Berlin with Photography Friends

IMG_7534 We stay with Cindy and Eric and Anna in a tiny apartment in Berlin for a week, doing nothing in particular but living. The three are here working on photography books and projects and workshops, and for them this stop is just one more in a life of itinerancy. They move to new places every few months to work or think or for Eric to run a photography workshop, but everywhere they work on new projects, connect with friends, and live. Travel is merely another axis on the grid in which they live their life.

I am lucky to know the people I do, and to while away days in quiet contemplation with them. To be not going anywhere in particular, to not be thinking about the next step. Instead, we live our lives and, inspired by Cindy and Eric and Anna, make photography into art. Are we successful?

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Who cares? We are having fun.

Venetian Architecture (and also boats)

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The look of Venice is fairly unique. Not too many places in the world can boast canals paired with Renaissance architecture. It’s a good fit, and wonderful for taking pictures and drawing. A fun fact we learned : most of the people drawing at any given time are not art students from one of the nearby colleges, but are tourists. It’s pretty fun to join them too!

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While there are plenty of famous scenes and views all around the city, we strayed a bit from the travelled path and took pictures of mostly anything that caught our eye.

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There was no shortage of interesting views, even just out our hotel window.

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I personally love the semi-planned stacking of buildings that look like they’ve grown from the water, huddle together in a very visually pleasing arrangement.

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It’s hard to ignore the boat-lined tunnel canals – the only way to get to a lot of these doors and boats is to have someone else drop you off.  There are many, many doors, that lead to a tiny dock and boat, or worse, drop straight out into the water. The best are private bridges – smaller versions of the canal-spanning bridges that lead to a single door.

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Between the crowded living spaces spring up massive cathedrals. It’s an odd contrast.

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One of the amazing and frustrating things about Venice is the constant haze. It comes from being warm and on the water, and it makes for some exciting and terrible photo conditions. During colder parts of the year the atmosphere is probably clearer and the photos come out crisper.

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We really enjoyed getting lost and seeing the smaller details of the city. It’s easy to miss in light of the surrounding grandeur.

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Walking is really the best thing to do. Every bridge, canal, and tiny alley offers a new and unexpected view.

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Sometimes the alleys are extremely small. This one, we think, was meant for people. Notice the streetlamp in the center. Definitely not for the claustrophobic.

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There are big life goals and small life goals. After we decided to come to Italy, and specifically Venice, I knew I had to recreate the View of the Grand Canal and the Dogana, by Bernando Bellotto. It’s one of the few paintings I know by name, and since seeing it at the Getty have wanted to see this view in person.

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Of course, since we were here in person, there was no doubt we’d eventually see the Dogana up close. It’s fantastic in its size and detail.

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Each one of the statues lining its parapet is a work of art unto itself, and the structure as a whole is breathtaking, especially in the low setting sun when its lines and minute details are thrown into sharp relief.

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The Beautiful Island of Brač

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Brač is gorgeous. The sun hits green shrubs and flowers, turquoise blue water, and white cliffs. It’s far enough away from the mainland that it lives in its own little bubble, and while we were there it almost felt like we were alone on the island. It’s large enough to explore and hike for days, but small enough to be able to see much of it during just one visit – the perfect size for a day trip.

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We woke up early and hit the docks to catch our ferry. It’s fairly inexpensive and the trip lasts an hour or so. We caught the one to Supetar.

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On the island, the options are walking, biking, or driving. Biking would have been fun but we wanted to see a village on the other side of the island, so car it was. There’s exactly one rental agency so it’s a good thing the owner is a nice guy.

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Our first hike was a pretty short one – just a few minutes’ drive to the east of town. There wasn’t really a place to park so we pulled off on the side of the road in a gravel patch and walked up.

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The goal of this trek is to see an ancient Roman carving of Hercules that was found in an abandoned quarry on the island.

