Monday, March 2, 2015

CROATIA: Walking the Wall in Dubrovnik, Guest Post by Tom Scheaffer

Dubrovnik, Croatia. 1940 meters of thick walls circle the city
In late December and early January my brother Tom spent three weeks in Croatia, staying in Dubrovnic, and making excursions from there into the countryside. Dubrovnik is famous for its intact city walls dating back to Medieval times. The walls are a favorite place to walk and view the historic architecture of the city. Here are some of Tom’s photos and comments from his trip.
We are staying in a great hotel right on the water.  The view from my room looks over the old town of Dubrovnic and the Adriatic. It is very scenic, though the weather is cold. The coast is rocky with mountains coming down to the sea.
Tom in Dubrovnik
Today I walked the Dubrovnic wall with some friends. The views of the Adriatic Sea and the crystal clear water were beautiful. This coastline of Croatia is very rocky and the steep cliffs and steep wall made the city difficult to conquer.
St. Lawrence Fortress (Croatian: Lovrijenac), often called Dubrovnik's Gibraltar, is located outside the western city walls, 37 metres (121 ft) above sea level.
The city of Dubrovnik is completely surrounded with walls and forts, including the Old Port. The history of the fortifications goes back to the early Middle Ages. No doubt the earliest urban settlement upon the islet of Laus was protected with walls. The fact that the city was able to resist the Saracens who besieged the city for 15 months in the 9th century means that it was fortified well.
Cannon mounted along the wall
The average thickness of the wall was 1.5 meters, and it was built of stone and lime. To increase the strength of the walls and ensure better defense, 15 square forts were built in the 14th century.
In 1979 Old Town Dubrovnik was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hiking the EBMUD Trails in the Oakland Hills, California

Tall trees at the canyon trail head
Recently, we spent a warm Saturday afternoon hiking on one of the many beautiful trails in the Oakland Hills. The expedition had two purposes: one, to make use of our son Matt’s recently acquired permit for hiking on East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) land; and two, to try out our new, or newly adapted, cameras.
Infrared, left; Infrared colorswap, right
We had three cameras to play with. I had a new pocket camera, Art had upgraded his SLR camera with a new model, and Matt had refitted one of his cameras to take infrared pictures. For our hike we chose the King Canyon Loop and Riche Trail, which offered ample opportunity for photos.  We started in tall trees at the bottom of the canyon, hiked up through oak woodland, before reaching the part of the trail that opened up to broad vistas.
Blackberry leaves
A surprising variety of fungi, moss, ferns, leaves and other plants provided the chance for close-ups along the way.
Looking East toward Mount Diablo
We had packed a picnic lunch and ate it at the staging area where there were picnic tables and portapotties. As we ate, we heard a tap, tap in the tree just above our heads. When we looked up we saw a  woodpecker drilling a hole in search of sap and insects. After I got home and looked it up in my bird guide, I discovered that it was a red-breasted sapsucker, a kind of woodpecker native to the western U.S.
"Red-breasted" sapsucker
The EBMUD manages 27,000 acres of open space and 80 miles of horseback and hiking trails just a short distance from downtown Oakland. I am always amazed how quickly one can be surrounded by nature and still be close to the city. We passed only a few people along the trail. It was wonderful to be out in the fresh air enjoying nature just a few miles from home.
Using focus effect to blur edges of picture

Monday, February 16, 2015

PARIS CLOSE-UPS, Guest Post by Kathryn Mohrman

My friend, Kathryn Mohrman, an avid and excellent photographer, went to Paris recently.  She has graciously agreed to share some of her photos and impressions of her trip. Kathryn is a professor at Arizona State University and travels widely for her job as director of several projects with partner universities in China and Vietnam. You can see photos from her trips to Morocco, Lalibela, Ethiopia, and Turkey elsewhere on this blog.  I have known Kathryn since we were students together at Grinnell College in Iowa. Here is her report: 

My most recent adventure was another photo workshop, New Year’s in Paris. What could be better than that! The focus was on street photography—every picture had to have a person in it. Our instructor, an experienced news photographer with dozens of Newsweek cover photos to his credit, pushed us to use a wide-angle lens and get close to people, get closer to people, get even closer! You can see the results of our class at It was inspiring to be with terrific photographers who challenged me to look differently…and get closer.

