Monday, December 10, 2018

IRELAND, Part 1: Dublin and Northern Ireland, Guest Post by Tom and Susan Weisner

Dublin, Ireland.  The Guinness Storehouse
In mid-September our friends Tom and Susan Weisner took a driving trip in Scotland and Ireland. They have graciously agreed to share a few of their photos and thoughts about the trip. Here is their report of the first half of their ten days on the road in Ireland.

The Guinness brewery tour at the old Guinness Storehouse is a must in Dublin. Yes, we got samples of Guinness (not Susan’s favorite though) but then there were options of sodas, light beer and a beautiful panoramic view at the end of the tour from the top floor.
Susan tastes some Guinness
Here are some famous people had already sampled the Guinness! 
The Obamas enjoy a pint of Guinness ale on a visit to Ireland in May 2011.
The Trinity College Dublin historic library room is beautiful, and also has the famous ancient Book of Kells.
Dublin. Trinity College Library
Irish writers are visible at many places around Ireland and their words and posters are found in pubs and restaurants. The Oscar Wilde water was very tasty, for example.
Oscar Wilde Sparkling Water
We toured the Northern Ireland Troubles districts in Belfast, N.I., on what are called “black taxi tours”, and saw murals still documenting the British vs. Irish Republican struggles.
Belfast. Mural depicting Northern Ireland Troubles
The swinging bridge walk is in Northern Ireland. (Originally a narrow crossing built by seasonal fishermen, it is now a tourist destination.) Also, the Giant’s Causeway walk is nearby.
Swinging Bridge
The Irish Famine Memorial is along the river where the victims boarded ships for America and elsewhere. There is an excellent Irish emigration / diaspora / cultural museum here too.

Irish Famine Memorial. The Famine statues, in Custom House Quay in the Dublin Docklands, were presented to the City of Dublin in 1997.
Look for Part 2 of Tom and Susan's Ireland trip on The Intrepid Tourist next week.

Monday, December 3, 2018

SCOTLAND: Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Glasgow and More, Guest Post by Tom and Susan Weisner

Tom and Susan Weisner at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
In early September our friends Tom and Susan Weisner took a trip to Scotland and Ireland and have graciously agreed to share a few of their photos and thoughts about the trip. Here is their report from their week in Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle is the historic anchor at one end of the “royal mile” road in Edinburgh, Scotland. There are beautiful views of the city from the top. And of COURSE there is an historic dog cemetery near the top of the castle!
View of Edinburgh and Firth of Forth from Castle
And a tour of the Glenfiddich whiskey distillery in the North of Scotland was essential, near The Cairngorm National Park, where we stayed in the very nice local “Boat Hotel.”
Susan at the Glenfiddich whiskey distillery
A visit to Loch Ness and the Urquhart Castle tour and boat excursion are only an hour or so from the National Park. Look cold and windy? Yep. Apparently the Monster kept out of the wind that day.
Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness
In Glasgow we visited the Cathedral - representing the Catholic - Protestant conflicts and the separation of the nobility and commoners within the cathedral.
Interior of the Cathedral, Glasgow
There is an historic Merchants Row tour in central Glasgow, where we found this nature mural in a parking lot.
Mural of Scottish animals near Merchants Row in Glasgow
And then we found this plaque along the wall of the nature mural, documenting that Frederick Douglass came to Scotland. It pointed out that much of the wealth on display came from the slave trade and he wanted the money refunded!
"Send Back the Money" plaque on Merchants Row in Glasgow
Next week on The Intrepid Tourist: Tom and Susan's report on their week in Ireland.





Monday, November 26, 2018

GRAND CANYON: Hike on the South Kaibob Trail, guest post by Tom Scheaffer

On the South Kaibob Trail of the Grand Canyon in Arizona
In early November my brother Tom and two friends took a trip to Northern Arizona and visited the Grand Canyon and Sedona. He has graciously shared a report of his trip and some of his beautiful photos.
View of the Grand Canyon from the South Kaibob Trail
We flew from our  home in San Diego to Phoenix, rented a car, and drove to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where we stayed overnight in a hotel (the Maisik Lodge.) The next morning we got up before dawn and went to the rim so we could see the sun come up over the canyon. It was a beautifully clear and cold morning. At 7,000 feet altitude the temperature at the rim was below freezing!
View at sunrise from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon
After breakfast back at our hotel, we took a shuttle bus to the trail head for the South Kaibob Trail and set off on our walk.
Looking down the South Kaibob Trail
The first part of the walk consists of steep switchbacks down the cliff face. The views are amazing.
We walked for about two miles into the canyon to a rest stop, where we found a sheltered place behind some rocks and ate our picnic lunch.
Tom at a great view spot on the South Kaibob
We then retraced our steps back to the top, the whole time going up and down–none of the trail was level and much of the trail is steps. Going back was much slower than going down. We were lucky there was no heat to deal with as there is when hiking during the summer. The crisp fall air made perfect hiking weather.
Red rocks of Sedona, Arizona
On our drive back to Phoenix we stopped in the town of Sedona for a night. Our hotel had a beautiful view of the spectacular red rock formations Sedona is famous for. Altogether, we had a short but inspiring trip.