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And there his is! Hercules himself. The carving shows signs of aging but it’s remarkably well preserved for something so old. The other cool part about this quarry is the abundance of tiny fossils in the rocks. It’s not a good idea to take any, but hunting them down is a treat.

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And while we were hunting we saw an old friend! Jumping spiders are cute, and live literally all over the planet.

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Our next stop, sort of unintentionally, was in Splitska. We hadn’t planned on it, but there were signs for a winery that caught our eye and we stopped by. There’s a whole post coming on that tomorrow!

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Next up, a drive across the short axis of the island. This took about 45 minutes and had some nice stretches of curvy road. The speed limit is pretty slow on the island, and there are slow vehicles on the roads. Still, our car zipped around in a fun drive.

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We arrived in the town of Bol seeking a monastery that supposedly made delicious dessert wine. It still might, but when we went it was pretty closed. To make up for it, the beach nearby was clean and relatively warm.

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The town is a standard touristy beach town, but it is very pretty. Everything is fairly expensive so we ate a small pizza – acceptable but not great. Don’t come to Brac for the food. The drinks however, are great.

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We ordered a glass of prosecco from the major winery in town. I enjoyed the dryness of it, but Natalie wished it were sweeter. By the winery is a dock, and we watched the fish swim around in the placid waters.

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These are pipe fish – skinny, long, and quite elegant. There was a big school of them right next to the shore, probably attracted by all the food waste from the town.

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It was getting late and we still wanted to see the peak of the island, so away we went.

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Along the way we stopped at a lookout to take in the ocean.

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Sailboats!

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Our camera doesn’t have a great zoom, but it can still make out the detail.

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In the middle of the island away from the cliffs and beaches, we drove down a forest road.

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All the way at the top of the road was this massive comm tower. This is not quite the peak of Brac, that was up a few minutes walk.

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We gazed on the landscape as sunset came.

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That stub of land is the famous Zlanti Rat, the premier beach near Bol.

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Away from the ocean was the wide span of cliffs we had just come up.

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At last the sky began its orange glow.

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Around us were some buildings, probably an old watchtower.

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One of the more beautiful sunsets on our trip. We stayed until the sun went down, then drove back to the ferry. We were lucky we made it when we did – apparently we caught the last one back for the evening!

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Postcards from Split

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Outside of the castle, the most visible aspect of Split is the harbor. There are promenades and paths that run along the water, and a short hike that heads up to the top of Marjan hill, a park on the west side of the old town. There is only one caveat to the beauty of the harbor. It smells. It’s a strong, unpleasant smell, and it’s present all along the old-town promenade. It fades pretty quickly away from the central promenade, and once inside the castle, up on the hill, or even just around to the other side of the harbor, there is no more smell.

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It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rowboat, a sailboat, or a cruiseliner – everyone shares the water.

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One evening we walked out along the water to the west. We thought there might be a way up into the park, but there wasn’t really.

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We had gotten fairly far down the way, when this man with a motorcycle tried climbing up the stairs towards us. He was pretty experienced at riding up stairs apparently, but this last bit was too much.

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Why was he trying to ride up the stairs? Up a ways ahead, we were told to stop. Police had cordoned off the area up ahead due to reports of a potentially dangerous man running around. We decided it was probably a good idea to turn around too.

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The way back offered some of the best views of the old city. It’s really hard to beat the skies of Split.

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Sunset continued as we walked around and watched the water.

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One of the massive Jadrolinia ships went by. They’re the main ferry between Italy and Croatia, and also between split and the nearby Brac Island.

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There came a point during sunset when the clouds cleared and the mountains behind Split lit up. Split truly is a beautiful location.

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The next day we decided to actually hike the hill.

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We got a little lost and found this very cool statue on the north side of the castle.

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Eventually we found our way west and headed up into the hill. It starts out as a fairly narrow path but it gets pretty broad up ahead.

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For a large part of the way there are steps that are wide enough to be a street. The houses here are pretty dense and well maintained. I can only imagine that it’s more expensive to live here than in other parts of the city.

