Category Archives: Travel

Yosemite in Winter

Turtleback Dome is just beyond the tunnel on 140 and a short scamper places El Capitain next to Half Dome

Turtleback Dome is just beyond the tunnel on 140 and a short scamper places El Capitan next to Half Dome

A friend and I were aching for years to get to Yosemite during the Winter. Fortunately, the El Niño of this year brought much needed rain and snow to the Sierra. So we hastily planned a three-day excursion. Winter in Yosemite is a completely different experience than in the other seasons. It’s almost what I would consider “uncrowded” -certainly by Summer standards. The Valley which is normally choked with smoke from the RV campers is nonexistent as the campgrounds are closed. And, if you listen hard, there are actually sounds of nature that can be heard in the Valley. Although it wasn’t really blanketed with snow, there were still many beautiful snow scenes to be had. We couldn’t have gotten luckier weather-wise, we arrived just upon the clearing of a storm and had two exquisite days of High Sierra sun.

 

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Oregon, the In-Between State

Wizard Island framed by the woods

Wizard Island framed by the woods – Click image for gallery.

For years I had pretty much skipped Oregon in my West Coast travels. I would fly directly from California to Washington or points further north. It wasn’t an intentional slight; I just didn’t know better! However, upon hearing a friend’s mesmerizing description of the amazing beauty described one night at dinner, a trip was planned within the week.

We took the route up Highway five with a long overdue stop in Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Then on to the Coastal Dunes, Salem and Portland, not forgetting the Columbia River Gorge. Then out to Bend, Crater Lake and finally one last stop at Mt. Shasta on the way back. It was a very enjoyable road trip -but 10 days is woefully too short a time for such a beautiful State and we’ve vowed to return.

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Prague: Still One of the Best Preserved Medieval Cities

Both sides of the Bridge have towers. Prague Castle is in the background

Both sides of the Bridge have towers. Prague Castle is in the background

This was my second trip to the city. The first was in 1995, only six years after the Velvet Revolution. I was forewarned that the city was already over run with tourists and that I should see it as soon as possible. I came by the overnight train from Berlin and arrived at 5am on a weekday. At the time I wasn’t preplanning too much so I hadn’t made any reservations, figuring I’d do it like all the previous cities and make them at the train station visitor’s office. Much to my surprise there was nothing open and not a person within a mile that even spoke a word of English. I could read the sign on the station windows that they would open at 9am. With the help of a crude map I made my way down to the shores of the Vltava River where I caught up on some sleep on a park bench until the tourism office was open. I was first in the line when the visitor office opened up but the person working there spoke very little English and the lonely Planet book didn’t help much. Fortunately a passing stranger helped me to ask for accommodation. There were very few affordable hotels located in the Staré Město (Old City) in fact the only accommodation I could get was in a Soviet era bunker at the end of the metro line which was about an hour out of the city.

After settling in I took the metro in and explored to old city area on foot. To my surprise, other than the few overpriced restaurants in the main square, the city was not over run with tourists. In fact, I had to seek out an expat bar just to have a conversation that didn’t involve something like Charades. While it wasn’t empty, it wasn’t over run by any stretch. There were so few English speakers that I had to spend most of my time in and immediately around the tourist traps by the Astronomical Clock to make sure I got something like what I ordered.

This trip, I wasn’t going to be caught as off guard. We rented an apartment for the week in the Nové Město (New Town) area -easily within walking distance of the Staré Město and close access to the metro for further travels. It was much more crowded than in 1995 but the City seemed to be handling it. We were able to shop at a local grocery that only spoke a little English and after you left the mob scene in front of the Astronomical Clock, all awaiting the animated parade of the Apostles which only occurs every hour, you didn’t have to go far to leave them behind. Although most sites were within easy walking distance of the Staré Město, we did make use of their punctual public transit system.

