, well, two exceptions. The X100V has a the smaller C size sensor (lots of big DSLR cameras have C sized sensors too, so not much of an issue) and a fixed 23mm focal length lens, equivalent to a 35mm focal length lens on my full frame size sensor Nikon (sensor size affects the focal length). I normally use a 24-70mm zoom lens on my Nikon. So the 35mm equivalent focal length lens on the X100V is in the middle of the range that I’m used to using. I was eager to see how being tied to the fixed 35mm (equivalent) focal length would affect my photography. There was still lots of daylight left, so I thought I would walk around and take some photos. When I photograph a place like Washington DC, if I have time, I like to walk around and sort of just follow my nose. I usually have a few things that I want to photograph, but I like to keep things loose. I like to also be able to photograph things that I find along the way. Here, my main targets were the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. If I found something along the way, all the better. I walked a few blocks from the hotel on the way to the Capitol building and found the National Museum of the American Indian. This museum has some really nice architecture. I was having a great time photographing it. This museum was not on my list of places to photograph. Not having a strict itinerary allowed me to spend some time on a found place. Tomorrow will be much different, we have a larger list of places to see, so I won’t have as much time for found places.
After photographing the American Indian Museum, I made my way towards the Capitol Building. It was a really nice evening for a walk through the Nation’s Capital. It was disheartening to see the security fencing around the Capitol Building. The reason why it needed to be there in the first place is even more disheartening. Area closed is not something you want to see around your Capitol. That aside, the Capitol Building was looking very majestic as usual. Thankfully the security fencing has since been removed.
I walked all the way around the Capitol Reflecting Pool then started down the National Mall. There was not a large number of people on the Mall. The people who were on the Mall had been taking part in many activities. They were sitting in the grass relaxing and enjoying the beautiful evening. People were walking, taking in the sights, like me. They were playing games and having fun. Bike riders and rental electric scooter riders were zipping up and down the Mall. A Segway tour passed by. There were people sitting on benches just watching the world go by. It was a great evening to be on the Mall. I was treated to a colorful sunset as I approached the Washington Monument.
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On my way back to the hotel I stumbled onto the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. The garden is a beautifully landscaped brick walkway between Jefferson Drive and Independence Avenue. It’s part of the gardens surrounding the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building, the prominent 1800s redbrick building along the National Mall. The Air and Space Museum was undergoing a renovation and had construction fencing around parts of it. I poked my camera through the fence and I was able to get a photo of the Delta Solar sculpture. Just a block from the hotel I passed the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial with a nice view of the Capital Building. I had fun walking around the Nations Capital taking photos. I was very happy with the performance of my little Fujifilm X100V. Occasionally I needed to reposition myself to frame an image. With my 24-70mm I would have been able to simply zoom. For the most part thought I was working well with the fixed focal length. The camera was really nice to carry around, I felt very light and free. I just had the small camera, with an extra battery and lens cloth in my pocket.