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Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

One of  the best known buildings in Vienna is Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Vienna. You can see the multicolored tiled roof, one of its distinctive features, in the photos below that I took a few nights ago. The cathedral is located in a busy area in the center of the city with surrounding buildings quite close. As a result, you have to get pretty close and shoot upwards to get an unobstructed view and the angles get all skewed.

In a few hours a taxi will bring me to the airport to catch my flight back to the USA. It has been a brief trip to Vienna with most of my daylight hours occupied with work, but I have been fortunate to have the chance to catch some of the beautiful Christmas decorations in the city at nights. I might do another posting or two of Vienna when I return home, but this will almost certainly be my last one that I write in Vienna itself.

Merry Christmas to you all, wherever the holidays happen to find you.

Stephansdom Vienna

Stephansdom Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Santa-like “beard” of the White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis) that I observed this past weekend at Huntley Meadows Park seems seasonally appropriate as we move closer and closer to Christmas. The backdrop of colorful foliage adds to the festive feel of the photo, which is further enhanced by the frosty leaves in the foreground.

 

White-throated Sparrow

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Under any circumstances it is a challenge to remove the ornaments and lights from a Christmas tree, but when the tree is several stories tall, a simple step ladder is not enough. Yesterday, when I arrived at the Grand-Place in the center of Brussels, workers had already removed the large red and gold ornaments from the tree and were working to take off the lights using a “cherry-picker.” They worked methodically to remove strand after strand of lights, carefully coiling them as they went along.

As I watched them work, I noticed the beautiful reflections of the square on the shiny surfaces of the spherical ornaments that reminded me of the images you would get with a fisheye lens. No matter which way I moved, my figure was always in the frame, so I decided to embrace the opportunity and create a kind of self portrait. The other images in this set feature the efforts of the workers from different angles.

It was a lot of fun trying to frame shots with my little Canon A620 point-and-shoot camera. As a result of its limited zoom range, I was forced to move about a lot, causing me realize that a big zoom lens tends to make me a little lazy in considering options for framing shots.

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

Brussels Christmas tree

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I made a quick trip to Huntley Meadows Park on Christmas Day to see what creatures were stirring and was surprised to see some turtles had surfaced to bask in the sun. The flash of red on this Red-eared Slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) made its colors seasonally appropriate and it did seem to have sandy claws.

Red-eared Slider

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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As I walked through frosty streets in the early hours of Christmas morning, I could see lots of colored lights adorning the houses of my neighbors. What really drew my eyes, though, was the sliver of the moon shining brightly in the darkness—it was simultaneously modest and spectacular. It brought to mind some words from the first chapter of the Gospel of John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

As my pastor reminded us last night, Christmas comes in ordinary ways to everyday people like us and it is a season of hope and expectation. No matter what you believe or what you choose to celebrate, we can all use more light and hope in our lives and today is a good day to be reminded of that.

Christmas moon

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My short trip to Vienna, Austria is rapidly coming to a close and I want to leave you with this image of the entrance to the outdoor Christmas market at the Rathaus (City Hall), the tall building in the background.

Best wishes to all for a “Frohe Weihnachten,” German for “Merry Christmas.”

Christmas 2016

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The Christmas season is gradually coming to an end in Brussels. Yesterday, for example, I noted that they had removed the large Christmas tree from the central city square, leaving a large hole in the cobblestones and a pile of discarded debris.

Beautiful decorations, however, still remain in a covered shopping arcade and in some of the streets.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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The lights at the Christmas Market at the Rathaus (City Hall) in Vienna, Austria really put me in the mood for Christmas. I’m finishing up my work in Vienna and will be back in Northern Virginia in a couple of days.

Merry Christmas (in German)

Merry Christmas (in German)

Vienna Christmas Market

Vienna Christmas Market

 

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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At this time of the year there are Christmas markets all over Vienna. One of the largest and busiest is located in the square in front of the Rathhaus (City Hall), an elaborate building in the center of the city.

Most of the times that I have visited this market in the past have been at night. Each time I had to fight my way through jostling crowds of people as I was overwhelmed by the sights and smells of the market.

Last week, I had the chance to walk through the market early in the day before it had opened. I noticed there there were statues overlooking the market booths. The statues, which I suspect are historical figures, are probably permanently in place. I’m sure that it was my imagination, but the statues seemed to be making an assessment of activity that was taking place below their feet.