Note: I asked Kathryn why she chose to shoot her pictures in black and white.  Here is her answer: "I chose to do B&W (as did most of the eight students in the workshop) because the instructor shoots only in B&W.  It was street photography, every photo had to include humans, so akin to photojournalism. We were told to shoot at 20-35mm, so wide angle--no sneaking pictures with a telephoto!  Shooting in B&W was also a challenge for myself, because B&W photos require more attention to composition and contrast--no color to attract the viewer."

Monday, February 9, 2015

NEW ZEALAND's FIORDLAND: Part 3, Cruise on Milford Sound, Guest Post by Owen Floody

View of the fiords from a helicopter
Our friend Owen Floody did a trekking and photo tour of New Zealand's South Island this past fall (the Southern Hemisphere spring.)  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is the third part of a short reflection on his trip to New Zealand and some of his excellent photographs.

At the end of my trekking, I wandered Queenstown for a day before returning to Fiordland with Real Journeys for a 7-day Discovery Cruise on the 32-passenger Milford Wanderer.  Getting to our departure point required us to travel by bus from Queenstown to Manapouri, by boat across Lake Manapouri, and again by bus from the lake to Deep Cove, at the eastern end of Doubtful Sound.  Upon boarding, we settled into our cabins, met our 6-person crew, learned about the ship's safety features, and soon began to sail westward along beautiful Doubtful Sound.  What makes this and the other fiords so appealing?  Common features include steep high rock walls that somehow manage to support vegetation resembling a vertical rainforest, a plethora of tall waterfalls, and a complex, often very colorful, shoreline.   
Eventually I realized that the colonization of the walls by trees and other plants depends on the presence of thick mats of moss that can be very attractive and so continued to catch my eye the rest of the cruise.  We did not see a lot of wildlife, but possible sightings include whales, dolphins, seals, Fiordland-crested or blue penguins, and many species of seabirds.

Having sailed the length of Doubtful Sound, we reached the Tasman Sea and turned southwest to parallel the Fiordland coast.  Upon arriving at Breaksea Sound, we followed it westward to a protected cove where we anchored for our first night, consistent with a pattern in which the ship always stopped moving whenever we were eating or sleeping.

Though much of our time was spent enjoying the views of one after another fiord (Doubtful, Breaksea and Dusky Sounds, Chalky and Preservation Inlets) as we cruised, this was broken up by two-per-day landings.  These gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs on short hikes.  Some  included stretches of rainforest resembling those from my treks.   

Others took us along lovely beaches or to overlooks (e.g., the lighthouse at Puysegur Point) with impressive views.  But many landings revolved around more historical themes.  As this part of New Zealand was explored by Captain James Cook in 1769-1775, we were able to visit several sites that figured importantly in these voyages (e.g., Astronomers Point).  Similarly, as Fiordland experienced a flurry of gold mining in 1893-1910, we frequently encountered the remnants of mines or mining settlements. 

Fragment of stamp battery in former mining settlement
Other options for exploration were provided depending on conditions and our location.  For instance, poking along the shore in the ship's motorboat was a common activity that permitted the close inspection of otherwise inaccessible shorelines.  When the conditions were ideal, most passengers piled into one or another of the ship's nearly 30 kayaks, for self-directed and even closer looks at the coastal rock formations and vegetation.

Finally, a very special aspect of the cruise occurred at its end.  Those of us who hadn't studied our itineraries were surprised to find ourselves far from our final destination (the West Arm of Lake Manapouri) early on the seventh and last day.  And yet no one seemed anxious to get the ship moving northward.  This is because the master plan was for us to be picked up by helicopter in Preservation Inlet, compressing the return trip to 20-30 minutes of spectacular flight over the fiords.  What a fantastic climax to the trip this proved to be!  In building this feature into our trip, as indeed in all aspects of the cruise, I felt that Real Journeys did an excellent job of caring for and exposing us to the wonders of Fiordland.