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Eventually we hit the nature-trail portion of the hill. As is traditional in many cities, the local hill is a favorite for kids, families, and pretty much everyone else, to get some exercise and be in nature for a while.

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The path forks and winds a bit, but the main trail is pretty easy to tell apart. We got up most of the way and took a break near an unusually large collection of cats.

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Then this man arrived, and the cats got up in a hurry. What’s the secret? He feeds them from his house nearby, probably every day. Truly herding cats.

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As with any good high point near a city, this one has an oversized flag. Not nearly as large as the ones in South America – like Arica or Cartagena – but still large enough.

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From the top you can’t really see Split proper, instead the western arm of the harbor and the neighborhood beneath the park are visible.

Facing sunset and a chilly wind, we headed back down.

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The beautiful city of Split

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Split is a costal town, oddly reminiscent of Southern California. Palm trees, beautiful ocean, ancient architecture and cobblestone houses. No, wait, that last part isn’t at all like SoCal. Split has a lot of things to see, and most people spend the majority of their time in the old quarter. The old quarter has a market place, a small surrounding area of older streets and their apartments, and, in vast majority, Diocletian’s Palace.

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The palace is a beautiful, massive fortress, with multiple squares and dozens of tiny, squigly back alley style streets that are hard to navigate but full of interesting restaurants and shops.

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It was built around 300 AD as a retirement house for the Emperor Diocletian. Half retreat and half garrison, it was heavily fortified and at times housed over 9000 people. Today it stands as the world’s most complete Roman ruin. It really is magical to see – the majority of the palace is intact and its towers, plazas, and tunnels are endlessly interesting to explore.

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The majority of the palace is well preserved and is in active use today. Some portions – mostly along the seaside souther wall – have decayed into a state of not-quite-ruins. The structure amazingly holds itself together even there.

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The towers that watched over the sea and city are a focal point even today.

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Outside of the architectural beauty, there’s a lot of shopping in the old city. As with any good tourist location, businesses big and small have set up shop to sell clothes, souvenirs, and food.

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The plazas under the towers are a main gathering point – hundreds of people will sit at the cafes, smoke, sip, and talk. Here we got a taste of what Italy might be like – there are a lot of Italian visitors, and they and the locals love to sit for hours.

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The smaller segments of the palace, tucked away from the main square, have been turned into twisting mazes of restaurants and apartments. The food in these is very good, especially the hard-to-find ones. Locals mostly go there, hoping to enjoy the city without the crowds.

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The apartments are mostly for rent to tourists, but from the looks of it some of them are actually occupied by residents of the city.

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Seating at these alley cafes is pretty limited, but that’s ok! The atmosphere is quiet compared to the bustling plazas.

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Sometimes the path takes you through an architectural tunnel. The ‘ceiling’ is a connector between two buildings up above.

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There is always more to see in the palace. We walked through it every day, and every day we found yet another section we hadn’t explored.

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In some parts of the palace, you can’t even tell it’s a colossal Roman construction anymore. This looks like a tiny village, not part of a fortress.

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From some parts of the palace you can see the water. This is the view from a restaurant we ate at, and the food was just as fantastic. We’re not even sure how we got there!

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Next time : sights from outside the palace!

 

The City of Sarajevo

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On the surface, Sarajevo should be like most other Eastern European cities – a mix of Turkish and Russian influence, torn up sidewalks, and crumbling facades. And it certainly does have some (or more) of all of those. Throw in the historical perception of a recent war, and you have a city that shouldn’t be great to visit. Yet it doesn’t feel like a Eastern European city – it feels different, somehow more modern. And as for the war, it’s not forgotten by any means and signs of it are everywhere, but the people are in the middle of moving on and building new lives and a new city. Sarajevo’s history is complicated and violent, and I’m not qualified to say how it got to where it is now, but as a visitor, I can with certainty say I would love to come back.

