Category Archives: Travel

Mundane Monday: Sand

Sometimes the Mundane Monday photo challenge is a challenge–I do it on Tuesday, or it’s not really mundane, or I use it as an excuse to write about geocaching, or I search my photo library for something that kinda fits and get creative–whatever. Since Jithin at photrablogger stopped doing it each week it has become a little more free form, which fits my style anyway. But, this week it all comes together with this picture:

SandalSand

Yep, that’s my sandal-clad foot next to some sand.

IMG_3783This is actually a geocache near Leuven, Belgium. My family stopped there on our way to Brussels. This is a subclass of geocache called an “earth cache,” which teaches you something about geology. In order to log an earth cache on the geocaching website, instead of finding a logbook in a container and signing it, you have to answer some questions about rock formations you find at the site.

The sand is incongruous. It doesn’t seem to belong here in the forest. This particular site is completely dry, but if you look closer there is evidence of a former sea bed in the area, with fossilized worm holes in the rocks.

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When we were in Paris 2 years ago we found a number of earth caches there too. Many of the big cathedrals and city halls of Europe are built with stones containing fossils, fossils left when the old sea beds dried up.

 

 

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Thursday “Tors”: Brandenburg

So I am here in Berlin, and I have wifi. Woot!

“Tor,” which sounds a lot like “door,” is the German word for gate. (It’s also the German word for “goal,” which you’ll be hearing a lot of with the World Cup about to start). The most famous Tor in Berlin, and perhaps in all of Europe, is the Brandenburger Tor. According to wikipedia, “the Brandenburg Gate was often a site for major historical events and is today considered not only as a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, but also of European unity and peace.”

I lived in Germany for 8 months in 1983. I graduated from high school young and took a gap year between high school and college, living with my family while my professor father took a sabbatical at the Freie Universitaet in Berlin.

This is what the Brandenburger Tor looked like back then, in a picture I took with a Kodak Instamatic. You could only see the back of the chariot on top, from a distance, behind the Berlin Wall, and the whole structure was pretty dirty.

“Achtung! Sie verlassen West-Berlin”

“Attention! You are leaving West Berlin,” the sign informs you, in case you were confused about the concrete wall, the no-man’s land, and the guard towers nearby.

BrandenburgGateWall
Brandenburg Gate from the West, May 1983

(Admittedly, the faded color printing doesn’t help, but it’s held up surprisingly well for 35 years.)

This is what it looks like today, from the other side, on the famous avenue, “Unter den Linden.” The gate itself has been cleaned up, the wall is gone, and there are tourists everywhere.

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This souvenir shop now hangs the opposite sign over its door: “ACHTUNG Sie verlassen jetzt Ost-Berlin” (Attention you are now leaving East Berlin). Our kids, who weren’t yet born when the wall fell, don’t remember anything different. To them, Berlin’s Tor has always been open.

Achtung

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

 

Book Review: Druid’s Portal by Cindy Tomamichel

Druid's Portal: The First Journey (Druid's Portal, #1)Druid’s Portal: The First Journey by Cindy Tomamichel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t usually read time travel romance but I have heard that it is a full-fledged genre. I think the main reason it doesn’t generally appeal to me is the thought of having to live, as a woman, in a pre-feminist era. I don’t think any love story would be worth that. But perhaps the better examples of the genre manage to find a way around or through this problem. Druid’s Portal does.

The protagonist, Janet, is a history professor who knows a great deal about Celtic lore and the druids. I found this aspect of the book to be quite interesting and extensively researched. I had tended to think of druids as benign priests of nature, but the author here shows that their legends and lore have a dark side. She also invokes a deity, Bridgette, who takes the souls of humans who use the time-travel portal more than 3 times and for their own gain. Bridgette makes a powerful villain, but I have not been able to find anything about her in a cursory internet search. The closest that I have come is to reading about the Goddess Brigid, who, according to wikipedia is associated with the spring season, fertility, healing, poetry and smithcraft. This Brigid too seems like she could be a good, rather than destructive presence.

As the book opens, Janet is grieving the loss of her fiancee, Damon, who was abusive while they were together and who abruptly ended their engagement. She knows she is better off without him, but misses him nonetheless. After a break-in in the museum where she works, Janet finds an artifact that serves as a portal back to Roman times. She doesn’t realize at first that that is what it is, and suffers from what she believes are hallucinations of a Roman soldier in battle. This soldier turns out to be Trajan, eventually her love and partner.