Monday, February 2, 2015

NEW ZEALAND's FIORDLAND: Part 2, Milford Track and Routeburn Track, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Milford Sound, New Zealand, South Island
Our friend Owen Floody did a trekking and photo tour of New Zealand's South Island this past fall (the Southern Hemisphere spring.)  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is the second part of a short reflection on his trip to New Zealand and some of his excellent photographs.
From Dunedin, I drove west to Queenstown, and there the real fun began.  The next week I spent under the wings of Ultimate Hikes, pursuing a Classic package of treks including the Milford and Routeburn Tracks.  A central fact regarding Fiordland is that this is a very wet place.  For example, rain can fall at Milford Sound on 200 days a year, depositing up to 10 inches of rain per fall and as much as 23 feet over the course of a year.  To hike in this environment, you must be prepared for rain.  In addition, it's nice to have a support team that knows how to deal with rain, flooded trails, and wet hikers.  Ultimate Hikes managed all of this wonderfully.  For example, all of their lodges are equipped with facilities for the hand-washing of one's clothes immediately after a hike, eliminating any need to deal with the wet by hauling pounds of clothing.  The lodges combined this feature with the availability of large drying rooms, permitting a single change of clothing to be used repeatedly.  In these and other respects, I thought that the support of my treks by Ultimate Hikes was exemplary and well worth the cost.
The Milford Track is one of the world's most famous treks.  It extends over five days, though most of the hiking is concentrated in the middle three.  On each of these, one must be able to hike for 10-13 miles in 4-10 hours.  There are some elevation changes, but nothing extreme.  Most of these are concentrated on the approach to and descent from Mackinnon Pass, at approximately 3500 feet.
A large fraction of the trek passes through beech-dominated rainforests.  At times, you break out of the forest into a clearing, where you can be confronted with 4000 foot tall rock walls, often covered by an intricate pattern of waterfalls.  
The most expansive views, however, are those from Mackinnon Pass.  It was never possible to take in such a view without being amazed at the number, depth and beauty of the glacial valleys that dominate this landscape.  Nevertheless, I think that I most enjoyed the opportunity to walk for hours through forests of a sort that would be nearly impossible to see anywhere else.
Considering our ultimate destination, it's fitting that my first trek ended with a cruise on famous Milford Sound.  And before that, we had the opportunity to view Sutherland Falls, the fifth tallest falls in the world at 1904 feet.  It creates an impressive multi-sensory experience, combining powerful blasts of water and air (alas, too much for photos), a volume of sound like that of nearby jet engines, and the sight of the falls disappearing into the mist above your head.  
After completing the Milford Track, I moved on to the Routeburn Track.  This is a shorter trek, extending over three days, each involving a hike 6-9 miles over 3-8 hours.  Whereas the Milford most impressed me with its rainforests, the Routeburn earned points for its varied landscapes.  It, too, takes you through some beautiful beech-dominated rainforests, especially on the first and third days.   
But nearly all of the second day is spent above the tree line, crossing the Hollyford Face on the way to the Harris Saddle.  This traverse offered some spectacular mountain views.  It also exposed us to some interesting weather, with one day divided into periods of clear, rain, sleet, hail, and snow.  Fortunately, we had been warned that Fiordland weather is changeable and wet!  My other highpoint on the Routeburn was a similar, but small, part of the first day's hike.  This took us to and around a nature trail on Key Summit.  Again, we enjoyed the winning combination of attractive rocks, vegetation and ponds in the foreground with beautiful views of more distant mountains and valleys. 

(Continued  next week: Part 3: Cruise on Milford Sound)

Monday, January 26, 2015

NEW ZEALAND's FIORDLAND: Part 1, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Nugget Point in the Catlins
Our friend Owen Floody did a trekking and photo tour of New Zealand's South Island this past fall (the Southern Hemisphere spring.)  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is the first part of a short reflection on his trip to New Zealand and some of his excellent photographs.

On a previous trip to New Zealand, I did a "grand tour" including both islands.  This was delightful.  New Zealand's small size and population make it ideal for self-driving, even for those unaccustomed to driving on the left.  New Zealand also offers great variety in the natural features on display.  Along with world-class thermal areas, these include snow-covered mountains, glaciers, beautiful beaches, and wonderful fiords. 