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Our first impression of Sarajevo was that the people here are very warm and welcoming.  We felt immediately at home and despite hosteling near the old city, did not feel any sense of being in a tourist trap. Our second impression was of the food. It’s delicious, it’s everywhere, and – at least as a tourist on a budget – it’s not very expensive. The historic section of the city is where we ate most of our meals, so everything was fairly traditional. Bosnian food has a huge helping of Turkish influence, lots of Mediterranean spices in their meat, and an appreciation for delicious dough. My favorite was sac – pronounced sach.

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It’s basically banitsa, or buyrek, or any other thin dough wrapped around a delicious filling then baked. But the ones we had – several times – were cooked so that despite being baked, the inner layers came out as though steamed. Absolutely delicious and oddly very reminiscent of the Siberian boozi.

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We also enjoyed a more traditional cafeteria-like restaurant in the old town, this one frequented by pensioners. Our meal there was varied but these dough-dumplings with meat were fantastic.

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There are also several bakeries in the marketplace. All the desserts seem like variations on Turkish traditional recipes, but we unfortunately didn’t try each different one to know. This is the syrup-soaked semolina cookie that I’ve been lucky enough to try in three different countries so far – the bakeries in Sarajevo are some of the best! After the food comes the city’s architecture. Despite being under siege for almost four years and suffering untold structural damage, many of the historical sites came away relatively unscathed.

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In the market place, the center of the old town, centuries old buildings and monuments still stand.

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Walk out towards the river for a view like this one. Lovely old houses, minarets, and the surrounding hills. The river itself is bridged in many places, and each one makes for a great view.

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There is of course more modern work as well.

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Sarajevo also has a whimsical side.

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Even away from the river and the old town, the architecture is interesting.

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This mall in the downtown gives no sign that it’s anything less than a fully modern shopping experience.

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Renovation is always underway.

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And there were lots of examples of really great murals all around the city.

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There’s even room for greenery!

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Like this lovely tree growing out of a wall.

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There’s no way to escape the reality that a war took place here, not long ago. Sarajevo was under siege from the hills – bullets riddled the buildings and mortars fired into the heart of the city. It is a difficult emotion to describe – awe, respect, maybe? Like being confronted something extremely distant and surreal made concrete. These scars are signs of what the people here endured.

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It is very eery to see those familiar soviet-style blocks with gunshots, instead of poor maintenance, damaging the facade.

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Alongside the bullet specked buildings are the mortar holes. Some time after the war, a citizen artist filled in some of them with red asphalt – these are the roses of Sarajevo. Only scars from mortars that killed one or more people. There are plenty of mortar holes in the city that aren’t filled in as well – after a little while walking around you can sort of tell what’s from a mortar versus what’s from regular disrepair.

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Some of the particularly notable roses, or ones near other famous landmarks, have been roped off to protect them. There were once a great many more around the city, but time and reconstruction has removed all but a few.

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The ones that are not ‘sanctioned’ tend to wear away after a while.

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To get a better understanding of what life was like during the war, there is a museum in the city with an entire room dedicated to preserving and showing artifacts, posters, and in this case, an entire apartment. It’s a sad and sobering place to visit – I highly recommend it, but maybe have a less heavy activity planned for the rest of the day.

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The city and its people seem to be moving on. The war is clearly not forgotten, but it is also not holding anyone back from creating a new life and bringing Sarajevo into modernity and prosperity.

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Macro shots on Mt.Vodno

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Our hike at the edge of Skopje took a while not just because of the distance, but also because we spent a lot of time taking close up shots of beautiful flowers and animals along the trail. This guy is probably an Erhard’s Wall Lizard.

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A lovely Crimson Scabious. They were everywhere at the start of the hike.

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This looks like it might be the same as the Crimson, but dry and ready to send out seeds.

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What would have been a delicious Chicken-of-the-Woods, but had been already eaten. We found and cooked one of these once, they really do taste and feel just like chicken. (Do not eat wild mushrooms unless you are absolutely confident you can properly identify them)

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This is a type of Cyclamen. They are beautiful and absolutely everywhere wherever there is shade. We found an entire tree tunnel lined with them near the end of the hike – a carpet of pink and purple.