The obstacles to Janet and Trajan getting together are mostly external and circumstantial. First Janet has to believe that he is real and that she can travel back in time. Then she has to actually do so, and find a way to survive in Roman Britain. This is made exponentially easier for her when the soldiers she encounters, Trajan included, think she is a goddess when she appears. Being seen as a goddess exempts Janet from a lot of the indignities that a regular Roman or Celtic woman would have had to endure. No one takes advantage of her while she and Trajan are on the run, and she soon finds a job working in a bath house where the men are friendly and flirtatious, but they still don’t take advantage of her.

She then comes up with a wild plan to help Trajan with his intelligence gathering for the Roman army, and they pose as minstrels visiting nearby towns. This expedition too, like working in the bath house, seems like a fun romp at first, and Janet and Trajan engage in hot, gracefully written, physical relations while they are out being minstrels. Their idyll comes to an abrupt end when they are found out by the enemy, and when Janet’s ex-fiancee Damon starts stalking them.

Trajan is an appealing, if somewhat unrealistic, character. The author sets him up as a simple but honorable man in contrast to Damon’s scheming and conniving persona. Janet and Trajan are able to communicate easily because Janet is fluent in Latin, and she tells Trajan stories about the future, stories that he is surprisingly accepting of. Some of the most poignant moments in the novel come when Janet is thinking about the parallels between her life and Trajan’s, and also about what makes them different. He is in his early-to-mid 30’s, presumably like she is, and she thinks at one point that he only has about 10 good years left if he stays in his own time. He had a wife and baby son years ago when he was young, but they were killed. Janet also tells him about how she and her museum colleagues study skeletons and remains of people from his time. This creeps him out and she feels bad about it. The decision to bring him back with her to her own time is easily made and accepted by both of them.

This is where Damon and Bridgette come in–to keep the lovers apart. Damon’s will to power is reasonably well drawn and believable, but we could have used a bit more backstory. It seems somewhat crazy that he would sacrifice his soul to Bridgette’s “dark creatures” when the payoff is so murky. He hopes to change history, but it is not completely clear what he would change it to and especially why. Janet simply wants a happy life with Trajan in her own time. Her journey could be viewed metaphorically as a wounded woman’s healing from the scars of an abusive relationship, and I especially enjoyed reading the novel from that perspective. (However, the reader should not take this novel as saying that you have to go back to ancient Rome to find a decent man!)

This is the first book in a series and I would gladly read the next ones. But I’m a sucker for happy endings, history, and pretty much anything having to do with pre-Christian England. If time-travel romance is something that appeals to you, through the Druid’s Portal is a good place to go.
View all my reviews

Thursday Doors: Germany

I’m getting ready to go on another trip, this time to Germany. Internet access will be spotty, and while I can technically blog from my phone, I find it cumbersome. I will be gone for a month and not sure how much blogging I will be able to do.

CityGate
Memmingen City Gate

Since 1983 when I lived in Berlin, I’ve been to Germany many times, at this point more than I can accurately count. I traveled to Germany in graduate school and gave my thesis seminar at institutes in Tübingen and Frankfurt. I married a German a few years later, we went to Germany for our honeymoon, and we have been back every other year since then, for the last 21 years.

ThroughTheGate

I find myself in an odd position in that although I’ve been there pretty often, Germany is not home for me. I am semi-fluent, enough to get around, but not a native speaker. We have been trying to get our kids to learn to speak German since they born, and frankly it is much harder than I was led to believe!

But, about the doors. The two photos above are different views of the gate into Memmingen, in Bavaria, where we were two years ago after dropping off our kids at German camp. Memmingen is an old town in the Swabia area of Southern Germany. Its origins date back to the Roman empire. I wasn’t doing Thursday doors back when I was there, so if I happened to catch a door in a photo, I was lucky. I’d say that gates count.

There are also some nice-looking old buildings and monuments in Memmingen that have weighty doors. But the doors are better in context:

This last door is more personal. Here my husband is standing in front of the door to the house he grew up in. This house is not in Memmingen. It is much further north, in the Bundesland of Nordrhein-Westfalen, in the town of Mülheim an der Ruhr.

