Sunday, September 23, 2018

A Hike on the Cliffs

Last Sunday the Geek and I decided to drive down to Point Reyes National Seashore - it's such a beautiful gem right at our door step. Point Reyes is a peninsula in Marin County about 35 miles from our home, a beautiful drive along winding California Highway 1 with many stunning views along the way. To the east Point Reyes is bounded by the San Andreas Fault which caused the peninsula to move 21 feet to the north in the 1906 earthquake. The Point Reyes Peninsula is on the Pacific Plate while the rest of Marin County is on the North American Plate. There is an Earthquake Trail which describes the geology of that area.

We had planned to visit various places on the peninsula like the Cypress Tunnel in the image above. We also wanted to hike and had chosen to walk out to Chimney Rock at the very end of the peninsula.

We first went over to the Elephant Seal Overlook which is an easy walk of just a few minutes. Every year from about November to March elephant seals gather on Drakes Beach and spend the winter here. However, there were only about ten elephant seals here swimming in the water (and making quite some noise) whereas the harbor seals populated the beach. We enjoyed watching the pelicans who were busy catching fish in the water.

Finally we were on our way out to Chimney Rock.

It's a moderate hike along an often sandy trail over the cliffs. It was a surprisingly pleasant day at the ocean - sunny with blue skies, a breeze but not too windy and temperatures of about 65 F. Perfect for a hike at the coast. But as you can see in the image above, some clouds were already coming in. The weather in Point Reyes can be rather varied. While it is sunny and warm at one end, it can be foggy and cool at the other one. This is coastal Northern California for you.

We saw the old dock and life saving station in Drakes Bay. The latter used to be pretty busy because of the fast changing weather pattern and boats getting lost. On the open ocean side to the West there is a lighthouse that is currently under restoration. Before the lighthouse was established in 1870 (after a 15 years long dispute between the United States Lighthouse Board and the landowners over a fair price for the land) many ships ended up as wrecks at the treacherous coastline. This is what the coastline looks like - dramatic, fascinating and dangerous. In 2015 new fissures in the cliffs were discovered and consequently trails close to the cliffs' edge were closed - which doesn't prevent the ever stupid invincible people from still walking there.

Almost at the end of the hike we turned around and took in the view from here. You can see the Pacific Ocean to the left and Drakes Bay to the right. You can also clearly see the trail we hiked along. This part of Point Reyes is an excellent location to watch whales - in the winter and early spring for the Grey Whale migration and with a bit of luck you can see Humpbacks all year round.

The view down from Chimney Rock was just as dramatic as the view back.

We sat on a bench in the sun, listened to the crashing of the waves against the cliffs and enjoyed watching the sparrows. The world felt very peaceful here.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

If These Walls Could Talk

Right behind the Hagia Sophia, as soon as you have entered the grounds of the Topkapi Palace, you can see the beautiful Hagia Irene - or Aya Irini in Turkish - to your left. Often overseen in the shadow of its big famous sister it is a true gem.

One of the historical buildings in Istanbul it was the first church completed in Istanbul (then Constantinople), before the Hagia Sophia. However, the church we see nowadays is not the original building since it burned down in 532. The groundbreaking of the "modern" Hagia Irene was in the same year.  It's built with brick and stone in the Byzantine style and if you don't look closely it resembles its big sister a bit.

However, it lacks all the stunning interior decor of the Hagia Sophia. No mosaics, no tiles, no chandeliers. Just walls. But those walls are impressive.

Hagia Irene has always been a church. It never had to go through all the changes like Hagia Sophia - it never was converted into a mosque, but it no longer functions as a church. It is often overlooked, there are only a few people who go there and you have the place pretty much to yourself.

It hasn't always been like this. There used to be mosaics and frescoes and you can still see some of it.

However, I do like the bare walls. Just think how old they are! If these walls could talk, what would they tell us? They sure got their share of wars, prosperity and desperate times. But they're still here after almost 1500 years. Can you imagine our modern buildings still being here in 1500 years? I sure can't. We certainly don't build for eternity anymore.

Even though Hagia Irene is rather "bare" there is much to discover. It turned out to be my favorite historical building in Istanbul. Its simplicity holds a lot of fascination for me. It has a very special atmosphere - a bit mystical, a bit dark, a bit mysterious. A hidden gem.

Nowadays, Hagia Irene mainly serves as a concert hall for classical music performances because of its excellent acoustic and the unique atmosphere. I would have loved to listen to a concert here - I can just imagine the music rising up to the dome, sounding back from the walls, surrounding the breathless audience. What an experience this must be.

Oh, and of course it has some permanent residents here...

I could have stayed much longer within these walls. This is a place I go back to in my mind over and over again.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

An Image and Its Story - August 2018

August was the non-photography month. My work at the high school library started again, and as always at the beginning of a new school year it was chaotic and very very busy. I was running around like a chicken without a head (at least it felt like it), distributing heavy textbooks to 1600 students, loading said textbooks from the shelves onto carts, then scanning them and giving to the students. If I was lucky I could sit down for about ten minutes during the entire work day. No wonder I was utterly exhausted when I returned home in the late afternoon. Then I often had to do organisational work for the German School where I'm the lead teacher. On top of that I didn't sleep very well since so many things concerning work were running through my head.