I love the look of the Rathaus and am also including a few views of this wonderful piece of architecture.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

 

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On my final night in Vienna, I took a long, leisurely stroll through the pedestrian district in the city’s center, enjoying the magical atmosphere created by all of the different Christmas lights that adorned the streets.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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Although Vienna is best known for the classical music of composers like Mozart and Strauss, there is music everywhere at Christmas time, from the carols of a brass ensemble at a Christmas market to the softer sounds of a Swedish choir celebrating Sankta Lucia.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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“Joy to the World, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing…”

In this case, “nature” is a Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) that I photographed one recent morning, singing with all of its might.

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On Christmas Day, many of us recall the message of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Yet sometimes I feel like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow must have felt when he wrote the words, “And in despair I bowed my head. “There is no peace on earth,” I said. “For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

My prayer this Christmas Day, is that we will all be encouraged and blessed and filled with love for one another. Longfellow did not conclude his poem, “Christmas Bells” in despair, but instead ended with these words:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Merry Christmas to all of you.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Last night I made a trip into Washington D.C. with some friends to see the National Christmas Tree. Despite the fact that I have lived in this area for more than 20 years, this was the first time that I had seen it live—I have seen the tree-lighting ceremony on the news many times.

The large Christmas tree, which is a live tree, is surrounded by 56 smaller decorated live trees, representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the unincorporated territories of the United States. Underneath the tree was an elaborate set-up of model trains, reminding me of my childhood.

It’s the day before Christmas and most of us are in high gear for the coming holy day. Best wishes to all of you for a joyous Christmas and a wonderful and blessed New Year.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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The streets in the pedestrian area of Vienna have spectacular displays of lighting for Christmas that are simple and elegant. Each of the streets has its own motif that is repeated in white or gold lights. My favorites are the giant chandeliers in one of the main streets, but others are equally impressive. Do you have a favorite?

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I am including a selection of photos in a gallery to show you some of the different lighting schemes—click on a photo to see the photos in  the gallery at higher resolution.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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It finally stopped raining in Vienna and I was able to take a walk through the Christmas market in front of the Rathaus (City Hall). There are rows and rows of stalls set up with all kinds of products and food.

In the midst of all of the artificial lights, I was struck by the beauty of the moon, which kept peeking in and out of the clouds.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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I am not a cat person generally, but I am pet-sitting three cats for my friend and photography mentor, Cindy Dyer. You can read about some of the cats’ exploits on her blog.

Her striped cat is named Pixel (only a professional photographer would name a cat Pixel) and is very photogenic. Cindy featured him today in a posting entitled Happy holidays from Santa and Pixel. Here is a photo I took of him yesterday morning, with the soft light coming in from behind him.

Pixel

Pixel

Pixel’s brother is named Lobo, though he was originally going to be called JPEG until Cindy’s husband nixed the idea. He is a bit more friendly than Pixel and equally photogenic. Here is a photo of him, also from yesterday morning.

Lobo

Lobo

The third cat, an older female named Zena, is spending most of her time under the bed—she is irritated with me and seems to think that ignoring me is the best course of action.

These cats were my early morning companions today and we shared the start of a glorious Christmas day—they had their cat food and I had my coffee. Maybe I am starting to turn into a cat person.

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Deep inside a bush with red berries, a male Northern Cardinal was almost camouflaged, most of his body a dusty red that blended in with his surroundings. His head, though, was a bright red, a defiant red that refused to be hidden. For me, it’s like the true meaning of Christmas, that is often camouflaged with bright lights and tinsel. My simple prayer today is one that we sang at a Christmas Eve service last night, Dona nobis pacem (Grant us peace). Peace to all this Christmas day and in the coming new year.Hidden cardinal

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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On a cold, windy day this weekend, I visited one of the local gardens. Most of the color was gone and it was a desolate, lifeless place.

Then suddenly I heard a sound, the beautiful song of a bird. It was a Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) defiantly singing a song of hope and good cheer. It seems so appropriate for this Christmas season, a message of peace on earth, goodwill to men.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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It’s almost Christmas. Decorations are visible everywhere and all the radio stations are playing non-stop Christmas music. As I am driving to work, I am reminded of (and sometimes burst into singing) the lyrics of Silver Bells, which include the line, “Strings of street lights, even stoplights, blink a bright red and green, as the shoppers rush home with their treasures.”