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This is the leaf of the Cyclamen. Interestingly, they’re usually a good distance from the flower clusters.

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Unknown, possibly Armeria vulgaris?


After this start the insects!
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This reminds me very much of the weta. It’s actually a type of saddleback bush cricket.

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Possibly a type of locust? Nope. It’s a Predatory Bush Cricket. It’s also known as the spiked magician and it eats other crickets, among many other things.

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It was huge. This is a 6.5 inch phone for reference. This bug is a fairly uncommon sighting.

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A lovely brown grasshopper of some sort.

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And a very similar looking one in bright green. Maybe female and male of the same species?

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And the latest in our unending search for jumping spiders. This little guy has a meal in his mouth.

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The natural beauty of Macedonia!

Hiking Lake Baikal, day 1

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In the morning we set off north-east along the lakeshore. There’s a path connecting large sections of the lake in a walkable trail. The section we were hiking along is not really part of this trail system, but since it’s between a few large dacha villages and people love to vacation here, there’s a long running road all the way up.

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The road is more often than not a two-wheel dirt track. During peak season it might be quite busy but when we went in early July there we found only a handful of cars.

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Between the trees were periodic gaps leading to views or down to the beach. People picnic there, either for day trips or occasionally in camper vans.

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All sorts of windswept trees grew along the shore.

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And we had a great time skipping stones on the endless water.

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The landscape changed frequently from soft sandy beach to pebbles to large rocky outcroppings.

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Some of the nooks between the trees had tables and stools set up from previous visitors.

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More often the spots that were visibly picnic grounds had these upside down bottles nailed to a nearby tree. We never figured out what they were for, if anyone knows let us know!

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The dusty road continues.

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Some of the campsites we found were better equipped than others. Despite how many visitors this area gets, the shore is remarkably clean and free of pollution or litter. Only immediately around centers of population did we see lots of trash.

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The path was always pretty clear but rarely continuous.

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If the beach became too rocky to walk on, we headed away from the shore and back into the forest.

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And if in the forest we met a gate to some presumably private community, back to the shore we went. There were a few of these along the way actually. Strange for what amounts to public land in the wilderness.

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We finally ran into larger groups of people on a long stretch of beach somewhat near a town. There were some tents pitched nearby and one of the groups had a boat. If would have been amazing to row on the lake, but maybe next time.

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Near the end of the day we stopped for fuller meal. We were not as prepared for this trip as we had been with some of the others. Peanuts and bread and a nutella-like paste we found at the grocery store was dinner.

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It turns out the spot we stopped at for our meal was entirely isolated. It was far from the last group of campers we’d seen, and far enough from the next town to not attract too many visitors.

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Soon the sun began to set.

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This sunset was one of the most beautiful sights on our trip. The lake stretched out, dark blue bathed in orange. The cliffs behind and around us turned orange as well, even well after the last light of the sun fell below the horizon on the opposite side of the lake.

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The Goblin Forest of Taranaki

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At the west end of the Forgotten World Highway is a rainforest like no other. Around the volcano of Taranaki nestles Egmont National Park, the nicknamed “Goblin Forest” famous for its waterfalls and gnarled, moss coated trees.

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First, this trail, or set of trails, is fun. Just plain fun to hike up and down with plenty of variety in surface types, elevation changes, and scenery. The trail takes you from dense low forests to open rocky pools, across bridges and muddy stairs and stepping-stone paths.

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The famous trees of the Goblin Forest are these thick-branched moss covered creatures which probably would look very spooky at night. During the day they’re vivid sun-dappled green, often covered in dew or rainfall.

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The Kamahi tree is the dominant tree in this forest, unique in New Zealand. They sometimes start out growing on top of other trees, twisting their branches and creating the gnarled shape of the forest.