The Municipal Building and Powder Tower

Prague is ranked fifth best European destination according to Tripadvisor and its old city is included in the Unesco list or World Heritage sites. The word “Bohemian” has its origin here as the region was settled by a Celtic tribe called the Boii around 200 BCE. It was once the seat of the Holy Roman Empire under Charles IV and was the site of one of the first Christian reformations led by Jan Hus nearly a century before Martin Luther. It is where the term “Defenestration” (the act of pushing someone or something out a very high window) was coined. In fact, they mark two seminal periods of their history by defenestrations: the first igniting the Hussite War and the second sparking the Thirty Years War in 1618. Its patronage of science and the arts include Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Albert Einstein , Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Antonín Dvořák , Bedřich Smetana, Ludwig van Beethoven, Rainer Maria Rilke , Franz Kafka, Milan Kundera and Miloš Forman who filmed Amadeus there.

Night view of the old town square

 

Prague is one of the best preserved medieval cities primarily because it escaped two of the most destructive events in modern times. It escaped the carnage of World War Two because Hitler invaded and declared Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate in 1939, unopposed -he even thought that one day he would retire in the city. The Soviet Union liberated Prague on May 5th 1945 forcing many Germans to flee the country. There was a popular uprising against the Soviet regime in 1968 but was quickly suppressed by their heavy military presence. In 1989, along with the crumbling of the Soviet Union, the Czechs peacefully overcame the Soviet grip on power with what became the Velvet Revolution. As a result, Prague has buildings (not just ruins) dating back to the 12th century, architecture spanning medieval through modern and a wealth of art and relics from its rich and influential history.

Regardless of when you get to it, Prague is one of the must see locations of Europe!

 

01.jpg02.jpg03.jpg04.jpg05.jpg06.jpg07.jpg08.jpg09.jpg10.jpg11.jpg12.jpg13.jpg14.jpg15.jpg16.jpg17.jpg18.jpg19.jpg20.jpg21.jpg22.jpg23.jpg24.jpg25.jpg26.jpg27.jpg28.jpg29.jpg30.jpg31.jpg32.jpg33.jpg34.jpg35.jpg36.jpg37.jpg38.jpg39.jpg40.jpg41.jpg42.jpg43.jpg44.jpg45.jpg46.jpg47.jpg48.jpg49.jpg50.jpg51.jpg52.jpg53.jpg54.jpg55.jpg56.jpg57.jpg58.jpg59.jpg60.jpg

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Rome [sic] if you want to..and I do

DI-27896

My apologies to the B-52s but the [mis]use of their lyric was too tempting. Although I’ve been to the Eternal City twice before in the 70s and 90s, I don’t think I gave it the attention that it deserves. In doing my research for this trip I was stunned with the number of innovations that are due to Rome and it’s empire. So much so, that this jam packed, week-long trip could have easily been another three without retracing any steps. Here are but a few Roman innovations that have shaped the western world.

The Romans invented concrete which allowed them to make formed, permanent structures. The Pantheon is the premiere example of this technology. For more than a thousand years it was the largest unsupported dome in the world and it still stands after nearly two thousand years. The ingenious coffering of the inside of the dome helped keep the weight down as well as choosing lighter aggregate in the concrete mix as the dome approaches the oculus. Romans even invented concrete that would set underwater. Regretfully, the recipe for concrete was lost after the sack of Rome and very rarely used until the technology was re-invented in the mid-18th century. Concrete is the most widely used man-made building material in contemporary times.

The city was probably the first in antiquity with an ability to support a large dense population. They were able to do this by building extensive aqueducts to get water into and sewage out of the city. This is the primary reason that the Centro Storico is navigated by piazzas and at the heart of those piazzas are fountains. They are more than elaborate, decorative elements for tourists; they were the primary source of water and represent the ability of city to support their population, thereby becoming the first modern metropolis.

The thousands of miles of aqueducts, each precisely slanted to give a regular direction of flow, were an impressive engineering feat in themselves but were made possible with Roman widespread use of the arch. This building technique has the capability to distribute the structures weight through the side columns allowing for a much larger, unsupported opening. Although this is not their invention, the Romans made the most extensive use of this technique in antiquity and well after.

Beyond those and many more innovations, Rome is a vibrant, clean, colorful and even a very walk able city. The sheer volume of art and history is staggering but coupled with the aromas and tastes, Rome deserves a visit or three.