Even in nature I am reminded of Christmas. Despite the title of this blog posting, this bird is not called a “Santa bird,” but I enjoy making up names of the creatures that I photograph. Usually I do so when I don’t know their real names, but in this case I know that the bird is a White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis).

His prominent white “beard” and his round belly, though, remind me of Santa Claus, and I can’t help but smile. I recall some of the words of the famous poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, “He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.”

Soon it will be Christmas day.

Santa bird

Santa bird

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved

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Sitting in the airport in Newark, I decided to take advantage of the time before my flight back to Washington, D.C. and play with some of my images. I have always loved black-and-white photography and have tried a couple of times to convert some of my images. I never know for sure what will work, but one of my photos of Christmas decorations in Vienna, Austria seemed to be appropriate for experimentation. I know that there is some good software available if I decide to pursue that direction, but this time I opted to desaturate the image almost entirely. I like the effect, in part because of the graphic lines of the original.

Which version do you like more, black-and-white or color?

Almost black and white

Almost black and white

Color

Color

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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On my last night in Vienna, Austria, I decided to go for a walk through the city center to see how it was decorated for Christmas. There were lots of lights everywhere. Using available light, I took some photos of those lights and of some of Vienna’s famous landmarks. With a tripod, I would have done better, but I took advantage of various objects to brace myself and my camera for some fairly lengthy exposures. Here is an eclectic set of shots from my walk on a very cold Vienna evening.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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My time in Vienna is drawing to a close and I thought I’d post a few more of my favorite photos from the Christmas market.

Stands selling hot spiced wine are often areas where people congregate. One of them was set up on a path flanked with statues and I like how the first photo shows a statue peering down over the stand. What would he think of the scene in front of him?

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The second image shows one element of the Christmas decorations. I like the colors, shapes, and the lines in that photo.

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The third shot was taken looking up at some of the towers of the Rathaus (City Hall). I braced myself against the wall of one of the booths to steady myself for the shot and you can see part of the booth in the foreground. I like the effect of this extreme angle (and I always love shots of buildings lit up in the evening).

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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One of the most interesting aspects of any outdoor market is watching people, including the salespeople. In my experience, the vendors tend to be outgoing people who try to attract passersby to stop at their stalls and purchase what ever they are selling. Here are some photos I took of three of the vendors at the Christmas market in Vienna. The lighting is a bit harsh, but I decided to take the photos without flash to be less obtrusive.

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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This evening I had the chance to visit again the Christmas market in front of the Rathaus (City Hall) in Vienna, Austria and got better photos. Why? It was less crowed, the weather was better, and I was alone (rather than with three friends who were more interested in shopping than in taking photos).

The first sign was from a stall that was selling lebkuchen, a German baked product that is a lot like gingerbread. I really like the hand-carved look of the sign.

Lebkuchen

The second sign is a sign for a stall called “Potato Jim” that sold stuffed baked potatoes. I am not sure who “Jim” is, but I thought the sign, with a potato wearing a Santa hat, was cute.

Potato Jim

The third sign is one that was at the entrance to the Christmas market. The big letters spell out “Merry Christmas” in German and the small lit sign to the right spells out “Vienna Christmas Market.” The building in the background is the Rathaus (City Hall).

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© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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You probably noticed that the subject matter of my blog is different in this posting. I am away from home on a short business trip to Vienna, Austria. I arrived this afternoon and had the chance to visit several of the Christmas markets here. They were all very crowded and it was also well below freezing and windy, so shopping was not a lot of fun. It was actually more fun to watch people.

The biggest Christmas market was at the plaza in front of the Rathaus, the city hall. I have only a point-and-shoot camera with me, but I managed to take a couple of shots to give you a sense of the venue. According to Wikipedia, the beautiful Gothic-style building was constructed between 1872 and 1883.

I’ll try to post a few more photos of Vienna, a beautiful city with lots of charm, while I’m here.

Rathaus at dusk

Rathaus at dusk

Christmas lighting in Vienna

Christmas lighting in Vienna

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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