Thursday, September 27, 2018

You'll Never Find Your Gold on a Sandy Beach

... but you can find solitude.

And that's what we did when we went to Point Reyes two weeks ago. After our beautiful hike to Chimney Rock we felt a walk on the beach might be just the ticket. Drakes Beach is easily accessible and we thought it might be very crowded on this warm day, but to our surprise there weren't many people there. We were almost on our own here and pretty much had the beach all to ourselves.

It was so nice walking on the sand, listening to the waves and feeling the sun on our faces. I was looking for shells but mainly found empty crab shells as leftover from some seagull dinner, and even a jellyfish. We usually don't see too many jellies here.

We watched the sea playing with this - thing? I have no idea what it is, and if you know I would appreciate if you told me. There are quite a lot of these long marine plants (I assume) to be found on our beaches, they are lightweight and have some kind of seaweed attached to it.
Update: A friend told me on Facebook that it is Giant Sea Kelp. I actually should have known that...

Even here in this kind of protected bay a lot of driftwood has been washed ashore, and the ice plant is gently covering it.

Finally, we went to a beach further to the North, McClures Beach. Here you actually have to descend the cliffs through a canyon - it's about a 15 minutes walk and the reward is an almost empty beach. However, the weather has changed as it so often does on the coast in Northern California. Gone was the sun and the blue skies, somewhere above the marine layer that spread over the coast.

The walk along the beach was still beautiful, though.

Until we happened about this crab. The waves had washed it up, but strangely enough the seagulls that were close by weren't interested in it. We assumed that they don't like live crabs since they can't figure out how to avoid getting pinched by the claws. That poor crab was helplessly wiggling its legs and starting to blow bubbles. Another wave threw it further up on the sand. The "beast" was pretty big and I wondered how to grab it to save its life. Just when I had asked the Geek this question the crab got on its hind legs and stared at me.

Don't you think it's pleading with me to save it? So I grabbed it around its shell, running with it towards the waves and throwing it back into the ocean (and, of course, getting wet while doing that). It never turned up again, so I guess it made it - and I was happy about that.

After that heroic deed we had to climb back up the cliffs and into the fog.


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.