So photography completely fell to the wayside.

However, I didn't mind very much since I knew that the busy first weeks of the school year would be over by the end of August and I would be back at my regular work schedule which gives me way more time. And so, on my first day off, I stepped out into my garden and noticed how beautiful my Autumn Joy was and that the bees were having a feast on the flowers. Looking closer I noticed a little butterfly among the busy bees, and it wasn't a Fiery Skipper that I had seen last year.

This one is a skipper as well, but I'm not sure whether it is a Sandhill Skipper or a Woodland Skipper. Both are common in the San Francisco Bay Area, and maybe someone can tell me which one it is. Just like all the skippers it was a bit jumpy and it took quite some photos to finally get one that is halfway decent. I do love those little skippers no matter what kind they are. They sure find a lot of food in my garden.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Istanbul Kedisi - Cats of Istanbul

Istanbul is the city of cats - there are cats everywhere. Yes, they are stray cats, but everybody seem to love them. They are well fed, look good (most of them anyway) and as typical cats ignore all the people around them (except when they offer food to them). They're certainly not hop-on-your-lap-and-pet-me cats, but even though the city population loves them.

The Hagia Sophia is a popular hang-out spot; while I didn't see any cats in the Blue Mosque I have seen many photos of cats there and am convinced that they like to go there as well. Lots of shady spots during the hot sunny days.

We had so much fun watching this cat while we were sitting in our favorite street café, enjoying some ice coffee. This cat took interest in this moped, first hopped on it, inspected it until it jumped up onto the seat, trying its claws on it and finally settled down. It stayed there until the owner of the moped claimed it which the cat thought was rather impertinent. The moped driver was very gentle and kind with her.

A few days later when we were at the same café a cat (perhaps the same one?) was lying in the street, taking a nap. It wouldn't move and people would just drive around it - this is something we noticed all the time: drivers stop for cats and dogs or maneuver around them. I liked that.

Wherever we went we would find little piles of dried cat food, water bowls on a sidewalk. Some restaurants collect tips to pay for veterinary bills. It was heart warming to see how well these animals are looked after and how much they are loved.

There are also a lot of stray dogs that are just as well looked after and loved. And the really interesting thing was that we never saw any dog poop! (On a side note, we saw very little trash in the city anyway. Istanbul is a very clean city.)

The cats are simply everywhere - this one was taking a nap right in front of a shop window in the Arasta Bazaar.

They sit on the ticket counter in the train station...

... and hang out in the gardens of mosques.

While walking the streets we saw them everywhere, especially in the quieter neighborhoods.

 Of course they're in the parks as well.

Cats have been in Istanbul forever. There even is a movie about the cats of Istanbul called "Kedi" ("cat" in Turkish) that I have yet to watch. You can find Facebook groups about them and even yours truly has a Pinterest board about the Istanbul kedisi.

"While dogs think people are God, cats don't. They just know better." Quote from "Kedi".

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

From Basilica to Mosque to Museum

Without doubt the Hagia Sophia - Ayasofya in Turkish - is the most famous building in Istanbul. "Hagia Sophia" comes from the Greek and means "Holy Wisdom". Built in 537 AD during the Byzantine Empire it is also one of the oldest buildings in the city. It started out as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica, was later converted into an Ottoman mosque and has served as a museum since 1935 when it was secularized. (Warning: this is a very photo-heavy post)

We visited the Hagia Sophia on our second day in Istanbul, after we had seen the Blue Mosque - just across from the Ayasofya - the day before. I'm glad that we did it in this sequence, because this basilica converted mosque converted museum pretty much blew me away.

The interior with its famous dome and huge nave holds a serenity that couldn't even be disturbed by the many people who came here. I felt very small when I entered and was immediately fascinated by the many chandeliers that cast a warm light into the interior.

But before we ventured further we walked up the switchback ramp to the upstairs galleries. I loved the worn stone slabs shining with age.

Both the downstairs narthex and the galleries have beautiful ceilings, and everywhere you can notice the age of the building. Restoration work is continuously going on here. And look at those gorgeous columns!


But the crème de la crème are the mosaics.

They simply took my breath away. I will spare you my raving over them and just post pictures of them, leaving them to your own judgment. And if you're not into mosaics, just scroll down.

Let's look up one more time and then go down again at the end of the gallery.

While I loved the mosaics and spent a very long time on the galleries, my favorite feature of the Ayasofya was downstairs - the chandeliers. They were added during the Ottoman Empire. Pure eye candy and I was drooling over (well, under) them.

Eventually - reluctantly - we left; but there are so many beautiful things to discover outside as well.

Of course we can't forget the Ayasofya cats... this is just one of them.

It is beautiful at night as well, especially with the blue fountain in the foreground.

We just had to climb up to the roof terrace of our hotel to see the beauty of it.