Piazza della Rotonda

DI-28108.jpgDI-28113.jpgDI-28130.jpgDI-28136.jpgDI-28154.jpgDI-28270.jpgDI-28324.jpgDI-28325.jpgDI-28333.jpgDI-28342.jpgDI-27460.jpgDI-27461.jpgDI-27476.jpgDI-27482.jpgDI-27486.jpgDI-27488.jpgDI-27496.jpgDI-27522-Edit.jpgDI-27535-Edit.jpgDI-27541.jpgDI-27550.jpgDI-27554.jpgDI-27558.jpgDI-27573.jpgDI-27620.jpgDI-27621.jpgDI-27628.jpgDI-27631.jpgDI-27633-Edit.jpgDI-27639.jpgDI-27645.jpgDI-27653.jpgDI-27658.jpgDI-27667.jpgDI-27673.jpgDI-27694.jpgDI-27697.jpgDI-27714.jpgDI-27724.jpgDI-27727.jpgDI-27736.jpgDI-27739.jpgDI-27743.jpgDI-27749.jpgDI-27756.jpgDI-27760.jpgDI-27763.jpgDI-27766.jpgDI-27785.jpgDI-27787.jpgDI-27788.jpgDI-27796.jpgDI-27801.jpgDI-27809.jpgDI-27814.jpgDI-27815.jpgDI-27819.jpgDI-27823.jpgDI-27826.jpgDI-27829.jpgDI-27831.jpgDI-27833.jpgDI-27836.jpgDI-27839.jpgDI-27840.jpgDI-27847.jpgDI-27850.jpgDI-27851.jpgDI-27867.jpgDI-27878.jpgDI-27889.jpgDI-27901.jpgDI-27906.jpgDI-27907.jpgDI-27908.jpgDI-27924.jpgDI-27927.jpgDI-27933.jpgDI-27936.jpgDI-27941.jpgDI-27965.jpgDI-27972.jpgDI-27982.jpgDI-27984.jpgDI-27991.jpgDI-27998.jpgDI-28011.jpgDI-28015.jpgDI-28016.jpgDI-28027.jpgDI-28037.jpgDI-28043_1.jpgDI-28043.jpgDI-28050.jpgDI-28061.jpgDI-28064.jpgDI-28065.jpgDI-28075.jpgDI-28076.jpg

 

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

The Newest National Park: Pinnacles National Park

Bear Gulch Resevoir

Pinnacles had been on my radar at least a couple of years before becoming America’s newest National Park.  It’s rhynolitic lava spires, talus caves, condors and remarkable proximity had been singing their Siren song for quite a while.  But now that it had become part of the National Park system, it was time to act upon it before it became too popular and inevitably too crowded.  The National Park status is important because they are set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States as opposed to National Monument status which are areas reserved by the National Government because they contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest.

The park is known for its astonishing geology. About 23 million years ago a massive volcano spewed lava in massive molten chunks in what is now the Los Angeles County. It was then transported to its current location (just 80 miles south of San Jose) via the San Andreas fault on a geologic time line. The lava cooled and years of erosion created tall pink spires while allowing huge boulders to fall and wedge themselves into the narrow canyons forming tenuous roofs for the talus caves.

Last April, a friend and I finally heeded that Siren call and set out for an over nighter in the park. It didn’t disappoint; we hiked the caves at Bear Gulch the afternoon of the day we arrived and did the climbs of the High Peaks Trail in the coolness of the next morning.  Although the camping areas are a little exposed, they are quite reasonable for a stay of a couple of nights. Although we never saw the much vaunted condors, the magnificent scenery of the hikes more than made up for it.

Gallery

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , |

Mexico City

Pyramid of the Sun with the lesser pyramids

I’ve heard all the reasons not to go to Mexico City: the overpopulation, the noise, the smog, the crime, etc. but we were on our way to another Mexican Riviera resort vacation and I felt the need for something more cultural along the way. In my research I found an amazing amount of interesting sites and attractions in and around the city. Although we only spent four days there it would have easily filled seven days of attractions and adventures.  Mexico City is a world class metropolis and deserves more credit than it gets.