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The high year-round humidity is a great environment for moss and lichen and they spread prodigiously here. Nearly every available surface is covered. In some areas the combination of twined branches and leafy outgrowths blocks a great deal of light, creating darkness in the daytime.

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Along the way we saw rock-slides.

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Then crossed a bridge, safe but bouncy.

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To get to the Wilke pools.

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There’s a tiny cove/cavern at the bottom. The water is instantly numbing. Great for a hot day or for icing a bruise. We did go “swimming” but only for a moment.

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We climbed the rocks around the pools only to find more pools up higher – also extremely cold. Past this is technical rock climbing territory so we turned back.

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And climbed some very muddy stairs.

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To get great views of the forested mountainside.

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And of the volcano itself.

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Along the way we took some closeups of the flora..

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The moss and ferns covering the trees, dense and superbly healthy.

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And some very pretty white and pink flowers.

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Capturing this was tough – the wind kept swaying the ring of flowers, but it was worth it. Natalie also took a couple of really nice insect shots, following below. They’re not everyone’s cup of tea so feel free to end the post here. For anyone who’s curious, scroll on.


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A vivid orange mosquito-hawk (I think). You can see the little ball-ended stubs it uses to balance while it flies.

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I don’t like flies, but this one has an amazing abdomen. That blue is unreal. It may be a bluebottle fly but I’m not sure.

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The famous weta of New Zealand. We never saw one alive, nor did we see the amazingly huge ones they show in National Geographic, but it was cool to see these up close.

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Natalie’s favorite creature, the jumping spider, poses for the camera. They have good enough eyesight to tell you apart from the background and often interact with the camera while you’re shooting.

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This beautifully colored orbweaver is the Colaranea Viriditas.

A Firey Sunset on the Forgotten World Highway

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New Zealand’s North Island has a stretch of road it claims takes you back times before now, when forests were real forest, waterfalls were real waterfalls, and tunnels were dug by hand. By and large, it delivers. The drive has a scenic tunnel dug with handpicks, lots of waterfalls, and readily accessible hikes to see them. That’s day two. Day one was car-commercial worthy roads and a massive, gorgeous, sunset on fire.

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Look at that beautiful mist rising off the super-hot asphalt. A lot of our drive was like this, switching between rain and mist. Not great conditions but great eye candy.

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A rare moment when the clouds cleared – knobby distorted hills is much of the landscape in this part of the island. They look like a music visualizer gone haywire and they go on for ages. Our trusty Ger, as I came to think of the car, waits patiently.

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The day grew longer and we kept on driving. There’s supposed to be lots of stuff you can do and see on this stretch of highway, mostly hiking and old-timey craft shops. We weren’t in the mood for crafts, and hiking was planned for the day after, and we really needed to catch up on miles.. so we drove through most of the first half, stopping only to take some pictures here and there along the road.

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And then we got to Nevin’s lookout. This was a promised amazing viewpoint on the road, and I didn’t want to miss it. We got there just in time for sunset after some waffling about where we would stop and sleep. Don’t let the fence to the right of the sign fool you, the entrance is across the road.

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New Zealand back/farm country etiquette asks that you walk freely and close the gates behind you. To get to the lookout (there are several) walk up the hill keeping a bit to the right. There’s a worn trail for most of the way, and you’ll go through one more cattle gate before getting to what we thought was the first lookout, about fifteen minutes worth of hiking. We reached the top just in time for sunset, and then the sky was awesome.

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The epic clash of ice and fire.
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A rainbow appeared off to one side.
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Towards the sunset the sky burned orange.

 

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Behind us the brewing of a far off storm
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Between east and west.

 

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The sun slowly starts to set.
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The last rays before the sun sinks below the horizon.

Shortly after this spectacular skyward display, it started raining. Again. This part of New Zealand, and in fact the entire North Island, was covered under a massive moving storm for the whole week. That we got to see any sky at all was fantastic luck. To see such a beautiful sunset was something else altogether.

Next time : a Republic in New Zealand.