AtTheDoor

My husband’s mother passed away young, before I ever met him, and by the time I visited this house for the first time it was starting to fall into disrepair. Eventually his elderly father, who had remarried and was no longer living there, could not keep up with it, and it had to be sold. By that time it was barely livable, the yard had become overgrown with weeds and trees, and it required a complete overhaul. The new owners have done a great job with it. We saw the exterior had been painted and fixed up, the trees tamed, the living areas made bright with new windows and paint. The old house, shuttered and lonely for years, has new life now and echoes with the laughter of children.

Last year my trip to Asia supplied me with Thursday Doors posts for a lot of the rest of the year. I’m hoping that now that I know to look for the doors, this trip will do the same!

CanalDoors

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in on the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing it, between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American eastern time) at Norm 2.0’s blog here.

May #WATWB: New Redwoods Park in Silicon Valley

When people come to visit in the SF Bay Area, they often want to see redwoods. The iconic place to go is Muir Woods National Monument in Marin County north of San Francisco, which is amazing, but it has gotten crowded and difficult to park there.

There are others, around Lake Tahoe:

TahoeRedwoods

Or on the peninsula in Woodside and Portola Valley:

Even in Los Altos, the next town over from Mountain View where I live, there is a small redwood grove:

LosAltosRedwoods

And in Sunnyvale town, or on Sunnyvale’s Sunken Gardens golf course where squirrels play:

Walking among the redwoods, even some closer to home, brings a feeling of peace and even enlightenment.

Cuesta Park, Mountain View, site of several geocache finds and many a Pokemon raid
Cuesta Park in Mountain View, site of several geocache finds and many a Pokemon raid

Now there is going to be a new park for more people to enjoy: “Silicon Valley has a new redwoods park, groundbreaking Tuesday,” from the San Jose Mercury News, by Paul Rogers.

It is known as the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, and sits in the hills west of Highway 17 across from Lexington Reservoir. From 1934 to 1969, the land was the site of Alma College, a Jesuit campus. Now trails and amenities such as parking lots are being built for more access. There is a growing tension between preservation of wild open spaces and public access as California’s population increases. But I believe that projects like these are the best chance for balancing those needs.

We are the World LogoWe Are the World Blogfest,” posted around the last Friday of each month, seeks to promote positive news. Sharing these stories increases our awareness of hope in our increasingly dark world. The #WATWB co-hosts for this month are: Shilpa Garg, Inderpreet Kaur UppalPeter NenaAndrea Michaels, and Damyanti Biswas. Please check out their posts and say hello!

 

Mundane Monday: Light

CatherinePalaceHeaterI’m hesitant to use this photo for the Mundane Monday challenge because it’s not really mundane. But in context it sort of is. I took these pictures on a tour visiting the Catherine Palace in Pushkin near St. Petersburg in 2016.

The Catherine Palace has so much going on–the chapel, the facade, the gardens, the amber room, the Nazi destruction, the ongoing restoration–that taking a picture of a wall and a wall heater seems a little silly. But I did anyway.

This ballroom is splendid all around. It’s the sort of place that makes you think of Disneyland and Mad Ludwig. All that gold has to be fake, right? Or at least not quite real, conjured by a cartoon fairy godmother. You expect Mrs. Potts, the talking teapot from Beauty and the Beast, to pop out at any moment and finish the tour.

CatherinePalaceBallroom

But this is the real deal. Princesses danced here on cold winter nights, and the heat and gaiety kept the wolf at bay.

CatherinePalaceHarpsichordThese palaces, outposts carved from the forest in homage to the great cities of Europe, humanized the Russian royalty for me in a way that I had never considered before. Everyone wants a beautiful hearth, home, companionship.

Everyone needs a candle in the dark.

CatherinePalace

Thursday Doors: Tokyo National Museum

So, I have come to my last doors from the trip to Asia. We spent our last few days in Tokyo, and I took a break from doors while we walked around the palace, went to Robot Restaurant and Tokyo Disney, and then we got to the National Museum.

Tokyo1

Doors here are ornate and orderly.

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These were the last interesting doors we saw before getting on the plane back to the States!

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This post is for Norm 2.0’s Thursday Doors, a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. 