Go the Grand Canyon National Park website for more information about visiting the Grand Canyon.
In the winter of 2014, Tom went another trip to the Grand Canyon, that time with a friend who hiked down the South Kaibob Trail and back up to the rim on the Bright Angel Trail (more than 20 miles round trip!) For Tom's Intrepid Tourist report of that trip, click HERE

Monday, November 19, 2018

CERAMICS MUSEUM IN YINGGE and ZUSHI TEMPLE IN SANXIA: Day Trip from Taipei, Taiwan

Bridge to Zushi Temple, Sanxia, Taiwan
On our recent trip to Taiwan we had a free day and decided to take a day trip from Taipei to see the new Ceramics Museum in Yingge and the Zushi Temple nearby in Sanxia. Yingge has long been the center of the ceramics industry in Taiwan and is home to numerous ceramics factories as well as the museum and a restored “old street” with pottery shops.We arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up at our hotel in Taipei for the hour's drive to Yingge.
Gymnast ceramic sculpture, Yingge Ceramics Museum
When we arrived at the museum we bought our tickets and went inside the bright, glass-walled building where we were advised to tour the outdoor portion of the museum first. As it turned out, it was good advice, because as the day goes on the weather outdoors becomes quite warm. It is better to walk around when it is relatively cool. (The inside of the museum is air conditioned.) In the outdoor garden ceramic sculptures are arrayed over a large expanse--on lawns, along tree lined walkways, on pedestals and amongst the shrubbery.
Master potter Chan Kao Hsiang; demonstration at Yingge Ceramics Museum
Workshops were going on in several buildings and there were activities for families and children. We stopped to look in on an open studio where a potter was giving a demonstration. When he saw us, he invited us down to take part in the program. He had just finished throwing a tall pot, and, as we watched, he proceeded to turn it into a clay fish, using us as his accomplices.
Breathing life into a clay fish
Although he spoke no English and we no Chinese, all this was accomplished through sign language, much to the enjoyment of the audience. It was the highlight of our day!
Ceramic roof tiles
The inside of the museum chronicles the history of Taiwan as seen through its pottery, beginning with early pots made by local tribes and continuing through the colonial period to modern times.
Vases
Objects on display include everything from dishes and roof tiles to ceramic toilets to elegant sculpture.  Exhibits are well labeled in both English and Chinese. We ate a light lunch in the museum cafeteria before leaving to visit Sanxia.
Gate to the Zushi Temple
In Sanxia our driver dropped us off at the gate to the bridge that leads to the Zushi Temple (also spelled "Tzushr") on the other side of the river. It was Sunday and the bridge was crowded with pedestrians and vendors hawking souvenirs and games of chance.
Bell tower of the Zushi Temple with modern apartment building in the background.
The Zushi Temple and its surrounding "Old Street" reflect the town as it was one hundred years ago. They stand in contrast to the surrounding modern architecture. The temple has been described as an “Eastern Palace of Art”. It is certainly a riot of color–red, yellow, green, blue, gold-- with every conceivable surface decorated with birds, animals, flowers, dragons,  human figures and more.
Incense sticks are guarded by two stone dragons.
While many of the people there were tourists like us, others were lighting incense and offering prayers at this Taoist temple. The main part of the temple was at the rear of the inner courtyard. There were smaller rooms on either side.
The drum tower and a few of the 126 hand-carved stone pillars that adorn the temple.
Stairs led to a second story with access to the bell tower on one side and the drum tower on the other.
Flowers and other offerings adorn the rooms inside the temple.
The Zushi Temple honors Qingshui Tsu-Sze, a Song-dynasty general worshiped for his power to protect the local tea industry. First erected in 1769, the current building is a restoration begun in 1947 and still in process. With its lavish decorations it was truly a feast for the eyes.
Then it was time to cross the bridge again to meet our taxi driver for the trip back to Taipei.
Realistically carved kingfisher holding its prey on a wooden screen along the temple corridor.

Monday, November 12, 2018

WATCHING THE STARS at the GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY, Los Angeles, CA

Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA
The Griffith Observatory sits high on a hill above the city of Los Angeles, its white walls and domed roofs visible from miles away. It is the ideal place to get a panoramic view of the city and to watch and learn about the stars–the real ones, not the movie variety.
City view from the Promenade Walkway of the Observatory
The Griffith Observatory in Griffith Park is one of the premier public observatories in the world. Griffith J. Griffith wanted the public to have the opportunity to look through a telescope, which he felt might broaden human perspective. Mounted in the copper-clad domes on either end of the building, the Zeiss and solar telescopes are free to the public every day and night the sky is clear.
Jennifer and me, in front of the Observatory. The Griffith Observatory opened to the public on May 14, 1935
When my daughter Jennifer was in high school and college, she worked as a guide at the Observatory. She was in town last summer with her family, so we decided to spend an afternoon there.
Astronomer's Monument and Sun Dial on plaza in front of the Observatory
Traffic and parking are always a challenge near the Observatory, so we parked along the road near the Greek Theater. We then ate a picnic lunch on the grass before heading up the hill, about a mile’s walk. One can also get to the top by riding one of the free shuttle buses that stop across the road from the Greek Theater.
Foucault's Pendulum
Just inside the main door of the Observatory is Foucault’s pendulum, a heavy ball that swings in an arc following the Earth’s rotation. It is a favorite exhibit at the Observatory. Visitors crowd around the railing around the pit, waiting to see the ball knock over a peg every few minutes.
The 240-pound brass ball moves back and forth on a 40-foot steel cable suspended from the dome. At Los Angeles' latitude, it takes 42 hours for the pendulum to complete a circle as the earth beneath it rotates. The movement is visually represented by small wooden dowels that are knocked over one at a time by a pointer on the bottom of the ball.
Tesla Coil
Another favorite Observatory exhibit is the Tesla coil. When it turns on, giant flashes of light explode as electricity flows into the air of the chamber.
During our visit we looked at dozens of other exhibits as well, learning about the sun, moon, planets and things astronomical. We ended our stay with a live show in the Samuel Oschin Planetarium, settling into the comfortable reclining seats for the show. (Tickets for the shows can only be purchased at the Observatory on the day of the show.)
It was a great family outing and opportunity for our grandchildren to see where their mother had worked when she was just a little older than they are now.
Admission to the Griffith Observatory and Grounds is FREE. For more information click HERE.
North Doors of the Observatory

Monday, November 5, 2018

SUN MOON LAKE, TAIWAN: Hiking, Temples, and the Beauty of Nature

View from Longfeng Temple, Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan
On our recent trip to Taiwan, our last night was spent at Sun Moon Lake, located in the mountains about two hours from the coastal city of Taichung. This beautiful alpine lake (altitude 2,545 feet) is surrounded by thick green forest and majestic mountains. It is part of a National Scenic Area and a popular vacation spot.
 Sun Moon Lake. Ci'en Pagoda, on a hill overlooking the lake, was built by late President Chiang Kai-shek in 1971 in memory of his mother.
We traveled to Sun Moon Lake by taxi from Taichung, passing through a series of long tunnels as we climbed from the level plain along Taiwan's west coast through the hills and valleys in the center of the island. (Taiwan is a long island, with a line of steep mountains down the center as its spine.)
View of the lake and bikeway from our seventh floor room at the Sun Moon Lake Hotel.

Street light along the coast road in Sun Moon Lake. The east side of the lake resembles a sun while the west side resembles a moon, hence the name.
After checking into our hotel, we took a walk along the bikeway/walkway.

Reflector on the walkway around the lake
The 29 km scenic bikeway goes all around the lake and we were passed by people on bikes of all sorts–electric, tandem, and 10-speed with families carrying children in baby seats.  (We could have rented bikes at our hotel, but we preferred to walk.)
This bridge is popular for wedding photos.
Our destination was the new modern Xiangshan Visitor Center, which happened to have a bonsai show that week. The low, organically designed building blends harmoniously into the landscape and provides an overlook of the lake and is surrounded by broad reflecting pools enhancing the view.
Bonsai plant in front of the Xiangshan Visitor Center
The Visitor Center also has a small museum with exhibits about the Bunun culture, the local indigenous people. Living on both sides of the Central Mountain Range, Bunun people were known to be one of the “high-mountain tribes.” Singing and dancing are an important part of the Bunun culture. Pestle music is performed by a number of people wielding wooden pestles and involves the rhythmic pounding of the pestles against stone slabs.
Traditional Bunun clothing
The next morning, before we left, we walked to LongfengTemple close to our hotel. At sunset the evening before and at sunrise we had listened to the temple bell ring and echo over the water.
Longfeng Temple
At this temple and the one we visited earlier in our visit to Taiwan in Sanxia, (near Taipei) every single surface was decorated with dragons, birds, animals, people, flowers and more. It was hard to stop taking pictures.
Bird and plant decorations at Longfeng Temple
We then took a short hike on the trail leading to Mount Maolin and the Tea Research and Extension Station.
Tea plantation. With similar latitude and growing conditions to India's Assam tea farms, the area around Sun Moon Lake has become the main base for the cultivation of Assam tea in Taiwan.
We had brought our binoculars, but we saw surprisingly few birds considering the lush forest all around the lake. However, we did see a lot of butterflies. (Taiwan is famous for its wealth of tropical butterflies, once collected and exported by the ton. Now they are protected as a natural resource.)
Junonia orithya butterfly
Then it was time to leave. A taxi took us directly to the airport in Taipei for our flight back to Los Angeles. One day wasn’t really enough to fully explore Sun Moon Lake, but it gave us a taste of Taiwan’s rich natural beauty.