On my earlier trip, I was especially taken by Fiordland, the complex array of mountains, valleys and fiords that occupies the southwestern corner of the south island.  I promised myself that I would return there, both to do some of New Zealand's famous treks and to see more of the fiords.  This dream was realized in November - December of 2014, when I spent nearly three weeks at the southern end of the south island.  

To recover from jet lag after the long flight from the US, I spent my first few days exploring Dunedin, the adjacent Otago Peninsula, and the Catlins, a coastal area to the southwest.  Within Dunedin, I especially enjoyed the Otago Settler's Museum, near the well-known Railway Station.  The settlement of New Zealand by Europeans is surprisingly recent.  At the Settler's Museum is an impressive collection of portraits depicting many of the city's earliest European settlers, all arranged in order of arrival.  Many other exhibits also are well done, especially those that describe Dunedin's contributions to wars and other conflicts.

I also enjoyed my drives around the Otago Peninsula and through the Catlins. Highpoints were the views overlooking Sandfly Bay on the peninsula and Nugget Point in the Catlins.  In retrospect, though, I think that I would have been happier visiting these areas on organized tours.  I did manage to keep to the left on all of the narrow and winding roads, but the effort greatly reduced my ability to sightsee, especially when I was forced to drive in the rain.

(Continued next week: Part 2: The Milford Track and Routeburn)
Glacial Valley along the Milford Track

Monday, January 19, 2015

India: THE PINK CITY OF JAIPUR: from the Memoir of Carolyn T. Arnold

Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, India
The following is an excerpt from the memoir of Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt, who traveled to India in the 1960s.

Jaipur, the third point of India’s “Golden Triangle” (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur),  is India’s most colorful city, rich in palaces from another age, festivals, and handicrafts.  The foundations were laid in 1727. In ancient times under the rule of the Moghuls, the capital was built on a high rock-bound stronghold called Amber.  Today, the landmark of Jaipur is the Hawa Mahal, the Palace of the Winds. It stands on one of the main streets and is elaborate with fanciful honeycomb designs. Built of rich pink sandstone, it is five stories high with octagonal overhanging windows, each with a perforated screen from which the ladies of the palace could watch the activities below.
Rickshaw, Jaipur, India
There is also the City Palace, now a museum containing rare manuscripts and other artifacts. The late Maharajah, who was incapable in old age of climbing steps, built ramps in many parts of the Palace so he could be pushed up in his rickshaw.
Amber Palace, near Jaipur, India
Amber Palace, built in the 17th century, stands about seven miles from the city of Jaipur. Now it is deserted and surrounded by high ramparts. The principal hall, known as the Hall of Victory, contains much decorative art such as panels of alabaster with fine inlaid work.  The Palace also contains the world’s best Chamber of Mirrors.
Elephant with Howdah
The approach to the courtyard on the lower terrace is through a great arched gate. Most visitors make the ascent to Amber on board a gaily decorated elephant, and so did we. Seated in a howdah, an open box-like structure high on the elephant’s back, we swayed to the lumbering rhythm of the monster, while the mahout (driver) sat on the elephant’s head between its flapping ears. 
We rode a mile up to the Fort, accompanied by the music of a dark, wizened old man playing a three-stringed instrument.  A simple tune was repeated over and over again as he walked beside the elephant all the way up the hill, grinning delightedly as we gave him a few coins.
Dismounting at the gateway, the guide bought admittance tickets for us. As he did so, he removed his leather belt from his trousers and checked it. I was reminded again of the sacred cow—that even a leather belt was not acceptable in many places.

In Jaipur we stayed at the Rambaugh Palace—a real one which is now used as a hotel. Some of the old Maharajah’s family still lives in one section. All the marble and huge rooms could not make up for the lack of air-conditioning, although a noisy fan in the window stirred up the hot air!

Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1952.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.  You can read of some of her other adventures in these posts on this blog:  October 21, 2013; October 7, 2013; July 29, 2013.March 10, 2014.