It is the last in a series from my trip to Asia in the summer of 2017. Other posts from the same trip can be found here:

Seoul Walk

Downtown Seoul

Changdeokgung Palace

Hutong

Beijing City Wall

Palace Museum in the Forbidden City

Chinese Coke

Great Wall Shopping

Shanghai, Xintiandi

Shanghai, the Bund

Zhujiajiao, water town, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Lamps

 

 

Mundane Monday: Squares

The Mundane Monday Photo Challenge is under new leadership. The challenge was created by Trablogger an Indian travel blogger named Jithin from Kerala. After three years of linking to “mundane” photos from people’s everyday lives around the world, he handed it off to Dr K Ottoway, a rural physician in the eastern United States. (Reading that paragraph makes me smile. How else other than blogging can you meet people like that and not even have to leave your dining room table?)

SomersetSquareParkThe theme for this week’s Mundane Monday challenge is “All the Squares,” Dr. KO shows an interesting pattern in a fence. I have one like that too: Patterned Leaves, or this one on the left, a square lamp skirt in Somerset Square Park in Cupertino.

But she goes on to say that her post was inspired by this poem by AA Milne:

Whenever I walk in a London street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet;
And I keep in the squares,
And the masses of bears,
Who wait at the corners all ready to eat
The sillies who tread on the lines of the street
Go back to their lairs,
And I say to them, “Bears,
Just look how I’m walking in all the squares!”

Square Paul Painlevé
Square Paul Painlevé, Paris France

Over the weeks I’ve been doing this challenge I’ve had to interpret the theme in creative ways. The poem’s reference to the streets of London helps me do that. “Square” is not just a sidewalk shape, but a town meeting point, a place of some importance. I’ve been walking in these squares too.

Tiananmen Square, Beijing China
Tiananmen Square, Beijing China

 

 

Thursday Doors: Zhujiajiao Part 3, Human Activity

This is the third installment of the doors of ancient water town of Zhujiajiao, near Shanghai. I grouped the pictures into three different blog posts. Part 1 showed doors right on the water.  Part 2 focuses on doors of different colors. Today I will show either actual humans or evidence of recent human activity.

Even in the rain, Zhujiajiao is busy and somewhat crowded. None of these storefronts is large and they are all on top of each other. Sometimes you need a clue where to go.

01Zhujiajiao
Follow the arrow to lunch

Follow the lanterns and go upstairs.

The lions are pretty common but not ubiquitous. Sometimes it just seems like you need *some*thing on each side of the door in China.

 

Then there are the bikes and motorcycles, if you don’t have a boat.

The singer just outside the door.

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Or how about a caged bird? (The dog doesn’t care. He’s seen it all!)

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Lots of firewood (and plants).

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And an odd sculpture in front of a gallery. What is that sculpture supposed to be, anyway? A heart? Lips? A little red person with an abnormally big butt?

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And finally, how many people will understand the irony of what is written on this door handle?

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Thursday doors is a weekly feature in which door lovers share their pictures from doors all around the world. Stop by Norm 2.0’s blog to say hello and see some of the others.

Thursday Doors: Zhujiajiao, Part 2, colors

The ancient water town of Zhujiajiao really has a lot of doors! I grouped them into three different blog posts to try to give them some structure. Part 1 showed doors right on the water.  In Part 2, here, I planned to focus on doors of different colors. China in general and Shanghai in particular was a brightly colored place.

But once I had organized the pictures, I discovered a lot of brown. That was the color of the majority of doors in Zhujiajiao, and you can see that clearly even in part 1. The trim would sometimes be bright red, or more occasionally blue. But most of them were a rich, reddish brown color. So I grouped the brownest ones together here, and what might stand out more are the differences in shape and trim. Some doors certainly look a lot more welcoming than others.

And then there were the occasional different ones. Red. Blue. Teal. Gray. Aqua. (But even these tended to be juxtaposed with brown).

14ZhujiajiaoRed17ZhujiajiaoBlue22ZhujiajiaoTeal26ZhujiajiaoGray27ZhujiajiaoAqua

Why so few red doors? Feng Shui may provide an answer. According to one article I read, red is the color of the South, and of the fire element. Building codes in ancient China stipulated that only high-ranking government officials could paint their doors red, which is one reason why red is associated with prosperity.

Whereas blue is associated with water, and with relaxation. And brown doors are associated with wood and earth elements, and with stability. Based on my very unscientific sampling, stability seems to be highly valued in Zhujiajiao!

Thursday doors is a weekly feature in which door lovers share their pictures from doors all around the world. Stop by Norm 2.0’s blog to say hello and see some of the others.