2011 was the year I visited America for the first time and it was a trip that saw my wife and I spend most of that visit staying with her sister who lived in a small town in Virginia not too far from Dulles where Orbital Sciences were building a satellite for the company she worked for. We made good use of our time in America, engaging in trips to the country’s nearby capital, a drive through Shenandoah, a coach trip up to New York, and even a flight to Boston, but we did actually spend some time in Virginia too, two days of which saw us visiting the town of Reston.
The first day we paid a visit to Reston was on a Sunday, just after we’d had a tour of Orbital and got to see some satellites being built and prepared on sound stages designed to simulate launch noise and vibration conditions. While my sister-in-law’s company were dealing with communications satellites some of the other builds we saw included the Cygnus spacecraft that perform part of the regular run of supplies and removal of waste from the International Space Station. Following our private tour (no photos for obvious reasons) we headed into Reston for lunch and so that we could experience what it was like to be in an American bar watching American Football (before actually experiencing the activity at first hand when we’d later hit Massachusetts).
We travelled to America in November so one of the first things we spotted in Reston was an ice rink that we assumed was just there for the holiday period. An outdoors rink prior to this point was something I’d never seen outside a movie before so it was great to see. In recent years they’ve started appearing towards the end of the year locally too, though, so it wouldn’t be quite the wow moment these days.
Reston itself was very clean and very typical of what we expected from an American city but in a reasonably small town; very straight roads, zones for specific activities. The reason for this was simply that Reston was a fairly young town and had been planned in that way rather than evolving in the more natural way that we see towns and cities here in Europe. Whether it was because it was a Sunday or whether it was because of the time of year or whether it was because, being planned and being American, people didn’t really live anywhere near where things actually were (they do like getting around in their cars an awful lot over there) I can’t say for sure but there was a very quiet, almost empty, wasted feel to the place. This is not necessarily a bad thing for a traveller to experience as any cultural difference is a welcome one but I’m not sure it’s a place I’d like to live in. We felt the same way about Washington DC when we were there but to contrast that I absolutely loved New York.
Architecturally, there were some lovely pieces to feast the eye on in Reston: some very American-looking diners and signs and a building with more than a hint of art deco styling grabbed my attention most of all.
The bar we were heading to was Clyde’s. This was a place known to my wife’s sister and her boyfriend and somewhere that the guy who’d taken us around Orbital knew as well and who we had arranged to meet there for drinks. While the place had a sit-down restaurant area it was at the bar that we located ourselves and where we enjoyed some beers and some food in that very magical American way where the bar staff seem to remember around ten people’s different orders before fetching them flawlessly in sequence and coping with interruptions of new orders too. No idea how they manage it. We had a few chats with some of the locals once our accents were overheard and the most interesting conversation was when someone at the bar asked what the time was and I showed my phone to him. Apparently, seeing the time written in 24-hour clock notation format was the most incredible thing ever and a small group of people gathered to stare at the readout and check their own phones to confirm that they’d never seen such a mystical way of telling the time. Weird how the tiniest cultural differences can be the most memorable. Football was watched on TV (the bar supported the Redskins because of its proximity to Washington), a good time was had by all, and it was here that we were served our very first Baby Guinness cocktail (with Patrón XO Cafe), a drink we make at home to this day because it’s just so very good.
We returned to Reston towards the end of our stay in Virginia. We hadn’t planned this part of the trip but the timing was such that our holiday in America coincided with Thanksgiving and the following day they held a parade in the town. You can see photos of the parade here: Reston, VA, Thanksgiving Parade 2011.
As we’d arrived early to stake out a spot and we would hang around for a while afterwards in order that the majority of people could pile into their cars and disperse first this gave me a lot of opportunity to just shoot some people gathering or wandering around the streets of Reston. On the walk towards the parade route from where we’d parked our car we passed through the town square park where some abstract art sculptures caught my eye against the crisp, clear November sky.
From there on (parade itself notwithstanding) it was mainly the people who had come to Reston who grabbed my attention. Taking photos of people doing absolutely normal activities on the streets is something I used to do quite a lot (and obviously did back in 2011) but my focus has definitely shifted more to the travel locations these days. It’s interesting to me, looking back at photos like this, to see how much enjoyment I can get from a snapshot of a mainly meaningless moment of time.
All of these photos were taken with my 100mm L-series prime lens as well which is a lens not ideally suited for street photography but which does produce some lovely shots nonetheless. Being a tourist at a crowded event like the Reston parade obviously lends itself well to taking these sorts of photos and it’s something I might try to drag myself back into; to be able to capture both the essence of the place as well as the people makes for the best travel photography in my opinion.