We stayed right on the Zocalo (city center) and there were many things to see within walking distance -which was good because the inner city traffic rivals a Bangkok rush hour. We stayed at a very posh, French Style hotel called the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico for a mere $70 a night. There was never a time that we felt as if we may be assaulted and everyone was very warm and friendly. We did take a tour excursion to the Pyramids and although we did stop at a few curio shops along the way, it was still good. The culture is ever present in the city from the unbelievably stunning modern art to the ballet and symphonies. There was even a book fair that occupied the complete main square the entire time we were there.

Detail of the Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda, Diego Rivera

Highlights were the Temple Mayor museum, the Diego Rivera museum, the Palace of Fine Arts, La Casa Azul and of course the pyramids at Teotihuacán. If you are traveling through for any reason and can do so, spend some time in Mexico’s capitol -it just may surprise you.

Gallery

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Fall Colors in the Eastern Sierra

DI-21806

For more than two decades, I was hoping to go up to the Eastern Sierra to photograph the fall foliage. Either I was too busy or I just missed the narrow 2-3 week window out of neglect. This season, a photo buddy and I just marked it in the calendar and preplanned the trip –novel idea. The weather and the advance of Winter cooperated and we spent 3 full days traveling the Highway 395 corridor for all the great colors.

We stayed in Mammoth Lakes because it offered the most choice in accommodations and was about central to the travels. We used the guide provided by the Mono County Tourism board and talked with locals to find what was most turned at the time.

I brought along my dedicated IR point and shoot which rendered some interesting images especially in Bodie.

DI-21932

The complete gallery can be seen here:

Gallery

 

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Vegas Baby!

Some new casinos hotels and shops on the Strip.

Some new casinos hotels and shops on the Strip.

I’ve avoided Las Vegas like the plague for most of my life. The few times I’ve flown in, I’ve usually left from the airport to points south like the Lake Powell area. I’ve always viewed gambling as a form of taxation for the uninformed and the artiface and public drunkenness as massively unappealing. Yet when I had the opportunity recently to spend a short weekend there, I decided to give it another shot.

DI-20347

Center square in the Venetian.

Much to my surprise, they have abandoned the Disneyesque themes and started building casinos that an adult would not feel silly being dragged into. With its elevated pedestrian walkways and outdoor escalators the Strip made me marvel at the city planning and made for an entertaining stroll up and down it. Although most of the casinos still looked the same on the inside; endless rows of generic slot machines, dizzy lighting and gaming tables, there were a few notable exceptions: The Cosmopolitan, Paris, Paris, The Bellagio and The Venetian.

DI-20143

Fremont Street

Even old Vegas had its charm and coupled with reasonable temperatures and a lack of crowds, the city proved itself more interesting than I thought. I even found the short weekend too short to fully cover the Vegas I wanted to see and I’ll probably come back for more than just work.

 

 

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Eureka! And the North Coast

For years we’ve been devoting our 3-day get always to going South along the coast. This year we decided to venture up North for a change of pace.

Although it’s a very long drive it is well worth the journey. The images can be seen here in the  Eureka/North Coast Slideshow

Also posted in Recent Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , |

Kenya 2009

Towards the end of summer 2009, I joined the World Computer Exchange as part of a two man team to teach multimedia at a new university in Kisumu, Kenya. The university is called The Victoria Institute of Science and Technology. Kisumu is the third largest city in Kenya and is located on the shores of Lake Victoria. We taught there for three weeks. I taught digital video in the mornings and my partner, Bryan, taught digital audio in the afternoons.

I have been asked a few times why I volunteered there. I went to Africa for a number of reasons: it’s the fabled 6th of the 7 continents that I was intent on seeing, it’s the place where the wild things are: lions, elephants, and great herds of wildebeest. But mostly, I went there because no other continent has suffered the pall of the colonial yoke more. It’s a continent where the few natural resources are squandered by petty kleptocracies. I felt it is the place where my effort could be more keenly felt and where I could make the greatest difference. However, no place is exactly as one imagines it. The students there were far more tech savvy than I thought and although poor by most standards, they seemed to get along fairly well.

My time in Kenya spanned the gambit between magical and miserable -but it was always memorable.

At then end of our commitment, I was joined by my wife, Janice, in Nairobi and we toured Kenya for another three weeks.

Please click on the link for the slideshow of the trip: Kenya 2009

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |